Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 2

Wednesday March 18, 2020

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:31-35 (NRSV)

In this passage, we see Jesus, who was in the middle of teaching a group of His followers, being interrupted by a request from his own family to speak with Him. His response to their request was with a question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?”, followed by a statement, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

I feel as though if any one of us said something like that in response to our family wanting to speak with us, we would be lectured by our mother to show a little respect.

But why did his family make the journey together about a days travel on foot from Nazareth to Capernaum where Jesus was teaching?

In the same chapter of Mark, verse 21 reads: “When his family heard it [that Jesus was healing people and casting out demons], they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.'”

Christ’s family traveled to Capernaum, and wanted to speak with Him, because they were concerned about Him, but they also made that journey because they struggled with the reality of who Jesus, their son and brother, was.

Therefore, when Jesus was told that his family was outside waiting for Him, He knew why they were there, and He had to send the message that although He loved them, that He was on a mission now, and that His prime concern was following the Will of God, the Father, and serving those within the Family of God, which was becoming much larger than before.


Pastors around the nation, and in other countries around the world, are struggling with knowing what the Will of God is at a time when they have decided to close the doors of the church building in order to protect their congregation and their community. Over the last week, I have seen church leaders have to make significant decisions in a matter of hours and days, and all of us are trying to think of ways to connect with people in a meaningful way when we cannot see them face to face.

What this passage today teaches us is that though we all may be separated, that we are all still brothers and sisters within the Family of God through Jesus Christ.

Church leaders are working just as hard, if not harder, to make sure that we connect with our members and with our community at this time.

Parents are working just as hard, if not harder, to care for their families and to lead them in prayer.

And individuals are praying just as much, if not more, than before.

What is God calling you to do to make the best of this situation?

How can you continue to share the message and love of God to others?

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Lesson 1

Tuesday 3/17/2020

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

John 19:25-27 (NRSV)

I can’t help but worry about my family during this times of uncertainty. Could my parents be out of work? Will my grandmother, who is in her 90s, be exposed to the virus at a point in her life where even the common cold would be dangerous?

And even if this whole thing is not as bad as we think it will be, because of the precautions we are taking, what will this do for families and communities around the world?

Some of us are around our families more than we normally would be as businesses and restaurants are closed because our country is seeking to halt the spread of COVID-19. While each family member will need their own space during this time together, this is also an opportunity for families to grow closer to one another through family game and movie nights, intentional conversations about dreams and passions, and even a time to read books together, to pray together, and have a time for family Bible reading.

Some of us would like to see our families who don’t live with us, but feel as though visiting them could risk exposure to either them, or us. This is incredibly hard for us because these are also the times that we want to spend time with our families the most. But we can still connect with them through calling them, through video-messaging them, and through text and email. Perhaps this time could teach us a rhythm of connecting with them that we did not have before. Even when disconnected, we can still laugh with them, cry with them, pray with them, and read the Bible with them.

Sometimes, we are tempted to think that God isn’t all that concerned about our everyday worries, or emotions, because we convince ourselves that God has more important things to do. Yet even in Christ’s last moments on the cross, though He knew He would be back again from the dead, Jesus knew the importance of family; specifically, he knew that one of his best friends, and his own mother, needed one another, and He did not want either of them to feel alone.

In this time of uncertainty, know that Christ cares about you and your family. But also know that He cares about YOU and that no matter what, God is with you, and you can speak with God through prayer.

Devotionals During the COVID-19 Crisis: Introduction

In light of the need for First UCC – Quakertown to not offer in-person worship services because of the prevention efforts we are making to protect our community from Covid-19, our church has decided to offer our people with Lenten devotionals.

It is important to us to seek to connect with our congregation in whatever ways that we can during this time. While we cannot promise to be providing a devotionals for all of the dates and passages below, we would like to try to provide something, and any who are willing can follow the schedule with us.

We are following a schedule of readings for lent put together by Carol Geisler from Creative Communications, which you can see in the chart below.

