Saturday, October 30, 2010

Seek and Ye Shall Find


Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich.  He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.”
Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”
Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
Luke 19:1-10 (NLT)


What difference does it make that Jesus comes seeking us (no matter if we're behind a rock or up a tree), inviting Himself in, instead of the other way around? What does it mean to our churches that God is not passive? Instead of sitting back like a spider in its web and just being welcoming to those who seek us, should we instead redefine ourselves as a new kind of Seeker Church – a Church who Seeks Sinners?
















Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Goodness of Do-Gooders



Hear the Word of the Lord, you earthly leaders! Listen to the teachings of your God you fleshy people:

“What to Me is the multitude of donations, your tithes, your offerings?” He asks. “I’ve had enough of your memorial gifts and shiny things; I do not delight in your beta-maxes and left over unwanted trinkets. When you come to Me, who asked for this junk? Don’t waste My time, your bling and your fancy worship can not bribe Me!”

“Your committee and council meetings? I can not endure such boring solemnity. Your Christmas pageants and your Easter egg hunts riles My very Soul; they are onerous to Me – I can’t put up with them any longer. I will not listen to your pleas; when you reach out to Me in prayer, I see the  blood of your sins on your hands.”

“Take your evilness from My sight, and clean up your act. CEASE DOING EVIL! Do good to others. Seek justice for others. Rescue the bullied. Defend the defenseless. Plead for someone other than yourself. Although your sins are crimson red, I can make them snow white – the wool of an unblemished lamb.”

Retelling of Isaiah 1:10-18







Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

There But For the Grace of God Go I!

The Gospel Reading for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost


 Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector:
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 (NLT)

Any regular reader of this blog knows that I have lots of issues. LOTS! One of my many peeves is the phrase “There but for the grace of God go I.”
  • First, there is a Jobian assumption that whatever lack of blessings someone else may exhibit is due to God’s withholding it. The leap that is made is that the other is being punished for some sin, or that they don’t deserve it!
  • Second, there is a comparative judgment involved. I am better than the other.
  • Third, there is an assumption that earthly blessings predict heavenly blessings, and that wealth and status here matters.
  • Fourth, there is an implication the other has no reason to thank God! We are deciding now who can worship and praise their God and maker?

When people serve at a shelter or come back from a mission trip, the first response is often that it teaches them to count their blessings! Not that people are wonderful and loving everywhere. Not that the greatest gift they have to share is love and understanding. Not that they learned to reprioritize their own lives. Not that they saw God at work in the world. No, we so often thank God that we are not like those who we serve.
Dear Abba: Please help me to be less like myself and more like You. Amen




Thursday, October 21, 2010

Loss or Love?

In our lives we have come to focus on loss: money; status; health...

In our churches too, we focus on the loss of members.

In politics, it is a war of negative imagery and fear.

What if God wanted us to live in love instead?







Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Forrest Gumping It

The Epistle for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost


Aluminum Relay Baton Gold EachYou take over. I'm about to die, my life an offering on God's altar. This is the only race worth running. I've run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that's left now is the shouting - God's applause! Depend on it, he's an honest judge. He'll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming.
At my preliminary hearing no one stood by me. They all ran like scared rabbits. But it doesn't matter - the Master stood by me and helped me spread the Message loud and clear to those who had never heard it. I was snatched from the jaws of the lion! God's looking after me, keeping me safe in the kingdom of heaven. All praise to him, praise forever! Oh, yes!
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 (The Message)

Back when I was young, I could run like the wind! Running was fun and freeing. I was asked to be on the track team once, but my parents couldn’t pick me up after school. I always blamed them for that. I could have been an athlete instead of a geek! If only...
Paul has run his good race, and is now ready to pass on the relay baton to Timothy. No one supported him, yet he ran none-the-less. He did not run for himself or for others, but for God.
  • How many of us miss out because we listen to others or depend upon their support and give up the race before the starting gun even sounds? If I had really tried, I could have found a way to be on the team!
  • How many of us do only that which will gain us human applause? Home-field heroes, but road-wrecks!
  • How many of us have a hard enough time just standing up (let alone run anymore) and quit the race before the finish line? The “been-there-done-that”s who feel they’ve served their time in teaching Sunday-school, in ministry, in service, in life.

Paul reminds Timothy of God’s close presence, His constant support, His faithfulness. What more can we ask for? What more can we possible need?
Run Forrest, run!








Monday, October 18, 2010

Shoveling Sh!+


“Thirty years from now, when you're sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks you, ‘What did you do in the great World War II,’ you won't have to say, ‘Well... I shoveled sh!+ in Louisiana.’"
 George C. Scott in Patton

 There was an old man 
Whose boat was a zoo. 
He had so many animals 
He didn’t know what to do!

