Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Childermas; Massacre of the Innocents

Childermas is a feast on the church calendar, that remembers the "slaughter of the innocents" by King Herod (all the baby boys under 2 years old when the Magi came to him looking for the King who's star they'd followed from the East). It it celebrated on December 28th every year.

Back in 2006 the South African Episcopal Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu recommended we observe Childermas by praying for children, orphans, and especially infants dying of AIDS.

I'd throw in there, to pray for child refugees and survivors of war and terrorism.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Perhaps the GREATEST OT Prohet

Another of my favorite Old Testament prophet (that wasn't human) is the lowly worm.

It's not because I relate so much to Psalm 22:6, "I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people." Although, I do and probably should-

No, actually its because of how God used the worm to teach one of His human prophets a lesson in Jonah 4 about compassion and how our assumptions are not necessarily as aligned with God's actual plans as we'd like to think!

One of my Favorite Biblical Prophets, "Donkeh"

Numbers 22:22-33

But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.

Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

Then the angel of the LORD moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. Then the LORD opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”

The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”

“No,” he said.

Then the LORD opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.

The angel of the LORD asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.”

Sometimes I feel like that donkey. Stubborn, a jackass- maybe, but I keep trying to tell people what I see the way I see it and it seems to fall on deaf ears. Most people think I'm too religious, many of my fellow Christians prefer to listen to political conservatives rather than Christ's own Word, let alone me. But after all, 

"...God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." ~1 Corinthians 1:27

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reading some really 'OLD-school!'

GEEKING OUT; last night I was reading the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope compiled by theologians in Smalcald, Germany in 1537 and it totally reinforced for me democratic philosophies about bottom-up structures, empowerment of the populace, and an aversion to tyranny. Amazing how conservative/orthodox 16th century theology is a good model for liberal/progressive 21st century politics.

Not to mention servant-leadership, egalitarianism or the separation of church-and-state!
It amazes me that Lutherans can purport to agree with this stuff from the Reformation and then seem to support so much of the ideology and behavior espoused by today's Republican candidates and pundits that's pretty much antithetical to what Martin Luther and his colleagues found in Scripture and wrote and taught. 

Antithetical and in my opinion, short-sighted and irresponsible.
But it does not surprise me that Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. was impressed enough to change he and his son's names after learning about the reformer's on a trip to Europe.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent; Hope, Peace, Joy, & Love

Every year, I try to write some posts here that could sort of almost be considered Advent Devotions. Some are too short to qualify, most are actually way too long to qualify. As with most posts on this here blog, many are peppered with humor, sarcasm, and a progressive political slant. They're more sporadic than regular and consistent, so if you're looking for something to edify you daily, this ain't the place, but if maybe once a week or occasionally more interests you- then watch this space over the course of the next 40 days or so, and sure as the seas, you'll get yer fill of pre-Christmas reading.

War on Christmas? Bah-Humbug!
Advent Week 1; Hope

There’s a lot of debate lately about “keeping Christ in Christmas.” Some people are dead set against saying “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas,” because they think “Happy Holidays” is too politically correct. The irony is that people started saying “Happy Holidays” in order to avoid offending people, but now, all kinds of people are terribly offended when you do say it.

I say there is no "War on Christmas." I think it's just one more excuse for the right-wing media to whip up a frenzy of fear, hate and intolerance, encouraging privileged and comfortable White, Christian, Americans to imagine they're being victimized by the America-hating, godless, multicultural, Socialist boogiemen.

I loved one Christian editorial writer’s point of view. He actually thought that we SHOULD take Jesus out of Christmas, because Christmas has become a shameless exercise in materialism and commercialism. This writer thought that we should just let it be the shallow, selfish thing-fest that it has become and make Easter more Spiritual, and focus on Jesus’ birth, ministry, passion, and resurrection all in the Spring. His point was that it was sacrilegious how blatantly we exploit Jesus’ birth in December.

That may be a little culturally extreme. I’d rather just wish people a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays interchangeably and not worry about who’s offended or who’s not. Why apologize for a good thing? Just because you don’t believe in a good thing, that doesn’t make it a bad thing.

I’m sure that if you shared any of the following greetings, someone, somewhere would probably be offended; Congratulations on your new baby. Way to go on passing that exam! How d’ya like your new car? I’m so relieved that you’re feeling better.

Before I get too into my typical history lesson, may I just suggest that we neither apologize for wishing others a sincerely felt "Merry Christmas," not have a cow and get our panties in a bunch about people who'd prefer to wish us a "Happy Holidays" or a "Season's Greetings." It's NOT a war, people. Jesus loves EVERYONE. He came to die and rise again to save EVERYONE. They may decline or even reject this free gift, just as He isn't going to force Himself on anyone, He doesn't need us running around like Christmas Commandos defending Him and enforcing some strict law about recognizing His birthday.

Before you scoff and write me off as just some misguided liberal, consider what God says in the Bible:
"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."1 Peter 3:14-16
Keep Christ(mas) in your heart and always be ready to share why you have hope. Remember that old Sunday School song, "they will know we are Christians by our love?" Getting all ticked-off and paranoid about how unchristian society can be is not hopeful, loving, gentle or respectful.

I've had friends that are Jewish, Hindu, pagan, unchurched, agnostic, atheist, Mormon, and Christian of all different denominations. Do I wish they knew Jesus like I do? A loving God of grace, peace, and mercy? Absolutely just like 1 Timothy 2:1-4, I "want all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." But I won't convince them to love and trust Him by deliberately provoking, belittling or bullying them. 

Demanding that they simply assimilate to our dominate culture is not what Jesus would do. He showed humility and deference to us by leaving His kingship and being born in a stable and allowing Himself to be subjected to unjust persecution, even death on a cross. 

You may disagree with me, but personally, I think that getting so worked up about hearing "Happy Holidays" or seeing signs that say "Merry X-Mas" doesn't show loyalty to Jesus, it shows insecurity and a clear lack of the gentleness and respect that God calls for in 1 Peter. 

Dear Jesus,

Make the hope we have from You in our hearts so real and so strong that we don't get defensive or offended when others don't share it. May our hope in You attract others to a saving knowledge of Your truth, because it is You who saves souls, not us. We cannot cajole or coerce anyone into a relationship with You, only Your Spirit can persuade them to receive You.

Help us to instead, be gentle and respectful, and always ready to share the reason for the hope You give us.

In your name we pray, 

Now, in the interest of fostering a greater holiday understanding, allow me to take you on a quick Christmastime tour which I first posted here back in 2004):

Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of lights. "Hanukkah " is Hebrew for "dedication.” The first evening of Hanukkah starts after the sunset of the 24th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev.
Greek invaders wanted to stop Israelis from worshiping the true God, they wanted them to worship their gods instead. A Jewish family, the Maccabees, defeated an overwhelming enemy, and rededicated the Temple.

