Come, look. See? Go!

As we are nearing Holy Week, I thought I’d share with you some of my Easter sermons, edited mostly to make them somewhat shorter for your reading here. I’m starting with one I first spoke about 13 years ago: Come, look. See? Go!

Come, look. See? Go! Matthew 28:1-10

Some of you may remember the early school reading books that were popular when I was learning to read. They taught us to read using very simple words. Come, look Jane. See Sally and Spot. See Puff run. Go, Puff, go. I understand these books have not been used in a long time. I was reminded of those early reading books as I read the text for this resurrection Sunday. Because in this text, I see God’s world changing power described by these simple, basic words: Come, look. See? Go! These four basic words that we learned in our pre-reading primers, when used in the context of the greatest story in all history, announce amazing, world changing power. Come, look. See? Go! show us the movement of the two Mary’s, who were, in Matthew’s account, the first witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. Come, look. See? Go!, simple words that provide us with all that we need to understand the great power of that resurrection that is still at work in our world.  Let’s walk with the two Mary’s.

The first thing we see is that the two Mary’s went “to look at” the tomb. In Matthew’s version they were not coming there to anoint Jesus. They were not trying to figure out how to roll away the stone at the entrance of the tomb, as in Mark’s version. They didn’t come because they were planning to do anything to the body of Jesus. They didn’t come looking for a Messiah, because they knew Jesus was dead. The one who they had walked with and talked with, who claimed to be the Son of God, had been killed in an excruciating manner by the religious leaders and the Romans, and had died on that cross and was buried in the tomb, and as far as they were concerned, that was the end of the story.

But they came. They came not because he was the victor that we know him to be, but because of what he meant to them when he lived and walked and talked with them. One of the women was Mary Magdalene. He had healed her by exorcising 7 demons from her. She knew he was dead, now. Still, she came, drawn to his tomb because she knew what he had done for her. Her love for him could not be contaminated by what the world did to him. The other Mary came with her because she had followed Jesus with the other disciples, too. She probably had decided that Jesus he was not the Messiah that he claimed to be, but she knew for sure that he was a great man. She was drawn to his tomb because he was a man who loved the people around him, a man who taught what was right and good, and who had great power that he always used to help others.

You see, they remembered that Jesus taught them that they were to love and care for each other. Jesus taught them the two highest commandments, love God and love each other. Jesus taught that the meek and the poor were blessed. They remembered the Jesus who walked with them and talked with them, and made them feel whole and alive and blessed and wonderful. They loved him for who he was, and that love could not be taken away from them by the evil in the world. They were drawn to come to the tomb by the goodness of Jesus that they knew was true love when he was with them.

We are drawn to come, too, by the goodness of Jesus.  As humans, we are drawn to what is good unless we’ve been warped by the evil in this world. The good helps us know right from wrong. The good gives us a sense of fairness. The good is what makes us cry when we see other people suffer, and laugh when they laugh. The good calls us to both give love and to want love, to help and not hurt others. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that puts cravings in our hearts for something right, true, better than this world has to offer. We come to find some purpose for our being in this world, for some hope for our futures, for joy and for peace. We come, like the two Mary’s, drawn to Jesus even without fully understanding what it may mean for our lives. We are drawn to come, knowing somewhere deep in side of us that good is the right thing to seek. That’s the prevenient Grace of God, whispering into our ears this one simple word that will take us on a life changing journey: Come.

When the Mary’s followed their hearts and came to see the tomb, they found an Angel there sitting on the already rolled away stone, who tells them Jesus is not there. He has arisen. Look, says the angel, at the place where he had been, but is no more. Look, he is not dead. Look, he lives. Look, what you thought was defeat is in fact victory. Look at what Jesus has done.

After we’ve been drawn to the good through the prevenient grace of God, we are called, just like the two Mary’s were called by the angel, to look. When we follow the longing in our hearts for more good in our lives, we are called to look for Jesus, who represents that good. We look for Jesus by studying the stories about his life and teachings that are in our Bible. Not just reading, but studying with people who are trained to share with you the history and context of the stories of the Bible for deeper understanding.

We look for Jesus by talking to people whose lives have been changed by his presence. We look for Jesus in other people who are called to the good just like you. A part of what it means to be in the church is to help each other strengthen our knowledge of Jesus and what that means for our lives. The search for Jesus is a continuing exercise, calling us to study Jesus and at the same time examine our hearts to make sure that we living in ways that are pleasing in Jesus’ sight. When we look, we will begin to see Jesus more clearly, to see his goodness and his righteousness. To feel his love, his mercy and his grace. When we respond to his call to come, when we look at him, we begin to change. When we look, we find that goodness we’ve been longing for and begin to feel the peace and joy that life with God offers to us. Seek, and you will find.

Come, the angel said to the two Mary’s, look. See what he has done! He is no longer dead, he is alive. Then the angel told them to go and tell the others. And the women ran. Can you imagine how they must have felt at that point? I think they were probably filled with more fear than joy. They went to see the tomb of a dead man who they loved. Instead, they saw the angel and the empty tomb. How were they going to tell that to anyone else? How would they get the others to believe them? Jesus lives ?! They were both excited that it might be true and afraid at at the same time because it seemed so impossible. How will they tell the others? How could this be?

