Thursday, May 28, 2009

Having too much yet not helping others

This was the 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.

- Ezekiel 16:49
Now, I've read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19) to know that the straw that broke the camel's back may indeed have been the gang of men who were demanding that Abraham's nephew Lot hand over some angels that God sent so that they could rape them (Gen 19:4-5), this verse is often cited by conservatives as one to prove that God hates homosexuality.

But I find it absolutely fascinating that God has Ezekiel tell Jerusalem that what really made Him angry was their arrogance and affluence.

Mind you, before liberals start flaunting this one in the face of too many conservatives, they should know that verse 20, where they sacrifice their children to idols (infanticide) is often cited to prove God's opposition to abortion.

Be that as it may, I still think it's important to note that decadence and neglect for the underprivileged are at the core of Sodom's guilt.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

"Christian:" noun~ "Little Christ," Adjective~ to be like Christ, a.k.a. "Christ-like"

It is time that Christians were judged more by their likeness to Christ than their notions of Christ.

- Lucretia Mott,
Quaker abolitionist and women's rights advocate (1793-1880)

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Thursday, May 14, 2009


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Love perseveres

So you call yourself a “Christian?”
A “Little Christ?”
“Little Anointed One?”
Set aside for a purpose?

Are you sure you’re ready for His purposes?

Love perseveres.

Are you patient?
Are you kind?
Do you envy?
Do you ever brag?
Pretty proud of yourself, aren’t you?
Are you ever rude?
Are you ever self-seeking? Never? No Ambition? Never any ulterior motives?
How easy is it to make you angry?
Do you keeps track? Are you keeping score?
Oh I know you rejoice in the truth, but do you rejoice with THE Truth?
Do you ever delight when harm comes to others?
Do you always protect? Or do you just over protect?
Do you always trust?
Where is your hope?

Love perseveres.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,
if any comfort from his love,
if any fellowship with the Spirit,
if any tenderness and compassion,
then make my joy complete by being like-minded,
having the same love,
being one in spirit and purpose.

Are you sure you’re ready for HIS purposes?

Love perseveres.

Do you do ever do anything out of selfish ambition?
Are you ever vain or conceited?
Are you humble?
Do you consider others better than yourself?
Or do you look after your own interests?
What about the interests of others?

Love perseveres.

Is your attitude the same as that of Christ Jesus?
Don’t you consider equality with God something to be grasped?
Do you make yourself nothing?
Are you a servant?
Do you humbled himself?
Would you be obedient to death?

Love perseveres.

Do YOU love?
Are you joyful?
Are you a peacemaker?
Are you patient?
Are you kind?
I bet you think you try to be pretty good, don’t you?
Are you as faithful as you think?
Do you let your gentleness be evident to all?
You want to control society, but how much self-control have you got?

Love perseveres.

Do you love your enemies?

Do you do good to those who hate you?
Have you blessed those who curse you?
Are you praying for those who mistreat you?

Love perseveres.

"You have heard that it was said,
'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I tell you:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.

Love perseveres.

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
So you may as well get used to it.

Love perseveres.

Do you love your enemies?
Do you do good to them?
Do you even give them to them without expecting to get anything back?

Love perseveres.

Believe it or not,
Like it or not,

Jesus is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

While we were still His enemies, Christ died for us.
Would you die for your enemies?

Are you merciful, just as your Father is merciful?

Lord, forgive us,
for we know not what the Hell we're doing to each other.

Believe it or not,
Like it or not,

Love perseveres

Matthew 5, Luke 6, Romans 11, 1 Corinthians 13, Philippians 2, Galatians 5, Romans 5

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Unless you enjoy dragging all those rocks around everywhere...

John 8:6-11, 15-16

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone! 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

...You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. 16 And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me.

Luke 6:36-38

36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

I don't know- I figure God is God and I am not. It would be pretty arrogant for me to try to do His job for Him. Thank God, we don't have to carry the weight of either saving, fixing or judging the world. I'm not good at throwing rocks and I for one get tired carrying all those rocks around. I'd rather pave roads with them.

It seems to me that anger and indignation do more to erode the one who bears it than to bring about contrition or repentance in the ones it is aimed at. I may be in error, (God forgive me and correct me when I am), but if I am going to err, I would always rather err on the side of mercy and compassion than on the side of judgment, control, or retribution. Law and Gospel should always be in balance, but when the balance tips, I would rather it tip toward the Gospel than toward the Law.