After the occupiers had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees took down the pagan statues and restore the Temple. They needed ritually purified olive oil to light a Menorah to rededicate the Temple. However, they found only enough oil for a single day. They decided to use it until they could get new oil purified. Miraculously, the one day’s oil burned for the eight days that it took them to press new oil and ceremonially bless and present it. That’s why Jews light one candle each night of the eight-day festival.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of life, family, and community based on the principles of African culture. Kwanzaa was established in aftermath of the Watts Riots, provoked by cases of police brutality. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Ron Everett, a professor at California State University, Long Beach. Everett wanted to preserve, continually revitalize and promote American culture through African rituals.

Kwanzaa celebrated by some African Americans for a week between December 26 and January 1. It’s not a religious holiday, but a cultural one, based on various elements of “first harvest” celebrations celebrated in Africa. “Kwanza” is Swahili for “first fruits. Each of the days symbolizes one of the Seven Principles: Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith.

Las Posadas Back in my hometown of Phoenix, luminaries mark the route from house to house. Luminaries are small candles sitting in paper sacks filled with sand. In Mexico and parts of the Southwest, “Las Posadas” are nightly processions enacted the nine nights before Christmas. Each night, children dressed as Mary, Joseph, and shepherds knock on neighbors’ doors, singing a ritual song that begs entrance to the posada (inn), only to be turned away. Grown ups dressed as the Devil chase the children with sparklers and roman candles. On Christmas Eve, “El Bueno Noche” (the good night) the family at the last house sing a welcome song, and the whole parade enters for a party with fruit punch, tamales and piñatas.

Neighborhood Lights & Display Contests And of course Clark W. Griswald (Chevy Chase), was the first American to light his house up like an airport runway so that Santa Claus could tell where to bring the presents. And so that the hoards of Vikings could know where the credit card customer lived, so they could bring the devastatingly high interest rates.

But, yes, the most important festival of lights will be the one that sheds light on the true meaning of Christmas. So may I suggest that the family that prays together, stays together. And a “Christian Nation” begins at home. Instead of worrying about how “un-Christian” Christmas seems to be getting, why not make your own Christmas a little more Spiritual and a little less superficial. Why not start reading devotions and praying nightly during the festival of Advent.

Advent means “coming.” It is a season when we prepare for Jesus’ arrival. There are five candles in an advent wreath. 3 purple orblue, and one pink, and one white. Purple symbolizes both His royalty and our repentance. My church, the Lutheran Church~Missouri Synod changed from purple to blue to distinguish Advent from Lent, which also uses purple. 30 years later I haven't gotten used to it, but whatchyagonnado, right?

An Advent wreath is a circle, which has no beginning and no end. Pine is used because it is "evergreen," also representing eternal life. However, the wreath is also foreshadowing of Christ's passion. Pine needles and/or holly leaves represent the crown of thorns and holly berries and/or poinsettia flowers represent the blood He shed on the cross.
  • The first violet candle is the “Prophets candle” and symbolizes the hope that Old Testament Jews had that a Messiah would one day come.
  • The second violet candle is the “Bethlehem” candle and represents the peace that the new God/Man savior would bring, ending the long spiritual rift between God and mankind.
  • The pink candle is the “Angels’” candle (or in some traditions, the “Mary” candle) it symbolizes the joy of Heaven that a Savior was finally to be born.
  • The last violet candle is the “Shepherds’” candle and represents the love or adoration of those ready to accept the gift of the Christ child.
  • The large white candle  in the center, often lit on Christmas or Christmas Eve is the “Christ Candle” and represents Jesus as the “Light of the world,” or the Epiphany, God on Earth.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I am sorry to anyone who actually reads this blog and to my facebook friends. Recently some fishing spam appeared as posts here on PPP. The only way I figured that anyone was able to do this was by using the email address that Blogger provided for me to post via email. I've deactivated that option, so hopefully the piracy of this here ship has been put to an end. Arrrgh.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Civics lesson

This simple Civics lesson is what makes the 1% shutter when the see the 99% finally standing up for themselves.

God's people Occupy His church

Oct.31, 1517, Wittenburg University (Hamlet's Alma Mater) Theology professor, and pastor Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church hoping to provoke discussion & debate about what he saw as abuses and excesses in the church. He encouraged believers to see for themselves in the Bible that we are saved only by God's grace through faith in Jesus alone.

"Fat cats" were telling people that you had to buy your way into Heaven. Then they used that money to build Renaissance cathedrals and to live in power and opulence themselves. But Luther knew that God wanted a personal relationship with each of us, regardless of our social station or our wealth. It is not how good we are or who we are, it is what Jesus did for us on the cross.

Seriously, a friend of mine recently started a"hash tag" on twitter & facebook, #OccupyChurch
I LOVED her idea. When you think about it cell phones & social media are probably  world-changing technology, just like Gutenberg's press was back in the 16th century. And at least in my opinion, the American Plutocracy (Wall Street banks,  multi-billionaire political donors and activists like the Koch brothers, conservative think tanks, multinational corporations and oil companies, not to mention FOX News) are a lot like the Roman papacy and the Holy Roman Empire's social and political hierarchy was back in the 1500's. Entrenched institutions bent on acquiring power and wealth and protecting it's own interests at the expense of the masses.

Of course, this time we also have the Arab Spring revolutions going on around us too. Islamic peoples have woken up to the fact that it's not Western Christians who've been oppressing them, so much as their own political despots.

Tyranny comes in many forms, but generally it happens when too much power or too much money is concentrated among too few, whether it be corrupt church leaders as we came out of the dark ages, Middle Eastern dictators, the mercantilism practiced by the British empire on her colonies, or the so called 1% in America today.

My friend wonders why are so many occupied with the pursuit of riches and fame? She admonishes us that according to Proverbs 11:4, "Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death."

I think that #redletterchristians need to capitalize on the growth of the #OWS movement and remind Christians that our faith is not about comfort and affluence or mega-churches with coffee bars, nor is it about political dominance and imposing our morality or our political will on others- it is about sharing the love and sacrifice, the compassion and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. It is by His work on the cross, not by where we were born, the color of our skin, the thickness of our wallets, nor by our political affiliation that we are saved.

Join the discussion and share your ideas about #occupychurch, make it as active as any #occupy-name of your city here
"I have sometimes thought there could be no stronger testimony in favor of religion or against temporal enjoyments even the most rational and manly than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent Advocates in the cause of Christ, & I wish you may give in your Evidence in this way. Such instances have seldom occurred, therefore they would be more striking and would be instead of a "Cloud of Witnesses."~ James Madison, Letter to William Bradford (September 1773

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Got Principle?

Our Pastor had a great sermon last Sunday on basing your behaviors and decisions in life on principles.