That’s when Jesus showed up. To make sure that they really understood what was happening, to make sure that they could stand up to the challenges and scoffs that they were surely going to receive by the other disciples when they told them that Jesus had arisen from the dead, Jesus decided to come to them himself. Isn’t that just like Jesus? He wanted them to see for themselves, so he came to them.

Can you imagine these two women, already full of fear and joy, looking at Jesus standing there? They fell before his feet, still trying to wrap their minds around the idea that he really was alive. But when they saw him, they got it. Seeing is believing. See, what I have done. See I have risen from the dead. See, the stone is rolled away. See, I really am the Messiah that you knew in your hearts was true when I walked with you and talked with you. See, I have power that you didn’t know that I had. See, I live! Now these two women of faith know for sure, and have no doubt. They know that he lives, because he came to them himself.

Come, look. See? When you begin to look for Jesus, he will find you. When you search for him in your heart, you’ll find that he’s already there. When you begin to understand more about who he is and what he is able to do, you will begin to understand better and better the great power that is his, that same power that he offers to you. When you begin to see. When you begin to get it. When you begin to understand the power of God by seeing
Christ for who he truly is, you will begin to feel the changes happening in your own life.

See how Jesus’ power of forgiveness can overcome that sense of unworthiness that lurks in the dark places, telling you that you’re not worthy of God’s love. Jesus lets you see that God loves you no matter whatyou’ve done in your past. See Jesus’ power to turn your sorrow and sadness into joy just by his presence. See the hope that floods your heart and gives you new possibilities for your life. See his power to defeat the things that continually want to break you down, drawing you to anger, depression, guilt and shame—all designed to kill your spirit. See? Jesus wants you to have a real life, with real joy that will give you life and not take it away. See– with Jesus that all things are possible for your life. There is nothing too big for Jesus to conquer. See? He can roll away all the stones that continually block you from the success you deserve in life.

See that Jesus has conquered even death, so that there is no longer any fear. Jesus, the on who represents the good, has won the victory! Didn’t he promise us that he is waiting for us, that he has gone to prepare a place for us, so that where he is we will be, too. Death has been defeated by the mighty power of love, of God, of Jesus. See? Oh Death, where is your victory! Where is your sting? See, there is no longer anything to fear on this earth, if you only believe. Seeing is believing. Good has won the victory. There is still evil in the world, but the victory has been won for us, because the darkness does not understand and cannot withstand the light! See?

Come, look. See? Go! Go tell the others said the Angel to the women. Go and tell the others said Jesus. Now that you have come, looked and now that you see, I have a job for you to do. Go and tell the others that Jesus lives.

When we see, we will humble ourselves before him, just like the two Mary’s did. We will humble our hearts and through the humbleness allow him to work in us. When we open our hearts to be changed by the power of Jesus’ presence, he will give us our marching orders. And when that happens, we are ready to go.

Just like Jesus needed the Mary’s to go tell the others, Jesus has a message and a job for each and every one of us who are called into his service. Come. Look. See? Go! Tell somebody who Jesus really is. Tell them that Jesus lives in the hearts of all who believe in him. Tell somebody how your life has been changed because of your belief. Go! With excitement and joy. Go! Allow the power of the only one who could defeat death to move you from the living dead to abundant life.

Go! Take the good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for those in prison, help the others who are still blind to see the goodness of God through your words and actions. Go! Speak truth to those in power in high places so they will know right from wrong. Go and help the people Jesus sends you to so they will see your good works and know who Jesus is. Go, be the lights of the world and the salt of the earth, so others will both see and taste the good that is Jesus. Go! all the while giving God the glory and praise that only God deserves. Go! in peace and joy. Go! in power and truth. Go! in love and thanksgiving. Go!

Come, look. See? Go! Jesus lives! Go out and tell somebody, Jesus lives! Show that you know he lives because he lives right there in your heart. Let them see your good works and inspire them to come and look for Him themselves. He will be with you when you go, telling you where to look, helping you to see others as he sees them, everywhere that you go in his name, because He lives!

 

Patriots or Demagogues?

RIP U.S. democracy. You’ve been made a mockery. You’ve been knocked out by people who know better–those who are and who will be leaders of our country.

The precious right you, democracy, gave to U.S. citizens to choose their President by “one man, one vote” was summarily dismissed when several states enacted procedures intentionally designed to obstruct voting by African Americans. We don’t know how many citizens’ votes were eliminated, but we do know that it worked.

The questionable validity of razor-thin vote counts in just enough key states to tip the electoral balance was a “one-two” punch against you, democracy. Lleaders in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania challenged the right to hold recounts and proposed laws to make recounts more difficult. Michigan simply declared it could not recount because of improper handling of ballot boxes in highly-populated Detroit. The state leaders simply denigrated you, democracy, rendering you useless.

