Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reflecting On Phiilemon In Light Of Kelly Gissendaner

Last night's execution of Kelly Gissandaner has kicked off some additional thoughts for me in addition to those previously published about Paul's letter to Philemon.

One doesn't have to stretch for the parallels.  Two criminals; one a runaway slave who could be executed for his crime, the other part of the murder of her husband for which the actual killer got life and she got the death penalty.  Both converted to Christianity.  Both had powerful Christians advocating on their behalf:  Paul for Onesimus; while Kelly Gissandaner had Pope Francis, Shane Claiborne, as well as huge numbers of clergy and other people of faith pleading that her life be spared.

Shortly after midnight Georgia executed Kelly Gissandaner.  I am grieved.  I am saddened.  I am enraged.  Her death was a disgrace and a sin.  I am more committed in my opposition to the death penalty because of this Sister in Christ who died praying and singing Amazing Grace.

Her death also points up a truth of the scripture: Philemon didn't have to listen to Paul. Colossians 4:9 seems to indicate that he did.  But the authorship of that letter as actually being Paul is in question and so the idea that Philemon freed Onesimus and sent him back to Paul is still up in the air.  But the authorship is not the main point I want to make.

My main point is this:

Whether Philemon, Georgia Parole Board, or ourselves in the common life of our congregations and communities of faith....when we hear God speaking to us; in prayer or through someone God uses to speak to us, we have to choose to obey or not...and our choices have life and death consequences.  These consequences may not be as immediate as the death of a Christian on death row.  But they will ripple out in ways that we may not be able to see at the time.  Which is why rules of life like being guided always by love and reconciliation are so important.

Philemon had to make a choice.  God had spoken to him through Paul and now he had to chose.  We too are called to chose.  May God give us wisdom.  May Jesus' teaching and life guide our way.

Shalom

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Letting Philemon Speak To Us

As a concrete example of a letter written to a specific person (Philemon) about a specific situation ( dealing with the runaway slave Onesimus), this letter, written around 50 a.d. by the Apostle Paul is one of the most radical expressions of the Gospel and most confronting of the social/cultural world in the 1st century of anything outside the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels themselves.

Onesimus has run away from his owner Philemon in Collosia and has gone to Paul where he is imprisoned in nearby Ephesus.  He may have originally gone to Paul just for help in returning safely back to Collosia where he perhaps still had family.  We don't know.  What we do know is that while he was with Paul he converted to Christianity.  This, however, does not solve the problem of being a fugitive slave.  So Paul sends him back to Philemon with the letter we find in scripture.

It would not be unusual, and it is certainly not unique for a dominant person to intercede for an inferior with a friend who is subservient to them.  In his book on Paul, N.T. Wright discusses a letter written by Pliny the Young in just such a fashion.  But in such a letter, everyone maintains their place in the dance; no ones social role changes.

Paul's letter, on the other hand, does just the opposite.  Everything changes.  Everything is shaken.  Everyone's place in the dance is different....in fact, the dance itself will no longer be the same.

You have to feel for Philemon at one level.  Here he is, a relatively new convert.  He has opened his home as a place for one of the early house churches to meet.  He is friends with, and has perhaps financially supported, Paul.  Now, on the basis of his new faith and that friendship, Philemon is being asked to go contrary to the whole social expectations of his day.

It's one thing to be a "God fearer" who hangs out at the local synagogue and believes in the Jewish God.  Maybe who refuses to eat meat offered to idols.  These would be fairly easily overlooked by neighbors, etc.  But now, Philemon is asked to welcome home this fugitive slave as a brother.  You can get a feel for this when you remember that Roman culture was built on "who could do what to who" including the sexual use of slaves via male on male rape (what Paul is talking about in Romans 1); and that crucifixion was a punishment reserved in Roman culture for people who started rebellions and runaway slaves.  In essence, anyone who challenged or bucked against the structure of the Empire. Philemon will hear that he is being asked by Paul, and through Paul, by God, to turn all of this on its head.

