My Latest Book–The Revolutionary Power of the Lord’s Prayer

Along with being one of the most powerful nations in the world, the United States is a highly Christian country. A 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center showed that the U.S. had more Christians than any country in the world, over 246 million. The number has dropped over the years, yet the United States continues to have a majority of Christian citizens—slightly more than 70 percent of U.S. Americans identified themselves as Christian in 2014.

Have you ever wondered why, when we have so many Christians in our beloved country, it is still plagued with deep societal problems that seem impenetrable to all efforts to resolve them? Problems like the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world; a growing, staggering gap between the rich and the poor; entrenched poverty and all of the ills that come with it; an increase in both labor and sex trafficking, which includes children; a proliferation of gun violence; and racial animosity that continually shows up in racism, racial profiling, racial disparities, and racial discord.

Many Christians think they should not concern themselves with these type issues, other than maybe through prayer. They may believe these are governmental concerns, not connected to their faith beliefs. Lots of folks misinterpret the legal expression “separation of church and state” to mean “separation of my faith from our country’s problems.” If you believe that the welfare of people in your country is not connected to who you are as a follower of Christ, you should pay closer attention to what Jesus did and taught while on earth.

In his first sermon, Jesus said he was anointed to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:16-21). Jesus’ ministry was not just about saving spiritual souls, it was about helping people who faced earthly troubles. When John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus whether he was the Messiah, Jesus responded by describing what he had accomplished: the blind received sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cured, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the good news was being preached to the poor (Luke 7:18-23).  And Jesus clearly expects us to do likewise: He taught that those who will be received into heaven are those who feed the hungry, provide drink for the thirsty, invite the stranger in, clothe those who are in need, care for the sick, and visit the prisoners. Whatever we do for “the least of these,” we do for Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46). Could Jesus have been more clear about what he expects from those who claim to be his followers?

The Gospel of Luke tells us that after the disciples had been with Jesus for some time, one of them asked him to teach them to pray. At this point in their journey with Jesus, the disciples, both men and women, had given up their livelihoods, their families, their security, and their comfort to follow him. They had not only witnessed much, they had also done amazing things in Jesus’ name. They were not new in the faith when they asked Jesus to teach them to pray!

Jesus knew what the disciples would need to do the work he had planned for them. He also knew the great struggles they would face. Jesus’ response to their request to teach them to pray was clearly designed to help them focus on praying for what was most important to enable them to do his will. He gave them the precise words they should pray to become the best disciples they could be. Jesus’ response to the simple request of his disciples was short and straightforward, but as are so many of his teachings, it is packed with amazing depth and power.

This potent prayer is for all of us who claim the name “Christian.” I believe that when Christians think seriously about why Jesus taught us the precise words of this prayer, and when we pray the prayer with a sincere, deeply felt desire to be the best disciples we can be for Jesus, the true power of the Lord’s Prayer will pour out to change the Christian faith. Not only will Christianity be revolutionized, but Christians themselves will become empowered to revolutionize our communities, our country and the world. This is how we begin to solve the systemic problems we face in our nation, and it is what Jesus has always expected us to do—work together to help make our nation a place where God’s will is done on earth, as it is in heaven.

So we’ve titled my book “The Revolutionary Power of the Lord’s Prayer.” It’s a study for individuals and groups, including relevant life stories, “deepening” information and study questions. I hope you will read it, find it empowering, and share it with others. It will soon be released by Judson Press. You can go to their website to pre-order.

To my American Baptist family, I will be presenting the book at the 2017 Biennial Mission Summit in Portland, Oregon. I hope you will join me. It’s the learning opportunity on Saturday, July 1, at 3:45 pm, called “On Earth as in Heaven: Discipleship in Action.”  Preregistration is requested.

There is power in the name of Jesus! To wield this power, we must be brave enough to live our faith out loud and loving enough to care for others even more than we do for ourselves. Isn’t that just like Jesus!

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!

God’s Prism

One of the things that amazes me about God’s creation is that each human life is so wonderfully unique. Even if we are born in multiples, there is something special and different about every one of us. We each have a specific set of genes and personality traits. We have an array of physical, mental and spiritual capacities. We come from different times, cultures, environments and family situations, giving us a wide variety of perspectives on life. And, as we are all human, we each have our own unique set of imperfections.