The Russian cyber hacking designed to influence our election to benefit their chosen one, and the fact that we don’t know whether it was successful, was a death blow to you, democracy. While we haven’t determined whether their hacking made a difference, we do know the Russians are happy about the outcome.

The great majority of voters chose for their leader the one who lost the election, making a farce of you, democracy. Why? Because the electoral system twists you from “one man, one vote,” to some other peculiar kind of thing. It’s an oddity, created by the scourge of race-based slavery and it’s progeny, racism, which our country has not yet overcome: “There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.” (Records of the Federal Convention, p. 57 (Thursday July 19, 1787))

But here’s the thing, democracy— it wasn’t the obstruction of black voters, the validity of the counts, the Russian meddling or the faulty electoral system that took you down. What finally broke you is the seeming inability of some of our leaders and the clear unwillingness of other leaders to do anything about all of the above. Some leaders who are unhappy with this tragic election seem to feel their hands are tied and their mouths are bound because there is no protocol to address such an anomaly. Shame on them!  Real leaders should never feel helpless or hopeless.

And even more shame on those others who call themselves leaders, who don’t want to repair the damage to you, democracy, because they feel your death is to their advantage. Their desire to have their own way is more important to them than your existence. And they have the nerve to call themselves patriots, to claim to speak for the “American people.” Double shame on them! They are in no way patriots. They are demagogues. Because of their desire for power, salted through with greed, you, U.S. American democracy, have been fatally compromised. That compromise is so deep, so unparalleled in our history, so devastating to who we are as a people, that it raises the question whether our country can ever fully recover.
And isn’t that just what the Russians want?
Our forefathers are turning over in their graves.

You see, democracy, real patriots would protect you, because you are the one thing that truly made this country great. The one bright, shining thing that gave dignity and hope to those without money or influence, to those of us with only the power to vote, who love our country and who deeply treasure you. You made the United States the light of the world. You were the bright exemplar shining the way to a better way of governing for all. You were created by people who fought against tyrants for your existence–people who believed that you were worth dying for.

A new group of tyrants, false patriots, have taken you out, democracy. Can you be resuscitated? I believe you can, and I believe you will, because there are multitudes who, like me, also believe you are to die for. Yes, you can, because we can make it happen.

So on Inauguration Day, when the person who I cannot and will not accept as the winner will be sworn into the office of President of the United States, I’m hanging a black cloth across my front porch in respect of your death, democracy. And I will leave it there until he’s gone from that position. I hope and pray that other real patriots will do the same.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
United States Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

A New Year’s Prayer for Your Blessing

The phrase “shock and awe,” as we most often use it, was generated in a military setting. It describes a military tactic that is so devastating that the “enemy” immediately recognizes their inability to defend themselves, so they surrender immediately. This usually involves some form of large-scale brutal slaughter of people all at once, like the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I believe that Jesus’ coming into the world was God’s “shock and awe” tactic, intended to help the world move to a better place. Not that the world is God’s enemy—but just the opposite, “for God so loved the world” (John3:16). The shock God gave us is the proof of God’s unfathomable power through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the awe is that it’s all about God’s unfathomable love. Through Jesus, God offers us a love so complete that we still have a hard time grasping it. The awesomeness includes a grace that is so amazing that it pierces the hearts of all who accept it.

The change that God’s shock and awe tactic seeks is for the purpose of world dominance, but it’s not for world destruction. We’re doing a pretty good job of destructing the world ourselves without God’s help. God’s tactic is designed to make the whole world more wholesome, more healthy, by helping the people in the world to become more loving, caring and peaceful. God intends to change us one by one, helping us to understand the depth and breadth of God’s love, moving us closer to God’s goodness. A more wholesome world for all the inhabitants will be the result.

Too many Christians don’t really believe some important teachings of Jesus, because they just seem so radical. Things like “love your enemy”, “do good to those who would hurt you” (both in Luke 6:27) and “give to everyone who begs” (Luke 6:30). Too many of us don’t really accept that we are to give up some things we desire in life so that others might have better lives (Philippians 2: 5-11). Too many of us don’t believe that Jesus’ radical forgiveness from the cross that still shocks and awes us is the same forgiveness that God expects us to share with others (Luke 23:34). Too many of us see Jesus as our personal savior, and are very thankful for that, yet we see the rest of the world as not our problem.

Our job as believers is not to just talk to people about Jesus. Our job is to share the radical, powerful and unrelenting love that Jesus brought, taught, and showed us, so much so that people will be shocked and awed into believing, and be changed.

So here is my prayer seeking blessings for your new year:

May you find abundant opportunities this new year to shock others with the love of Christ through your acts of loving kindness. May you discover new ways to share the awesomeness of God-like forgiveness and grace with those who need to receive it from you. May you be strong and bold in your faith in the teachings of Christ, standing against injustice with justice, unrighteousness with righteousness, hate with love, discrimination with inclusion and war with peace. May your heart sing with God’s joy, which this world can neither give to you nor take from you. May your soul feel the rich satisfaction of peace that comes from knowing you tried your best to follow Christ. May your mind find new ways to share that same joy and peace with those who God puts in your presence.

