Friday, December 04, 2009
<Of David.> To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. 2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. 3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. 4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. 6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness' sake, O LORD! 8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
We've all been in a waiting room somewhere, wondering how much longer it would be, wondering when it would be our turn. Wondering how an appointment that was scheduled for a certain time doesn't actually happen until half an hour later.
We've just started the Christian season of Advent, a time marked by waiting and anticipation.
Before Jesus came, Jews waited for their Messiah to come. Today, we Christians wait for the day when Jesus will return.
And you know what? No matter what we actually say about waiting on God or trusting Him, I think that deep down, a lot of us don't really like it. We ask God what to major in so we can have a clearer direction in college. We ask God what we are supposed to do with our lives and want an answer so we can send out resumes. We want to plan everything out and make our goal lists and checkmark them when they are completed. But you know what? God doesn't always work the way that we want Him to. Surprising, isn't it?
We don't like to wait. When's the last time anyone sat down and wrote an actual letter on paper with a pen, mailed it, and then waited for a written response? Anyone? We rely on email, on text messaging, on Facebook. And don't get me wrong, I love these methods of communication. But with the immediacy of them, we get more and more used to things happening instantly. We start to get conditioned to having them happen when we want. Anyone get annoyed when an email doesn't go through right away for some reason? Or when Facebook is acting up and you can't post a comment or an update when you want? In a class, we may have to wait what we think is an inordinate amount of time for a paper to be returned, and we think it's so unfair because we had a deadline of when it had to be in, so why can't the professor return it to us promptly? We don't wait too much anymore, and when we do wait, especially during this "Christmas Season", it's in lines at the store or waiting for gifts ordered online to arrive.
I'm sure that the last thing David had in mind when he wrote this psalm was a group of people in Northern Iowa in 2009 who were one day waiting for the Messiah to come back. For David, the Messiah hadn't even come yet for the first time. This psalm is known as a lament and in it, David is asking for protection from his enemies, so that they would not be the victors.
But even though it wasn't written specifically for us, we can still learn from it. What are some of the things David does in his time of waiting?
He wants to know God's ways (v 4)
He wants to be taught by God (v 5)
He repents and wants forgiveness of his sins (v 7)
He wants sinners to be instructed (v 8)
He wants the humble to be led in what is right (v 9)
He wants an opportunity to keep God's covenant and decrees (v 10)
And in the verses we didn't read today, there is even more:
More repentance (v 11)
Friendship with God (v 14)
God's grace (v 16)
Relief from his heart's troubles (v 17)
To be brought out of his distress (v 17)
Forgiveness from sins (v 18)
To be guarded from his violent enemies (v 19-20)
For his whole nation to be redeemed from its troubles (v 22)
How many of us here have had instant understanding of something that is being taught to us? Who among us immediately recognizes when we have sinned and immediately repents? Who thinks that learning from God and obeying God is an instantaneous thing? How many of us develop deep, meaningful friendships in a short amount of time?
I don't think any of these things happen quickly, do you?
And maybe that's the point. Maybe that's why we have to wait.
In this psalm, what does David say about waiting? He asks that those who wait for God not be put to shame (v 3), he says that he waits all day long for God (v 5), and that as he waits, he wants integrity and uprightness to preserve him (v 21).
Waiting, then, is for our benefit. When we wait, we have many opportunities to grow in relationship to God and to each other.
When Jesus was here, many of his followers, Paul included, thought his return would be imminent. And, a couple of thousand years later, we're still waiting.
Even though we characterize Advent as a time of waiting, what if we looked at it slightly differently? What if we looked at it as an opportunity for growth and learning rather than just time in a waiting room? Instead of passively waiting and hoping for a future event, how can we make the most of the present time?
The answers to those questions are not going to be the same for each of us. But maybe, as we continue through Advent and look forward to Christmas, we can take a little time each day to think about how we can use this time of waiting to grow. If you aren't sure where to start, start with this Psalm. Each day, take one verse of the psalm to meditate on. One of the days you'll have to do two verses as there are 22 of them and only 21 days left until Christmas. But as you read it each day, ask yourself what you can learn from it about God, about yourself, and how it can help you grow. For example, verse one says "To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul". Think about it for a minute. What does it mean to lift up our souls to God? How can we lift up our souls to God today, right now? There. You've got the first day done. That wasn't too hard, was it?
