Friday, January 31, 2014

Silent protests speak volumes

I left this topic alone for a while, trying to come to a conclusion about what I would say. But I finally decided I would jump into the deep pool. Let's begin by saying I grew up (showing my age) on Elvis, who danced the fine line between singing Gospel and singing Rock and Roll. Clearly folks had great problems with him, showing him from the waist up on Ed Sullivan and the like. So our subject has been going on for half a century or more.

Sunday night, award-winning Christian music artist Natalie Grant left the Grammy Awards early.

A disclaimer here: I didn't watch the Grammys. I haven't watched the Grammys in, uh, forever. I will not watch the Grammys. Later Sunday, she explained. Let the discussion begin, again.

“We left the Grammy’s early. I’ve many thoughts about the show tonight, most of which are probably better left inside my head,” Grant wrote on her Facebook Sunday night. “But I'll say this: I've never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I've never been more sure of the path I've chosen.”

The post received more than 4,700 comments, and bloggers took to the Web to speculate on why the gospel singer walked out. Shortly before she left, Katy Perry and Juicy J performed a song called “Dark Horse” that some have described as “satanic.”

Perry, who was raised in a strong Christian household, has publicly rejected her faith. Her Grammy performance displayed images evocative of the occult, including witchcraft, fire and beasts. The 29-year-old pop superstar pole-danced on a broom and closed her act with a burning on a stake.

But another performance may have caused Grant to leave, bloggers have said. During Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ song “Same Love,” 33 couples—heterosexual and homosexual—were married on stage.

Grant responded to the speculation in a statement on her Facebook page Monday afternoon. It has more than 111,000 likes and more than 9,000 comments so far. “It does sadden me when people argue, judge and hurl insults at each other from both sides of the fence,” she wrote.

Though she said she would not engage in arguments, she made a few clarifications. “I NEVER said I left during any particular performance. I only said I left early,” she said. “I never pointed out any one particular performance, I only said I had many thoughts about the entire show, which were best left inside my head and that is where they will stay.”

She continued, “So those who say I condemned one performance but then condoned others clearly did not read the post. What I DID say is this: I am honored to be a part of the Christian music community. I've had many people throughout my career ask why I never tried to go in to mainstream music and last night was a beautiful reminder that I love singing about Jesus and FOR Jesus."

“I've judged no one,” Grant insisted. “I hate no one. And I believe that every person has been created in the image of God. ... I won't use my platform to engage in political arguments that will only divide and not unite. I will continue to pray that my life will be my message.”

Before everyone goes nutty, those who have been restrained all week about this, let me also point out that a Grammy winner, Christian singer Mandisa, stayed home period. She said the next day, "“I have been struggling with being in the world, not of it lately. I have fallen prey to the alluring pull of flesh, pride, and selfish desires quite a bit recently. … I knew that submerging myself into an environment that celebrates those things was risky for me at this time. I am taking steps to renew my mind to become the Heavenly Father-centered, completely satisfied with Jesus, and Holy Spirit-led woman I felt I was a few months ago, but I’m feeling a bit like an infant learning to walk again on shaky legs.”

She added, “With what I do for a living, and the doors that have opened for me to sing about Jesus on mainstream platforms, I take the phrase from John 15:19, 'be in the world, not of it' seriously,” Mandisa wrote. “God never taught us to stay in our safe Christian bubbles, completely separating from those who do not share our faith (see 1 Corinthians 5). … I can’t force my morality on anyone else. What I can do is live my life in such a way that reflects well on my Savior, stand firm in my values, and do all of these things in love.”

There you have it. A well thought-out position. I think it is very instructive to take what has happened here and apply it to whatever it is we do for a living. Take it down a notch from being newspaper worthy (which by the way I could find only one "mainstream" newspaper that thought this was important enough to write about. What are you doing, what are you involved with that you need to examine>

And what music are you listening to?

Researching this subject, I came across a piece written by Gabriel Swaggart for a site called Crossfire Youth Ministires, and yes, Gabriel is Jimmy's grandson. He wrote, "As it regards the topic of “Christian Rap/Rock/Punk/Metal/Alternative” etc., I want to say the following. These types of music were inspired by demon spirits, and because of that, you CANNOT take that which is inspired by demon spirits, attach the Name Jesus to it, and make it right. When David played before Saul, the Bible tells us that it was the music that drove the evil spirits away. There is no anointing behind Christian Rap or Christian Rock. Rap music, or the basis of Rap music, as well as Rock, is inspired by demon spirits."

While I was pondering just what is this person's definition of Rap and Rock and how he or she decides what is good and what is inspired by demon spirits, he added, "You may ask, “How can we tell?” First of all, we can tell by simply asking the following questions: “Is this pleasing to the Lord? Will that music lead us into the very Presence of God? Will this music cause a Believer who is facing the very powers of darkness to have Victory?” Music Anointed by the Holy Spirit will usher in the Presence of God, and will bring conviction to the lost, and rejoicing to the Saved."

Uh, wow.

So let me see. Grant and Mandisa see demonic activity in Katy Perry, apparently. All of the Swaggart's see problems with bands like Casting Crowns, one made up of youth leaders from a church in Atlanta and others.

Ultimately I think the question is not about music, but about how can we live our lives in such a way that reflects well on our Savior, standing firm in our values, and doing all that we do in love? We are in the world, not of the world. If we stay in our "Christian cocoon," then how can we bring others, the least and the lost, to Christ?

I pray that we all remember to ask ourselves if there is there something we can do that will show that our lives are our message.

While we sing We are (in) the World ...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Let the Sonshine in

What's the deal about light? Sun light in particular. It almost seems like it's a cure for what ails you, doesn't it?

This morning, as I type, the sun is casting a brilliant strip through my office window onto my laptop screen. I had sort of forgotten that could happen after days upon days of dark skies, frigid temps and such.

The Bible has about as much to say about light as it has anything else. From the beginning  ("let there be light, and there was light") to ("let there be lights in the sky") to the Psalmist writing ("light shines in the darkness for the godly") to the very idea that the "anointed one" will be a light for God's people.

Light is given as contrast for the dark, and we're not talking about lamps and such but instead goodness versus evil.

The prophets discussed it. Isaiah wrote, "the people who walk in darkness will see a great light."
Paul wrote, "For you are all children of light and of the day..."

And perhaps the most famous of the writing about light, John's Gospel begins, "The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness can never extinguish it. God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God."

This morning is possibly a turning point in our lives, because every morning stands to be a turning point.

The light came into the world, and it exists in the world. I believe this even when I try my best, consciously and unconsciously, to bring darkness back into it.

This morning I pray for children throughout the world who long to see the light burning away the darkness in their young lives. I pray for kids everywhere who simply want their parents to love them. I pray for those who have been given the right to become children of God but through pride and anger refuse to do so. This morning, as the light reacquaints itself with our community, I pray for peace in this warring world. I pray the light into the corners that still hold onto darkness.

This morning I pray.

Let the Sonshine in again. Before it's too late.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow job or the day the world went white

All important journeys begin with a thousand slips. Didn't someone say that? Anyway, I journeyed 64 steps from my front door to my office this morning, with frozen snow and ice all around. I refused to be stopped because, well, life demands it.

Tuesday was a day of vegetation, as frozen stuff fell from the sky and other than, as kids would, we went outside to be snowed-sleeted-iced on in pure fun. Cold? Whewee, as they say where I come from. The wind was frigid, knifing, brutal. All I could think of was, the New Orleans Saints won a playoff game at this temperature?