Have a Blessed and Happy New Year!

Believers, Get Out of Church!

It’s the Christian thing to do.

You came to church in the first place because something led you there.  You came

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because someone invited you, and your heart was gladdened by the experience so you came back. You came because life had become difficult and you knew you needed help, and you came back because you felt healing and peace there. You came because something that you can’t explain nudged you, and you stayed because you found a new kind of joy, new friends, a new way of life and you loved learning to walk deeper with Christ.

So you stayed. Now you participate in church activities, attend Bible Study, contribute regularly and help out with the children or on leadership boards. You may be in the choir

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or on the usher board or even a deacon or deaconess.  You try to get there most Sundays, and every once in a while you might even give up an “Amen!” or a “Hallelujah.” Your life has changed for the better and you’re trying to be a better person because of your church involvement. You’re trying to be a good Christian, you are a true believer, and it’s all good.

But now it’s time to get out of church.

You see, Christ didn’t nudge you into the church just so you could feel better; He needs you to be your best self so that He can use you.  Jesus didn’t heal your broken heart, cure your illness, give you that new job, bring love into your life just so you could have a better life, He did it also because He needs you to be a witness for him. Jesus didn’t intend for you to keep that new joy, that new hope, that new peace all to yourself. He didn’t call you to become a church member. Jesus called you to follow Him.  And the way to follow Jesus is to allow Him to lead you to the places he wants you to go.

Once you’ve been healed, once you’ve begun to understand, once you’ve begun to deepen your walk with Him, then it’s time to go.

Jesus sends you out from the comfort of the pews to be His presence in the world, to go to the difficult places and sit with sinners and scoffers, because that’s where God’s message of good news needs to be heard. Christ sends you away from the church to places of pain and sorrow so you can bring healing and hope. He intends for you to get out of the church and raise your prophetic voice so people in power will hear “thus says the Lord” and lead this world to become a better place for all. Christ wants you to help the world to understand that “the kingdom of God has come near” because of your presence.

It’s your time.  It’s your turn. The world is still broken. Why are you still sitting?

After you’ve gone out with nothing but your faith to lead you, telling and showing the world that the kingdom of God has come near by your healing activities, your joy, your peace,

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your love and the word of God, then you can return to church.  That’s when Jesus will meet you there, praising God with you because you’ve been able to trample on snakes and scorpions in the name of Jesus. Jesus will join in praising God with you–not just because you’ve caused Satan to fall from the sky, but because your name is written in heaven. Jesus will meet you there and celebrate with you, laughing and singing and praising because God has revealed to you what you can do in the name of Jesus!

Luke 10: 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.

THERE IS POWER IN THE NAME OF JESUS TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN.  WHEN WILL YOU BEGIN TO WIELD THAT POWER? 

If you’d like to comment on this post, you can click the little balloon at the top of the post for the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know and feel the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

The Church and Gays

Let me first thank all of you who responded to last week’s post about my gay brother John–I heard from many family and friends who knew him. You helped me to recognize that I need to say a little more about John. I was so focused on my relationship with him that I failed to mention that he was quite successful; he traveled around the world in his early career and worked as a high level manager at AT&T towards the end of his career.  He was quite popular as an adult and had a multi-cultural group of friends.  He was smart and well loved by many.  His life was a blessing to many people, not just me.

I said last week that one of the things John’s life taught me is that he did not choose to be gay. This is important because many in the church have characterized a homosexual lifestyle as a sinful choice that can be reversed.  And while some church folks are changing their minds on this, many still use it as an excuse to discriminate against people in the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered community.

thI have seen African American religious leaders become furiously indignant at the mention of equating the gay community’s struggle for equal treatment with the black civil rights struggle. More moderate religious leaders may welcome gays into their churches– as long as the gays will recognize that homosexuality is a sin and repent, and that means to me that they will be expected to change. Others take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” position. Many do not want them to marry in the church.  All of these positions view the gay life as less than acceptable.

But John’s life proved to me that God made him just like God wanted him. God formed John in my mothers’ womb. His sexual orientation was as natural to him as my brown skin is to me. I don’t know about all people who are LGBT’s, but I do know about John. And if homosexuals (at least some of them) were made the way they are by God, how dare we judge them?

That’s the question my brother John’s life begs to be answered.  And for all of my friends who knew John and his friends from the time they were young boys, you know that they did not choose to be different.  And I suspect that all of you reading this can remember children who you knew were gay when they were young, before they became sexually aware. They didn’t choose to be gay–they just were, despite any efforts their parents’ may have made to make them “normal.”