We do not know what Philemon did.  And if he did indeed obey Paul; we do not know what it may have cost him in his social/cultural setting.

So what's that got to do with us?  How might we hear this letter speaking to us?











The start to this Fall at the church where I interim has been troubling.  Numbers are down.  Giving isn't what it should be.


So in both Pastoral Staff and Leadership Council we found ourselves asking: what would happen to us if we quit worrying about the numbers when we try to identify our mission and our identity and just asked, "what does Jesus want us to do?"  What if we move out figuring that if Jesus has called us to it, He'll take care of making sure the rest is okay.  And even if it isn't okay; if the church dies being obedient, isn't that better than living and hedging our bets?

So what we decided to do both individually (by asking everyone in the congregation to answer these questions); and corporately (through every Committee) is to answer these three questions:

  1. I believe God/Jesus is calling me to .............
  2. Consequently, the focus of my energy in 2016 will be..............
  3. To accomplish this I will need help and support with..............
additionally we want to make room for our folks to say "I'm scared that .......... "or "my fear for the church in 2016 is........." [I'm grateful to Rev. Skye Hallman for framing these questions so well in our discussions].

I'm 62 years old.  I'm not naive.  This kind of 'swing for the bleachers' approach to church is scary (at least it scares me) and can be costly (there are no guarantees that anyone else will agree with you).  But it may well be that Christ is calling for us to do something as radical and counter cultural as the call to Philemon to welcome Onesimus as his brother.  We won't know until we pray and listen and pray again.  But this openness, rooted in a commitment to obedience ...... we are confident that it will take us where we are supposed to go.  Even if going there turns everything on its head.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Paul We Never Knew

On November 4, 1995 Yigal Amir shot and killed Yitzhak Rabin.  Amir, a right wing Orthodox Jew, believed that the peace process violated the gift of land by God to Israel.

In 2001 the Taliban in Afghanistan pulverized the ancient, towering statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan believing that these were idols forbidden by the Koran.

Somewhere around the year 34-36 a young Torah scholar, perhaps influenced by the teachings of the strict conservative Rabbi Shammai, watched the coats of a group of men while they stoned a Greek Christian named Stephen.  Following that, he went to Jerusalem where he was given authority by the Sanhedrin to drag men and women out of their homes and bring them shackled to Jerusalem.  He was ravaging the church; and his name was Saul of Tarsus.  And he was SURE; just like the Taliban and Amir are sure; that he was in the right.

Until Jesus knocked him on his ass in the middle of the road to Damascus, this was the Apostle Paul; an ultra conservative, often violent, proponent of the most rigid interpretation of Jewish teaching.  He believed that he, and those like him, were the ones who really knew what God required.  And he was willing to kick your door in and drag you off in chains if you did it a different way.

Does this make you uncomfortable?  It does me.  Realizing that this is the kind of God we're dealing with...one who would just as soon convert a religious terrorist as not....well, what do you think?  When I don't take the cheap out and say to myself, "well, that was Paul, and he became an Apostle and ministered to the gentiles" (all of which is true) and acknowledge that this man was a religious terrorist; as much as any member of the Taliban who dragged someone out of their home and flogged her in the street for driving a car without a man with her.....that bothers me.....a lot.

Paul would carry the shame of these days with him all his life.  Many in the church in Jerusalem would never trust him.  Some would always fear him.  And the picture of Stephen's bruised and broken body kneeling in the street to pray for the men who were killing him was probably burned into his brain his whole life long.

But whether it makes me uncomfortable or not really doesn't matter.  This is the kind of God we're dealing with.  One who redeems hookers and hypocrites; adulterers, tax collectors, and terrorists like Saul.

We can't soft pedal it.  We can't afford to.  Cause it's only when we acknowledge that this is the God we're dealing with can we really believe that this same God might have room for you and me in all our smelly, violent, brokenness.  Grace isn't just for the kid who steals bubblegum at the store.  It's for the man who beats his wife and the mother who drowns her child in the bathtub so she can be with her boyfriend.  It's for the people in the Aurora theater who died there...and for James Eagan Holmes.