Years ago that idea was in Steven Covey's best seller, '7 Habits of Successful People.' He recommended people and companies establish mission statements and deliberately use the principles in your statement to help guide your life.

I teach 8th graders. At the beginning of the school year I told students that we are each responsible for our own actions, therefore our behavior should not be based on out thinking, feeling, or even our physiology. It needs to be guided by principles. I explained to them how psychologists believe that we all have certain needs; love/belonging, survival/security, fun, freedom/decision-making, and power/efficacy. We can irresponsibly violate other's needs to selfishly fill our own needs, or we can responsibly fulfill our own needs while also helping provide other people's needs. Lofty hopes for a junior high teacher- adolescents aren't always capable of self-control, let alone empathy or delayed gratification.

Quixotic as it may be, I continue to remind them that they need to think of the needs and rights of others and think of the consequences and repercussions of their choices and behaviors. And I keep encouraging them to consider what principles they want to guide those behaviors instead of merely reacting to their thoughts, feelings, and physiology.

Steven Covey encouraged his readers not to be reactive, which can be counter-productive or even destructive, but instead to use your principles to be proactive, which is almost always constructive and productive.

As a Civics teacher, I've been trying to impress upon my students that no matter how much Americans disagree politically or ideologically, we share certain values- certain principles found in the Constitution. Equality and inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (concepts in the Declaration) are some of these, but others are found in the preamble: unity, justice, domestic tranquility, defense, the general welfare, liberty for ourselves and those who come after us.

Theoretically, our government of us, by us, and for us bases it's decisions on advancing or at least protecting these principles.

Those who believe in and want to follow Jesus have very simple, very clear principles. This is what our pastor based his sermon on last week-

Matthew 22:36-40
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

That's it. That's all. Simple. Clear.

The religious teachers of Jesus' time, the Pharisees and Sadducees had analyzed the Old Testament and maybe devised a few more rules and regulations that they figured God probably wanted and had come up with 613 commandments (and you thought there were just 10). 613! The same number of seeds in the average pomegranate. Think these guys were legalistic? Can you say "Control-Freaks?"

Perhaps its a matter of parsing out the letter-of-the-law as opposed to abiding by the spirit-of-the-law. I'm wondering if maybe in their quest for power, purpose and legitimacy (and of course their subsequent defense of their power and rationalization of their policies and positions) these lawyers, preachers, teachers and politicians forgot about Micah 6:8-

"And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Not exactly rocket science. Be fair, appreciate things like patience, kindness, and compassion, and follow God. Simple. Clear. (nowhere near as wordy as this essay you're reading).

And Jesus didn't just make that loving your neighbor stuff on the spot. He got it from Leviticus 19:18.  Mind you, Leviticus is full of those 613 rules. (Chapter 19 also says we're not supposed to get tattoos, but I digress). Incidentally, the "Golden Rule," love your neighbor or do unto others as you would have them do unto you is pretty much found in some form or another in almost every ethical and religious tradition.

Jesus didn't make up the Love your God part either. That's also Old Testament.

Deuteronomy 6:5 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."

So the question is, if you agree and believe that the greatest commandment is to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'...And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ How will that effect the things you say and do? The ways you act and think?

It's better than "WWJD?"

Does your life reflect your love for your neighbors?

When others are starving, oppressed, jailed, ethnically-cleansed, unemployed, uninsured, uneducated, cold, homeless, unsafe, unloved... do you care? Do you do anything? Do you say anything? Or are you just out to get yours or busy holding on to what's yours?

Do you really love God with your WHOLE heart, mind, and strength? Is Jesus your #1 priority?
Are you your own god? Your plans, your ambitions? Your career? Possessions?  Hobbies? Football? Family? Money? Music? Free-time? Political party? Racial identity? Club or organization?

How would life look different if you did base your life on these two great commandments? On love?
How would our relationships, families, work places, communities look different if more of us tried to base our lives on these principles?

What's stopping you?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ted Mallory wants to stay in touch on LinkedIn

From Ted Mallory
Webmaster at St. John Lutheran Church, Charter Oak, IA
Sioux City, Iowa Area


I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

- Ted Mallory

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

So you think God's a jerk?

Not to long ago I overheard someone explaining how they thought that Jesus was okay but that they hated his Dad. They didn't like how God kicked Satan and his angels out of Heaven and he didn't like how God let Adam sin, especially if he could foresee it.

Hmmm. Not sure how to get through to a hardened heart like that except to pray for them. I know that each and every one of us is selfish and wants to be our own god. But there can be only one, this puts a crimp in our relationship. But God wants a relationship with us. He loves us as His children, this is why He sent Jesus, so that we CAN receive God's love & forgiveness and be part of His family.

The person I eavesdropped on comes from a broken family and was deeply hurt by his father. He put huge expectations on God to fix some pretty big injustices in his life and he feels like God let him down.

I can't make things better for him and I doubt I could convince him that God's not as petty and selfish or as imperfect as he thinks He is. But I can keep praying for him and try to keep being patient with him even when he derides my faith in front of me.

And I can realize how much I'm just like him. How often have you complained about how life is? Have you ever been angry with God or "wrestled" with God? Do you ever catch yourself trying to tell God how to do His job?

Well, would you REALLY like to be in charge of the whole universe?

(NET) Isaiah 29:16 Your thinking is perverse! Should the potter be regarded as clay? Should the thing made say about its maker, "He didn't make me"? Or should the pottery say about the potter, "He doesn't understand"?

(NET) Job 38:4 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding!

(NET) Ezekiel 18:25 "Yet you say, 'The Lord's conduct is unjust!' Hear, O house of Israel: Is my conduct unjust? Is it not your conduct that is unjust?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pray for teachers

"God, giver of all wisdom, bless our schools, and help our educators and administrators to faithfully perform the work that you have given them. Amen."

~Adapted from a prayer by F. D. Maurice (received in today's Sojourner magazine's daily "Verse & Voice" email).

Teaching is a pretty beleaguered profession lately- whether it's Republican governors revoking their right to collective bargaining, nasty editorials blaming them for poor test scores, anxious parents frustrated by their kid's report cards, or disrespectful students who treat them like retail clerks- teacher's are really getting beat up by society. But even if you agree with everyone who dislikes teachers- remember that Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).

So... instead of resenting teachers, complaining about teachers, trying to get them fired, or seeing how far you can push them until the quit or have a nervous break-down... why not pray for them? (This fits pretty well with Timothy 2:1-2 if you're still a student, rather than a parent or not involved with schools anymore).

