Friday, June 09, 2017

FORGIVE! YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME

Some thoughts from C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity.  I offer his words as an injection into the society wide conversation going on in our country at this time. -- Rick 
One of the most unpopular of the Christian virtues is laid down in the Christian rule, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ Because in Christian morals ‘thy neighbour’ includes ‘thy enemy’, and so we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies. 
Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say. And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’ 
So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do—I can do precious little—I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME

When my son was five years old he announced to Vonnie and me that when he grew up he wanted to be a community. We didn't understand what he meant so we pressed him for clarity.  He said, "You know; somebody who makes people laugh."  Ah! Comedian. Got it. I like his misuse of the word, however. 

Community!  That's a dream worth dreaming; not that being a comedian isn't fine and good.  Comedians come and go, though.  Community is forever.  And, the church, when it is being what God called her to be, is a God-called, God-shaped, God-formed, God indwelled, and God-empowered COMMUNITY.  The way of God is the way of community—there are no lone ranger Christians and nobody who can say, “I did it by myself.”

The community of Jesus is called to live out their communal faith in the world as a witnessing influence for God.  It is the one fellowship desperately needed by people.  Whenever we think "Church," our minds ought to automatically go to "Community."  Sadly, this connection is not as well practiced as one might think. Charles Swindoll shares this sad but helpful statement he read somewhere:
The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable.  It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.  With all my heart I believe that Christ wants His church to be…a fellowship where people can come in and say, “I’m sunk!” “I beat!”  “I’ve had it!”  (Charles Swindoll, Copyright © 1983 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal; at Christianitytoday.com)
From 1982 to 1993 NBC aired a sitcom entitled Cheers.  The storyline revolved around a bar called, "Cheers."  The words of the theme song for that show are these, written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo,
Making your way in the world today Takes everything you've got;Taking a break from all your worries Sure would help a lot.Wouldn't you like to get away?Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see, Our troubles are all the same;You want to be where everybody knows your name.You want to go where people know, People are all the same;You want to go where everybody knows your name.(Cheers”  featured on NBC from 1982-1993 )
The theme from "Cheers" strikes a cord in all of us, doesn't it? We want a place, a commuity, a safe environment where we are welcomed and received, a place where the folks are glad when we are present, a people where our name is known and we know the names of others, a community where we know we are home. King David wrote, "How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!" (Psalm 133:1, NIV). Unity seems far away and out of reach in a world like ours but, actually, it is in reach; In reach, if we will let the Church be the Church. The Church was born in community and she lives and moves and has her being in that unity which is born of God.

In 1975 Broadman Press released a song called, “We are Called to Be God’s People.”  The first verse has captured the heart and spirit of a people when that people lives with Jesus at the center of who they are.

We are called to be God's people  Showing by our lives His grace  One in heart and one in spirit  Sign of hope for all the race  Let us show how He has changed us  And remade us as His own  Let us share our life together  As we shall around His throne
Thomas A. Jackson, 1973, alt. and Franz Joseph Haydn, 1797;
© 1975, Broadman Press
"Showing by our lives His grace."  It is a wonderful time to be the church.  People like you and me are searching for friendship and community.  I'm pretty sure the neighborhood bar is very limited in being that place.    We are looking for a safe place where we are welcomed, received, loved, accepted, and forgiven.  What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3).


May every local congregation of Jesus around the world be that safe place where whoever comes under the influence of the people of that congregation know they are home.  People love them, and want them there.  May the unwritten but unmistakable spiirt of the congregation be, "Welcome home."

Saturday, February 25, 2017

TRANSFIGURATION SUNDAY

 For many in God's Church the Sunday immediately before Ash Wednesday is celebrated as "Transfiguration Sunday."  The United Methodist Church has a statement that helps us realize why we do this: 
     The Book of Common Prayer collect for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany suggests why the Transfiguration of Our Lord is celebrated when it is:  
     O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer according to the use of the Episcopal Church, 1979, page 217. Book of Common Prayer is public domain material and is used here with gratitude to the Episcopal Church and Church Publishing.)
With this prayer a powerful statement is given.  I invite you to take it to heart.
     We celebrate the revelation of Christ's glory "before the passion" so that we may "be strengthened to bear our cross and be changed into his likeness." The focus of the Lenten season is renewed discipline in walking in the way of the cross and rediscovery of the baptismal renunciation of evil and sin and our daily adherence to Christ. At Easter, which reveals the fullness of Christ’s glory (foreshadowed in the Transfiguration), Christians give themselves anew to the gospel at the Easter Vigil where they share the dying and rising of Christ.     In the biblical context, the synoptic gospels narrate the Transfiguration as a bridge between Jesus' public ministry and his passion. From the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem and the cross.
As each of us prepare for our Lenten journey, may God help us to get a glimpse into the Biblical story of Jesus – all of it.  May God help us to journey with our hand securely holding onto the hand of Jesus, knowing that He is already holding on to ours.  How the world does need Him these days.  How the Church does need Him these days.  How each of us does need Him these days.