DateDate of weekPassage
3/17/2020TuedayJohn 19:25-27
3/18/2020WednesdayMark 3:31-35
3/19/2020ThursdayPhilippians 3:4-9
3/20/2020FridayEphesians 3:4-9
3/21/2020Saturday1 John 3:1-3
3/22/2020SundayActs 9:1-6
3/23/2020MondayActs 9:17-22
3/24/2020Tueday1 Cor. 12:1-7
3/25/2020Wednesday1 Cor. 1:18-25
3/26/2020ThursdayRomans 6:1-4
3/27/2020FridayRomans 12:1-2
3/28/2020SaturdayPhilippians 4:4-9
3/29/2020SundayActs 16:11-15
3/30/2020MondayEphesians 1:15-23
3/31/2020Tueday2 Cor. 5:19-21
4/1/2020WednesdayLuke 24:46-49
4/2/2020ThursdayPsalm 51:1-12
4/3/2020FridayHebrews 3:12-15
4/4/2020SaturdayRomans 5:1-5
4/5/2020SundayLuke 19:28-40
4/6/2020MondayHebrews 10:5-10
4/7/2020TuedayPsalm 40:6-8
4/8/2020WednesdayPsalm 143:9-10
4/9/2020ThursdayMatthew 26:36-46
4/10/2020FridayJohn 19:28-30
4/11/2020SaturdayJohn 19:38-42
4/12/2020SundayMatthew 28:1-10
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Hope & Dreams – Week 1 of Advent, Year A

Read the Introduction to this Series Here

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
― Langston Hughes

On Sunday, December 1st, Christian churches around the world celebrated the first Sunday of Advent this year by lighting a candle that symbolizes the light that the prophecies of a Savior brought to the world. In my church, the first Sunday centers around the theme of Hope.

The candle may be lit by a child, a member of the congregation, a church leader, or a Pastor, but everyone is watching as the wick catches the flame, and the candle begins to glow on its own.

Although, something powerfully interesting is happening with that candle that I don’t believe is intentional: The candle flickers in a well-lit sanctuary, and outside of being something nice to look at, it serves no practical purpose. That flame is not keeping anyone warm, it is not aiding in lighting up the room; its simply there.

It seems terribly pessimistic to view it that way, but hear me out.


When a child dreams of their future, and they dream of being a baseball or soccer player, a famous actor, or the president, they are usually quickly discouraged by comments like, “well that would be a one in a million chance”.

As adults, we might dream of following passions that are new to us, or that are revived from our past, but we generally don’t MAKE time to pursue those things because other things are more realistic to focus on.

For many of us, Hope is something that we have learned is something we can have in times of privilege; when all of our responsibilities are complete, and we have no worries to think of. However, it is in times of sorrow and abandonment when Hope is needed the most.

And let’s not kid ourselves…without hope, we’ll never get to the satisfied ideal that we save our hope & dreams for; we’ll simply remain where we are, and seek nothing more.

So while that candle is lit on the first Sunday of advent, it may cast no measurable heat or light in that well-lit Sanctuary, but it still brings us comfort in knowing that it represents the Hope that we need to have, even when having hope seems pointless.


“Hope alone is to be called ‘realistic’ because it alone takes seriously the possibilities with which all reality is fraught. It does not take things as they happen to stand or to lie, but as progressing, moving things with possibilities of change”

– Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope.

For the first Sunday of Advent, the Old Testament reading was from Isaiah 2:1-5 in the Lectionary, and it reads:

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
    Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
    come, let us walk
    in the light of the Lord!

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

As the prophets of God told of the hope that was coming, they did not have visible hope to share. Instead, they had hope through their faith in what was coming.

Their hope, before Christ came into the world, was like lighting a candle in a well-lit sanctuary; meaningful for them, and those that believed the same prophecy, but to the outside world, their hope seemed meaningless.

The prophets of God longed for a time when the answer to darkness was light, and where the answer to war was peace, and when the dwelling place of God on earth became a refuge for the whole world.

But they wrote this when there was still darkness, war, and national division. They wrote this when they didn’t really “have time” for hope and dreams. They wrote this because, without hope and dreams, they could envision no progression for their starving kids, no justice for the oppressed, and no end to the wars that tore them apart.

They needed to believe that God would liberate them from all of their sufferings, and they envisioned that when this would happen, other people groups would be able to benefit from the goodness of God as well.


The world can throw many problems at us, those we love, and the communities in which we are a part of. Society encourages us to silence our struggles by saying “I’m fine” when we are truly not okay.

Some Christians, mistakenly, have suggested to many of us that if we are depressed, if we are struggling financially, if something bad happened to us, or if we have anxiety, that we must not be seeking God.