Teachers spend their days trying to prepare children for adulthood in the real world. They're not perfect, they're human just like you are. Wait? They're human? So maybe we should help them "bear their burdens," like it says in Galatians 6:2 or maybe we should try to encourage them and build them up like 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

Supporting, encouraging, loving and praying for people. I don't know many teachers that don't try to practice these things all day long and all school-year long for their students. I'll stipulate that there are selfish jerks out there, but fortunately, in my experience, they're pretty rare. You usually don't become a teacher if you don't genuinely care about kids or making a difference. There are a helluva lot of better ways to make more money- that's for sure!

Since most teachers care for (or at least try to care for) our children, why don't we return the favor. Come to think of it, maybe the teachers out there who aren't as supportive or encouraging as we wish they would be need our prayers even more! All teachers need out patience and understanding. They're under a lot of pressure and have some pretty lofty expectations demanded of them.

It's not some special holiday or "be kind to teachers" week or anything like that- it's just a great idea. Whether you're a student, a parent, or just a former student, take a minute to pray for the teachers in your town. God knows they need it. And the next time you're tempted to complain about a school, a principal or teachers- please take some time to pray for them first, then decide if you still want to complain later.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jesus is a RADICAL

A lot of people still wonder how I can be a Bible-believing Christian and be politically "liberal," not to mention a Democrat. Frankly, I'm not sure how I couldn't be!

Today's Epistle lesson in Church, Romans 12:9-21 strikes me as a great patter for how to live your life. It also seems to be to be filled with progressive (aka liberal) values, like caring about others, being unselfish and offering dignity, respect, love and forgiveness to others, whether they deserve it or not. Sharing with those in need, showing genuine compassion and concern. Being humble, empathetic, non-judgmental and not being arrogant, controlling or greedy.

Last week I was trying to get my 8th graders to consider what respect means. It dawned on me that in many ways, it's synonymous with love. I remembered Cornell West's quote about how "justice is what love looks like in public."

Romans 12:21 especially reminds me of  what Martin Luther King said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5 to "love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you," is radically different than what the world practices.

It's radically different than what we assume is normal, natural or "right." It's counter-intuitive, you might even say it's "counter-cultural."

And as critical, controversial or divisive as it may be to say this- I believe that it's radically different than what the religious-right, conservative-Christians, Republican  and Tea-Parties tend to represent. My perception is that they hold to an authoritarian, insensitive, fear-based, anger-stoking, greed-perpetuating, sort of Machiavellianism.

Mind you, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7)." So I don't recommend making the Democratic Party into your religion or trusting it as a steadfast refuge either, after all from 1864-1964 they were the party of Jim Crow injustice.

Seriously, I think that is the United States used Romans 12:20 as a foreign policy doctrine, perhaps we'd have fewer enemies. We'd have a Marshall Plan in the Middle East instead of counter insurgency and counter-terrorism programs.

Not-so seriously, if Republicans used verse 20 as a political strategy, the poor would be fed in America and they'd be paying gay couples to get married!

At any rate, I just feel like Romans 12:9-21 is some of the most beautiful explanation of what God hopes for His children. This passage fleshes-out what is encapsulated in Micah 6:8, "what... does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Here is Romans 12:9-21 from the NIV, but I took the liberty to remove the verse numbers and hit "return" a few times so that you can read it like poetry, because it deserves to be seen like poetry.

Love must be sincere. 
Hate what is evil; 
cling to what is good.

Be devoted to one another in love. 
Honor one another above yourselves.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. 
Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; 
bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; 
mourn with those who mourn.

Live in harmony with one another. 
Do not be proud, 
but be willing to associate with people of low position. 
Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. 

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, 
as far as it depends on you, 
live at peace with everyone.

Do not take revenge, 
my dear friends, 
but leave room for God’s wrath, 
for it is written: 
“It is mine to avenge; 
I will repay,”says the Lord. 

On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry,
 feed him;
if he is thirsty, 
give him something to drink.
In doing this,
 you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, 
but overcome evil with good.

Great poetry in a hymn we sang today
It makes a great prayer too

O God, My Faithful God By: Johann Heermann (1585-1647)

O God, my faithful God,
True fountain ever flowing,
Without whom nothing is,
All perfect gifts bestowing:
Give me a healthy frame,
And may I have within
A conscience free from blame,
A soul unstained by sin.

Give me the strength to do
With ready heart and willing
Whatever you command,
My calling here fulfilling.
Help me do what I should
With all my might, and bless
The outcome for my good,
For you must give success.

Keep me from saying words
That later need recalling;
Guard me lest idle speech
May from my lips be falling;
But when within my place
I must and ought to speak,
Then to my words give grace
Lest I offend the weak.

When dangers gather round,
Oh, keep me calm and fearless;
Help me to bear the cross
When life seems dark and cheerless;
Help me, as you have taught,
To love both great and small
And by your Spirit’s might
To live at peace with all.

Hymn # 371 from Lutheran Worship, #696 from Lutheran Service BookTune: Was Frag Ich Nach Der Welt  1st Published in: 1630

Saturday, August 13, 2011

@lwrjohnnunes, 8/13/11 12:30 PM

John Nunes (@lwrjohnnunes)
8/13/11 12:30 PM
"Faith is nothing else than begging for mercy." CFW Walther

Sent from my iPod

The Poverty of Satisfaction That Afflicts Us All

"Our Gross National Product now is over 800 billion dollars a year. But our Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear war heads and armored cars for the police to fight riots in our cities. it counts... the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriage, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit not our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud to be Americans."

Monday, July 18, 2011

ACTS Thanksgiving; Know your ABC's?

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." ~Philippians 4:4-8

Summer is known for family road trips. Hours in a hot car can be a challenge, one way families meet the challenge is by playing thinking games. Faced with a 2 hour drive to summer camp with our 9 year old yesterday, we played an oldy-but-a-goody. We took turns coming up with animals names that started with each letter of the alphabet- alligator, bear, cat, dog, elephant, etc. etc. 

Then we cranked it up a notch by challenging each other to name cities or states that began with the ABCs. Albuquerque, Barstow, Chicago, Denver, Evansville, Fargo... you get the idea. (Ute, Iowa and Quartzite, Arizona were a couple of tough ones, by the way).

If you're serious about thanking God for all He's done for you, maybe you should start playing games with Him. Try making a list of things you're thankful for that uses all 26 letters of the alphabet! You can do it on your own during your personal prayer and devotion time, or you can do it with your family on a road trip- you  can do it at a Youth Group or Prayer Group meeting, in a Sunday School or Vacation Bible School class- or hold on to it and remember to do it with your family next Thanksgiving.

To make it more of a challenge, you could play more than one round- one time giving thanks about things, another time about events or activities, and the best way  would be to give thanks for people you're grateful for having in your life.

Apple pie
Doctor Whatshisname
Evergreen trees
Garage sales
Hot chocolate
I think you get the idea- try coming up with your own!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

ACTS, Thanksgiving: Christmas in July

This summer, we've been talking about an outline for prayer, ACTS; Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Sometimes after spending a lot of time in confession, one can start to feel a little unworthy of God's love. Sin makes you not just feel guilty, but insecure, inadequate, insignificant and inconsequential.