Feel free to disagree with me, most people do.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lord, save us from Your followers

I know a lot of Christians who feel marginalized because since they hold some mainstream or some left of center political opinions. Their fellow believers criticize them and judge them, make them feel like they're not good enough Christians or not Christian enough because their views aren't enough aligned with the conservative evangelical monolith.

I'll admit that one reason I "piratized" my blog, was because I was so frustrated with what I perceive as American Christian politics as not-so-Christ-like, driven by "tribalism," anger and legalism- but also because I was so desperate to be respected even though my personal opinions don't fit lock step with the extreme-right convention of my neighbors and fellow congregants here in the hinterlands.

But I also want to reach and reassure those disaffected progressives like me who can't seem to get past the fact that Jesus said to "turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give 'em the shirt off your back and love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you..." but so many American Christians these days say "torture saves lives, take the fight to them before they bring it here, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, better dead than red, I didn't come from no monkey, baby killers go to Hell, and God hates fags."

I have a friend who's a psychiatrist and a college professor, whom I know loves the Lord and has love and compassion for his patients and students who is feeling labeled, lumped, judged, and alienated by absolutist, authoritarian, fundamentalist, Pharisees lately (oops, there I've labeled, lumped-together, judged and possibly alienated them back,! hypocritical me).

What I fear is that Christians drive our brothers and sisters in Christ away from Jesus and out of His kingdom by making them feel like they can't possible belong. Sometimes we shout so loud and our political passions burn so hot that we eclipse the Son. Counter productive. Straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel.

Forgive me Lord if/when I do hold wrong opinions. Forgive me fellow Christians if/when I offend you or become a stumbling block for your faith. But Holy Crap- Dear GOD, will you PLEASE not let the fear and hate and anger and impulse for control that so many Christians have drive away Your lambs. Don't let Your sheep root and budge and bite like pigs at the trough.

Here's an awesome song lyric from the Lutheran duo, Lost and Found that speaks to this issue"

"So many people pushed away Ones that are loved told they can't stay The
question is what would Jesus say?God's own people close the door The loud and
the angry take the floor We know what you fear But what are you for? Furthermore
. . .


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sanctification; Huck

Wikipedia says: In slang, "I'm your huckleberry" is a way of saying that one is just the right person for a given job which was used by the character Doc Holliday in the movie Tombstone.

I think that's a pretty cool metaphor for sanctification- being set aside for our created purpose. Come to think of it, I think that sanctification should've been on Paul's list of fruit of the Spirit. Love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control and letting God use you as He originally intended- against such there is no law. But far be it from me to try to add or detract from the Apostle's words.

Wikipedia also says this: The tiny size of the berries led to their frequent use as a way of referring to something small, often in an affectionate way. The phrase "a huckleberry over my persimmon" was used to mean "a bit beyond my abilities".

I'm a tiny berry, St. Paul is a big 'ol watermelon, maybe my pastor is a persimmon (bigger than huckleberries but smaller than a melon, about the size of a kumquat).

But isn't that just like all of us? We think we're way too small and inconsequential to do anything important for God, yet He choses the feeble and frail for His mightiest purposes.

John Piper's famous prayer sums it up: "Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am!"

We are weak, but He is strong. It's never about what I can do, but always about what He can do through me.

Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Want to get sanctified? Just say to God, "I'm Your Huckleberry."

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Sanctification; Purpose

Here's a little follow-up on the entry on 1 John 3:16-18 that I wrote yesterday-

When I was in college, The History of Modern Philosophy was a difficult but fun class. The best thing to come out of Doc Meyer's Philosophy class was the revelation that most of philosophy was about philosophers using big, flowery words. Gaining the skills necessarily to analyze and scrutinize such "thick" language was immeasurably valuable for all the other classes we'd eventually take in college, not to mention deciphering all the fine print and legal copy on ads and contracts you're confronted with as a grown-up.

One of the ways we made fun of all the jargon was by greeting each other with one philosopher's challenge (sorry, I don't remember which philosopher it was) we'd see each other and say "Are you fulfilling your 'predicate' today?" A layman's version might be something along the lines of, "are you fulfilling your purpose today?" or maybe, "are you being who you're meant to be?"

A core Bible verse for Lutherans is what we call the Sedes doctrinae, the seat or base of much of our doctrine, Ephesians 2:8-9. Luther emphasized that salvation comes only through faith in Jesus, not by being good enough or by not breaking the commandments because every single human being is imperfect, we're all going to be selfish or stupid sometime. Grace through faith. If you attended a Lutheran school, you had that drilled into you. Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone. Beautiful.