After we leave here today I hope we can each find a way of waiting that isn't frustrating or annoying, but is beneficial to our growth and will bring us even closer to who God wants us to be.
Friday, October 23, 2009
How does learning ideas that are new to us shape our faith? How does doubt help us grow stronger?
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.
39 "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
I had a pastor in Indiana who used to talk about how kids always know the right answer in Sunday School. It's either "God", "Jesus", or "The Bible". And you know what? Sometimes we adults don't get past that either. And what I may say today may make you feel uncomfortable. I hope it doesn't, but I understand that it might. But what I hope more than anything, is that your understanding of the Bible is enhanced and that your faith is strengthened.
In the first part of "But I Learned it in Sunday School", I spoke about how when I was in college and taking classes about the Bible, I was learning a lot of new things. Some of what I mentioned was that I was hearing for the first time that there were multiple stories about creation, not just one, or that the first five books were written by four different authors and weaved together by an editor. Or that when New Testament authors quoted Hebrew Scripture, they were using it in a new and different way. I also mentioned that before this, I hadn't ever really thought of the Bible as literature, but more as a manual for life. My experience in reading the Bible was still pretty new, and so far I really only knew about application, because that's what we concentrated on in the small group that I was in. It really puzzled me and I at first had a difficult time understanding how I could read it without thinking that everything was supposed to apply to me.
"But…but…the Bible is God's word!", you might be thinking. "It says so itself in 2 Timothy 3:16!" But does it really? That scripture is used a lot as proof, so let's read it: "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (NRS 2 Timothy 3:16).
Let's think about when Paul wrote this. He is writing this letter to an individual, Timothy. From what we know of Timothy, he was born to a Jewish mother and a Greek father. They raised him in that faith, and then he also adopted their faith in Jesus as his own. In addition to that, at the time this was written, we didn't even have the New Testament yet; the only thing that Paul could have been referring to is what we call the Old Testament; the Hebrew Scriptures of his people.
Let's also look at what Paul says just prior to this verse. In 2 Timothy 3:14-15 he says
to Timothy "14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." He basically tells him to remember what he's learned and who he's learned it from, and what the learning and the scriptures he's always known have been for, which we are told in verse 17: "so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work."
When we put it all together it says: 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
We see that Paul encourages Timothy to see the Hebrew Scriptures as instruction that is useful for certain things. That word translated as useful is ophelimos (wvfe,limoj) which can mean useful, valuable, beneficial, or profitable. It doesn't say it is the final word. Paul wouldn't have thought it was anyway; with his background as a Pharisee, he would have been well-versed in the oral torah, the traditions handed down over many generations that explained things about those scriptures. He knew that there were interpretations and different understandings of what was contained in scripture.
As I read this one day, I noticed a note in my Bible about the inspiration in verse 16 which said to compare it to Genesis 2:7 where God breathes life into the first human being, and that got me to wondering. Is Paul reminding Timothy of humankind being God-breathed? That even though God gives life, humans still have the ability to mess up? That despite that, they still have a purpose in life? Could Paul have been saying that even if those Hebrew Scriptures are God-breathed, there's still room for human error?
Another thing we should take into account is that typically, when we see something called "The Word of God", it rarely refers to something written. We see that the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision (Gen 15:1) or that it was something God had said and that the Egyptians feared (Exodus 9) or that in the time of Samuel, it was a rare occurrence (1 Samuel 3:1). We see it a lot in 1 Kings where it is always spoken. We're probably most familiar with the phrase when we see it regarding the prophets…the word of the Lord came to the prophet Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Hosea, or Joel or Amos or Jonah… and in these instances, it is connected with hearing. With listening. And then when we get to our New Testament, the author of the gospel of John takes a different spin on it. He says that the word of God—logos (lo,goj)in Greek—which draws on the idea of Hebrew wisdom and the Greek idea of reason is something that always existed and then became flesh in Jesus. In addition to that, the most frequent use of the term in the New Testament is in the book of Acts where it also is something that is referred to as Jesus (Acts 11:16) or something people heard (Acts 13:44) and as a message that was spread (Acts 13:49).