What do we do with a God like that?  Maybe we let Paul have the last word on that: "Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power....For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name."  (Ephesians 3: 7 and 14)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Speaking The Truth In Love; Calling A Christian Brother To Repentance

In this blog I want to draw particularly on two specific passages of scripture: Ephesians 4:15-16 and Luke 17:3.  The first passage tells us that we are to speak the truth in love; the second tells us that "if your brother sins, rebuke him."  Now the word that is translated "rebuke" in Hebrew most often means "contend with."  The Greek most often means "reprove" or "admonish."

So I would say that taken together, these passages call us, when we see a brother or sister sin, to be willing, in love, to contend with, confront, point out the problem so that they can correct it.  Most often it is done (at least in my experience as a pastor) when the behavior is causing really great damage to themselves or others.  It's not always, and in fact, not even usually, done in a scolding manner.  The way most likely to succeed really is to "speak the truth in love" with all the compassion and respect at our disposal.

So why am I saying all this?  What am I leading up to?

Yesterday I watched a brother in Christ sin in a very public manner that left unchecked runs the risk of causing tremendous harm to a religious community and to our nation at large.  Not to speak to this brother in Christ would, I believe, be a sin on my part as well.

So I address these words to my brother in Christ, a self proclaimed Christian and member of the Presbyterian church, Donald Trump.

Dear Donald,

I know that the comment caught you off guard.  I also think that you were trying to laugh it off as the ridiculous bit of fringe rhetoric that it was.  I can understand that you must have been thinking, "holy smoke, how am I going to deal with this?"  But Donald, the man talked about the "Muslim problem" and "when can we get rid of them?"  Visions of religious/ethnic cleansing came to mind for many of us.  And you said nothing.  As a follower of Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies (even if one could justify-and I don't believe it can be done-calling all Muslims our enemy), didn't you have a responsibility to say something to him?  I'm sure you're familiar with Exodus 22:21 which tells us that "You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt."  This man sounded like he doesn't want to just oppress them, he wants a "solution"...and we've heard that kind of language before.  Or Leviticus 24:22 "You shall have one law for the alien and for the citizen: for I am the Lord your God."  Or Deuteronomy 1:16 "I charged your judges at that time:'Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.'" Or even Hebrews 13:2 "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."....Angels, Donald....these Muslims could be Angels (it means messengers) from God.

I'm quoting so much scripture at you Donald, because I know you and I don't agree on much.  And I don't want this to be a "political" discussion.  I want it to be between two people struggling to follow Jesus as best we know how.  And I have to trust that you're trying to do that just like I am.

But Donald, your silence could be interpreted that we as a "Christian nation" and you as a professing Christian agreed with this man who seems to want to know how we "rid ourselves of this Muslim problem."  Please Donald, fix this.  Find a way to walk back your silence.  Say it took you so off guard that you were too shocked to speak.  Even say part of you was scared to risk this man and his group's vote.  But repudiate his view of Muslims.  Repudiate the hatred.  Repudiate the fear.  Those views aren't Christian; and as a Christian they're beneath you.  You're better than that Donald; as a man, and most of all as a Christian.

We may never meet.  We don't travel in the same circles.  We probably would not never want to take a long car ride together.  We're very, very different men.  That doesn't matter.  We're both trying to follow Jesus.  So I hope you can hear what I've said to you as said in love.

Shalom, Donald.....that, by the way is the Hebrew word for Peace.....the Peace Jesus calls us both to work for.