In the conclusion of his classic book ‘The World’s Religions,’ Huston Smithth says that one way of thinking about the different faith traditions of the world is to compare them to “a stained glass window, whose sections divide the light of the sun into different colors.” He points out that “For God to be heard and understood, divine revelations would have to be couched in the idioms of its respective hearers.” Each religion reflects how it understands God in it’s own way. I think this beautiful analogy applies to individual believers as well.

For Christians, Jesus is our pure light. He shines through us when we follow his teachings and share his goodness in the world. Our unique imperfections limit our capacity to shine Jesus’ light perfectly, but we have been given the light to shine, anyway, through the grace of an almighty God who is light, and who has overcome the darkness. As the perfect light shines through our imperfections, we become like prisms, refracting God’s light into a beautiful rainbow of unique colors.

th-1We don’t have the right to tell other believers what color their lights should be. We don’t have the right to tell another color it should be our color. We just have the right to shine our own lights in the best way we can–whatever color that may be–and to come together with as many others as we can, so others may see the beauty of God’s light.

The Reverend Dr. James Forbes, Pastor Emeritus of Riverside Church in New York, preached at Shiloh Baptist in Washington, DC this past Sunday. He pointed out that Christmas comes in winter. No matter how cold, bleak or difficult our surroundings may seem at any given time, it’s all just th-3background–darkness–that will be shined away by the light of the world who came as a baby in a manger. That child is our Messiah, who overcame the world some 2,000 years ago.

Darkness will not overcome our world, our country, our cities or our communities as long as we let Jesus’ light shine through us. Our beautiful spectrum of bright colors will confuse the darkness! There is nothing more powerful than Jesus, who dwells in us. Nothing. That means we need not be afraid of a misogynistic, intolerant, power hungry and greedy tyrant–like King Herod– no matter how much power he may seem to hold, and no matter how many others may seem to follow him. Together, the spectrum of light that shines through us will simply blind him, and it will bind him.

Let’s celebrate Christmas with the great joy that our God has given us, in solid faith that this world can’t take it away. Let’s tell the world by our words and actions–all through the year– Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

The Living Light

Jesus is the light. John 1:4-5 tells us that: “In [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomth-1e it.” The phrase “has not overcome” was interpreted in the King James version to say that the darkness did not “comprehend” the light. The Greek can mean either the darkness did not comprehend the light or the darkness did not overcome the light. I prefer to believe both are true.

Darkness exists. It just is. It is inactive and passive, but it is. Without light our human eyes can not see through the darkness. Light, on the other hand is active: it shines through darkness, moves and flows and flitters on and off. Light can be on or not be on, its brightness varies, and it comes and goes with amazing speed. When light shoots out, darkness is overcome–and we can see.

Jesus is the light, incarnate. John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  [Jesus] was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (NRSV) In a wonderful book entitled “Radical Amazement: Contemplative Lessons from Black Holes, Supernovas and Other Wonders of the Universe” Judy Cannato talks about how light has been connected to science’s Big Bang Theory. The “echo” of that big bang was discovered by nobel peace prize winners Perizios and Wilson who heard some kind of a constant static on their ultrasensitive antenna. They learned this static was what Cannato describes as “light in the form of microwave radiation,” the remnant of the “big bang.”

Ms. Cannato quotes theologian and professor of cosmology Gerald Schroeder, who said: “Light, existing outside of time and space, is the metaphysical link between the timeless eternity that preceded our universe and the world of time, space and matter within which we live. … Light can leave the ethereal realm of energy and become matter, entering into the limited domain of time and space.” Jesus is that light. Light entered the realm of darkness when God said with a big bang, “Let there be light.” And the darkness was not able to counter-act the light because it neither understood nor was able to overcome it.

thJesus teaches us to share the light of his goodness in the world. Isaiah 9:2 tells us: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.” Have you ever noticed in some ancient artwork the “halos” that are painted around the heads of angels, the virgin Mary and other spiritual leaders?  Halos represent people who are blessed with a special presence of God’s light. Have you ever been able to see a halo around the head of someone who is living in tune with Jesus’ teachings? Have you ever felt a halo yourself? You know, like when you do something really selfless to help someone else and you feel good in your heart about doing it. Nobody else needs to see your halo, but you need to feel it. It will lift your heart and bring you true joy. This world can’t give you that feeling, and it can’t take it away from you. Shine your light!

When more light is brought into the world, the dark matters will not understand and will not be able to overcome the changes that take place, which will make our world more like the Kingdom of God that Isaiah talks about:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.” (11: 6-9)th-1

“…. [L]etyour light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (NRSV) This Advent season, please take some time to contemplate what it means to shine your light.