The ground around us is as white as Jesus' robe on the mountain top. Now it is not only white, it is frozen, so my journey was one of courage and commitment, and someone out there should note this fact for courage and commitment isn't something that one would normally associate with me.

Our dogs would go out onto the snow-ice surrounding us with small steps, fearful steps, slippery steps. They did what they do in complete shock, it seemed, running all around to the fence around the yard where there was somewhat normal ground. Fifty feet instead of 10 because they didn't want to step on this white stuff.

Facebook was lit up with folks, like me, putting up photos of the white stuff or complaining about there not being enough or any of the white stuff or some transplanted northerners talking about how pitiful we southerners are in this stuff.

My experience with real snow is limited. In the blizzard of 1963, when we tried to get through the pass, we ate each other. No, kidding. Wrong memory. Nah, in 1963, it did snow 15 inches. As I remember, when I was, uh, negative 15 years of age or so, it snowed big ol' flowing flakes all day and night, and though I don't remember it this way, it apparently happened on New Year's Eve to New Year's Day. I do remember watching the Sugar Bowl and there being snow.

I remember little about large snowfalls from then on. Till I spent a winter at USA Today, where it snowed quite a bit. My apartment was actually below ground level and I could look out to see what appeared to be snow globs above me.

Then there was Reno, Nev., where I spent 10 months as Executive Sports Editor of a couple newspapers. Out there, it snowed on my first day, April 1, 1983. I knew I was in Oz. In the winter one day it began to snow about 2 p.m. and by the time I left at 8 p.m., it was snowing so hard I couldn't see to drive. I wasn't one of those southerners who couldn't handle the snow, though. I was one of the Nevadans who couldn't handle it. I saw one car slide through a stop sign across the intersection and simply start going again when it finally arrived across the street. I lived on a hill. As I tried to go up it, I began to slide. I tried four times, and each time the back wheels spun like a mouse on a wheel. Finally, I gave up. I parked the car on the side of the road, I thought, and I began the slippery walk home.

The next morning, I walked down the hill to see if there was anything I could do with the car, and it, like many, was parked pretty much in the road. I left it there for the spring thaw, as best I remember.

The point is this. All the transplanted northern folk living down here who talk about how much we can't handle the snow and laugh at us, and all those northern folks who read this while the snow piles up in feet, not inches, outside their windows should remember this: I (we) can't handle the ice and snow. That's a given. But come Saturday, while you're still deep in the freezer you call winter, it will be 72 degrees here in Eunice.

And I can surely handle that.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

As I sit here, someone dies

As I sit here, the country is shaded pink. No, no, not some mixture of red states and some smattering of white. No, pink, for wintry mix and/or snow. I saw it on my I-pad, where the Weather Channel still exists, unlike Direct-TV.

As I sit here, our front is white with ice, coming down in loud plinks on our driveway carport.

As I sit here, somewhere in the world, someone is dying for his or her belief in Jesus Christ.

As I sit here.

In the past couple months, as I sat and enjoyed good food, good warm surroundings, protected livelihood, the worst Christian massacre -- complete with mass graves, tortured to death women and children and destroyed churches took place in Syria, at the hands of the U.S. supported jihad "rebels" and we ignored it. Just ignored it. As I sat and enjoyed my ability to call up for any and all my research of scripture, 45 Christians were killed in Syria. Children ripped from their mother's arms. Fathers pulled from homes and shot. 

Just a day ago, Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, said it had documented 2,123 “martyr” killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012. There were 1,213 such deaths in Syria alone last year, it said. “This is a very minimal count based on what has been reported in the media and we can confirm,” said Frans Veerman, head of research for Open Doors. Estimates by other Christian groups put the annual figure as high as 8,000.

As I sit here talking about same-sex marriage and all the things that go with it, someone in the world died just for truly believing in Jesus, for it seems to me that even in the case of the Apostles, to believe in Jesus enough to not only die to self but to die for selflessness is proof of said belief.

As I sit here.

While most Americans are shielded from the true nature of the war by the U.S. media’s reluctance to report on it, apparently, Arabic media, websites, and activists daily report and document atrocity after atrocity—beheadings and bombed churches, Christians slaughtered for refusing to convert to Islam, and countless abducted for ransom or rape—at the hands of those whom the U.S. supports.
It’s enough to point out that “the largest massacre of Christians in Syria,” to quote a top religious leader, was left wholly unreported by any major U.S. news network.
It should be noted, as I sit here, that Syria, which used to be religiously tolerant, is now, in the context of the United States’ trying to bring “democracy” to it, the third worst country in the world in terms of “extreme persecution” of Christians.
In a story on Christian persecution in the Christian Coalition website, it says there are 100 Christians killed every month around the world for their beliefs.
So, while I sit here, typing on my Mac, surrounded by my pets, drinking my coffee brewed on my spectacular coffee-maker, someone is about to die, just for loving the Alpha and Omega, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the maker of us all... King Jesus.
But if I said what I just wrote somewhere in this world we live in, I would die. 
Last September in Pakistan, two suicide bombers exploded shrapnel laden vests outside All Saints' Church in the old city of Peshawar. Choir members and children attending Sunday school were among 81 people killed. The attack left 120 people wounded, with 10 of them in critical condition.

Clearly this is going on more than ever, but not for the first time. The Psalmist wrote, "All your commandments are endearing; I am persecuted without cause; help me."

Jesus taught his disciples, forewarned his disciples (of which I am happily and proudly able to say I am one -- which would get me killed, again, in many parts of the world) Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’

And he said, "“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name."

And he said, "Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also."

Getting the idea?

As I sit here, evil is afoot. Never, never make the mistake of thinking that we battle against foes of flesh. No. Evil still exists, still attacks, still persecutes.

Just one story before I rise from my sitting position.

limjan Yimiti, a Uyghur Christian imprisoned in China, is reportedly ill, though his exact medical condition is unknown. The former house church leader was sentenced in 2009 to 15 years in prison for allegedly “instigating separatism and revealing state secrets.” Those close to the case maintain that he was imprisoned because of his Christian faith and witness among the Uyghur people. They assert that there was never any proof of wrongdoing, and that Yimiti, an agricultural worker, would not have had access to state secrets.
As I sit here, I will do what I can for those who would do for me, or rather for my Christ, all a person can do. I'm going to stop, and I'm going to pray.
Father, as you know far better than I, you are evermore ready to hear my voice than I am to use it. Lift up this morning those who would literally and physically and tragically die for Christ. Let those like myself who often forget how blessed and fortunate we -- I -- truly are. Protect them, watch over them, encourage them. And if their lives do end because of the cause of Christ, let them rise to the heights of Mt. Zion. In the name of the protector and lover of us all, King Jesus, we pray.
That I can do as I sit here this morning.
What about you?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Loving the sinner and hating the sin is absolutely possible

Okay, okay, I'm going to swim up stream, again.

I read a blog yesterday that was well-written, well-done. I believe it was five things not to say to a millennial, as the topic I mean.

I didn't share it, because I want to talk about one of the points.

They were:
5. That's not Christian
4. I love the sinner, but hate the saint
3. You need to surround yourself with some good Christian people
2. You just have to do God's will.
1. It's all in God's plan

I've actually had an internet class about what not to say in a sermon, and some of these were in that. I could respond or add on to each of these, but I want to spend just a few special minutes of your time to talk about one that receives a lot of dialogue.