And yes, of course, sometimes what was heard was written down. But does that mean that God speaks once; it's written down, and that's it? Or does God give different messages at different times to different people with different needs?
In the Bible itself, there were many people who heard from God to do things contrary to what was expected or thought or understood at the time. Moses, a man with a speech problem was supposed to speak on God's behalf to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:10). David, only a boy (1 Samuel 17:33, 42) fought the giant Goliath with only a stone (1 Samuel 17:49). The prophet Amos was a simple shepherd (Amos 1:1). A great evangelist who told many people about Jesus was a nameless, sinning, Samaritan woman (John 4). The first people to spread the good news of Jesus' resurrection were women (Luke 24:10). And Jesus himself was from Nazareth, and we all know that nothing good can come from there, right? (John 1:45-46).
If we only take the words of the Bible as we read them in our translations without question or discussion, we run into problems. We run into ideas that promote slavery. We run into ideas that God and science are at odds with each other. We run into ideas that I should not be up here speaking to you.
If the Bible is the final authority on all things, why would we have the Holy Spirit? If the Bible is the final authority on all things, why doesn't it address every single issue that ever comes up in life? The thing is, the Bible isn't only a manual or rulebook. Even the rabbis knew that; that is why they had to interpret it and discuss it and figure out what it meant for them. For example, take the commandment to "8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work" (Exodus 20:8-10). It's not clear to us readers what it meant to not do work on the Sabbath (which, by the way, is Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, not Sunday). So the rabbis had to discern what people could and could not do on this day.
I love reading and studying the Bible. I enjoy knowing that the people in the Bible had struggles and doubts and questions too. It makes them easier to relate to. To know that they didn't have all the answers and had to learn and grow in their relationships with God makes me realize that it's not a book that we just follow without question and that's it. But to know that we can learn from the successes, failures, hopes, joys, tears, and pain of the people in the Bible is a way that we can connect with them though they are long gone.
But even though I love the Bible, I do have to work sometimes to make sure I use it as a tool, and that it helps me to look to God, to look to the God revealed in Jesus, to look to the God present with us in the Holy Spirit for my primary guidance. I don't want to be like the Pharisees that Jesus speaks to in the scripture we heard earlier. And I do want to continue to use my mind and renew it.
Even as I prepared this, there was a balance to be found. I searched the scriptures, yes, but I also prayed that God would guide my words as I wrote them. And I was reminded of how the words that people in Christian and Jewish history have chosen as scripture are alive and meaningful. How they can help point us to God, how they can help us to seek Him, how they can point us in the right direction, how they can help us to understand Him better.
Would you please stand and sing "Seek Ye First", seeking God's kingdom with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Friday, October 02, 2009
Ezra 1:1-7 1In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the LORD stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared: 2 "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of those among you who are of his people-- may their God be with them!-- are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel-- he is the God who is in Jerusalem; 4 and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem." 5 The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites-- everyone whose spirit God had stirred-- got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. 6 All their neighbors aided them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered. 7 King Cyrus himself brought out the vessels of the house of the LORD that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods.
Ezra 2:64-68 64 The whole assembly together was forty-two thousand three hundred sixty, 65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty-seven; and they had two hundred male and female singers. 66 They had seven hundred thirty-six horses, two hundred forty-five mules, 67 four hundred thirty-five camels, and six thousand seven hundred twenty donkeys. 68 As soon as they came to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, some of the heads of families made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site.
This summer, I was away from home for just over three weeks. Three weeks of sleeping in a bed that wasn’t mine, in a house that wasn’t mine, in a city that is no longer mine. As good a time as I had, it was still good to return home.