Call Me Bonhoeffer

Dear Friends,

I’m restarting my blog because it’s time and because I have a lot to say. This first one is about the disaster of a Trump presidency. Please know that I have other more hopeful thoughts to share with you, but this one needs to be shared right now.

CALL ME BONHOEFFER

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran priest in Germany during Hitler’s Nazi regime. A great theologian and scholar, he was best known for his staunch and open resistance to the Nazi dictatorship. He vocally opposed the genocidal persecution of Jewish people. He was arrested, placed in a concentration camp and executed by hanging on April 9, 1945, just a few weeks before the Germans surrendered. His writings are a continual source of deep Christian encouragement and faith. Please click on the above link (in green) to read his biography, which shows that he was likely influenced by spending time in Harlem in 1930. Call me Bonhoeffer. I may not agree with everything Bonhoeffer said or did, but I admire his willingness to stand against the major evil of his time, even to the point of death.

Hillary Clinton won the majority of our votes, but the Electoral College twisted that into a victory for Donald Trump. His power over our country will be solidified by Republican control of the House, the Senate and the Supreme Court. Based on what Trump has said and who his allies are, here is a list, in no particular order of priority, of some things that we can expect to happen. These are things that we must challenge with Bonhoeffer-style courage and faith.

Racial Hatred and Inequality. Trump is enthusiastically supported by the Arian Nation, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups.His call to “Make America great again” was heard by many to return this country back what it was like in the 50‘s, when segregation was legal and racists could comfortably and openly display their hatred towards African Americans. Include now Hispanic Americans, Muslims and who knows who else.

Gun Proliferation. ‘nuff said. His support by the gun lobby is clear. Expect more gun violence in our country.

No Equal Pay for Women. Gone.

Limits on Immigration. Forget about the statute of liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Will he really try to build a wall on the Mexican border?

Repudiation of Black Lives Matter. Those who don’t understand how important this movement is will do everything they can to stop it and other grassroot efforts to make our country more fair for all people.

Cutting Back on Prison Reform. The facts that our country incarcerates more citizens than any other nation in the worldand that our penal system is biased against people of color, will no longer be seen as a sin and a shame.

Failing to Protect and Conserve Our Natural Resources. Trump doesn’t believe in global warming, and he has promised to “get rid of” government regulation of big businesses. This means that the Standing Rock protest of the pipeline through the Dakotas will be under attack. Just two days after the election, Mitch McConnell asked Trump to approve the Keystone pipeline through the Rockies. The global warming accord will no longer be strongly supported by the U.S.

Decreasing Consumer Safety and Protection. Again, Tump has promised to “get rid of” governmental control over big business. That includes businesses like food manufacturers, giant drug companies and banks. So scary in so many ways. Can you imagine?

Rescinding LGBTQ Rights. All people ought to have the right to choose who they will love, and that includes the benefits that come with marriage. The hard fight that led to marriage equality will likely give way to legalized discrimination and hate crimes.

Limiting Women’s Right to Choose. Abortions will become illegal again, like in the 60’s, when my 18-year-old friend died from an illegal effort that was fueled by her being kicked out by her parents and having no where to go. This doesn’t happen to rich folks who can just go somewhere else. It only hurts and criminalizes poor women–again, disproportionately people of color.

Wage Decreases. I say it a third time–Trump has promised to undo governmental regulation of big businesses. Yes, the big companies may come back to the U.S.  and create more jobs. But these companies will only come back if they can make the same margin of profit, or more, than they make in third world countries. The rich will get richer, which is what big business is all about, and will prove once again that trickle down just doesn’t work. Greed is a very effective tool of the evil one.

Religious Discrimination. This is one of the bedrock concepts of our great nation. Fear, th-1another great tool of the evil one, can turn people into paranoid fanatics, and the threat to Muslims in our country is now very clear.

Killing Affordable Health Care. Trump has vowed to end Obamacare (and replace it with what)?

I’m sure I’ve missed some things we must challenge as faithful followers of Christ.  If there are other issues you would like to add to this list, please let us know!

To put this all in a global perspective, please read this article by Anne Applebaum, published in the November 6 Washington Post. We ought to be aware that Trump and Putin are not the only ones in this collusion–also included are leaders of Brexit and other countries who threaten to bring back the white domination of the past “by force.”