And the contestant on Jeopardy says, "I'll take No. 4 for a million."

I love the sinner, but hate the saint. Oh, I could go off on No. 2 and you don't want me to start on No. 1. But I digress.

The blogger, whose name I didn't save unfortunately, wrote this: "See, the problem I have with this phrase is that it assumes that "sin" is a specific action that is done/can be undone. If that's the case, name the specific action that you hate.

"I love you, Tommy, but I don't like it that you break my glasses."

"But really, I haven't heard this phrase used in those ways. I've only heard it used when people are talking about identity. 'I love gay people, I just hate that they act on their homosexual orientation ...'

"There we go. There's an honest statement. And an unhelpful one. It's unhelpful because you can't love me apart from my sexuality. I really don't think you can. It's part of what makes me who I am, even if it's not the whole of my definition. So, if you were to say to me, "I love you, but I hate that you're heterosexual...' I would probably stop listening right then and there because, well, I wouldn't believe you. You can't love me and yet hate an essential part of me."

Let's talk.

First, hate is the wrong word. I don't believe God hates any sinner, of which I am the greatest. But one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to think that because we believe or don't believe something makes it correct in God's sight.

Esau hated Jacob; his brothers hated Joseph; the Israelites hated manna;

Second, God is ultimately responsible for "hating" the sin.

The Bible says of this in Deuteronomy 12:31 -- "You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods."

God hates ... actions. It wouldn't be a stretch here, I don't think, to read that as God hates the actions but it doesn't say He hates the nations when it easily could have. Furthermore, in the Psalms, God is said to hate those who love violence.

There's also the famous proverb about what God hates. It says, "There are six things the Lord hates—    no, seven things he detests:17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lie, a person who sows discord in a family.

We want even get into all the dozens of times the Psalms writer uses the word hate.

Those, to me, are all actions except the last, and even that person performs an action.

He hates robbery and wrongdoing, He hates new moon celebrations that became meaningless in the way they were performed, He hates evil, He hates fortresses Israel had built instead of trusting God, and He hates our scheming against each other.

He hates, it tells me fairly much over and over and again. God hates, many actions, and even on occasion according to scripture, persons who do those actions. As startling as it seems, hate is a part of the equation, again according to scripture. The key phrase, to me, however is according to scripture.

See, what the blogger doesn't take into account is...scripture." His point is more about what his feelings about the matter is, and I get that, too. Many is the time when I would just as soon point out to God that what I'm doing wrong at the particular time (which would still be called sin by the way) doesn't hurt anyone so how on earth can it be wrong.

I do this, too often as well, but his biggest problem is I...I think, I, I, I. He begins with the statement, "See, the problem I have with this phrase is that it assumes that "sin" is a specific action that is done/can be undone. If that's the case, name the specific action that you hate."

Well, uh, uh, yeah. That's right. (And by the way anytime someone puts quotation marks around the word sin, you have my permission to start questioning the rest of the piece) Sin is a specific action that is done... and with Christ's help, it can be undone.

I (for like of a better word even though I wished there was one) hate alcoholism, but I sure love the alcoholic.
I hate murder, but by God's grace and power I must love murderers.
I hate abortion, but by God's grace and power I must love the abortion choosing mother and even the abortionist doctor and nurses.
I hate gossip, but by God's grace and power I must love people who gossip, even if it is directed at me.
I hate liars, but ... you get the idea, I think.
And yes, that includes gay persons, and do not make the huge mistake that I'm lumping homosexuals with murders. That's not me. Again that's scripture, which does not say one sin is greater than another. It clearly (I believe) says that if I fall short with one sin, I've fallen short of all the law. So my tinsy, winsey misstep is no different than any other.  ANY. All have fallen short of the glory of God. Me.  You. Them, whomever them is. Near as I can tell, we don't get to throw out the ones we want to because we love the sinner, because we're supposed to love all the sinners, in all their sins.

I actually don't even know why this is so difficult to understand, until I think that if I was an unbeliever, I might well not want to be told that what I've chosen to do, and every action begins with a choice, that which has been so much of a part of me that it all but defined me as a person, all but gave me my identity, is a sin and must be dealt with. That I must ask for forgiveness for what seems to be the way I was created by God since I never chose this in the first place. That I need someone to save me from MYSELF.

I get that. I also get that it is my duty to show that unbeliever how much God loves them, enough so that He actually sent his son to die for them, just so that even defining sin, even identifying sin, may be taken away and the wall of eternal separation from God would be ripped apart and brought down by that death, well, I would assume that over time that would make a difference.

It did with me, and my mother (who prayed for me for 22 years) hated my sin of drinking alcohol  as if it might all run out tomorrow but loved me enough to continually pray for me. I was labeled as the guy who drank too much at parties, and that was my genetic makeup, my DNA. I had some blood in my alcohol-system. I was once even asked about it on a job interview. People knew. It was an identifying sin.

And in a flash, in a moment, I no longer drank because I surrendered to the one true King. Now, if I drink, I will be that person again in about, oh, five minutes, maybe less. But I don't, because he has called me his child, and I believe Jesus died, was buried, and the third day he rose from the grave. I have been set free from who I was and who I am, again the worst of sinners, daily am washed clean.

We can sugar-coat that, put "sin" in quotation marks, but the bottom line for me is it is entirely possible to love the sinner with all that Jesus empowers me to do (and sometimes that includes even enemies) and hate the sin, heck all of the sins. Saying I can't love someone apart from their sexuality is wrong on about every level it can be wrong in. Saying I can call adultery adultery is Biblical, and seeing that I can separate the adultery from the adulterer is simply logical.

I have read a lot lately that we must love everyone without reservation because Jesus would. But I am reminded that Jesus said, "If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple."

Sin separates, no matter how we want to put it in quotations. And hate, like love, must be understood as not being an emotion but a choice.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Snowy days of revelation

I once did a sermon series on the verses you're about to read. I don't think you'll have to wonder too much about why it popped back into my head.'

"Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant warrior from Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds; he struck down two sons of Ariel of Moab. He also went down and killed a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. And he killed an Egyptian, a handsome man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but Benaiah went against him with a staff, snatched the spear out of the Egyptian's hand, and killed him with his own spear." 2 Samuel 23: 19-21.

Snow. The mythical happening in the South, that has come to me again. It has been more than four years since I saw it on our house in Lacombe.

It came mostly overnight. I was up at 6:15, before the dawn, but with the night light I saw the white stuff. The word appears 25 times in the NRSV, despite the fact snow is a bit of a rarity in Palestine, on the order of the southern portion of the U.S.

So, making a symbolic run at snow is a bit hard, but I'll try, for though I'm very sleepy, it's writing time.

Most of the time the Bible references snow, it's used as a phrase to describe a degree of whiteness. "White as snow," is the phrase.

I wonder if that degree of righteousness exists in any of us any longer.

Just this morning I read a long diatribe describing the awful breech in community that is happening in the denomination that I am licensed by to preach the Gospel, of which I talk about the blood of Jesus making us as white as snow by washing away our sins.