Just like I said yesterday that John 3:16-18 is about "justification" (God's work FOR you) and that 1 John 3:16-18 is about "sanctification (God working THROUGH you), Ephesians 2:8-9 is about justification, and the very next verse, Ephesians 2:10 is all about sanctification.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~Ephesians 2:8-10
Evangelical speaker and author Chuck Swindoll once explained sanctification as setting something aside for it's original intended purpose. On the one hand, I sanctify a keyboard by typing with it and we sanctify a cup everytime we drink coffee from it. We are sanctified whenever we let God set us aside to do what He created us to do.

Ephesians 2:10 makes clear that God made us to do good. 1 John 3:16-18 tell us that our purpose is to be like Jesus, servants sacrificing for others. Not in order to get into Heaven, not to save ourselves. And not because we SHOULD or OUGHT TO now that Jesus has saved us and we get to go to Heaven, but because that's our predicate, that's what God created us for, to be like His Son. Loving, forgiving, healing, feeding, clothing, comforting, helping, teaching, humbly doing what He does in His ministry of reconcilliation. It's not about the law, its not even in loving response to the Gospel, it just doing what we were meant to do, being who we were created to be.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The OTHER John 3:16

Just about everybody is at least a little familiar with the "Gospel in a nutshell," the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16. It's message is the core of the whole Bible; God loves you, Jesus died for your sins so that you can live forever with that God who loves you. Maybe people take it for granted, maybe some reject it or don't "get it," and maybe some people don't know the actual verse, but they've seen "John 3:16" on some poster being held up by some religious nut on TV somewhere, right?

But how many of us read any further? Americans are lazy and hate to read. What a shame. Public education is a product of the Reformation. Reformers like Luther wanted people educated so that they could read their Bibles for themselves, make their own intelligent decisions about its meaning instead of just rubber stamping whatever hubris was shoveled out to them from the pulpit. The hope is that your faith would be your own and you'd develop a personal relationship with God. Just as the man who can read but refuses to is no better off than the one who can not read to begin with, we're just as vulnerable to mindless slavery if we leave our Bible on the shelf as those who can't read theirs.

Anyway, if you just read on another two verses, you learn what C.S. Lewis takes an entire novel to explain in his book "The Great Divorce," that God doesn't SEND non believers to Hell- we're all already in a state of spiritual death and isolation from God. If we reject His Son, we condemn ourselves to remain there for eternity. That's an amazing and humbling truth. Hell was prepared for Satan and his angels, not for humanity. Its definitely real and people go there, but not because God wants them to.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. ~John 3:16-18
Here's something else most people never bother to read or study- the OTHER John 3:16, 1 John 3:16. 1st, 2nd and 3rd John are letters or "epistles" written by the same author of the Gospel, the Apostle John, the youngest of Jesus' disciples. He probably wrote 1 John somewhere between 85-95 A.D. John wanted to warn new Christians about false spiritual teachers.

1 John is one of my favorite books of the Bible. John tells us to test the spirits and consider the motives of teachers so that we won't be led astray from the truth of Jesus' teaching. John reminds us that Jesus' new commandment is to love one another, and tells us that God is love. and that Jesus demonstrated His love for us by laying down His life for us. And of course, We love because He first loved us.

And my favorite verse, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..." (4:18a). Too often our decisions and positions are motivated by fear. "Fear and Loathing" as Hunter S. Thompson used to call the primary human drives. Thomas Hobbes called it selfishness and shortsightedness in conflict and competition. Freud called it pleasure and pain, fight or flight. Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to prejudice and anger, prejudice and anger lead to hate, hate leads to violence.

But if God is in us and we are in communion with God, following Him as humble disciples, studying His Word, seeking Him in prayer and confession, thanking and praising Him, we don't have room for fear. If we trust Him and let His love overflow in us and flow out of us to others- we won't be motivated by fear, but instead by compassion and the fruit of His Spirit, joy, peace, patience and kindness, etc. Love overflowing. Now that's the kind of "trickle-down" theory I'd like to see.

But let me finally get to my point about the "OTHER John 3:16."

I think that John 3:16-18 tells us about "Justification," (Jesus' saving work) and 1 John 3:16-18 tells us about "Sanctification," (Jesus' ministering work with and THROUGH us).