I’m sure we all know how good it feels to come home after a trip, whether it is a long or short trip, no matter how much we enjoyed ourselves while we were gone. When we come home, we are in a familiar place again, we can sleep in our own bed again, and get back into our daily routine.
Just over three years ago I’d never even heard of Waldorf College or Forest City and now, here I am, a member of the Waldorf Family, and it is Homecoming, a time when people come home, when they feel as if they are seeing long-lost family and friends. This is a place that means something to them; it’s where they learned, lived, and served for two to four years of their lives. For so many alumni here at Waldorf, Homecoming is very much like coming home after a trip. Waldorf has been a home for so many people over the years. One of the number one things that people love about Waldorf is how close of a community it is. Not all schools are like that. I graduated from a large university and while I loved my time there, it wasn’t a home in this same sense. And at Waldorf, there are even multiple generations of family members that attend. Parents encourage their children to attend the same college that they did because they want to share that same experience.
In our scripture reading today, we see more than 40,000 people returning to the land from which they or their ancestors had been exiled about 70 years before. Many of them may never have known the land that were now returning to. But they’d been told about it. Throughout the years of exile, the people who had known their land kept the dream of returning home alive, telling stories about the land in which they’d lived, giving hope to future generations that one day, they would return.
And return they did. God uses a pagan king, King Cyrus, to do His will and let His people return to the land He’d given to them. The temple that had been destroyed in the expulsion (2 Chronicles 36: 19) would be rebuilt. It was a promise of hope to the people—that their God would once again dwell among them. This was so important to them that once they arrived, they freely offered what they could in order that the Temple would be rebuilt, and, eventually, it was.
But it wasn’t exactly the same as the old temple. We see in Ezra 3:10-13 that 10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the LORD with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel." And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.
So we see that some people were happy about the new Temple, and some people were sad. Because they had been away, things had changed, things were now different, and they would never be the same as they remembered. But despite that, many people were still so joyous that they had returned and that the Temple had been rebuilt, even if it was different, that the sound of their joy was “heard far away”.
The Waldorf of today has been through many changes and will continue to go through changes. For many alumni returning this weekend, Waldorf was a junior college. Those alumni have returned to a Waldorf that is a four-year institution. For many alumni that did not know Waldorf as a two-year institution, it has always been a four-year institution in their eyes, and as they continue to return home, they will see changes too. But one thing remains: this place is Waldorf, whether it is Waldorf Junior College, Waldorf College, or, at some point in the future, maybe Waldorf University. The people who come here, to learn or to teach, will all be connected; they will all be part of the Waldorf family.
Just like Israel had to adjust to changes when they came home, so do we all. We can join with those who lament the changes, or we can join with those who shout with joy to be home, no matter what the change. Because at its heart, for Israel, being home meant being God’s people in God’s land with God dwelling among them. What the temple looked like was external, cosmetic. So what does it mean to you to be home at Waldorf, with Waldorf people? Think of the connections you have made or are making during your time here as a student or employee or new connections that are made when returning to Homecoming.
I want to read another Homecoming story that I think goes along with this theme. It’s from the 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke. I’m sure you’ll recognize it.
11 Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe-- the best one-- and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
This weekend, Waldorf welcomes its alumni home. There are special events, and people are made to feel welcome. If an educational institution can do this for its alumni, how much moreso can God do this with His children? And, not only does He welcome anyone home, but He meets them on their way home. And not only does he meet them on their way home, but he runs towards them with open arms. That is what we see in the story of the prodigal son.
Homecoming is fun, yes, with a parade and special events and a football game, but beneath those external events, there is a deep connection between this institution and its students and alumni. For some, Waldorf is the place where they first met God, or where they grew much stronger in their faith, and so the connection to this place is even deeper. Homecoming is a reminder of that time, a reminder of the knowledge of God running out to meet them when they were ready for it.
Everyone who returns here has different memories, different experiences, and different expectations. But the common tie that binds all together is the sense of Waldorf being a home. And so, students, alumni, staff, faculty, administration can all join together, shouting with joy, together celebrating that bond.