A great way to realize just how much God loves you is to remind yourself how much He's done for you and given you.

Ever feel anxious about finances? Feel under pressure from expectations? How about irritated or a little resentful of how others seem to succeed without scruples? Stressed-out or like you don't understand why you seem to be the only person who cares that things get done? Ever get discouraged about all the things you don't have? Feel like you're always trying to play the rules, yet you never seem to get anywhere?

Maybe you don't really need an antidepressant. Maybe you've been looking down too long and you just need to spend some time looking up for a while. Oh, I know that sounds corny or Pollyanna. But it's not as easy, or as pointless as it sounds.

I can be preoccupied about how my vehicle is rusty and doesn't have air conditioning or how much gas costs and wish I had something newer or prettier. Or I can appreciate that I have a a ride to work. I can complain about my mortgage payment and how much utilities and home repairs and maintenance cost or I can appreciate the fact that I have a safe, comfortable home where I can go to get out of the sun or the wind or rain, when so many are being foreclosed on, paying rent, or without any home at all.

John Thomas is an evangelist in the towns outside of Calcutta India. He prayed for a year for a Jeep to travel in from town to town to share the Good News about Jesus. He helps run a Christian school in his neighborhood that provides a rare opportunity for education to desperately impoverished children - not to mention much needed meals and stories of God's love to people who literally have never heard of Jesus. Their landlord has decided not to renew their lease, she'd rather make room for business tenants. John would like to raise $40K in the next year in order to buy or build their own facilities.

Thinking about John's ministry not only makes me grateful for what I have, it makes me feel guilty for complaining about not being more comfortable, secure, or affluent. It certainly motivates me to pray for John and his wife Cyndi and to try to influence my congregation to help support them. Frankly (and I know this will make Ayn Rand admirers cringe), it makes me feel pretty guilty about being an American, born into such a decadent, materialistic society where so many of us feel entitled to our blessings, instead of humbly appreciative.

So take some time in prayer to catalog your inventory of people, things, and ways in which God has blessed you. Thank Him for where He's brought you, what He's done for you, and especially for the people He's placed in your life.

If you're up all night because your mind is racing, obsessing about all you have to get done or how you're going to pay your bills- try spending some time thinking about how much you do have and how much joy your loved ones bring you. Think about the good things that have happened and just how much you do have.

Christmas may be 6 months away, but this song from Bing Crosby's popular holiday movie is an excellent reminder that the best way to battle worry, fear and anger is with thanksgiving, appreciation and an attitude of gratitude.

When I'm worried and I can't sleepI count my blessings instead of sheepAnd I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting smallI think of when I had none at allAnd I fall asleep counting my blessings 
I think about a nursery and I picture curly headsAnd one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
If you're worried and you can't sleepJust count your blessings instead of sheepAnd you'll fall asleep counting your blessings

Sunday, July 03, 2011

ACTS Confession;

Why bother with confession? Well, I'll tell ya. I want to have a meaningful relationship with God, but it seems like almost everyday I get drug down by what I like to call the "Diabolical D's," Doubt, Discouragement and Depression. All three of these are things that reveal that I don't really trust God and they erode away my bond with Him.

Why else? Well, I'll tell ya. I'd like to be useful to God, an instrument  which He can use to share His love, forgiveness and promises with other people. But it seems like everyday I get side-tracked by my own appetites. Instead of being satisfied with His lavish gifts of grace, salvation, and all kinds of blessings, I my insecurity and selfishness have me constantly almost frantically trying to binge on pride, anger, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth and envy. 

And of course, the more I try to fill that God-shaped hole with these forms of ungodly indulgence, the worse I feel, the more I need God.

I need confession because my selfish, human thoughts words and deeds undermines my relationship with God and tampers my relationships with others.

The liturgy of confession and absolution we used in church today made it pretty clear.

"...we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition." When we admit that to God in prayer, that's confession. And when "we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)." God gives us a fresh start.

Romans 7:7-257But I can hear you say, "If the law code was as bad as all that, it's no better than sin itself." That's certainly not true. The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork. Apart from the succinct, surgical command, "You shall not covet," I could have dressed covetousness up to look like a virtue and ruined my life with it.
8-12Don't you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of "forbidden fruit" out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God's good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.
13I can already hear your next question: "Does that mean I can't even trust what is good [that is, the law]? Is good just as dangerous as evil?" No again! Sin simply did what sin is so famous for doing: using the good as a cover to tempt me to do what would finally destroy me. By hiding within God's good commandment, sin did far more mischief than it could ever have accomplished on its own.
14-16I can anticipate the response that is coming: "I know that all God's commands are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?" Yes. I'm full of myself—after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.
17-20But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
25The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

For everyone else

Today, remember to pray for all those who lost their dads-
For many, today is a painful reminder that their fathers were taken from them prematurely.

Today, remember to pray for all those who haven't had a dad-
For many, today is a painful reminder of what they don't have, circumstances or decisions of their parents left them without a male parent.

Today, remember to pray for all those who struggle with only the painful memories or strained relationships of an all too human and imperfect dad.
For many, this is a difficult day because of the hurt they face when they remember their dad.

Pray for forgiveness and reconciliation and healing and consolation

Pray that those gaping holes may be filled
with the only perfect Father, "Our Father" God and His love and understanding
and with whatever other make-shift, though still imperfect relationships,
that God may use to help them be more whole

Saturday, June 18, 2011

ACTS: Confession;
Sharing all your secrets with your best friend

When a lot of people think about sin, they think about Exodus 20 (the 10 Commandments) or the book of Leviticus (don't be gay, don't eat shellfish, don't hang out with women during their periods). Me, I think about Matthew 5:17-48.

To hate is to murder. To lust is to commit adultery. To need to swear an oath to get someone to trust you means you must not be too trustworthy in the first place. Turn the other cheek, give 'em the shirt off your back, go the extra mile. Love your neighbor. Be perfect as God is perfect.

Reading Matthew 5 always reminds me of how perfect I'm not.

(Abrupt gear shift)
What's a friend? A true friend? What's the difference between a real friend, a best friend and just a buddy or acquaintance?

A real friend loves you and accepts you no matter what, right? They won't stop being your friend even when they find out what you're really like, who you really are, or once they find out all your secrets, everything about you.

Jesus is like that. Jesus is the friend you can stay up all night spilling your guts to, and He'll still be there for you. Ever have a friend where you break down in front of them? Where you can cry in front of them and they won't make fun of you?

Confession is like that. No matter how wrong things are going, you can get it off your chest- even if it's you're own fault. You can get everything off your chest and have a therapeutic catharsis.