We can't get together over an issue that won't go away, so we have very, very public trials, and what is accomplished? A stain begins to bleed onto our white righteousness. That's both sides, mind you, because we can't seem to get together in any way, shape, or form over what scriptures says, what it means, what it directs us to do. So, the possibility of millions seeking Christ in our denomination is lessened by the day.  At worst it shows our very unwhite under clothing. At best, well, best is hard to figure. The trial, which must end with each one on trial "convicted" by those conducting the trial because those being tried most certainly willingly violated the UMC's Book of Discipline, ends with nothing but bad publicity. Unlike what some say, "there's no bad publicity but no publicity," this is not something the denomination needs. As Dylan wrote so long ago, "How many cannon balls must fly before there forever banned..." How many blows can that ol' ship the United Methodist Church take till it sinks when real conservation about our differences could at least put some tar and pitch on the holes?

But there is hope. Sleet is falling on the snow, and bits of it are dribbling away. But we won't let go of this morning. Six Christian leaders, including Focus on the Family President Jim Daly, "The Bible" producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, have created a coalition called "Imago Dei," Latin for "image of God" to encourage people to treat each other with respect. "For the image of God exists in all human beings; black and white; rich and poor; straight and gay; conservative and liberal; victim and perpetrator; citizen and undocumented; believer and unbeliever," the campaign states. Now, that's not a United Methodist bunch of folks, but the idea that everyone is made in God's image is not denominational, but in my mind scriptural. If that is the case, then perhaps our conversation about each other might begin to change. If we are all God's Masterpieces, then where does the conversation go?

Will this turn darkness to light, black to white, unbeliever to believer?

Probably not. But goodness isn't it a better way to go about attracting those who are lost than beating them over the head with trials, negativity, even judgment? Isn't it? Come on church. Isn't it?

Maybe we're not the glistening white of the Mount of Transfiguration any longer, dirtied by the bit of the Garden that remains in us despite our best efforts. But we're still, all of us who believe, covered in His white burning righteousness. His. Not ours. His image, not Satan's. His ideals, not the serpent's. His love, not our own.

Come on church. Isn't it. Let's go down together into the pit and kill the lion that is keeping us from being together. Let's quit slipping on ice and fluff. Let's love, like we are loved.

Come on church.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Horn blowing

So, I'm weed-whacking through some blogs, and somewhere I don't remember, I read something that knocked me off my high horse and led me down a cobbled path.

The Bible mentions unicorns.

There. Said it. Unicorns.

Horsey looking animals with one horn out their noggin.

Uni (one)
corns (I have no idea).

Now before you begin coming up with explanation after explanation, let me tell you what I've found.

Before your, uh, clothes get in a wad, most Biblical scholars will tell you right now, for more than a quarter down, that this animal, the horsey with the horn, is totally fictitious. None of these are alive today and no scientist has ever found a fossil of one. Nada. No horse with a hole where the horn was removed. No Trigger with a pointy trigger out his skull.

However, unicorns are mentioned in the King James version of the Bible 9 times, in 5 different books, by at least 5 different authors: by Balaam, Moses, David, Isaiah, and even God himself in the book of Job. NINE times. In five different eras of scripture. In five different scenes.

These are the verses that mention unicorns:
  • Numbers 23:22 “God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.”
  • Numbers 24:8 “God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.”
  • Job 39:9 “Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?”
  • Job 39:10 “Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?”
  • Psalms 29:6 “He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.”
  • Psalms 92:10 “But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil.”
  • Deuteronomy 33:17 “His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.”
  • Psalms 22:21 “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.”
  • Isaiah 34:7 “And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.”
I have read through the entire Bible four times at last count, along with hundreds of scripture searches along the way in sermon preparation or devotional time. Somehow, someway, ol' uni had never so much as struck my fancy, tickled my ivories, made even the slightest of appearances.

How could this be, since on sighting earlier this week in an otherwise meaningless and less than well written blog?

First things first. Unicorns are not mentioned in any of the modern translations. Only in the King James version are they mentioned. Most of the modern translations say “wild ox.” Some translations even say “buffalo.”

When I read that, it struck me that I've never read all of the KING JAMES version of scripture. So, in my NIV, NRSV, NLT, Message reading there is no UNICORN. None.

However, it is important to understand that the definition of the word “unicorn” has changed over time. If you get an old 1828 Noah Webster’s Dictionary, which is the very first edition dictionary that Webster came out with about 200 years ago, and look up the word “unicorn” it says:
Unicorn – An animal with one horn; the monoceros. this name is often applied to the rhinoceros.

We have options:
Wild Ox

Now, how could this happen? Rhinoceros is far from a horsey in appearance, nears as I can tell, and the Ox and the Buffalo and even the Rhinos have more than one horn. Or do they?

According to Noah Webster, back in the early 1800’s it was understood that there were two species of the rhinoceros. The one-horned species was called “unicorn,” and the two-horned species was called “bicornis.”

Today it is understood that there are five species of the rhinoceros, three of which have two horns, and two of which have one horn.

So basically, if you get a 200-year-old Noah Webster’s dictionary and look up the word “unicorn” it says “rhinoceros,” and if you look up the word “rhinoceros” it says “unicorn.” That was just 200 years ago. The King James was translated 400 years ago in 1611. One does not have to be good at math to figure this out.

Today’s definition of the word “unicorn” says absolutely nothing about a rhinoceros, and today’s definition of “rhinoceros” says absolutely nothing about a unicorn. The definitions have changed over time.

So, if the definition of “unicorn” has changed in just the past 200 years from rhinoceros to horse, then it doesn’t make much sense to take a modern definition of the word “unicorn” and apply it to a 400-year-old translation of the Bible. That’s illogical.

As a matter of fact, even today the scientific name of the Asian One-Horned Rhinoceros is Rhinoceros unicornis. And Diceros bicornis is the scientific name of a two-horned rhinoceros called the Black Rhinoceros. Where do you think those scientific names came from?

Well, they came from the Latin. Unicornis and bicornis are Latin words. That’s interesting, because If you look up Psalm 92:10 in the Latin Bible, the Latin word that is being used here is the word “unicornis.”

So, before we all get in a lather about how unicorns might show how mythical and fanciful scripture might be, we need to do our research.

Lest one get gored by some horn somewhere sometime.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Marching for the voice-less

Today in weather that is anything but toasty, thousands -- maybe hundreds of thousands -- will march to bring attention to pro-life causes.

This morning in weather hovering near freezing, I'm going to be the main speaker at a rally for the pro-life cause.

I read this a moment ago: Yesterday outside of Washington, D.C., students for life hosted the largest pro-life training of any group ever assembled. Virtually all of them were 17 to 25 years of ago. About 2,500 gathered within hours of today's march in Washington to learn how to organize, help college coeds in the midst of crisis pregnancies, and see technology reveal the story of what abortion does.

Today, the 41st anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, I'm going to speak about what moves me the most, the issue that touches my heart in so many ways. Since 1973, there have been almost 55 million abortions in this country.

We can give lip service to women's rights, and I sort of get that, but what I can't get is why the need to kill the child when it could be avoided so easily by simply giving the child up for adoption. The worst thing, it seems to me, is that these unborn have no voice, whereas every single other entity, class, organization, orientation has one. Usually a loud one. Today we march for the voice-less.

I've never been pregnant, which could some as a shock to anyone seeing my ample girth, but I have been adopted, and I know there is great gobs of love out there for children given up in that manner.

I understand the arguments. I see the need for ample discussion when a woman's life is in danger. I see the debate about incest and rape. And I see the great argument when the children are severely handicapped. I see, hear, feel all those very personal things.