Friday, September 11, 2009
The following is the homily I gave in chapel today:
10 Create in me a clean heart O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
It's been 8 years since September 11, 2001, a day that most of us will never forget. For this generation, there will always be "what I was doing when we were attacked" stories, much like the generation of the 60s has "what I was doing when President Kennedy was shot" stories. Some people in this room were only 10 or 11 years old when those planes were flown into the twin towers and the pentagon. I remember hearing that in the days and weeks following the attacks, people attended church in record numbers, more Bibles were bought more than at any other time, and pastors everywhere scrambled to rearrange already-planned sermons to deal with what had happened. Philosophical questions and discussions about how to deal with evil were now a reality.
Something I wonder about, when it comes to people who attack without being provoked, who have so little regard for human life that they have no problem taking it away, is what has happened to them to harden their hearts so much?
I believe in God's love. I believe that Jesus can change people's hearts. But how are they to know without being told? And it isn't that all it takes is some sales pitch of the Gospel. It's not telling someone "Jesus loves you; now say this special little prayer". It is so much more than that. It is our responsibility as Christians to continually show that love to people—anyone and everyone. I remember hearing in a sermon once that "sometimes, people can only know Jesus Christ through you". We are not to just tell people about Jesus; as the Body of Christ, we are to be Jesus to people. It is especially important to know that it takes time to break down barriers and develop relationships. A person's heart did not become stone overnight, and in the same way, it will not return to flesh overnight.
I want to read you a story from Resident Aliens, by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, two United Methodist Church pastors, about a time when the U.S. bombed Libya. I'll be honest with you—as I read this story myself, I had no idea what the event was all about; it's something that happened when I was a child and I am sure I had no idea it was even happening. But the event itself is not the most important part of the story; the important part is the authors' comment towards the end. They write:
Now, I want to read you another, more current story, that is told in Neil Cole's book Organic Church (Pages 209-209). I believe that this story is a kind of example of the point that Hauerwas and Willimon were making in Resident Aliens. Neil says:
You might think it's too big a challenge. Or that you can't go to another country. Or that reaching many people is overwhelming. But the good news is that we don't have to reach everyone at once. We can reach our neighbor, our roommate, a professor. Anyone we come into contact with may have some pain in his or her heart that needs to be healed in order that his or her heart not turn to stone. We can follow the guidance in all of the scripture passages that we read this morning. We can be instruments in helping sinners return to God, like the psalmist aspires to do. We can love the people that we think are unlovable.
But we must make sure that our hearts are in the right place too. The anger, bitterness, despair that we face also needs to be cleansed and healed. Our hearts are just as much in danger of becoming hard as anyone else's. When we act judgmental towards another, when we act without compassion, when we think of anyone else as less than ourselves we are in danger of hardening our hearts. But both our lessons from the Psalms and Ezekiel teach us that God can change our hearts. And it isn't some magical thing, though I do believe that people can have experiences that change them. But sometimes, we need to continually practice certain actions in order for it to work. The examples set forth by Jesus and Paul in our New Testament scriptures are some of those things that we can do. In the scripture from Matthew, we're given the instruction that we are to be perfect in our love, just as our heavenly father is perfect in His love. Being perfect might feel hard to live up to, but word used here, teleioi (te,leioi), also means complete or whole—or even mature. If we look at it that way, it's less of a measuring stick to gauge how good we are at love and more of a big picture example of what love looks and feels like, that love is all-encompassing and unlimited.
Would you now please stand and sing "Create in Me A Clean Heart", and not only sing the words, but allow God to do what we are asking Him to do in this song in order that we may be healed and that we may then help to bring healing to the hearts of others as well.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
While this is excessive, as the commandment is against eating pork (Leviticus 11:7), and I know of nothing that is forbidden to pronounce except the names foreign deities (Exodus 23:13; Joshua 23:7), as well as God’s four letter name not being pronounced so as not to take it in vain (Exodus 20:7), it made me think once again how little Christians typically know about any of these laws.