We often praise Noah for his faith and trust in beginning the building of a ridiculously big boat without power tools years before it was needed. We wonder at the logistics involved in collecting and herding animals from all around the globe, and in preventing them from eating each other. We marvel at his patience floating around on a world with less than nothing on the horizon. Yet we forget all his family members that had to feed the animals and muck the stalls! To Patton, such labor was something to be ashamed of, something far less than the glory he saw in war. Yet farmers helped sustain the war effort. When performance review time comes around each year, I’m reminded that there is no glory in doing your job well – that’s what’s expected of you!
Yesterday was Laity Sunday for us Methodists. I’m just as guilty as General Patton when I think about our local churches. It’s easy to respect the visionaries (prophets), the builders (apostles), the big-game hunters (evangelists) and the herders (preachers), but overlook the feeders and the muckers. On the other hand, sometimes we over compensate and go too far in recognizing the laborers among us for doing their job and ignoring the thinkers who think beyond the box. Where I work, laborers get recognized for attendance while the professionals get in trouble for not using up vacation time fast enough!
The key to the story of Noah’s family is to think of it as a team effort. If everyone on the boat was the captain, they wouldn’t have made it. If every part of the Body was an eye, we’d look like a big potato…





Saturday, October 16, 2010

Praying Like the Persistent Widow

The NT Reading for the Week of  October 17, 2010; Luke 18:1-8

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
Luke 18:1-8 (NLT)

As a parent, I was never a fan of rewarding whining. And don’t get me started on: Can I? No. Can I? NO. Can I? NO! Can I? OK! Just leave me alone… It seems that many interpret this reading to not only mean that we can outwait God and get Him to change His mind if we are only persistent enough, but also that if we do it right, God will give us what ever we want!

Part of my problem with this verse may come from my equating prayer with asking for favors. What if instead, we thought of prayer as how we interact with God in conversation and through those around us; how we live our lives for God and for other? What if, we viewed social activism as a living breathing prayer to God? By persistently calling out for social justice in the world, are we praying like the Widow?






Friday, October 15, 2010

KISS


The Epistle for the Week of October 17, 2020; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5



But don't let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother's milk! There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.
I can't impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don't ever quit. Just keep it simple.
You're going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They'll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you're doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God's servant.
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 (The Message)

As a fellow Timothy, I connect with this reading, but there are three hurdles here for me in implementing Pau’s directives:

1. Each of us have been exposed to many teachers and conflicting teachings over the years, how can any of us have complete confidence?
2. With so much water under the bridge, how can we maintain Timothy’s sense of urgency? How can we be intense without being annoying?
3. Paul gave Tim some good advise: “Keep It Simple Stupid”, but then warned him about people who are addicted to junk food! How do we simplify without dumbing down?








The Message RemixThe Very Best of Kiss







Thursday, October 14, 2010

Restoration

 

The OT Reading for the Week of October 17, 2010; Jeremiah 31:27-34



The day comes inexorably our Lord tells us, when He will reseed the old kingdoms. And just as He watched over us as we were weeded, plowed under and re-fertilized, so too will He watch over us as a new Kingdom is planted. In those new days, no longer will the children have sour faces over the lime their parents bit; there will be a new covenant of accountability! We will own our own sins, suffer our own consequences. We will be freed of the chains of our ancestors as God forgives us their sin - their breaking covenant with God and divorcing Him; and our children will be freed from our sins! Instead of an external law that we can hide from or pretend to know, the law shall become a natural part of us and we shall become one in God as intended. We shall finally become complete, perfected. The need to spread the good news will disappear because everyone will already know God.
Retelling of Jeremiah 31:27-34

Where I work, we do a lot of enhancing, restoring and re-creating prairies. There frequently is an awkward stage in a new prairie where the natural process of fire is not yet enough: seeds have not taken; plugs have died; invasive species have established colonies. We have to pull up bad plants, herbicide those with tenacious roots, over-seed sparse areas, plant new plants, or even plow under the old and start all over again. But each year the plants grow stronger and stronger, each year the prairie becomes more and more of a naturally functioning ecosystem.

This is the image I receive when I hear Jeremiah’s message of hope. Those who first listened to him may have heard that they were weeds. In the midst of winter, they may have missed the message of spring time; new seed in rich smelling soil – richly organic from all the crops that came before. Vigorous seed planted in earth cleansed of the disease and pests handed down through the stubble of the past. A dream of a lush and verdant future.