And through it all I remain firm. I do. I don't believe in abortion. I don't.

Nicole, a 19-year-old from Kentucky shares my feeling. She writes,  It was this past spring. The due date's coming up -- I'm dreading it. I wanted to keep it. My boyfriend always had football practice, so he couldn't go to the doctor's appointments with me. If he'd gone, he would have felt differently, but he said, 'No way.' I wanted to show him that I loved him enough to do it for him. When I was 13 weeks, we made an appointment at the closest clinic in Kentucky, four hours away, but the night before, we decided not to go. At two in the morning, he called and said, 'Get dressed.' I said, 'I don't want to go.' We both cried the whole way there. I don't think abortion is killing, but I'd always been against it. When I told him the credit-card scanner at the clinch wasn't working, he asked if I was making it up. We went to get $1,000 from a gas-station ATM. I was hysterical, and he said, 'Okay, you don't have to go back.' I was so happy. Then he said, 'We drove all this way. Stop crying, act like a woman. I was angry, but I was so sleepy and tired of fighting. When I had the ultrasound, I asked for the picture and a nurse said, 'Seriously?' A month later, he said he regretted it too. When I cry about it, I cry alone. He thinks it would make me sad to talk about it, but I don't want our baby to think we forgot."

It's just a story. One story among thousands, millions. One story in which a woman calls her baby "it."

One woman with a horrendous decision to make because we allowed her to.

Thank God that in 1953, when I was born to an unwed young woman, the decision wasn't hers to make or this would be a blank blog today.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tired of slathered with faith

I'm tired, again. Tired of more than tired from, but tired all the same.

Last night for a few seconds till I turned it off out of absolute disgust, I viewed what appeared to be a teenager throwing puppies into a very rapid river. Video. Of murder.

Have we come to this? Have we really?

Job says in the 27th chapter of the book that looks at loss through God's eyes, "As God lives, who has taken away my right, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, as long as my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. ... I hold fast my righteousness, and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days."

As long as my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils...

Seems like a fairly good way for the tired of to live.

What are you tired of ...

My tired ofs include

Talk about sins I can't fix in myself, much less others;
Tired of "scholars," especially "Bible Scholars" (TA,DA) who write as if they have all the answers when clearly as Rich Mullins once said God has all the answers and the rest of us are just guessing.
Tired of talk about divorce, death, homosexuality for or against, abortion for or against, ministry plus or minus, progressives, conservatives, and most especially about health care fer it or agin it.
Tired of talk about the presidency or Congress or the Supreme Court of any and all of these folks who have no answers but talk on without regret.
Tired of talk about bridges in New Jersey.
Tired of talk about definitions of marriage.
Tired of economic talk.
Tired of Richard Sherman (google if you want).
Tired of...

So, what do we do when the tiredness of life closes in? I'm reminded of the speech in Field of Dreams that begins my tears. The main character Ray Kinsella looking in at his father who, though dead, comes to the field Ray has created out of an Iowa cornfield, recognizes his father before the difficulties of life have aged him. Ray and his Dad had stopped throwing the ball to each other when Ray became 14 years old and too much into the rebellion of the 60s to be troubled to have a catch with his father.  Ray walks up to him and asks him simply, "You wanna have a catch?" I cry every time. Still after all these years.

They are tired tears, tired of missing my parents, tired of not have lived a very good life with my father. Tired of...

Tired of dealing with the deaths of persons who were loved to the end.

Tired of pain...
tired of loss ...
tired of fear...
tired of

I fear I'm not alone in this. I fear others will know what I'm talking about. I fear this because I want others to rise up and lead.

But for those of us who are tired of, those ragamuffins still searching for something, anything that is greater than themselves, Jesus provides a balm. He says come to him with our burdens and he will give us peace in return. A fair exchange, I reckon.

Tired of replaced by peace with. Tired of slathered with faith and done away with.

The only thing that I have to give in the end is the love of Jesus that was freely given to me. I offer that to battling divorcees. I offer that to those clinging to help. I offer this to the lame men walking, to the blind literally and figuratively. I offer this to the deaf, real and symbolic.

It's all I've ever needed to get past the tired ofs. It's all I've ever gotten. It's all I've ever given.

What are you tired of? What do you need relief from? What are you willing to give up to get that relief?

He's ready to help. He's ready to give. He's not tired of you or me or us.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Would He use social media?

This morning over a Vitameatavegamin (or whatever they call that thing) shake of various fruits I would never eat if not thrown in the pulsating gift of ours, along with raw spinach to make a nice purpleish colored drink and oh so full of vitamins and such, I had me a thought.

What if Jesus were walking the planet's narrow roads today? What if he used Facebook to plead his side of the argument, used Twitter to preach to the thousands?

Would he use Facebook to needlessly and thoughtlessly make a case for Christianity?
Would he use Facebook to build up sympathetic support?
Would he use Facebook to bring people to his side, the side of the underdog against the mighty Roman government or the mighty Temple guard or even the powerful Pharisees and the ruthless Sandhedrin.

Would he use Facebook to tell his disciples to let the little children come to him?

Fact is, I doubt it.

See, there's still something about looking someone in the face and discussing things that will never be overriden by passion of the moment.

There's still something about being mature, about being level-headed, about not rushing to judgment, about being filled with both forgiveness and love that makes Facebook the worst possible method of making a point, Christ or not.

One can't see the tone of black and white lettering (or for those creative types, colored lettering). One can't hear the inflection of the wording. One can't, no matter how clear and concise the writer is. Oh, it is possible that a person is using social media for one's own ends. Using Facebook as a weapon is simply a new way of throwing insults at the next person. But then the phone has always been a good way to get 'er done, too, throwing out explatives and insults at others like so many seeds in an open field.

Forgetting Facebook for the moment, that's one of the problems I have with "scholars" telling US what the Bible says. I began a book yesterday called Zealot. I made it through two chapters of this alternative look at the life of Jesus before putting it down. I might pick it up again, I might not. The author is a religion "scholar," and he's absolutely sure of the errant writing of the Bible. When I read his words that Luke knew his writing about the census was wrong but he went forward with it to make a point, I knew I wouldn't care for this work.

But I ramble. Here's the bottom line. Anyone who uses Facebook, Twitter or any other service to blast someone without fear of retaliation is in dire need of a huge dose of maturity. If that person uses those services to gain something, anything, they're wrong. Though certainly I know they do. I've seen it in person. I've seen it used against me already.

It is, however, up to those of us who are trying to walk that narrow road as best we can to forgive those who aren't trying. That's our task. That's our mission. That's one way to make disciples, forging what has been done to us without retailiation. Love turns hearts to the Lord, I believe.

When one does that, maybe then even the child will come to them. Maybe all of us will even think more of the child or the children than we do our pitiful selves who fall so short of the glory of God.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Love without conditions

Is there unconditional love on this planet today?

I guess to discuss this, one must decide about conditional love. Conditional love is a polarized emotion, meaning that it has an opposite emotion. The opposite extreme of love is hatred. Conditional love comes from ego and generally focuses on someone (like a romantic partner, child, parent, friend) or some thing (like a house, a car, or a job). When we love someone conditionally, we tend to want them to look, act, and think in ways that fit our own paradigms and expectations. We hold others accountable to our expectations in order to qualify for our affection. If they act the way we want them to, we express our approval; if they act contrary to our wishes, we withhold our expression of acceptance of them, usually in some form of anger. Conditional love polarizes our internal thought process to believe, “I am right, and you are wrong, so I think you should see things my way.”