Though I'd been very annoyed that my car wouldn't start, that misfortune saved me from even greater annoyance and misfortune. It made me wonder what things we face daily that annoy us that actually serve to keep us from experiencing something worse.
It is definitely in my nature to get annoyed first and not think what good could come from what I'm experiencing, but I'm starting to think I need to try to be more deliberate to try to look at this irritations from another viewpoint and train myself to recognize the good to come out of them.
1I thought there was a verse somewhere in the Bible that this phrase evolved from, but I can't find it. If anyone knows, please let me know!
Friday, April 03, 2009
My son is 1 ½ and this morning he wanted to go out the door when Daddy left for work. I told him no, that he couldn’t go, that he and Mommy were going to go out later. Did he understand any of this? I doubt it. All he understood was that he couldn’t do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. He cried and wanted to be held for a couple of minutes and then he eventually got over it when I said we should look for his black car.
It made me think about when God tells us no. We say “why God why?” or “I wanted this so badly”. But if God is our parent, he knows better than us. We think that He seems distant when He doesn’t explain Himself, but really, would we even understand His explanation if He gave it? Just as I know what is going to happen later in the day with my son, so God knows with us. And just as I can explain to my son all I want, he still won’t understand me because he doesn’t have the understanding of language or time that I do. Perhaps it is that way with us and God. We don’t have His understanding of time, and likely don’t have His understanding of language, either.
When God tells us no, we sometimes cry and we turn to Him for comfort and understanding. And, eventually, we get over it and move on, distracted by something He tells us to look for instead.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
With Easter approaching, I had recently been thinking about John 20:31, where the author writes that “these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” I had always known John’s gospel was different from the others, and I had always known that verse was there. But I never really put them together to see what exactly it is that John wrote that he felt would make his case. So I read it from start to finish to see what I’d find. As I read, and wrote, and re-wrote, and then re-wrote some more, there was one theme that stood out to me. I suppose it has been on my mind due to a book I’ve recently been reading that has bothered me, because it is a book that seems to take pleasure in drawing the line between Christians and non-Christians and seems to show a great deal of arrogance in being a Christian. That theme is taking an “us-versus-them” attitude and turning it around.
But first, I want you to imagine yourself living about 60 years after Jesus’ did. That’s about when John’s gospel was written. Many, if not most, of the people who witnessed anything are dead. The events happened before you were born. All you have to go on are stories that are passed down orally. You know there are people who believe Jesus is the Messiah. But is he? What does that even mean? If you are not Jewish, it’s not something that really means that much to you as the idea of a Messiah is a Jewish idea. If you are Jewish, it has specific meanings: freedom from Roman oppression and the righteous rewarded, the ability to live freely in your own land, the restoration of the kingly line of King David, the Temple and all of its activity restored to its former glory. You wouldn’t have been expecting a Messiah to die without accomplishing these things. You wouldn’t have expected so many non-Jewish people to be following the ways of a Jewish man. After all, most of the non-Jewish people had no interest in the God of Israel. There were a few, called God-fearers, that believed in Israel’s God and lived peaceably among the Jews, following the laws set out for them, but for the most part, they worshipped any of the myriad of pagan gods out there.
In the eyes of most Jews, Jesus didn’t do the things the Messiah was supposed to do. In fact, he was even killed. What good is a dead Messiah? But John wants to convince people that he was, in fact, the Messiah. What could John have seen in Jesus that made him believe this so much?
The Jews were in their own land but ruled over by the Romans. This was not the way things were supposed to be, they said. God was punishing them for their collective sin as a nation, but some day, God would vindicate them, would declare them righteous, and would then punish the enemies. It was an us-versus-them world. God is with US, Israel said. Not with THEM.
And it goes even further than that. The most law-abiding Jews looked down upon the “sinners” of the day. When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4, his disciples are scandalized that he is talking to her. Any righteous Jewish man would not be alone in the company of a woman; it was indecent. And certainly not a Samaritan woman, who were the people who not only worshipped in the wrong place but actually claimed to be the true descendents of Abraham.