He knows you inside and out. He knows you better than yourself. He knew you before you were born. And He knows that you'll never be perfect. He loved you enough to die for you.

Spill your guts. Dump on Him, He can take it.

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Faith & Prayer

There are many things that are essential to arriving at true peace of mind, and one of the most important is faith, which cannot be acquired without prayer.

~John Wooden

ACTS; Confession is good for the soul

"...ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." ~Romans 3:23-24

You, me, that guy over there- everybody, EVERYBODY. We're all selfish and short-sighted. ALL of us. So what do we do? We don't have to do anything, Jesus took care of it on the cross. 

Confession is simply the act of recognizing that we need God, it is admitting to God that He is God and we are not.

Martin Luther thought believers ought to renew their baptism daily thus drowning the "Old Adam" (our sinful nature) every single day so that we could then start the day fresh as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5).

You might say that we are ALL recovering sinners. We may not all be alcoholics or drug addicts, but like addicts, I think it might be healthy for all of us to pray as they do-

  • Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable
  • Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves (JESUS) could restore us to sanity
  • Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God (JESUS)
  • Step 4 - Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
  • Step 5 - Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
  • Step 6 - Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
  • Step 7 - Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
  • Step 8 - Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
  • Step 9 - Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
  • Step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
  • Step 11 - Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out
  • Step 12 - Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

Friday, June 17, 2011

ACTS; Get your Praise on
Likin' God's Personality

I've been talking about how if you're not sure how to pray, you can just follow this simple acronym, Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (ACTS). There are tons of ways to give God praise and adoration. Since we want to adore Him for who He is, not just what He does or what He gives us, it's important to meditate on what He's like. What is God's personality anyway?

Since 1 John 4:16 says "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them," I think a great way to pray with adoration might be to pray 1 Corinthians 13:5-8 to God. Tell Him how He is love-

  • Lord, You're so patient
  • Lord, you're kind
  • You don't envy
  • You don't have to brag.
  • You're maker of the universe, yet you humbled yourself to be servant of all, (Phil 2:7-8)
  • You don't dishonor others, You wouldn't snuff out a smoldering wick (Matt 12:20)
  • You're not selfish
  • You're not easily angered
  • You keep no record of wrongs.
  • You do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. 
  • You always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.
  • You never fail.
Lord, help us to be more like You! 
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sin Boldly!

"If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign."~Martin Luther
Professors at Concordia, Seward taught us that there must always be a balance of Law and Gospel in religious teaching and writing, but they also advised us that if you are going to err, err on the side of the Gospel. I hope and pray, as liberal as some of my politics, as un-researched as some of my theology and as stream-of-consciousness and extemporaneous as most of my writing tends to be, I still hope that above all, readers see Jesus as loving and accepting, forgiving and inclusive. As many pastors pray at the beginning of their sermons, may the words of my mouth (keyboard) and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in God's sight.

A little Blues

Lately I've been kinda into Cornell West's concept of catastrophic love, prophetic Christianity, the tragicomic, and being a Bluesman in the life of the mind, a jazzman in the world of ideas. A little ZZ Top came to mind, so I thought I'd share.

ACTS; Adoring God for who He says He is

If you're like me, and it's easy to confuse Adoration with Thanksgiving, maybe it will help to think about God is like, not just what He's given us. A great way to review who God is and what about him is praiseworthy is to listen to what He says about Himself.

In the book of John, Jesus announces His Godhood by using His name, Yəhōwāh ("I am that I am") seven times. Seven times he says "I Am..." and then He gives us a powerful metaphor for who He is. Pray with me though these-

  1. The Bread of Life (John 6:35)- Jesus You are our spiritual sustenance and nutrition. Like manna in the desert, God gives us His Word (the Bible) and His Word (Jesus).
  2. The Light of the World (John 8:12)- Thy Word is a light unto my feet, Jesus , You enlighten and reveal God's character, His will and His ways. Your light exposes sin, corruption and imperfection, and  leads us into God's glory, love, and forgiveness.
  3. The Gate (John 10:9)- Jesus, you protect us from thieves and wolves within the safety of Your corral.
  4. The Good Shepherd (John 10:11)- Jesus, you lead us beside still waters, even in the valley of the shadow of death, we don't have to fear because You're with us and comfort us. When we're lost, You finds us.
  5. The Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26)- just as You  raised Your friend Lazarus, You promise that we too will share in Your new and eternal life.
  6. The Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6)- Lord, You don't want anyone to perish, You don't want anyone to be alone without You, all we have to do is accept the free gift of Your love and forgiveness.
  7. The Vine (John 15:5)- Through You, Jesus, we are attached to God the Father. You and the Father live in us and through us and unite us. You graft us into Your family and prune us when we need it. You produce Your fruit in us.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ACTS: Adoration; What's God like?

Last week our congregation hosted a day of prayer. We had a prayer service (with litany) in the morning, followed by a prayer-walk, and then volunteers taking shifts during an all-day prayer vigil. The morning service was organized into four parts based on the acronym, A.C.T.S. which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. ACTS has long been a simple pattern which people can use to help them begin to have a more meaningful prayer-life, in some cases to even begin to speak to God.

Throughout the course of the rest of the summer, I'd like to post a number of essays exploring these ACTS. Hopefully, together we can grow closer to God and deepen our relationships with Him.

For many Christians, Adoration is a toughie. Is adoration the same as praise? Sort of. What does it mean to adore God? Personally, I usually end up in Thanksgiving when I mean to be in Adoration.

What makes God adorable? What makes Him worthy of praise? A good place to start might be what He calls Himself and what Old Testament Judaism called Him. These names reveal His character, who He is and what He does. Consider some of the following:

  • Adonai- "my Lord,"  or "my Master," that is, one to whom we bow, surrender, and obey
  • HaShem- a less formal, more familial version of "Lord," who is with us
  • Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh- "I will be," He is not just the god of now, but He will be the same today, tomorrow and forever (Hebrews 13:8)
  • Elah-avahati, God of my fathers, (Daniel 2:23)
  • Elah Elahin, God of gods (Daniel 2:47)
  • Elah Yerushelem, God of Jerusalem (Ezra 7:19)
  • Elah Yisrael, God of Israel (Ezra 5:1)
  • Elah Shemaya, God of Heaven (Ezra 7:23)
  • Elohim- "He who is the object of fear or reverence", or "He with whom one who is afraid takes refuge" the mighty one.
  • Elyon- Supreme
  • Roi- All seeing
  • Shaddai- "God who is sufficient," our supplier
  • Shalom- "the name of God is 'Peace'" (Judges 6:24)
  • Shekhinah- the presence or manifestation of God which has descended to dwell among humanity.
  • Yəhōwāh- He is who He is (emphasis on IS) the name God called Himself to Moses, the point being that He IS alive and here and now, not just the god of our dead forefathers.
  • HaMakom- "The Omnipresent"
  • Tzevaot- "the Lord of Hosts," king of the angels
So this is a great way to pray, to simply tell God who He is- meanwhile, you're reminding yourself who God is. As a matter of fact, this is an act of worship, invoking God, entering His presence. When we pray this way, we get perspective, we remember that God is God and we are not. Something we would do well to remember every day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stuck in the middle with you

"Trying to make some sense of it all,But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
'Cause I don't think that I can take anymore
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you."