Conditional love appears everywhere on the planet, does it not?

But unconditional love?

Unconditional love is neutral. The source of unconditional love is the Holy Spirit; therefore it is available to everyone without discernment, and there is absolutely nothing we need to do to qualify for it. It just is, like rain from dark clouds and heat from a cloudless summer sky in Louisiana. Unconditional love comes through to us at a soul level, beginning at the level of self-acceptance and self-forgiveness, and radiates divine light to everyone and everything. When we make a conscious decision to choose thoughts based on unconditional love, it does not mean that we agree with everyone and everything. It means that we consciously commit ourselves to expressing respect, kindness, and cooperation to everyone and everything in our environment.

Which brings me to the story of the day.

Back in October, Seminole County Animal Services in Florida found a 2-year-old Dachshund protecting a 7-month-old paraplegic kitten by a gated driveway. The Doxie, later named Idgie, was guarding the cat, Ruth - barking and growling if someone came close. Ruth can only move by dragging herself with her front legs. "Both of them were found in fairly good shape, not filthy or malnourished, so it seems as though they probably had a home at some point," said the shelter's Diane Gagliano.

Wait, what? Did you get that? Dog ... cat. Dog ....paralyzed cat.

Love. Protection. Survival.

Un-condition-al love.

Jacqueline Borum, who runs a spa nearby the shelter, adopted the duo and is keeping them at the business where "everyone can enjoy them and take care of them," she said. "They are so special!" Borum named the pair after the loyal friends in "Fried Green Tomatoes."

We have the capability in us to do something similar. We, just, don't. We could. We don't. Remember, the two weren's filthy, weren't malnourished, probably had a home. But the cat couldn't have made it to where they were by herself, so the owner had to have put them out at some point, and the owner didn't come looking for them.

Conditional love at its worst.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Judging the future of (conservative, progressive, moderate) folks

I've read, quite a bit lately, about bad experiences in church, about those new creatures called progressive Christians versus conservative Christians, how Bob Mann is the only person on the planet who can write, etc., etc, etc.

Today I read this from what I believe is a journalist out of a job either by her choice or others.

She wrote this: This is my faith story.  I decided to write it because every time I’ve read my bible lately, I’ve had a hard time concentrating because I keep trying to write this story, my story.  I’ve had hesitations sharing it with the world (by world, I mean whoever actually sits down and chooses to read this whole thing) because I don’t want to offend or hurt anyone from my past. But, ultimately I’ve decided to tell my story not because it’s unique, but because it’s not unique.  And, if it’s not unique, then maybe it can help people who have been through similar experiences.
I grew up going to a private Christian School from Kindergarten to 4th grade.  During this time period I also went to my best friend’s church on most Sundays.  What I learned there was hate.  How we should hate evil.  But, lots of things were evil: Halloween, Santa and don’t get anyone started on the Homosexuals. I think I heard the term “homosexual” dozens of times before I actually knew what it meant.  Funny how Jesus never mentioned those evilest of evils.
The other thing I learned was fear.  Fear of not being quite good enough.  I thought I had demons in my house spying on me; I had nightmares of burning in the fiery pit of hell.  Has anyone ever seen the play Heavens Gates, Hells Flames ?  If so, then you know how terrifying that would be to a little kid.  It showed different scenarios of people dying and then God judging whether they get into heaven or whether they will be tortured for all eternity in Hell.  As if scaring people into believing in Jesus, the most loving person of all time, is what he’d want.
The pinnacle of this part of my life was a trip to a church camp in North Carolina.  I remember sitting in a lecture and the instructor puling up a slide with a list of slang words.  It showed you how every slang word was a sin because the word was a derivative of God.  So, no “oh my goodness”.  Or even “gosh by golly” because the word “golly” was derived from the word “God”.  Sorry Grandpa B, apparently you’ve been sinning all of these years.  Switch to another scene, an instructor called out names to TV shows and had us all clap for the ones we liked to watch.  It was the 90’s so the auditorium erupted when Friends was called.  Then the instructor told us how many times the Lord’s name was used in vain, how many times pre-marital sex was mentioned, etc. in the show.  Even Christian Rock music was evil because the blasphemous beat of the songs could set young people in a sinful mindset.
I felt so disgusted with myself that I got “saved”.  I had already been saved, but I wasn’t sure if it counted because I was so bad.

That's her story. I have a bit of that story, as well, and I've done more than my share of talking about how uneducated and wrong those types of judgments are.

Till I got judged myself. .

I want to again point out that progressives (code name liberal) are not the only thinking persons on the planet. I want to again point out that there are moderates, as I like to call myself, who still believe quite liberally in great and grad portions of scripture. There are persons who struggle with the passages about homosexuality and abortion and tons of other stuff yet believe in the authority of the Bible. There are plenty of us who feel R-rated movies and TV-14 television shows aren't exactly the end of culture and the world in general but we would be better off without programs like Two and a half men.

But we aren't given the voice either the progressives or the very conservatives, at least partially because we do want to talk about all these things in a real way.

There has to be a point where we come together for conversation. But there will never be as long as we keep blasting each other from the left and from the right.

What I've learned is that this judging thing that progressives rail about goes both ways. Every one's judging everyone else.

 Using scripture without context is a dangerous thing, but I'll do it anyway. Romans 14:13 says, "let us stop judging one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put anything in your brother's way that would cause him to stumble and fall."

The Apostle Paul wrote that. He also wrote in a letter to churches in Corinth, "Is it my business to judge those outside the church? Aren’t you supposed to judge those inside the church? God will judge those outside.”

So, uh, so, uh, we're not supposed to judge unless we're judging those inside the church?"

Look, none of these issues are easy to deal with. The best I can hope to do is try my best not to judge others actions even while I realize that looking through the prism of grace I must forgive whatever others are doing. Even as they are looking at my stuff, also.

So, in my judgment, all this is about Jesus, not church. All this stuff about Christians giving Christians a bad name, like Bob Mann wrote recently, ignores all the good stuff moderates, and progressives, and conservatives have done in the name of Christ.

It's not about who wins the culture wars, friends. It's about Jesus. Nothing else.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Clock is ticking toward midnight ...

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”[a] He treads the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. (Revelation 19: 11-16)

It just so happens I've been teaching a class on Revelation (mostly futurist, but exploring other options including those ol' historicist and preterits notions). We're just to chapter 14, but we've experienced quite a bit of stuff so far.

I tell you this because this little story popped on my screen a few minutes ago from Yahoo news.

"The iconic Doomsday Clock remains poised at five minutes until midnight, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced today. Every year, the board analyzes international threats, particularly nuclear arsenals and climate change, and decides where the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock should rest. The closer it is to midnight, the closer the world is to doom. This year, the board chose not to ease up on their warnings of doomsday, because of stalled relations between the United States and Russia, two countries with massive nuclear arsenals. Meanwhile, efforts to combat climate change are struggling as well, the Bulletin board warned. The United States, European Union and Australia all show wavering commitment to renewable energy, and Japan has backed off promises to voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

So, there you go. We're five minutes from doomsday. Five minutes from the end. Five minutes.

If true, and five minutes is symbolism for, say, a year, then what would you do in that year you're being given right now?