On the mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-37) Peter, James, and John watched as Jesus met and spoke with Moses and Elijah.  It was a moment described later by John as "glory," or "splendor." Peter wanted to stay on the mountain after having built "three tabernacles," one for [Jesus], one for Moses, and one for Elijah" (See Luke 9:33).  Tabernacles weren't needed, however.  What was needed was for the disciples to Listen to [Jesus], knowing that He was, as the voice from heaven told them, "My beloved Son, My Chosen One" (Matt. 17:5, Luke 9:35).


On Transfiguration Sunday and in the days of Lent to come, may we all be about the task of listening to Jesus.  He is God's initiative and response to the human situation in which we find ourselves today. 

Jesus….Listen to Him.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

JANUARY 20, 2017

In the good old USA it is inauguration day.  As I write we have a new president, Donald Trump.  The country could not be more divided than it is concerning this new administration.  Even as I write there are protests throughout the land.  Anger and frustration and bitterness runs very deep in those who did not support Mr. Trump.  Social media is ablaze with harsh rhetoric coming from both sides of the issue, and there is a fear that verbal rhetoric might turn to physical violence. Actually, it already has.  We'll see where it goes but, hopefully, at some point cooler heads will prevail and keep people on a track for good and not for harm.

My thoughts today turn to what it means in times like these to be Christian.  And, believe me, this issue is extremely important on this day and in the days to come.  The Church is split on President Trump.  Some "believers" basically hate the man, and view him almost as the devil incarnate.  Others celebrate his victory because they believe that once again America will be great. The chances of the two sides coming together as brothers and sisters in Christ seems almost impossible to imagine.

In this world of chaos and bigotry and sexism and name-calling and shock, how should we as Christians live?  Hopefully, like the way we should have been living all along.  The great prayer on the heart of every believer should be, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:9-10).  Followers of Jesus can't support or practice anything that violates this call to a full yielding to the will of God. 

In this light I'm not sure the best way forward is simply complaining about Donald Trump.  We all know who he is, how he operates, and what he believes.  We're not going to change his mind.  So, instead, lets fall on our knees, search our own hearts, and pray with deep seriousness, "Your kingdom come.  Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

The presidency of one man ought not to influence who we are or how we live.  We should be living the Matthew 25 life anyway, and if we aren't, why aren't we? Works of mercy ought to be a part of our lives no matter who the national leader might be. Today and everyday our creed should be:

1.        We must continue to seek justice for people of all races, creeds, gender, and color.
2.        We must continue seeking to end oppression and discrimination.
3.        We must continue to speak into and against all matters that reflect man’s inhumanity to man.
4.        We must seek to end poverty, to get fresh water to those who so desperately need it, to find ways to destroy the means by which human trafficking inflicts pain and suffering on women at home and around the world. 
5.        We must take care of the sick, treat with decency those who are in prison, feed the hungry, and give our time, talents and treasures to meet the needs of people who live disenfranchised, marginalized, and in many ways, dehumanized. 

Whoever the president of the USA might me, has nothing whatsoever to do with our passion, our zeal, our commitment to walk in the footsteps of the One we call Savior and Lord.  In fact, we are citizens of two worlds, this one in which we now find ourselves, and heaven (see Philippians 3:20); and until we get to heaven we are to be about the business of what is "True, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute" (Philippians 4:8).  We must "love…without hypocrisy, abhor what is evil; cling to what is good and be devoted to one another in brotherly love" (Romans 12:9-10).    

Today I am not pre-occupied with the National Anthem but with another anthem that has for all time and eternity captured my imagination.

Rise up, O Church of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.

Rise up, O Church of God!
The kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.

       (Based on the words of William Merrill, 1911)