~Joe Egan;Gerry Rafferty (AKA Stealer's Wheel) 1973

"It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes."
~Ecclesiastes 7:18

During Jesus time there were two dominant groups of religious leaders, you might think of them like political parties. 

On the one hand, there were the Sadducees, they emphasized man's total free-will, our ability to choose good or evil, but they did not believe in an afterlife or a spiritual realm. Sound's a lot like some liberals today; secularist and skeptical, respecting only the hear and now, what they can understand empirically and operating systematically.

A lot of Christians (especially conservative or "Evangelical" ones) fear and loath folks like that. They blame relativism and rationalism for everything wrong with the world. But I don't think we should view them as the enemy, rather, they are our neighbors. And how did Jesus tell us to treat our neighbors?

On the other hand, there were the Pharisees. Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees did believe in life after death, but they also believed in a little thing called predestination- the idea that you think you have free-will, but God has destined some people for salvation and others for damnation. They were hyper-religious and legalistic, they believed that you had to be absolutely meticulous about keeping all the rules because you never know which rules will be more important. 

A lot of intelligent thinkers and progressives are suspicious people who act and think like Pharisees today because they see them as being inflexible, uncompromising, volatile and aggressively working to shore-up their influence in society.

If you read the New Testament, the Pharisees are the guys who were always trying to trap Jesus and ultimately plotted to have Him killed because they were paranoid that either He would usurp their own power and influence, or disrupt the comfortable arrangement they had built up with the Roman occupation. 

The thing is, BOTH extremes are wrong. A secular humanism on the one side, may have good motives for making society better, but it's farsighted with it's optimistic view of human nature and attempts at applying systems and structures. It doesn't account for how messy and imperfect life can get or how importance of the intangibles in life.

On the other hand, fundamentalists, Calvinists, conservative Evangelicals and the religious-right are just as wrong and their absolutism and legalism are just as or more dangerous than the relativism that they're constantly railing and ranting about. They're NEARsighted with their obsessive focus on personal piety and individual responsibility at the expense of massive societal, corporate, and institutional evils.

They're the ones Jesus was talking about when He said they strain out a gnat but swallow a camel (Matt.23:24).

They're adamantly opposed to teaching the theory of evolution in Biology classes in public schools, yet they blindly accept and live by the tenants of Social-Darwinism.

They vehemently oppose abortion yet they oppose programs to reduce poverty and social safety programs, support capitol punishment and applaud unprovoked military action.

They ardently oppose secularism in all forms, yet laud an atheist hedonist like Ayn Rand as a heroine of individual responsibility and economic liberty!

They claim that they uphold the U.S. Constitution strictly and abhor activist jurists, unless the activism favors their ideology.

How can you grant First Amendment rights to Corporations and Political Action Committees but deny 14th Amendment rights to real human beings because of their sexual orientation, race, or immigration status?

These are the white-washed tombs Jesus talked about (Matt 23:27) who hypocritically talk about returning to traditional values and religious heritage but  care nothing about justice, mercy and faithfulness. But prophets like Malachi, Zechariah, Micah, Amos and Hosea all  stand ready to indict them.

So here we are in the middle. On the extreme left, we have unspiritual Sadducees and on the extreme right, we have hyper-legalistic Pharisees. Ultimately both succumb to the idolatry of self-worship. Each thinks they know best. On the left they say everyone makes their own way, on the right they demand that you follow only their way because they believe that only they know best.

Instead, we should be confident enough to trust that there is such a thing as truth, yet humble enough to recognize that we may never be mature enough, experienced enough, wise enough or enlightened enough to have an absolute monopoly on that truth.

If we truly follow Jesus Christ, we can not trust our own vision. We cannot be either farsighted and miss what's right under our noses, namely that God is real and loves us and that people need Him. Nor should we be nearsighted and be so caught up in our own little kingdoms that we fail to see the world around us and how much they need our help, effort, intercession, and inclusion- not just our scrutiny and condemnation.

Instead of using God and religion to defend our political and philosophical opinions, we should consider how Jesus spent his time and listen to His teachings and imitate Him and implement His directives. We need to wash the inside of the cup, and not just the outside (Matt.23:25).

We have to recognize that as citizens of the greatest and most successful empire on Earth and throughout history, we Americans are especially vulnerable to complacency, greed, and self-indulgence and we have to ask God to help us repent of that and to keep us from being too comfortable with it and defensive and protective of the false god of our standard of living and our unique privileges.

We can't be Christians of Emperor Constantine, but instead of a poor, homeless Palestinian Jewish carpenter who hung out with fishermen, prostitutes and tax collectors.

Perhaps I've rambled too long here, but this post is really emblematic of the main purpose of this blog. That is to give a voice to those who believe and love Jesus, yet feel that the much of American Christianity is often short-sighted and not necessarily following Jesus with blind faith (2 Corinthians 5:7) but unfortunately are too often acting as blind guides (Matt. 23:16).

I want all Christians to know that you don't have to conform to a monolithic Republican way of thinking politically and philosophically- and that if you read Matthew 5 (and 23) and see a Jesus who perhaps aligns more with progressive (dare I even say liberal) values, you are not alone.

And I want secular, agnostic, atheist, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other liberals to realize that Jesus is not a rich white American, He's not homophobic, xenophobic, plutocratic, Machiavellian, oligarchic, militaristic, nationalistic, or nihilistic. He's not imperialistic.

He's loving, patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, and He is humble. He does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered,  keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. What's more, He's real, He's alive, He's here, He's now, and He loves them enough to die for them.

I think that often, Christians are afraid to step out of the Pharisee camp because they're afraid that any lack of condemnation, and (Heaven-forbid) any engagement whatsoever with the Sadducee camp will be misinterpreted as condoning falsehood. I say both sides are sometimes wrong but both sides are sometimes right. During the Reformation many parishioners told Martin Luther that they were afraid of making mistakes in what they did and taught and how they worshiped because they were so used to simply obeying the Pope. Luther told them to "Sin Boldly." I guess that's what I do by ranting on this blog, sinning boldly.

Alas, being in the middle not only means being caught in the cross-fire between the two extremes, it means that both sides perceive you as at best uncommitted and at worst, traitorous. But as Martin Luther famously said, "here I stand, I can do no other."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Happy Pentecost; Burn, Spirit, Burn!