What would you do that you normally don't do? Who would you call you haven't called in a while? Who would you go see you've held back from seeing? Would you hug your kids a little more? Would you go on that vacation you never had time or money for before?

Five minutes equals one year.

Clock is ticking. Why don't you answer me below on comments, or Facebook comment. Let's talk about this.

Clock is ticking ....tick, tick, tick, tick, tic, ti, t

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Free the captives

The women at the jail were kind, pointing me toward the door, which led me to the elevator, which led me to the first set of bars on the door, which through there led me to the hallway that led to the second set of bars on the door.

The waiting room for visitors was filled with seats that were very reminiscent of pews. I sat there and waiting for him to come, tired and sleepy from having risen at 5:35 and driven from Eunice to the quaint village of St. Martinville, a drive of about an hour and a half. We drove through plowed under sugar cane fields, past fields of what probably were rice and such. Through Breaux Bridge, with its little down town area of shops and a couple restaurants, through and past Bayous and bridges and things.

All the way to the set of bars that swung open at the push of some button, making a bang that signified it was open.

He came, we talked, we prayed together.

It was a morning in which the doors swung open, on hearts and on minds and on life.

It seems to me this morning as I ponder what I've been through in this life I've lived, I am so covered in God's grace that I can't even understand it all. Why He came, why He died for me, FOR ME. For you. For all of us.

As I write this, The Highwaymen are singing on Pandora, "it was down in Louisiana, just about a mile from Texarkana, in those old cotton fields back home." That might have been the first song I ever learned in its entirety. I'm reminded once again of all those decisions on all those years. Each and every one led me to this key board. And it is only by the grace of God that I'm not behind those set of bars that swing closed at the push of some button, making a bang that signified it was closed, closed on freedom, closed on the freshness of free air, closed on what comes next outside those doors.

I believe we, all of us, are given a task. It was no small coincidence that Jesus walked to the scroll and unrolled it to the passage in Isaiah that reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Aren't we all sent?
To proclaim release to the captives.
To proclaim recovering of spiritual sight to the lost and blind?
To let the oppressed go free from their oppressors?

I'm reminded each time I go to the quaint cells in St. Martinville. There are ways to be free, even while captive.

I pray I was able to remind him. I pray the grace given be the grace given.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thy Rod doesn't comfort

I watched some of the 60 minutes interview with Tony Bosch last night before I became disgusted with the whole thing and switched to some movie I had already seen.

Bosch, for those who don't read baseball material, has accused Alex Rodriquez, a third baseman for the New York Yankees, of taking performance enhancing drugs. Rodriquez denies this. Major League Baseball, for the most part on Bosch's word, has suspended Rodriquez for a year or 162 games plus any post-season games the Yankees might play.

Bosch and Rodriquez are both guilty of a lot of things, I think. But what I want to explore this morning is the notion that someone can be good at something, really, really good at something and yet there is this inner beast that causes that person to do anything (and I mean anything) to be what they feel is the best.

The most telling quote of the night, to me, was when Bosch said, "He wanted to achieve all his human performance or in this case, sports performance, objectives."

How many of us want to achieve all our human performance? I don't find anything wrong with that. I want to be the best pastor, best preacher, best husband, father, grand-father, writer, etc. Shouldn't we be in the business of trying to do the best with what God has given us.

Rodriquez was that, ironically. He was a great player from the time he broke into the major leagues at the tender age of 19.

But here's where things go wrong, friends. He wanted more. Always more. He wanted to be more than he was. So, apparently he went out and tried to buy it. He coveted something beyond greatness.

Isn't it always that one more thing that threatens us, breaks us?

The Bible has plenty to say about such, but what we'll stick to is the notion of envy and coveting what others have. Envy is a feeling of discontent or covetness with regards to another's advantages, success, possessions, etc.

The Bible tells us in Proverbs 23:17 -- "Do not envy sinners but continue to fear the Lord."
Proverbs 24:1 says "Don't envy evil people or desire their company."
In Ezekiel, God says, "Because I made this tree so beautiful, and gave it such magnificent foliage, it was the envy of all the trees of Eden, the garden of God."

The Bible tells us of coveting in what we call the ten commandments, "You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, "At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life."

Serious business, this envy or coveting. In simple terms, Rodriquez, like many, many of us, apparently wanted to be the best home run hitter in baseball history that he cheated everyone else. He wanted to possess what Barry Bonds, who likewise has been accused of taking PEDs, had -- the home run record. Bonds wanted what Henry Aaron had, the home run record.

Now, at its core there is nothing wrong with wanting to work hard to be the best at something. But when it becomes an obsession, when one does things wrong in order to gain the possession of someone else, oh my.

The real problem is we live in a culture that says it's okay to do this. We live in a society that has people re-arranging their looks through surgery in order to do what they felt they couldn't with their previous looks. We live in a society that fills its gaps with drugs and alcohol. We live in a society in which the rich do not look to the greater good, but instead look to make themselves richer.

Coveting, envying, begrudging all belong together in the role call of what we can't do.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Where do we go from here?

Where do we go from here?

Oh, I ask myself that all the time, but on this occasion I'm referring to a wandering people who had just lost their leader.

Deuteronomy includes this as it ends:

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

I'm drawn to this passage, as I am to much of Moses' tale, because it is plain to see for all that this notion of doing God's will is a real thing, and the notion that one might not get all one dreamed of if one follows God is just as real.

The chapter goes on to say that "never has their arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt ..."

And yet God would not allow him into the promise land.

What are we, therefore, to make of this tale?

1) We can do everything God calls us to do, to the best of our human-ness if you will, and yet we might not see the end result.
2) We can fail because of that human-ness, but God loves us even so.
3) If Moses can be left out of the end game, where are we and who are we to question.

Kathern Schifferdecker, a professor of the Old Testament, writes,
"This story has spoken to people of faith, Jews and Christians, through the centuries. Jewish congregations traditionally read through the Torah (the Pentateuch) every year, ending with this story and beginning immediately again with Genesis 1. That experience of being always (liturgically) outside the Promised Land is one that has helped form the identity of that community of faith through centuries of being -- quite literally -- outside the Promised Land. For Christians through the centuries, on the other hand, this story has spoken of the now-and-not-yet time between Christ's first and second coming. For both communities, this story has encouraged faith.
"One of the most striking uses of this text, of course, is in the speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated. He addressed the crowd in Memphis:
Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people will get to the promised land.3
That great modern-day prophet used the story of Israel's first great prophet to speak of hope and faith to a people who needed both. That story can continue to speak to people today who, even in the midst of disappointment, live by faith in the God of Moses, the God who does indeed fulfill promises.
The 9th verse of the final chapter of Moses' tale I think instructs us further. It reads, "Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses."

I think the final lesson from this is that we move on. I did a devotional to the communion youth we host each Wednesday this week in which I talked about moving on. Thursday I did a funeral in which I talked about moving on. Grief comes, we must move on. Jobs come and go, we must move on. Great prophets come, then they go, and God provides the next person.

That person might not be the same as the one before, in fact it is almost guaranteed to be different, but different isn't worse or even better. It's just different.

And that's a good way to look at the itinerantcy of the United Methodist Church. Whomever there in a church's pulpit is called to be in that pulpit by God, by the Bishop of this state's conference, by the Cabinet of this conference. Called for that moment. And when that moment has passed, we pray that everyone is on accord that it is time to do what? Move on.