And they looked down at the place where Jesus was from. In chapter 7 verse 41 we see people disbelieving that the Messiah could come from Galilee. There’s no way a prophet could come from there, they say. But two of their prophets, Jonah and Hosea, were from Galilee. They’re looking down on the region without even really knowing who is from there, and without even giving Jesus a chance.
But we do see Jesus freeing people from oppression. Not the oppression of Rome, but the oppression of illness, like in chapter 4 when he heals the royal official’s son. Or in chapter 5 when he heals the crippled man or in chapter 9 when he heals the blind man. He frees them from the oppression of their sin and the stigma attached to it, like in chapter 4 when he teaches the woman at the well about the living water she can receive from him, or chapter 8 when he frees the woman from the penalty of adultery and then when he explains that when one commits a sin, one is a slave to that sin, and only by knowing the truth can they be set free.
The people who were thought of as sinners were seen as deficient in some way—they didn’t believe the right way (the Samaritan woman) or they didn’t follow God’s laws the right way (the man carrying his mat on the Sabbath after Jesus healed him, and Jesus himself telling the man to do so), or they weren’t from the right location (Jesus).
What they are essentially saying is “if you don’t believe or do things in the same way as I do, then you are in Big Trouble”.
To make it worse, John tells us the following in his gospel:
John 11:47-52 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, "What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation." 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all! 50 You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed." 51 He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God.Remember how earlier I said that the Jews were expecting the Messiah to be the one to redeem them and overthrow the oppressors? John’s gospel is telling them that the Messiah is not just for them, but rather is to be the one to gather everyone together, Jew and non-Jew alike, and that all are children of God.
You can imagine that this might be pretty upsetting. People who didn’t believe and act as they did were going to be included with them in one big group? Where’s the justice in that, they wondered.
Unfortunately, this us-versus-them mentality is still alive and well today. Look at the hundreds of Christian denominations that we have. If we think of ways that we feel our own beliefs have been threatened, we probably can understand Jesus’ opponents a little better. That’s not easy to do, though, is it? To say we understand a little bit what the Pharisees or Sadducees might have been going through? After all, we most often look at them as the “bad guys”—there’s an “us-versus-them” mentality right there!
And we often take that mentality with us wherever we go. I know there are people with whom I disagree theologically. There are probably things that everybody in this room doesn’t agree on. But we can’t let that take over who we are as disciples of Jesus. We’re told that God loves the whole world, right? And then, in John 13:35 Jesus tells us that “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He didn’t say that his disciples would be known by their specific beliefs or actions, but by their love.
I think the reason for this is that beliefs take time. Our beliefs are refined as we learn and grow. We are faced with questions and challenges throughout our lives. Sometimes, we are the “us” and sometimes, we are the “them”.
We see in the book of Acts that many non-Jewish people came to believe in Jesus and it is non-Jews today that make up the majority of Christians. But it seems that in some ways we have taken the position of the Pharisees—we have become the “us” and non-Christians have become the “them”. This may not be deliberate and many people may be unaware of it. But as we heard earlier, Jesus is supposed to bring us all together. The Pharisees couldn’t do it. They couldn’t accept that the sinners were just as worthy of God’s love as they were.
This isn’t to say that we accept whatever people do as ok—we do see Jesus telling people to not sin anymore and healing them from things that marked them as “sinners”—illnesses were often thought of as a result of sin. But how can we improve our own attitudes towards the people we deem as less, either consciously or subconsciously?
It’s not easy. But nobody ever said being a disciple of Jesus was supposed to be easy.
I don’t know if I’ve completely figured out yet what exactly it is that John wants people to see in his gospel in order to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah. But I am pretty sure that this message of breaking down the barriers between us-and-them is a big part of it.
Questions for Discussion
What are some ways we see the “us-and-them” mentality today?
Who do we look down upon based on knowing where they are from or what nationality they are, without getting a chance to really know them?
Have you ever felt angry when someone had a very different point of view about the Christian faith?
What causes us to feel angry or threatened? Why do we feel that way?
When we feel angry or threatened what should we do?