"Lord, here am I: your fire impart to this poor cold self-centered soul; touch but my lips, my hands, my heart, and make a world for Christ my goal." ~Timothy Dudley-Smith, 'How Shall They Hear, Who Have Not Heard,' Hymn 831, Lutheran Service Book

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Do you pray for your pastor?

"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should." ~Colossions 4:2-4

Have you been praying for your pastor?

It occurred to me that my pastor is not just pastor at our church. He's also the Circuit Counselor for Iowa-District West of the LC/MS? As Circuit Counselor, he's been serving as the vacancy-pastor for 3 Triple-Parish churches near by. And he's on the Board of Junior High week at a summer camp. God's kept him pretty busy lately. Recently, a neighboring pastor announced he's retiring next month so he'll have even more on his plate, even if he's not asked to fill their vacancy too.

There's no slow season for a pastor. Sure, he here to pray for the members of his congregation, but we can pray for him too. Even Moses needed someone to help hold up his arms (Exodus 17:8-13).

If you haven't before, be sure that you start lifting your pastor up in prayer.

Seeking some Prayer-Cover

Please pray for/with my church. Next Sunday, June 12, Pentecost, our voters will decide whether to take on a major building project. The day before, partly to seek God's guidance and blessing, we are hosting a day of prayer.

Everyone is welcome to attend & participate at St.John Lutheran in Charter Oak, IA. It's not just for or about our church. We want to pray for our, neighbors, communities, area, state, nation, churches & world. Prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, &supplication. Prayers for health, for families, for needs, and for spiritual growth.

If you'd like to join us on Saturday:
  • 9AM- Prayer Service
  • 10AM- Prayer Walk around property
  • Noon-5PM- Prayer Vigil 
  • OR- Pray with/for us anytime during the day, wherever you are.

My personal prayer for St. John Luth. Is that as a congregation we are Christ-centered, that love permeate everything we do, that prayer and Bible study become priorities, that we become Spirit-filled and purpose-driven. God has blessed us for 130 years. Please pray with me that He will use us to bless others, both in and around Charter Oak.

What an awesome way to spend the day before Pentecost?! Come, Holy Spirit, come! Burn in us & through us!

St.John Lutheran, Charter Oak, IA mission statement: "Offering with open arms, the love of Jesus."

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Be somebody people can lean on

This performance was from 1988. The song was originally a hit in 1972 for Bill Withers and hit #1 again in 1989 for a band called Club Nouveau. This version is by a Lutheran Elementary Principal, Paul Hill. I heard Hill when he spoke at a chapel at Concordia University in Nebraska back in the 90's.

Hill was a session musician before becoming a Christian school teacher. Legend has it that as a young man, he played back up on Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown." After listening to it, his mother broke the gold record he'd received for it. Another is that he helped Bill Withers write Lean on Me. Whether he did or not, he did write additional verses (as you can hear in this video).

Paul Hill overcame a debilitating stutter to become a first grade teacher, and elementary principal, and a motivational speaker and musician. He explained that the only two times he didn't stutter at all, were while teaching first graders and singing.

I understand that he passed away in 2009. I only heard him the one time but a few things still influence me. That you can do all things with God's help (Philippians 4:13) no matter what challenges you face. Do everything you do for the Lord (Colossians 3:23) and, we should all do like this song says, and support others when they need it (1 Thessalonians 5:11). It seems to me that these three things can make life a whole lot better.

This song really speaks about what communities can and should be, encouraging, supportive, and nurturing. Whether you're a teacher or not, you can be available for others. Maybe as a mentor to someone younger, a mentee for someone older. Maybe as a sibling or cousin, niece or nephew. Maybe just as a friend or a neighbor. Can you listen? Can you be patient and positive? Do you have compassion or empathy? Then you can be some one that others can lean on.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day begun by slaves

May 25, 2009  BY BRIAN HICKS, THE POST AND COURIER (Charleston, South Carolina)Charleston was in ruins.
The peninsula was nearly deserted, the fine houses empty, the streets littered with the debris of fighting and the ash of fires that had burned out weeks before. The Southern gentility was long gone, their cause lost.
In the weeks after the Civil War ended, it was, some said, “a city of the dead.”
On a Monday morning that spring, nearly 10,000 former slaves marched onto the grounds of the old Washington Race Course, where wealthy Charleston planters and socialites had gathered in old times. During the final year of the war, the track had been turned into a prison camp. Hundreds of Union soldiers died there.
For two weeks in April, former slaves had worked to bury the soldiers. Now they would give them a proper funeral.
The procession began at 9 a.m. as 2,800 black school children marched by their graves, softly singing “John Brown’s Body.”
Soon, their voices would give way to the sermons of preachers, then prayer and — later —picnics. It was May 1, 1865, but they called it Decoration Day.
On that day, former Charleston slaves started a tradition that would come to be known as Memorial Day.
Read complete story on original website
Gotta tell ya, this kinda puts Lincoln's Gettysburg Address into a different context for me. The liberated paying tribute with prayer and thanksgiving for the liberators. Especially when Lincoln says that it is to we the living to be rededicated in devotion to the cause for which the dead had given their last full measure of devotion. Liberty, equality, justice, unity. Yeah, it's sad that this day has become an excuse for drinking, eating, and appliance sales. But I think that it's also too bad that it gets confused and interchanges with Veteran's Day, Labor Day, Armed Forces Day, All Saint's Day, and Flag Day. It shouldn't be about empty patriotism, flag waving or political posturing any more than it should be about beer, brats, and boating.

If we take the example of those slaves almost 146 years ago, we will listen to God's Word and spend time in prayer. Recognizing the enormous sacrifice of those who have lost their lives serving to protect our freedoms. If we follow President Lincoln's advice, we will devote ourselves for the same things they sacrificed for. It's not about the flag, it's not about our colors or our pride. Shouldn't it be about liberty, equality, unity, and justice? Of ALL the people, by ALL the people, and for ALL  the people.

Yes for the fallen troops, but also for what they were fighting for. That's what I believe we need to remember and memorialize today. May God direct our words, thoughts, and actions so that we do just that. "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." ~Galations 6:8
Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,
While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;
But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,
His soul is marching on. 
John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true and brave,
And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save;
Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave,
His soul is marching on. 
He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few,
And frightened "Old Virginny" till she trembled thru and thru;
They hung him for a traitor, they themselves the traitor crew,
But his soul is marching on. 
John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see,
Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be,
And soon thruout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free,
For his soul is marching on. 
The conflict that he heralded he looks from heaven to view,
On the army of the Union with its flag red, white and blue.
And heaven shall ring with anthems o’er the deed they mean to do,
For his soul is marching on. 
Ye soldiers of Freedom, then strike, while strike ye may,
The death blow of oppression in a better time and way,
For the dawn of old John Brown has brightened into day,
And his soul is marching on