Neil Swidey wrote an informative and detailed article for the Boston Globe in 2005 entitled “What Makes People Gay?”  He provides an in-depth review of several scientific studies of how human sexuality develops, highlighted by the story of a mother and her identical twin boys, one of whom exhibited female characteristics and claimed to be a girl when he was a small child. Here are some excerpts:

“Canadian researchers have consistently documented a “big-brother effect,” finding that the chances of a boy being gay increase with each additional older brother he has. (Birth order does not appear to play a role with lesbians.) So, a male with three older brothers is three times more likely to be gay than one with no older brothers, though there’s still a better than 90 percent chance he will be straight. They argue that this results from a complex interaction involving hormones, antigens, and the mother’s immune system.” (I didn’t know that!)

“Still, no matter how imperfect these studies are, when you put them all together and examine them closely, the message is clear: While post-birth development may well play a supporting role, the roots of homosexuality, at least in men, appear to be in place by the time a child is born. After spending years sifting through all the available data, British researchers Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman come to an even bolder conclusion in their forthcoming book Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation, in which they write: ‘Sexual orientation is something we are born with and not `acquired’ from our social environment.”

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Doesn’t it feel good when science catches up with our own experiences and proves to us what we already figured out?

I believe that God made my brother John to be just who he was, and there is scientific proof to back up my belief. And I see even better proof in my gay friends, some of whom are the nicest, smartest, most spiritual and dedicated Christians I know. How dare I judge any of them? God doesn’t make any junk! And God doesn’t make mistakes! A God who is love (see my post two weeks ago) would not make children only to reject them. God would simply love them with an unlimited, unconditional and permanent love.

th-2And I believe the church ought to accept what God has done and not discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation, which includes allowing them to marry in church. (This obviously does not imply my support for any behavior that violates, hurts or harms others, especially children– but that’s true for everyone, gay or straight, including clergy.)

 

I can hear some of you now– “But the Bible Says…..”

I love the Bible.  It is the most important, inspiring, life-changing book in my life. My own experience with the Bible has helped me to learn to explore it deeply. The deeper my understanding becomes, the more I love it. Biblical interpretation is my all-time number one favorite thing to talk about.  I’ll share my thoughts about the Bible on this issue with you next week.

If you’d like to comment to this post, you can click the little balloon at the top of the post for the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know and feel the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

 

Becoming a Friend of God

I’m preaching at Simpson-Hamline United Methodist Church this Sunday while the Pastor is on vacation.  Bill preached last Sunday, and he started his sermon by singing “My Tribute” in his wonderfully deep and resonate baritone, then went on to give a powerful testimony about God’s saving grace.  So he set the bar pretty high for me to follow up this week!

The text I’ve chosen, John 15: 12-17, is a part of Jesus’ farewell discussion with his disciples.  I’m focusing on verse 14-15, where Jesus calls his disciples friends.  He no

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longer calls them (us) servants, he now calls us his friends. I’ve been fascinated by my deep study of this text.  One of the things that happens when you delve deeply into a text to understand it more fully — I call it “deep sea diving”– you come up with many treasures, usually more than you can recount effectively in one sermon (although many preachers are too inclined to try). So don’t worry, if you come to Simpson-Hamline this Sunday (service begins at 10 am)  this blog isn’t usurping my sermon. The reason I’m sharing this with you now is that I really haven’t been able to focus on anything else that I want to share here, so I decided to stop trying and just let you know what’s on my mind.

The other thing I’ve been doing this week is reading comments from a LinkedIn group, “Interfaith Professionals,” where comments  are being posted by persons from different faiths on the question “Why does God let people suffer?”  The responses are interesting, as you might expect.  People wrestle with this question a lot, and it has caused many to challenge the goodness and/or the reality of God.

All of this brings me to the question for today:  If Jesus — God — is really our friend, why do we still have to suffer?  Since we understand that God is all powerful and can do anything, then why would God-our-friend ever allow pain and difficulties into our lives? Why doesn’t God just step in and stop whatever it is–all the time?  Why wouldn’t God save the lives of many good and God-believing people from the horrible typhoon that is hitting the Philippines right now? Wouldn’t God stop a Christian woman from being raped or tortured? Wouldn’t our friend Jesus always carry us through the storm, away from harm, as the above picture depicts?

Many of us know from personal experience and testimonies from others that God does intervene, God does save and God still works miracles in this world.  But that does not mean that we won’t ever have to suffer, because we will. And we have no way of knowing when or why God will save some and not others or when the storms will come into our lives and we will find ourselves suffering.

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What kind of friend is someone who has the power to save us from pain and sorrow and doesn’t do it?

I believe the best kind of friend.  Not because God wants to us to suffer–I believe that God cries right along with us–but because God wants us to be better people than we would be without suffering. We could never understand what it means to have love and compassion if we weren’t required, from time to time, to open our hearts to others who are living in or going through difficulties.  We’d never know how important it is to have friends unless we had a need to lean on someone else every once in awhile–and that includes our friend God!

Humanity grows intellectually, deepens spiritually and gains wisdom from searching for the causes of suffering and figuring out how to relieve them.  So that’s the job that we’re given by the challenge of human suffering–to wrestle with the things that cause suffering and fix them.  That’s what people are called to do, and it involves everything from helping people to experience the God of love to researching the causes of diseases, from offering a meal to a homeless person to enacting legislation to create affordable housing and living wages, from being a friend to an at-risk child to working to overcome poverty and to dismantle for-profit prison systems. The added benefit is that these are the kind of works that make life truly meaningful for us.