Thanks for listening.
Your brother in Christ,
Stephen

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Few Choice Words From Scripture About The Poor and the Powerless



FROM THE TORAH:

Exodus 23:11 “During the seventh year, let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.” (NIV)

Leviticus 19:10 “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” (NIV)

Leviticus 23:22 “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.”(NIV)

Deuteronomy 15:7-11
“If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs. Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the LORD against you, and it become sin among you. You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand. For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’ ” (NKJV)

Deuteronomy 15:11 “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” (NIV)

Deuteronomy 15:7 “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.”(NIV)

Deuteronomy 24:19-21 “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.” (NIV)

FROM THE PSALMS:

Psalm 82:3 “Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy.” (NKJV)

FROM PROVERBS:

Proverbs 21:13 “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” (NIV)

Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (NIV)



Proverbs 17:5 “He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.” (NIV)

Proverbs 22:22-23 “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.” (NIV)

FROM THE PROPHETS:

Isaiah 3:14-15 “The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?’ declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.”(NIV)

Isaiah 58:6-7 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (NIV)

Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (NIV)

Jeremiah 5:28 ” They have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor.” (NIV)

Jeremiah 22:3 “This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (NIV)

Ezekiel 16:49 “This was he guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (NRSV)  [Please note that the Bible says that the sin of Sodom was its lack of justice and failure to care for the poor]

{One of my personal favorites}
Ezekiel 34:2-10 “Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not he shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not fed the sheep.  You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals.  My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.  Therefore, you shepherds. Hear the word of the Lord: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves.  I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them. (NRSV)

FROM THE GOSPELS:

Matthew 25:41-45 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me.’” (NIV)

FROM THE EPISTLES:
1 John 3:17-18 “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (NIV)

THIS IS THE WORD OF THE LORD.
            THANKS BE TO GOD.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Spiritual Disciplines, Gnats and Camels, And Taking The High Ground

So this coming Sunday, I'm preaching on Disciplines of the Christian Life.  It's part of an invitation I offered to the congregation at Heritage Baptist to pick the topics I'd preach on for a three week period.  Last Sunday I attempted to tackle some of the questions about the authority of Scripture and this week I am broadening a question about the practice of Fasting to include all of the Christian spiritual disciplines, of which fasting is one.

In attempting to focus on the purpose of spiritual disciplines I've chosen the often repeated passage from Micah 6:8: "....what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah is outlining the spiritual disciplines of God's people. "Walking humbly" would include, it seems to me, all of those things like prayer, sacrifice, confession....things that are generally associated with the more individualized areas of life.  Among them would be the focus on purity laws that permeated life of the Pharisees in Jesus' day.  "Doing justice and loving mercy" are reflected in individual lives (even as humility is in corporate life) but they also have a larger communal expression.

In preparing for my sermon I listened to a wonderful sermon given by Rob Bell when he was pastor at Mars Hill on "Gnats and Camels."  You can listen to it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-9UmcQnwt8

In Matthew 23:23-24 Jesus speaks of two things that were considered unclean: gnats and camels.  Neither could be eaten.  To avoid getting gnats in their wine, an observant Pharisee would use a complicated straining process to protect the wine.  Jesus didn't say this was bad.  But he uses the image to point out that the "weightier" issues of justice and mercy, the "camels" were being ignored.  Rules of purity and religious observance (like the tithing of mint and cummin) were observed with excruciating detail.  But the spiritual disciplines of justice and mercy were ignored.  Jesus may well have been thinking of the passage in Ezekiel 34 where God accuses the religious leaders, the "shepherds" of failing to care for the sheep, failing in ensuring justice and care for the vulnerable and the wounded.

Spiritual disciplines like meditation, fasting, purity are good.  But they should lead us to the "weightier" disciplines of justice and mercy.  And, as well as leading us there, they serve to nurture us against the cynical numbing which is the result of working for these without a connection to the Holy.  It is not an either/or.  It is in addressing the both/and that we truly take the higher ground. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Defining Evangelicals With A Mirror: A Response To Russell Moore

In an article by Bob Allen of the Baptist News Global Russell Moore is quoted from a discussion of his new book ONWARD: Engaging The Culture Without Losing The Gospel.  For those of you who don't know who Russell Moore is, he is the head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  You can find a copy of that article here (I will be referring to it frequently in what follows):

https://baptistnews.com/faith/theology/item/30443-russell-moore-says-faithful-evangelicals-cannot-affirm-homosexuality

To begin with I need to say why I'm even engaging Moore's arguments at all.  While I find them troubling, if Russell Moore represented Methodists or Presbyterians or some other denomination I would probably not be writing this article at all.  But Russell Moore speaks for Southern Baptists.  When he does so, there are people who will automatically equate what he says as the official stance of ALL Baptists....which it is not.  Or they will equate his stance as being that of ALL Evangelicals....which it is not.