This would be really scary if I were not a person of faith. From Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? ….. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

I will always believe in the hope that is at the heart of our Christian faith. This hope activates and strengthens us. I believe that we are now facing challenges that will help us identify what is most important for people who really want to follow Christ, and not just claim the name “Christian.”

I believe that we will listen to Jesus more closely than we listen to Donald Trump. We will stand up for the poor, the hungry, the children, the immigrants, the outsiders and all of God’s people. We will learn how important it is to love all of God’s creation, and all the people who God has created. We will learn how to stand against the works of the evil one, and we will learn not to worship Mammon.

Call me Bonhoeffer. I hope you’ll join me in this, we can use more Bonhoeffer type faith!

Vanity

I woke up the other day with this song in my head:

If I Can Help Somebody

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody, with a word or song,

If I can show somebody, how they’re travelling wrong,

Then my living shall not be in vain.

Chorus:

My living shall not be in vain,

Then my living shall not be in vain

If I can help somebody, as I pass along,

Then my living shall not be in vain.

 

If I can do my duty, as a good man ought,

If I can bring back beauty, to a world up wrought,

If I can spread love’s message, as the Master taught,

Then my living shall not be in vain.

 

mahalia_jackson

This highly favored hymn/gospel song was written by little-known composer Alma Bazel Androzzo in 1945, later made famous by Mahalia Jackson, Tennessee Ernie, BillieEckstein and others. You can find all kinds of versions of it on the web (click here.)

I don’t know how that song got into my head.  I hadn’t heard it in a very long time.  But it is full of meaning, isn’t it?  It reminded me of how I ended up in the ministry.  I had a healthy career, working on a job that I liked, was making good money and had gained considerable expertise in my field.  My second son was graduating from college.  A comfortable life as a tax attorney, with the freedom to do pretty much what I wanted and when I wanted, was just over the horizon.

About that time my call to ministry became undeniable. The thought had been nagging at me for years.  I had a hunger that could not be satisfied with money, comfort or freedom. The thought that finally brought me over was “Life is too short.”

Life is too short not to dedicate it to something meaningful.  Life is too short to spend it chasing after material comfort at the expense of at least trying to make a positive impact in the world.  Life is too short not to give it your best to do what you know you ought to do. Life is too short not to fear living in vain.

The fear of living in vain can easily be pushed aside while we’re striving to make it in this world. Survival is important, but we can become mesmerized beyond surviving to wanting all that we see. Then, when we see the end of life approaching and begin to realize that living in vain might be a real possibility, we find ourselves searching frantically for ways to prove to ourselves and others that we’re here for some purpose beyond self-indulgence.

As the Teacher proclaims about life without meaning in Ecclesiastes 1:2, “All is vanity.”

This one life is all that we have.  Each of us is absolutely unique, which makes our lives all the more precious– and yet we are only temporary, which ought to give us a sense of urgency.  We have this one chance to do something with the precious gift of life that we’ve been given.  Just one chance to get it right, and we don’t know how long that chance will last. Life is too short, however long it may be, and it may be shorter than we hope.

If you believe like I do that our gifts, talents and opportunities are bestowed on us by God to use to make this world a better place, then you will agree with me that life is too short to be distracted by the material things of this world, which can be to us like that fruit on the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden that seemed too good for Adam and Eve to resist.

This wonderful song helps to remind me that when we reach the end of our journeys, more than anything else, people will remember how well we did or did not love them. It helps to remind me of what’s really important–loving God enough to try to obey God, loving each other enough to do for others what we’d want someone to do for us.

If I can just stay focused on that, then my living shall not be in vain, no, my living shall not be in vain.

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.

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

th-2

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

communion

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,

th-1

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.

It’s Time to Stop This

Little_Girl_Playing_Dress_Up_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_090529-016872-083053Children are really cute when they pretend to be adults.  You know, when the boys put on dad’s tie and hat and sunglasses, or when the girls put on their mother’s high heel shoes and lipstick and hats. How adorable they look.  It can be a good and positive thing when children pretend.

I recently saw a film in which a young girl about twelve was trying to walk in high heels. Just like most kids, she didn’t walk so well in the stilettos. But It wasn’t cute, or good. She wasn’t playing pretend.  She was walking down a dark street around 4 a.m., with her pimp following her in a car trying to make himself rich by offering her up to whosoever would come. I’m sure her life was a horror. The people filming her tried to reach her, but her pimp saw them and pulled her into the car. They got the license plate number, though.