That’s the call of God on all of us, all of humanity, to use all that we are to help each other– hearts that care, minds that study, hands that help, strength that endures and souls that understand the importance of rejoicing through it all. When we do these things, we’re helping to accomplish God’s purposes in this world, and that’s when we become friends of God.  You see, friendship is a two-way street. You can’t really have a friend unless you are a friend.  Sooo….you want Jesus to be your friend???

When the Dollar is the Bottom Line

Some news items, all from this past week:

(1) Richest 1 percent of Americans are collecting biggest share of household income since the ‘20s

“In 2012, the incomes of the top 1 percent rose nearly 20 percent compared with a 1 percent increase for the remaining 99 percent….. Economists point to several reasons for widening income inequality. In some industries, U.S. workers now compete with low-wage labor in China and other developing countries. Clerical and call-center jobs have been outsourced to countries such as India and the Philippines. Increasingly, technology is replacing workers in performing routine tasks. And union power has dwindled. The percentage of American workers represented by unions has dropped from 23.3 percent in 1983 to 12.5 percent last year, according to the Labor Department.”

(2) Left With Nothing 

“On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb. Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go. All because he didn’t pay a $134 property tax bill. …..

As the housing market soared, the investors scooped up liens in every corner of the city, then started charging homeowners thousands in legal fees and other costs that far exceeded their original tax bills, with rates for attorneys reaching $450 an hour….. One 65-year-old flower shop owner lost his Northwest Washington home of 40 years after a company from Florida paid his back taxes — $1,025 — and then took the house through foreclosure while he was in hospice, dying of cancer. A 95-year-old church choir leader lost her family home to a Maryland investor over a tax debt of $44.79 while she was struggling with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home.”

(3) The Cost of Cash, for the Rich and the Poor

“It’s easy to forget that cash is costly to access, until you’re paying an A.T.M. fee or spending time riding a bus to a check-cashing window when you could have been working. Now, a study published on Monday morning has quantified the cost of cash, and who gets hit the hardest. The unsurprising answer: low-income people. …. The reason for the difference is that wealthier people and lower-income people tend to access cash differently. Wealthier people are more likely to have bank accounts, which means that they can visit an A.T.M. run by their bank without paying a fee; the same goes for cashing checks. Lower-income people, meanwhile, disproportionately use check-cashing services, which are known for their high add-on charges. Plus, employers have started compensating low-paid, hourly workers with prepaid cards that come with huge fees.”

(4) GE, IBM Ending Retiree Health Plans in Historic ShiftThis is who we are becoming as a nation. 

“America’s biggest employers, from GE to IBM, are increasingly moving retirees to insurance exchanges where they select their own health plans, an historic shift that could push more costs onto U.S. taxpayers.”

All of the above ought to make us think about what kind of country we’re becoming and where all of this is going to take us in the future.  Luke 16:13 puts God’s challenge to us this way: 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

When we value $ over people, then we value $ over God’s commandments.  All of these news stories should make us wonder whether this is becoming the case here.  Don’t get me wrong, I know there are lots of people who have good hearts and who do care for and help others.  But when the “money worshipper mindset” becomes too acceptable, the whole society is at risk, because that’s when the $ can too easily become the bottom line in defining our values. That’s when the $ becomes the ultimate result of what we’re all about, when the $ becomes the main theme of how we live our lives. It doesn’t happen all at once, but the mindset just kind of seeps into our everyday lives, through the constant barrage of advertisements, telling us we need things that we certainly don’t, through shows continually suggesting that we really do need more and more stuff, like I always feel after watching HGTV, through the constant parading of the “rich and famous” as smart people who we should admire and emulate, and the constant portrayal of poverty as the fault of the poor, and so on and so on.

The news items above make me think that our country is becoming the Ferengi of the world.  For those of you who are not Star Trek fans, the Ferengi are a race of unscrupulous people who will do anything for $, described as “greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls.”

I once threatened to write a book about how our values become twisted when the $ is the bottom line. Here’s a start:  When the $ is the bottom line, pharmaceuticals and health care, good schools and healthy food– necessities for people to live whole and healthy lives–are abundantly available to those with abundant $,  and difficult to attain for those with little $– and no wrong is seen in this.

Maybe you’d like to share some examples of what you see happening when the $ is the bottom line.

Disturb Us, O Lord

Someone posted on Facebook this reading of the Prayer of Sir Francis Drake:

Boat-In-A-Storm

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

Beautiful, isn’t it?  Thought provoking.  This wonderful prayer has been reposted and used over and over by many.  You can find it all over the web.  I decided to make it a topic of this week’s blog, but when I did some research on Sir Francis Blake, I changed my mind.  You see, he was a great explorer, but he was also a slaver and a pirate, forcibly making slaves of West Africans (I can’t help but wonder if he used that castle in Ghana that I visited) and raiding Spanish ships to steal their wealth.  He was lauded for this, and knighted. Blake even “excommunicated” his ship’s chaplain for suggesting that Blake was wrong for beheading his co-commander Thomas Doughty. I couldn’t help but wonder if the preacher was the one who gave Blake this wonderful prayer!