Russell Moore has taken it upon himself to define "evangelicals" by holding up a mirror to a select group of persons like himself and presenting them as the only working definition of the term.  The logical fallacy of this will be clearly evident.  It would be much like me taking a selfie and using it to define the word "pastor."  While it is true I am a pastor, not all pastors are white 62 year old straight male evangelical Baptists with grey hair, a beard and moderate theological leanings.  Many are persons of color, or female, or young, or bald, or clean shaven, or gay, or conservative or liberal.  While Stephen Price is a Baptist pastor; not all Baptist pastors are like Stephen Price.

"Evangelicals" have traditionally been defined as those who 1) believe in the centrality of conversion; 2) believe in the authority of the Bible as God's revelation to humanity; and 3) have a strong commitment to sharing the Christian message.  I am an evangelical.  The fact that I disagree with Russell Moore and some others about the the interpretation of scripture (in this case regarding homosexuality) does not make me, as he claims a "so called" evangelical.  It means that I, exercising my Baptist responsibility under the Priesthood of All Believers, differ with certain of my brothers and sisters in Christ....though certainly not all of them.

Speaking of David Gushee's recent writing describing how he has changed his opinion regarding homosexuality, Moore stated that he doesn't think a faithful evangelical can arrive at a position that says, "our theology was wrong."  Again, this is not a statement that will not bear up.  Faithful evangelicals have historically examined their theology on numerous occasions and determined that it was wrong.  Three issues that come immediately to mind are those of slavery, segregation, and interracial marriage.

Moore believes that those who disagree are "revisionists" who have rejected the authority or primacy of Scripture.  I could not disagree more.  As a Baptist and an evangelical, Scripture is the primary authority of both my life personally and my work as a pastor.  It is inspired by God to point me (and all who read or hear it) to the Living Word which John tells us is Jesus.  Jesus himself, in John 5 describes such a view of scripture.  Scripture often weighs me in the balances and finds me wanting.  Its demands always leave me missing the mark and dependent on the Grace of my Savior Jesus Christ.  As one who strongly believes in the primacy and the authority of scripture for ALL of life, I keep finding myself wondering what my country would look like if Christians spent the same energy on the issues of economic justice and care for the marginalized-issues that saturate the words of the prophets as well as the teaching and preaching of Jesus-as we have on fighting over the 3 or 4 verses that are the foundation of this argument.

Most of all in the comments accorded to Russell Moore with which I disagree....and in this case find deeply offensive are these (and I will quote from the above mentioned article):

"According to the Christian Post story, Moore said he does not ascribe the term evangelical to gay-affirming Christians because by definition the word means someone who upholds biblical inerrancy.  The same principle, he said, applies to the term "gay Christian." "

I hope that I am wrong.  I pray that I am wrong.  But it reads as if Moore is saying that "gay" and "Christian" are a contradiction in terms.  Again, I pray that I am interpreting him incorrectly.  Even if one were to agree with Moore that homosexual behavior is a sin, it would appear that he is elevating that particular 'sin' to a level at which, if engaged in, precludes Grace from being at work.  Would he make this same judgement in regard to the abuse of alcohol?  What about spousal abuse?  Failure to pay child support and thus abandoning ones children?  Business dealings that leave people homeless and destitute?  The list could go on.

What does Russell Moore do with the confessing Christians who are in committed, faithful gay marriages that reflect Christ's love for the Church in the way that Paul told us that Christian marriage should?