Joshua, son of Nun, wasn'tMoses. Near as I can tell, he never tried to be. But he did what God called him to do, and the people listened.

Where do we go from here? I don't actually know. But I cling to the idea that God does, and therefore his word is a lamp unto my feet.

Some folks can't handle that

Thursday, January 9, 2014

God would weep, I believe

I wonder what God is thinking about his chosen people this day.

In the Religion News roundup today, it was pointed out that Israel has made it easier for economically distressed women to obtain an abortion.

The 2014 “health basket” of medical services and medications approved by Israel’s cabinet Sunday (Jan. 5) includes free abortions for Israeli women aged 20 to 33, regardless of the circumstances.
The $4.6 million earmarked by the Health Ministry committee will cover some 6,300 abortions for women who cannot afford the procedure.

In 2013, almost 20,000 women received permission to abort from hospital termination committees, according to Efrat, an organization that encourages women considering abortion to have their babies.
Until now, government-funded abortions have been reserved for women younger than 19 or older than 40, and in cases where the fetus has a severe defect, the mother’s life is endangered, or the pregnancy is a result of sexual abuse. If a woman believed the pregnancy would cause her harm, physically or emotionally, she had had to pay for the procedure herself.

Ruth Tidhar, who heads Efrat’s assistance department, said that in a country like Israel, where mothers receive paid maternity leave and preschool education is heavily subsidized, “it gives a mixed message when contraceptives aren’t funded by the government while abortions are.”

Judaism does not share the Roman Catholic belief that life begins at conception, but various Jewish streams have a range of opinions on the issue. The one thing most Jews agree on: That abortion is always permissible if the mother’s life is in danger.

Since 1973 there have been more than 50 million abortions, legal abortions, legalized murder in my opinion which I'm happy to still have. This subject, which I've never really written on before for reasons I don't remember, is a heated, difficult topic for many. But it has become a back-burner subject as we wrestle with gay marriage and the like.

But it's an important, very important, tremendously important topic, and it's personal to me. I was born to an unwed very young woman in 1953. If I had been more but 20 years later, I would certainly have been a prime fetus for discussion would I not.

So, it's always been as personal to me as it is to women who argue for rights.

I'm speaking at a pro-life rally in Eunice on Jan. 22, and I'm going to use some of the ideas from a man named Matt Walsh.

He points out that a society that says it is okay to kill its young, even its disabled fetus' because they are disabled, is a society that is going to fall.

He uses the story of Brock and Rhea Wuth who recently won a $50 million lawsuit against a hospital. The reason? They weren't told their child would be severely disabled. They told a newspaper that if they had known of the genetic defect, they would have ended the pregnancy. We now live in a society that rewards folks for wrongful life instead of wrongful death. We now live in a society that says you pick and choose who lives and who dies based upon how viable they are or will be. We live in a society that allows inconvenience to be a reason to kill.

With that in mind, maybe we should just go shoot Steve Gleason and all the persons who have ALS or Alzheimer's or Dementia or whatever the next big ticket item is.

As Walsh says, they love their child, now 5 years old, but they wanted him dead.

Now, again, this is a tender subject, a difficult subject. I get that the child will never be what we call normal. I get that. I really, really get that.

Read this and make an opinion for yourself.

Since the ... public opinion has become increasingly preoccupied with questions of demographic policy and the continuing decline in the birthrate. However, it is not only the decline in population which is a cause for serious concern but equally the increasingly evident genetic composition of our people. Whereas the hereditarily healthy families have for the most part adopted a policy of having only one or two children, countless numbers of inferiors and those suffering from hereditary conditions are reproducing unrestrainedly while their sick and asocial offspring burden the community.

A little dictator named Adolph helped form that idea. With great misfortune, he let the idea go beyond that. He okayed the killing of more than 70,000 who were deemed to be incurably sick or mentally challenged. He sterilized more than 360,000 people so that they could not perpetuate this misfortune on children.

Is that where we want to go?

No, no, no you scream.

Oh, by the way, the Wuth's had been told there was a 50-50 chance they would have a child with the defect their son has. Wonder if they know they would have been prime candidates to be killed in a large country a mere 75 years or so ago?

Wonder if the government in Germany would have paid for it?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Revenge is a broken heart in the making

There's a show on television I've never watched but a dear cousin of mine loves. It's called Revenge. Again, I know not any details. But I do know what a dangerous idea it is, whatever it is, because that's what many of us know all too well.


I read in Proverbs today, "Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips. Do not say, "I will do to others as they have done to me; I will pay them back for what they have done."

Uh, right.

Has any of us ever really been talked about, really been hurt by loose lips, and not for a moment thought of returning fire with fire? Really? In every business, you will find someone who is unhappy with someone, and eventually they will use what they can to hurt the other person. They nag others, push others, pull others until they get the other person to see what they see, right or wrong, true or false.

In every business.

Maybe even especially in the church. Harry Ironside, a pastor, once said, "where there is light, there's bugs."

Read a goodly portion of the book of Proverbs, and one will get an earful, so to speak.

The use and abuse of language is a central concern of the writer or writers of the book. Speech, hearing or silence is mention in EVERY CHAPTER OF THE BOOK. It talks about wisdom, and what makes it, sure. But, for example, chapters 10 through 15 tries to create positive associations with the speech of the righteous.

Marshall Shelley, in his book, "Ministering to Problem People in Your Church," writes about a time in a church where one person seemed to be taking control over, well, most everything. She pushed and pushed a pastor who had been doing extremely well in six years in the church until one day at a prayer meeting, she pointed out that the pastor's views of the Second Coming differed from those of her favorite Christian TV talk show host. The pastor blew.

"I admit it. I lost my cool," the pastor said. "I told her I got my theology from the Bible, not from a blow-dried talking head. I said the trumpet of the Lord will rouse more people than the troupes of well-rehearsed singers with their Christian Musak that puts me to sleep. I admitted I wasn't as attractive as the TV personalities, and I'm sure I'm wrong on a lot of things, including some fine points of doctrine, but I've been called to this church, and I'm ministering as faithfully as I can. Even if I can't compare with other preachers, at least I'm here, I'm yours, and I'm available 24 hours as day."

Shelly writes that the 30 faithful at the prayer meeting were speechless, stunned at the outburst.

Bottom line, the woman continued to push behind the scenes even harder than before. She needled, and she knifed and she did everything she could until she finally found something she could use to get the board to finally see what she believed to be true ... they needed a new pastor. They got one.

The key to all this, obviously spoken of but notoriously difficult to do, is to pray for the person, love on the person, help the person who wants to hurt.

But revenge begins to rear its ugly head on occasion, even if we never wanted such before.

Leviticus tells us this: "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite; but love your neighbor as yourself."

Sounds Jesus like, doesn't it?

While I was writing this, a radio station in California told me this story: A high school student named Harley was arrested last year for burning down a United Methodist Church as an act of revenge because he was upset he didn't get a large inheritance that went to the church instead.

But Pastor Wanda Lancaster didn't pursue charges against Harley. Instead, she forgave him, saying she didn't think Harley would  benefit from time in prison. Oh, he had to work off a great deal of his penalty in community service, but he graduated from high school and is now going to college. He also works with the newly built church.

To paraphrase a Capitol One advertisement, "What's in your heart?"

If it's revenge, let the Holy Spirit squash it.