When I found out all of this, I thought I wouldn’t post the prayer.  I couldn’t help but think that Blake was using this prayer to lead him to further “adventures” of enslaving people and stealing their lands, claiming them in the name of England. I did not want to join you or me in those kind of thoughts.

Then a Facebook posting by my friend Carolyn Lester changed my mind:

“It is not a matter of our fitness or unfitness; what we declare when we witness is the Word of another who never fails. That Word has as much authority on our weakest days as on our strongest; it is not a question of our own worthiness.” Vance Havner

This word by a Southern Baptist preacher struck me as so true that I decided to post both it and Blake’s beautiful prayer.  Because it is the prayer that is inspirational, even if Blake is not.  God can use broken vessels to accomplish beautiful purposes– like John Newton, who wrote the most loved of all Christian hymns, Amazing Grace.  He was also involved in enslaving Africans before, and for a while after, his spiritual conversion.

God’s word is pure.  It is true.  You will feel the truth of God when it’s spoken no matter how faulty the speaker may be, though it is sometimes difficult to look past the vessel of delivery.

I encourage you to look beyond the horrible wrongs that Blake did to see the beauty of this prayer for what it is, a prayer that reminds us that if we allow God to lead us, we may be blessed in ways so beyond our own vision and limitations that we could not have imagined how to ask for them. This prayer helps us to recognize that sometimes we need to be disturbed out of our comfort zones, to be shaken out of our usual patterns, to have our own boundaries challenged, and to open our spiritual eyes to the material world around us in order for us to see and be what God wants us to see and be. Allow the beautiful words of Francis Blake to bless your hearts, to broaden your horizons, to open you to the amazing breadth and depth of God’s boundless love for all of humanity and to give you the ability to dream larger and the strength to push on.

God’s truth will march on!  Maybe sometimes even through me…

If you’d like to comment on this post, please click the little balloon at the top of the post and you will see the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these weekly posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know the love of God and thereby be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

It seems every time I start to write about ways we can all become involved, I have to struggle with what to say and where to direct you.  One reason is that I know that it’s much easier to talk about doing something than doing it. It’s easy to talk, much harder to “put your money where your mouth is.”  Sometimes the issues seem so big and we seem so small that we don’t know where to begin putting our figurative money, so we just keep on not doing. We find ourselves thinking “What can I do, I”m just one person?” and so we don’t try. 

It’s easy to write about what’s wrong with our society, much harder to take the time to become involved in making real change happen. It’s easier to give a few bucks to a homeless person than it is to demand that local authorities make low cost housing a priority.  It’s easier to go down to help with the food pantry’s weekly food distribution than it is to demand that government increase minimum wages so that people who work full time will not still be poor. It’s easier to be involved with an post-prison support program than it is to demand that the state provide more support for at-risk children when they are young in order to help keep them out of prison.

It seems to me like that’s what I’ve been doing with this blog–writing and talking, but not getting anything done.  The regular routines of life seem to demand my attention away from doing even this small thing. And this week is a prime example.  I’ve been busy with my son and his wife and children and their cousins who are all in town for just a little while longer (not long enough) , as well as preparing for a party I’m hosting for my good friend of 34 years (my, how time flies!), Deborah Clark, to celebrate her retirement and her birthday.  So now I’m a day late, and I feel like a dollar short, in getting this post out.  I apologize for that.

But I have been thinking mainly about one thing we can do that I believe can make a difference; one thing that I surely hope as many of you as are able will try your best to join me in doing.  I really hope you will find a way to attend the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

What better time to march on our nation’s capitol than now, when civil rights are again under assault?  What better time to honor the legacy of Dr. King than now, when the color of our children’s skin is still a determining factor in whether they can be shot and killed without punishment?  What better time to March on Washington than now, when we have our first Black President who is working so hard to help the poor and middle class with things like health care, job creation and funds for preschool, yet who must operate under such unprecedented assault by some members of Congress?

I can’t think of a better time than now for those of us who stand with our president and for civil rights and justice to gather in numbers in our nation’s capitol.  And numbers do matter.  Having large numbers of people attending can make this event historic. Having large numbers of people of all colors, all faiths, all walks of life who come here to march because they want this country to be even better than it is would make a important statement not only to those in our deadlocked Congress but to the world as well. Every one of you is needed for such a time as this!

So here’s some information to help you do this:   For the official sight for the anniversary March, click here, where you can register to attend. You will see that activities are planned for the week of August 21 through the 28th, the day of the commemorative march. Some of the many interesting activities taking place during that week include a “Global Freedom Festival” on the Mall (Between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building) during the week, a march for jobs and justice on Saturday the 24th, a praise and worship service on Wednesday the 21st, and other training conferences and roundtable discussions.  The groups leading these efforts are The King Center and The Coalition for Jobs, Justice and Freedom (National Council of Negro Women, SCLC, National Urban League, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, National Action Network, National Council of Churches, Children’s Defense Fund).