I do not deny that Russell Moore is a Christian, or a Baptist, or an Evangelical.  I disagree with him and believe there are serious flaws in both his reasoning and his theology.  But I believe that he is attempting to work through a difficult issue of our time in the light of his faith.  I respect him for that and acknowledge it.  I only  wish he would do the same for me and others like me.....but honestly, I'm not holding my breath.
According to the Christian Post story, Moore said he does not ascribe the term evangelical to gay-affirming Christians because by definition the word means someone who upholds biblical inerrancy. The same principle, he said, applies to the term “gay Christian.” - See more at: https://baptistnews.com/faith/theology/item/30443-russell-moore-says-faithful-evangelicals-cannot-affirm-homosexuality#sthash.D1QApikS.pJrCvRcG.dpuf
According to the Christian Post story, Moore said he does not ascribe the term evangelical to gay-affirming Christians because by definition the word means someone who upholds biblical inerrancy. The same principle, he said, applies to the term “gay Christian.” - See more at: https://baptistnews.com/faith/theology/item/30443-russell-moore-says-faithful-evangelicals-cannot-affirm-homosexuality#sthash.D1QApikS.pJrCvRcG.dpuf

According to the Christian Post story, Moore said he does not ascribe the term evangelical to gay-affirming Christians because by definition the word means someone who upholds biblical inerrancy. The same principle, he said, applies to the term “gay Christian.” - See more at: https://baptistnews.com/faith/theology/item/30443-russell-moore-says-faithful-evangelicals-cannot-affirm-homosexuality#sthash.D1QApikS.pJrCvRcG.dpuf

Rachel Weeping For Alan Kurdi {WARNING: Graphic Words and Pictures}

From Jeremiah 31:15, to its repetition in Matthew 2:18, the cry goes up:

 "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more."

Are we deaf?  Is this what Jesus meant when He said, "those who have ears but do not hear"?  Is it the inability to hear the cries of mothers mourning their children?

I had a conversation this morning with a young woman who frequently serves me my coffee at the shop where I stop.  She was complaining to me that a professor had shown her class the movie The Kite Runner without warning them of the rape scene.  She felt that it might be traumatizing to some in the class to be exposed to that scene without warning.  While I agreed with her that it would have been appropriate to give some warning, I commented on a tendency of some people to believe they should not have to look at anything that made them uncomfortable.  She stated that she agreed that they should not be forced to see anything that was uncomfortable for them.

ME:    How can you change the world if you don't know what's going on?
SHE:  We can't change anything.

WARNING!  THE PICTURES BELOW ARE TROUBLING, GRAPHIC, AND THE WAY THE WORLD HAS BEEN MOST OF MY LIFE TIME

 From Vietnam


To Rwanda






To the recent death of Alan Kurdi





Rachel has been weeping for her children.

Is this REALLY what we think is God's vision for creation.  Pick a picture above and say, "This is what God wanted.  God is okay with me ignoring this.  God doesn't mind that I am deaf to Rachel's cries.  This is God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven."  I don't believe it can be done.

Two things I am sure of....and a third that I believe to be true:

I am sure of the teachings of Scripture; that 1) when the marginalized, the oppressed, the hungry, the refugee cry out, God hears, and God comes....perhaps not a quickly as we might think...but God shows up.  2) God's judgement for those who are responsible for those cries or who are deaf to them can be taken to the bank.  God is not mocked.

And what I believe to be true?  WE....people of faith....must DO SOMETHING.  Even in little, bitty ways....WE MUST DO SOMETHING.  And we can.

Rachel did not suddenly begin to weep when I became aware of the atrocities of war; nor will she stop when I am dead and gone.  But I believe that the Kingdom of God does not look like this.  We are called to open our eyes, to listen to Rachel's cries, and to act.  To do nothing is to betray the Christ we claim to follow.