Vogue-2-snarl-1

There is no such thing as a child prostitute.  There are only abused children who are themselves sex crime victims.

The film was shown at Asbury United Methodist Church here in DC, by Courtney’s House, a group that fights against the horror and enslavement of children by sex traffickers. It’s headed by Tina Fundt, herself once a teenage victim of a sex slaver, now the heroine for many young children she’s reaching through her program here in DC. The reason the meeting was at Asbury is because their location is a high sex traffic area.  We don’t see it because we’re not up that time of night. And because we don’t see it taking place, it’s really easy for us to simply to ignore it.

But it becomes difficult to ignore when we become informed.  Did you know that the average age of people entering the sex trade is 13?  That’s the average age, meaning there are about as many younger than that as there are older.  Pimps measure the worth of their victims by how many tricks they can pull in one night.

thDID YOU HEAR ME SAY THAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT CHILDREN??? PIMPS MAKE THEMSELVES RICH BASED ON HOW MANY MEN THESE CHILDREN HAVE SEX WITH IN ONE NIGHT!!!

It is slavery. Children who are the most vulnerable for this form of enslavement are those who are homeless and poor, as well as children of all races and income levels who suffer low self-esteem. The hold that pimps have over their victims is extremely strong, horribly vicious, psychologically damaging and often fatal. They are brutal slavers, always looking to increase their stable of girls and boys to satisfy the vulgar desires of a sick group of people, the users.

pimps2Yet, here in America, they’ve become almost a cult.  There are “pimp and hoes” parties, the tv show “pimp my ride,” and a movie, the American Pimp, all trying to make a fad out of the awfully horrifying sex trafficking of children.

Human trafficking has become the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry in the world. There are presently an estimated 27 million sex slaves around the world, including many within DC. It seems like the pimps must be smarter than the local police and the FBI, because they don’t seem able to do anything to stop the pimps.

Courtney’s House works closely with Stop Modern Slavery, another DC group working to bring attention to the horrors of forced prostitution. Bill and I went to see a film they showed last week, Nefarious, produced by a Christian group called Exodus Cry–another heart wrenching film about how women all over the world are forced into sex trafficking.  What I learned from viewing the abuse and horror of this kind of slavery is that no prostitute chooses this kind of life.  They are forced into it either by being tricked into it as a child, lured into it through an unhealthy relationship or coerced into it by people who claim to love them–then they stay in it because they don’t know how to do anything else and don’t believe they can do anything else.  They come to believe it is their lot in life and accept it. They are mentally and physically slaves.

And too many in our society accept it, by doing what society so often does to the oppressed–they blame the victims–the slaves, the prostitutes–for their own situation. And because it does not take place in our sight, It’s easy to simply ignore it.

One of the two highest commandments that Jesus teaches is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.  That’s the basis for the golden rule:  We are to do for others as we would want them to do for us.

Think about how vulnerable and naive you were when you were 12 or 13 years old.  Close your eyes and imagine that you are that 12 year old trying to walk in heels at 4 am, with a pimp ready to beat you horribly if you did not give your body willingly to whoever wanted it.

What you would want somebody to do for you?  It’s time to stop this.

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.

How I Came to Understand the Bible on Homosexuality

I wrote much of what follows in 2005, in some email conversations that took place when our denomination was struggling with whether to accept homosexuals in leadership roles. By writing it, I convinced myself where I stood on this issue–and stand by it even more strongly now. I’ve edited and updated it to share with you today. It’s long. In case you don’t get all the way to the end, here’s the bottom line for me: If I make a mistake, I’d rather the mistake be based on the fact that I tried my best to be as accepting and as loving as Jesus.

Some issues are best discussed in deep, heartfelt one-on-one discussions, by people who know and trust each other. So this will be a long blog post because I can’t give you my opinion without letting you know more about me and some things that I believe first.

I love the Bible.  It is my source of knowledge about God, the book that instructs my life, the place I go when I need guidance, strength, wisdom, nurture, etc. It is the authority for my life, therefore I do not read it lightly and I do not think that any part of it has more authority than any other. I continually pray and seek to understand it in depth and with high respect.

I love to teach Bible study.  An important focus of my ministry has been to teach others to understand the Bible deeply, to explore the rich depths of unconditional love and amazing grace that shines through the written Word. One of my favorite thoughts to share in Bible study is that God’s grace is more amazing than we can understand or acknowledge.