How should we view the person who is different from us?
Do you ever find yourself putting people in the “them” category?
Have you ever felt like “them”? What was it like?
How can Jesus help you in your relationships with “them”?
Friday, March 27, 2009
Dressing nicely has become increasingly important to me. As a stay-at-home mom, it's easy to fall into the jeans and sneakers rut. Luckily, I circumvent that by wearing nicer dark-wash jeans and non-athletic sneakers so that it looks better.
When a person wears a well-put-together outfit and looks nice, she looks more professional and more confident in herself. That look can help us feel that way too. And it can open up doors that we wouldn't have otherwise thought were there. The other night I dressed up to go to a MOPS meeting and the next day in an e-mail exchange on another topic with another mom I met there, she complimented me on the outfit I'd been wearing. This opened up a new direction of conversation and I sense a good friendship starting to be formed.
1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God." Whatever you do. Couldn't dressing fall into that category?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
My biggest concern with this movie is that many Christians who watch it and recommend it will think that the methods used in the movie will save any marriage. I think the methods are good and will work. But I don’t think they will work for everyone. I think they will work for two groups of people: those who have good marriages and want to make them better, and those who have minor problems. The methods will not work for those with major problems, including abusive marriages.
Another concern was that the male protagonist obviously had a problem with rage, yet it was never addressed. Early on in the movie, when he was yelling at his wife and was up in her face, I thought for sure he was about to hit her. Of course, being a Christian movie, he didn’t. At other times, he took out his rage on the trash can, either by kicking it or hitting it with a baseball bat, or on his computer when he threw it away, also by hitting it with a baseball bat. Throwing away and destroying his computer was his way of combating his problem with Internet pornography. A bit extreme, but apparently it solved his problem just like that. These rage issues were never addressed. After the man becomes a Christian, the only issue dealt with is the pornography and him really wanting to woo his wife, instead of just wooing her because his dad recommended it.
It concerns me that churches are promoting this movie as a way of helping people fix their marriages and expressing the idea that they are fixable, because some, especially any that contain domestic violence, are not always fixable. Can you imagine being the person in a violent “Christian” marriage, knowing there is no hope left, but having your church put forth the impression that it is saveable, if you just follow these steps for 40 days?
Although the movie is supposed to be inspirational and helpful, I think it can do harm to people in those types of marriages. People who might not be believed when they say they are in a violent relationship, because their spouse is the “perfect Christian”.
I’d like to see a Christian movie that deals better with reality and doesn’t think that the solution to everything is someone “accepting Jesus as his/her Savior”.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Admittedly, the world of shoes is still very new to me. Though I’ve always had an aversion to wearing sneakers unless it was for playing sports, I didn’t have much of a shoe wardrobe. I stuck to the basic blacks and browns that would go with the most amount of outfits. In the last couple of years, I’ve added some blue shoes and some white shoes and some beaded gold shoes, but haven’t branched out very far.
Then, about a year or so ago, I was on a quest to find a red shoe. Well, not just one, but a pair, of course. And then I found them at Kohl’s. They were a dark red with a cute buckle on the toe. They had a heel. They were exactly what I wanted. And they had them in my size. Score! And then I tried them on. The left one fit fine. The right one, however, kept slipping off my heel when I took even just one or two steps. Sadly, I put them back in the box on the shelf. I came back to Kohl’s and tried them on two more times, hoping that somehow, my foot or the shoe would have changed and they would now fit. They didn’t.
Isn’t it funny how we want to make something that isn’t right for us fit? We focus on what we want and keep going back to it. It could be a job that we think we are supposed to do because we’re good at it, or having the “right” major in college, or dating the wrong type of guy. We blunder on in our own stubbornness to get to what we have decided is right for us, whether it is a safe, predictable, comfortable path, or something flat-out completely wrong for us. In this, we forget that we should consult with God.
He is our creator. He knows our innermost selves, our gifts, our talents, our abilities, our passions. Who better, then, to consult with when we need to decide what path to take? With His help, we’ll find the right way. We’ll find the shoes that fit.