More information can be found on the website of the National Action Network (Rev. Al Sharpton’s organization), on this website created by the Center for the Study of Civil and Human Rights Laws, and another one here, as well.

For my family and friends who do not live in DC, we have a couple of extra beds here at the house–let us know if you want to stay with us–first come, first serve!.  For my friends who live in the DC area, please, please, please invite your friends and family to join you here!

This is something we can do, now.  And by doing it, we’ll find our voice to speak truth to power in unity with others.  We’ll hopefully become energized to break away from our routines and sacrifice some of the time God has blessed us with to make a difference in this world.   Maybe we’ll find an organization or group to join and stay involved with after the march is over. This is one way each of us can put our money where our mouth is.

I hope you’ll try your best to come. If your first response is to say to yourself “but I can’t because….”, I hope you’ll think again.   But if you really can’t, there will always be other things you can do……

If you’d like to comment to this post, please click the little balloon at the top of the post and you will see the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these weekly posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know the love of God and therefore be filled with peace, joy, and hope.

The God of Hope

I woke up yesterday convinced that I should write about what some call the racial divide in our country.  I see it as more than a divide–more of a racial cleansing.  I was going to write about the confluence of the War on Drugs, which is sending so many of our black children to prison, the growing privatized prison industry gaining profit from from keeping more inmates than any other civilized country in this world, and using the inmates as slave labor to make even more profit.  I was going to write about  states reducing funding for public school systems, the “stand your ground laws” that allow someone to stalk and kill a black person and be deemed innocent upon claiming to be afraid, states stripping the right to vote from those who have prison records, states stripping away voting rights of people of color– and the Supreme Court clearing the way for that to happen.  I was going to talk about the effort of many states to purge themselves of Hispanic immigrants, the constant efforts to water down Affirmative Action, and how a majority in the House of Representatives want to do nothing more than to defeat any proposal from our first African American President, with the support of their constituents to do that.

These things, along with the Washington Post’s survey showing a deep racial, ideological and religious divide over the result of Trayvon Martin’s killer’s trial, all lead me to believe that there is a mindset held by a large percentage of the population in this country that must be similar to the mindset in Germany when the Nazis demonized and justified killing millions of Jewish people–and the German Christian church mostly going along with that. I believe that many of those who claim to be conservative will also claim to not be racists, but yet they support all those things that are killing off our people, which, to their way of thinking, is not their fault, but ours.  Is it a conscious and concerted effort led by some of the power brokers, like the Koch brothers, who put so much of their billions into defeating Obamacare,  pretty much anyone who’s running for office who is not a conservative, and anything that is designed to help the poor and raise the middle class? Probably so.

But I decided today that I’d rather write about the God of hope. The biblical record lets us know that when it seems like all is lost, that’s when the God of hope steps in:  Joseph redeeming his family after the brothers thought they had killed him; little David defeating the giant Goliath; Queen Esther  (of the “if I perish, I perish” fame) saving her people from slaughter,  and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, to name a few examples in the Old Testament. Plus of course, Jesus, who humbled himself to the point of being crucified, dead and buried before he arose and was exalted by God, and who now sits on the Throne, with all power given to him.

This God of Hope still exists, as evidenced through history in the American Revolution, the defeat of slavery through the American Civil War, the defeat of segregation through the Civil Rights effort and the defeat of Apartheid in South Africa, to name a few.  These examples tell us that larger, more powerful foes can be defeated and overcome by those who seem weaker and more vulnerable–those who, by the state of their being weak, know that they must not rely on their own power and strength, but on God.  As I heard Jacqueline Thompson, one of my favorite young female preachers say, “One plus God is enough!”

The thing is that the God of hope doesn’t work alone.  Our God works through people who are committed to do God’s will– those who are willing to tackle giants who want to slaughter their people, those who are willing to go before the kings, even though they know they may perish, those who are willing to stand up for righteousness and justice in the face of powerful foes, and those who are willing to die to save others.

God needs people like that.  God needs more people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who did not back down from challenging the Nazi regime.  He died an honorable death, the death of a person who really knows how to be a friend, according to Jesus:  “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12)  Jesus is that kind of friend.  Jesus wants us to be friends like that for each other.

I trust in this God, therefore I have hope. I have hope in God and hope in so many wonderful people I know who are willing to stand up for what is right.  Just writing this brings back my joy that even this mean, crazy and mixed-up world can’t completely take away, and my peace, that this world just doesn’t get.

Next week, I plan to share information on some ways we can become involved.

If you’d like to comment to this post, please click the little balloon at the top of the post and you will see the comments section.  Contact me if you’d like to receive these weekly posts by email. Please know that I always wish for you to know the love of God and therefore be filled with peace, joy, and hope.