I honor and respect the historical Baptist tradition that emphasizes the freedom of each person to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” I respect each person’s “soul freedom” to believe in God as it seems right to them, as well as each church’s independence to determine its own governing theological understandings and principles.

My personal walk with Christ leads and guides my theological perspective. My greatest desire is to walk closer and closer with Christ, to do God’s will on earth, and to do and say things that are pleasing in God’s sight.

I have absolutely no doubt that God called me into ordained ministry. My call to pastoral ministry has been confirmed for me by the members of the three congregations I’ve served, the numerous churches and groups where I’ve spoken and taught, and many family and friends who seemed to know even before I did that this was the call for my life.

God called me into ministry later in life, as a divorced female. I now believe that that was quite intentional on God’s part. According to some traditional biblical interpretations, I would have had three biblical strikes against me that would have stopped me from answering my call.

The first strike against me would have been because I am an African American.  At one point in our country’s history I would not have been considered a complete human being, but something less than human, a slave.  At one time in our country many good, Bible-believing Christians knew with all their hearts that the Bible supported and possibly required that there be slaves who were second-class citizens.  Since that time, God has enlightened most of our society that slavery is wrong, and that the Bible shouldn’t be interpreted to support slavery.

And as a divorced person, many good, Bible believing Christians feel very strongly that I should not hold a leadership role or office in the church.  The Biblical passages that tradition has used against divorced persons must be read with an understanding of their cultural background.  Jesus refused to support the divorce that Jewish tradition allowed because the simplicity of the procedure was being used by the males to oppress the females in that society.  The way I understand those passages is that Jesus’ pronouncements on the issue were for the purpose of helping the oppressed females of that culture, and that while divorce is not to be encouraged, what is more important is to ensure that people are not oppressed.

As a female, many good, Bible following Christians still believe that God would not call me to serve as ordained clergy, and certainly not to be pastor of a church.  I might not be overstating it to say that probably most Christians still believe that, considering the Catholic take on this issue. I was raised in an A.M.E. Church, which is one of the denominations that was ordaining women when I was a child.  I joined a baptist church as an adult, but it was one that was more progressive than many other baptist churches on this issue.  It never occurred to me when I finally answered God’s call on my life that anyone would have the right to tell me that God wouldn’t do that. I’m among the many who have explored the Bible more fully on the issue of women’s leadership, and I read the many Biblical passages that are supportive of women’s leadership as being just as authoritative as those passages that have been taken out of context to deny women’s leadership.  But there are still too many who ignore the support for women’s leadership shown in the Bible because they’ve been taught that only those oppressive-sounding passages (i.e. “Women shall keep silent in the churches…”) are “what the Bible says” on this issue. (See my “writings” page for a link to more of what I’ve written about this.)

gay.church

So when I discovered how the Bible was being used to oppress women, when I read what Jesus said about divorce, and when I paid attention to how the Bible had been used to support slavery, I knew that I needed to understand the Bible better.  I learned to study the Bible deeply and not to simply accept what many otherwise good church leaders have been teaching.  I now read the Bible for understanding in a deeper and more meaningful way, which involves knowing more about the historical background and the cultural, social and literal contexts in which the writings took place, as well as paying attention to our modern day predilections as we read through our own limited social locations.

Through this kind of in-depth reading, the beauty, majesty, authority and love of God comes shining through the Bible for me, and I have grown to love it even more and more. This is one of the reasons biblical interpretation is so important to me….not just for justifying my own position, but because deep bible study helps us to understand so very much more about just who is our God. I will not give up my beloved Bible to traditionalists and fundamentalists to have the final say on what the Bible says. And because of where I came into ministry, I will always question Biblical interpretations that support discrimination and oppression.

So yes, there are Biblical passages that seem to denounce homosexuality.  But my brother John and the gay people I have met in my life force me to think about this issue more carefully, to study the Bible more deeply and to reconcile what my heart and my head tell me who God is with the teaching that people who are born homosexuals are not to be allowed to live out the life that is natural for them.

In order to find guidance on issues such as this, I find myself leaning on what the Bible tells us about Jesus, His words and His actions. Jesus came to help the Jewish leaders understand more deeply the sacred texts and commandments, because they had interpreted them in a way that was oppressive, emphasizing complex rules and regulations that governed who would and would not inherit the Kingdom of God.  He helped the people delve deeper into the purpose of the commandments, teaching people to “turn the other cheek,” go the extra mile, give the extra coat, etc.  He sums up his discussion with a key phrase for me, and that is that all of the laws are for the purpose of helping us to love each other better—to treat each other the way we each want to be treated.