This verse is one of the plethora of reasons why I believe that Christians can be Democrats, even "liberal" Democrats- because political progressives believe in helping others and oppose hording wealth or power. You might even go so far as to say that 1 John 3:16-18 is downright "Socialist." In these verses John urges us to follow Jesus' example of love and sacrifice. of putting others before ourselves. This is a verse that Wall Street could stand to learn. Anyone angry about losing their off-shore tax shelters ought to consider this verse carefully.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 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. ~1 John 3:16-18

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Wrestling with reality

I know liberals who are discouraged by the anti-intellectual culture among Evangelical Christians in the United States and the lack of genuine and rigorous scholarship even among Christian institutions that purport to offer students the truth but instead of teaching, spend much of their energy "protecting" the truth by shielding students from divergent thinking, indoctrinating them, or disparaging alternative thought.

On the other hand, I know scores of conservatives who make a very legitimate point when they joke that the problem with having an "open mind" is that too often it falls out. They observe our contemporary culture and society in general and fear that we've lost our moral compass and have become hedonists, narcissists, and callused toward God and His law. It seems like their solution is to become authoritarian and absolutist in their demand that others' beliefs and behaviors conform to a monolithic pattern.

Psychologists might see this dichotomy as behaviorists and existentialists. Political scientists might contrast libertarian and totalitarian. From my point of view, Luther sought to reform a church which had become too steeped in legalism and hierarchy but ironically, John Calvin wasn't satisfied with Luther's theology so he came up with a religiosity which again imposed a staunch legalism and again fostered exclucivity. And so the wrestling match between objective and subjective, between intrinsic and extrinsic, between John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, between Hegel and Kierkegaard, and between "Left" and "Right" continues.

I believe that the challenge is to strike a balance. "It is good to grasp the one not let go of the other. man who fears God will avoid all extremes (Ecclesiastes7:18)."

My liberal friends might rely heavily on the historical-critical method and view the Bible more as literature than Divinely inspired Word. Whereas my conservative friends might go beyond a literal interpretation to a literalistic one. Liberals may discount much of Scripture as mystical but conservatives discount much of science and everyday reality as incongruent with their religion.

I believe that the truth is somewhere in between. Here's how someone who made his living talking about what cartoons can tell us about God put it-

If “Truth is subjectivity,” as Kierkegaard could put it, how can we ever agree on “the Truth” without some kind of universally recognized objective standard for knowing the truth? Look at science, for instance. Science has universally recognized criteria for determining truth, and look at the “truths” it comes up with! We can hardly keep up with them. And yet scientists will be the first to tell us that although their method is ideal for determining means, science can’t really remain science and come up with meaning. Science has plenty of “know how,” but it becomes religion as soon as it claims to have the “know why.” The purview of science is with the provable penultimates, “truths,” not with the unprovable Ultimate, “the Truth.” For how could one “prove the Ultimate”- since by definition there can be no higher standard of judgment than “the Ultimate” itself? And yet we would all like to see this happen. This would relieve us from the dreadful responsibility of coming up with our own answers for what “the Truth” is. We would no longer need to have something called “faith.” Hey, presto! Our faith would then be “knowledge.” Truth would be nailed down; it would be objectively secure.

And so in the realm of the Spirit we constantly look for some objective authority, something other than the Spirit itself, that will do this for us- that will prevent us from having to find our own answers. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,’ says Paul (Phil 2:12). But who wants to do this!? Who wants to fear and tremble? It’s much easier to let someone else work it out for you. And so then we set up all sorts of authorities for precisely this purpose. “If this impressive church says it’s true, then it’s true!” “If this flawless authority or this high priest of psychiatry tells me it’s true, it’s true!” … The truth, the Spirit, is not anything I want a direct, passionate, personal relationship with. I’ll just trust in one of these outside authorities to tell me what’s true and what’s the right thing to do. Just let it give me some idea of the minimum expected of me.

~Rev. Robert L. Short, Short Meditations on the Bible and Peanuts, c. 1990
(Short is a Presbyterian minister and the author of The Gospel According to Peanuts, the Parables of Peanuts, the Gospel According to Dogs, and the Gospel According to Dr. Seuss. He holds graduate degrees in theology and literature from S.M.U., North Texas University, and the University of Chicago Divinity School)

Truth isn't a what, it's a who. Truth is not a thing that you can defend or control, it's a person. Jesus called Himself "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." He told the Samaritan woman at the well that the day is coming when God's followers will worship God in Spirit and in Truth. No political, social, cultural, or even religious or theological position is the "Truth." God Himself is Truth. In the excerpt above, Short implies that the Holy Spirit is our source of truth.

The truth is not about some wedge issue, doctrine or dogma, argument or debate, the Truth is that God loves you and wants a personal relationship with and thanks to the sacrifice of His Son on the cross for our sins, we can actually have that relationship. Knowing the Truth can truly set you free. Free to mess up, free to learn and experience, even free to disagree. And that's the truth!

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