Our God,
unstop our ears to Rachel's cries
open our eyes
to the agony around us
unbind our hearts and hands
that we may work
to heal this wounded, bleeding, weeping world
here on earth
as You now heal Alan Kurdi in heaven

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Mistaking Call For Destiny

As a pastor I work hard not to be "political."  By that I mean that I do not air, or share, my choice of political candidates.  I avoid bumper stickers associated with political parties.

However, there is no way to read scripture and not be engaged in issues that have political overtones or that have been carried into the political arena.  Issues of hunger, war, immigration, abortion, homosexuality, domestic violence, housing and homelessness...all of these are issues that are in the political arena but have deeply spiritual and faith connections for many Christians.  At our best we find a way to discuss the nuances around these issues and to follow Jesus in seeing all involved through the eyes of His love.  At our worst, we stand on opposite sides of a chasm and scream at one another.

As a person of faith, I look to scripture to point me to what Jesus would have me do, and to learn from the stories in both Testaments about the pitfalls and potholes involved in taking our eyes off of that guiding principle.

A good example of this is our current political climate.  Now I could care less about Donald Trump. In my mind, he is but a symptom of a nation that has mistaken call for destiny. So if it was not him who picked up that torch, it would be someone else. The field of candidates is littered with them in fact.

By "mistaking call for destiny" I mean the movement away from seeing our task to be a light and a help to the world and embracing instead an attitude of entitlement.

This problem is an old one. It is as old as Solomon. We find in 1 Kings 9, 10 and 11 the story of a king who was given wisdom and power as a gift so that he could lead Israel to be a Light to the Nations. He inherited the throne from David, his father.

This nation, only a few hundred years from toiling in the brick yards of the Pharaoh; brought out to freedom by the hand of God; given a blueprint at Sinai as to how to be a signpost for Gods way....Solomon was given the tools to make this happen.
And what does he do? 


He becomes a slaveholder. 1 Kings 9:15 says, "This is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon conscripted to build the house of the Lord and his own house..." Just like the Pharaoh from whom the Hebrews had been rescued, Solomon launches a building campaign with the use of slave labor.

He becomes an arms dealer.  1 Kings 10:28-29 describes how horses and chariots were imported from Kue and Egypt (really!? Egypt!?) and then sold to the kings of the Hittites and the Aram.  Two things....first of all, this kind of trade is a direct violation of Deuteronomy 17:16.  AND Solomon is trading with kings (Hittite and Amorite) even while he is making slaves of the Hittites and Amorites that are left in the land.

He became a worshipper of other gods and built a high place for "Chemoth the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammorites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem." (1 Kings 11:7)

He also uses sex as a commodity: those wives? The were the result of political dealing as he took wives to cement alliances. "Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart." (1 Kings 11:3)
 
He begins to believe his own press clippings and builds himself a throne that is obscene in its opulence.  The description in 1 Kings 10:18-20 is worth a read.


Solomon took the wisdom God gave him and turned it into the "art of the deal" long before Trump ever thought of it.
 
What God issues as a "call" to be the nation that would bring all other nations into God's Kingdom based upon the way that they lived, Solomon read as an entitlement based upon his "destiny" as the son of David.
 
And so God takes the Kingdom away from him and eventually sends Babylon to destroy what he's built.

Does it remind you of anything that a nation who was liberated to be a "Light to the Nations" would end up with a king whose policies included arms dealing, cheap immigrant labor (in violation of the commandments regarding care for the 'stranger in the land'), and an arrogance that surrounded itself with obscene opulence?

This story, like many others in scripture, tell us about the quality of God's heart and God's  response to violations of the commandments regarding how people are to be governed.  Are they "political"?  Yes....and no.  They are not about sectarian party politics.  But they are about our "call."

As I say to my congregation: "You don't have to agree with me; we're Baptists."  But I do think it's worth some thought.

Shalom 

Omnipresent

Close as taste on tongue,
cloth on skin,
smell in nostrils igniting brain;
You are ever present.
Nearer than my own beating heart.
Warm moist breath
prickling the back of my neck with my soul's awareness of You,
yet when I turn
You are not
but are
There