Jesus says to us that all the law and the prophets—all that God has taught God’s people—hang on the two highest commandments, which are to love God and to love each other.  I know there are many people who believe that love includes forcing people into acceptable molds, but from experience I can tell you that it doesn’t feel like love to be told that, because of who you were born to be, you are not good enough–especially when God is telling you something else!

Jesus’ grace is truly amazing.  His grace is so amazing that He angered the synagogue when He told the people that the widow of Zaraphath and the Syrian leper received the blessings of God versus the religious leaders who thought had a right to inherit the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ grace is so amazing because He was willing to anger the Pharisees by sitting and eating with sinners and the hated tax collectors, people they knew were condemned to hell.  Jesus’ grace is so amazing because He used a hated and condemned Samaritan to show how much more important love is than holding positions of authority, and He allowed unclean women to touch Him and to engage in the priestly function of anointing Him before His death.  Jesus’ grace is so amazing that most of His disciples did not understand it, at least before His death.  We need to continue to allow Jesus to amaze us with His grace, and not try to limit it according to our limited understandings.

I need to understand that as soon as I believe I see a speck of sawdust in someone’s eye and think I need to correct them, I have a plank in my own eye.  It is not my right to judge, that’s God’s right.  It’s not my right to draw the lines on who’s in or who’s out, that’s to be left up to God. I always need to be reminded that I can never fully know God’s plan for salvation.

While I have not done a full-scale in-depth study of the passages that are used to condemn homosexuals, I have read some interpretations that made me think.  Here are some of the thoughts I’ve read on the subject:  The sin of Sodom was not just because the men wanted to have intercourse with men, but had to do with the sexual abuses of rape and sexual excess, and there were other abuses in that city as well.  Leviticus 18:22 sentences to death men who would lie with other men as with women, but Leviticus also had laws that sentenced to death people who committed adultery, children who curse their parents, and incest. There are a lot of rules that made sense to the people of that time that no longer make sense for us today.  These were rules that were designed to keep the children of Israel together and set them apart from the other nations around them.  Many of these nations were engaged in temple prostitution and sexual excesses, including sexually abusing and sacrificing male and female children.  This sexual worship formed much of what is the basis for Paul’s corrections to the churches, which had more to do with keeping the idol-based sexual excesses out of the church than with homosexual behavior.  Jesus had nothing to say about homosexual behavior, and neither did the 10 commandments.

Finally, I need to remember that I do not have the final authority on how to interpret God’s Word—no human does.  We all see through our glasses darkly. As soon as I think that I have the final and only interpretative take on the Bible, and that everyone who does not agree with me is wrong, I’m substituting my wisdom for God’s wisdom, and that makes me arrogant.  Jesus and the prophets had a lot more to say against arrogance than they did about homosexuality.

I know this way of looking at things does not provide hard and fast rules like many people like to have, and that’s part of the problem.  I truly believe we hurt the congregations we serve by laying on them hard and fast rules that are easy for us to pronounce, without teaching them to search for the deeper understandings that we must gain in order to see more clearly what God’s Word has to say to us today.  It’s a lot easier to lay down rules than it is to teach people to care enough to wrestle with how to love each other better.

For me, the answer to the question of whether God would want us to condemn and demonize homosexuals is that that doesn’t sound like the God of my experience.  I do know this: that I can recognize the people who are called by God because of their love for God and their love for others; and I know who are the people of faith because they try to do their best to usher in God’s Kingdom on this earth.  My experience is that some of those people happen to be homosexuals.

I don’t know why God has inclined some persons to homosexuality, but that’s not my knowledge to have.  I do know that when I don’t fully understand, all I can do is lean towards love and remember Jesus’ amazing grace.

My bottom line is this:  If I make a mistake, I’d rather the mistake be based on the fact that I tried my best to be as accepting and as loving as Jesus.

I’m not alone in my thoughts on this; many progressive Christian leaders agree with me.  Here are a couple of links that I’ve seen recently: A blog post by Rachel Held Evans:  “The Bible was ‘Clear…” and an interesting view by Roger Wolsey: 16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible.  Here are some books that also can help: Struggling with Scripture, Walter Brueggeman (2002), Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers (2006), The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, by Peter J. Gomes (1996).

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.