But Society, and those Christians, are so wrong.

Human life is full of experiences that are both positive and negative, and when we don’t learn to process through these experiences and emotions, or when we constantly see ourselves as a failure, we negatively impact our present and future, as well as those around us.

THAT is living without Hope.

Letting our past determine our present and future is living within a reality that will never progress past our fears and insecurities. We are not promised financial or social success in this life, but if we change our mindset from one of hopelessness to hope, our quality of life will improve because we are no longer focused on that which we previously saw as hopeless.

But the world longs for something more than improved individualism; for some seek growth as individuals without regard to what that may mean for others.

The world longs for a Hope that would shine light on the darkness within all of us, within our systems, and within our misplaced goals. We all long for a hope that benefits us individually, but in order for that Hope to be for the world, it has to be all-encompassing and pervasive.

The Joy and happiness of a Savior coming to earth is only fully appreciated when you realize that the world is desperate for help.

Christians hope that the faith that we have comes to fruition through the Savior making all things right at the end of times, but we also have Hope that the Redemption of God is at work at all times, and in all people.

Without Hope, we let darkness overtake our vision. With Hope, we allow light to overtake the dark.

Hope goes on its way through the midst of happiness and pain because, in the promises of God, it can see a future also for the transient, the dying, and the dead. That is why it can be said that living without hope is like no longer living. Hell is hopelessness, and it is not for nothing that at the entrance to Dante’s hell there stand the words: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’.”

– Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope.

Scrooges, Candles, and Advent – An introduction to Advent, Year A

Call me a scrooge, but sometimes the constant happiness surrounding the Christmas season just makes me want to say, “Oh Come On!” (or at least, that’s what I imagine a modern iteration of “Bah Humbug!” would be).

And the thing is, I LOVE Christmas. I love the lights, the candles in lunch bags, decorating the tree, watching cheesy rom-coms, and all the cookies that go along with it.

But I don’t love how the cheery portrayal of the season doesn’t match up with the angry consumers that trample other people on Black Friday every year, or that it doesn’t line up with those suffering from seasonal depression, or those struggling with mental health in general.

In other words, our world has a LOT of issues and the constant happiness of the Christmas season sometimes feels like applying a cartoon band-aid to a gunshot wound; it won’t heal the wound, and it seems absolutely silly.


Thank God for the Advent Season

Advent is a season that happens before Christmas day in the Christian church that focuses on what the world is longing for: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

Advent recognizes that our world has a lot of issues, but that hope, peace, joy, and love can still be had in the midst of suffering or worry when we look for the light in the darkness.

Advent doesn’t ignore the wrong things of the world; it recognizes their effect on us as individuals, as a community, and it gives us tools to help us navigate through the dark through the hope of a brighter future where all wrongs will be righted, the peace in being ruled by a worthy and righteous King, through the joy of the message of redemption, and through the love of a God who has felt our sorrow and lifts us up.

I’m not saying that you’ll be able to sing along cheerfully to every Christmas song or hymn during this Advent season, but I think that when we acknowledge the wrong of the world while processing what it means that we have a savior, we will at least be able to hope for better days, and a better world.

If you have never observed advent before, I invite you to try it out this year. I can’t promise that it will be meaningful to you, but I believe it to be meaningful to the world when Christ’s body on earth continues Christ’s engagement with the suffering of the world while striving after Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love*. And I feel like that is one of the things that Advent can teach us: It’s not about you, as an individual, it is about the body of Christ longing for Christ’s presence on this earth in answer to the world’s sin and afflictions.

Click here to read Week 1 – Hope


*For the purpose of my church, I will be following the weekly themes that we observe in our own tradition. Other churches may have these same themes, but in a different order, while others may have completely different ones.

Note: Advent is not a biblically observed season or holiday, much like Christmas, Lent, and Easter, but it has been observed in church tradition, with the others, because the church has found meaning in joining the prophets in longing for a savior.

God Hates Divorce – But Loves Me

I was at a wedding, sitting by myself, when the officient started to speak of the couple’s decision to commit to getting married even after seeing a society that is so consumer-driven in their relationships. He gave the couple statistics that showed how divorce rates were increasing, but he reassured the attendees that this couple would not be a part of that statistic; that this couple was following God, and their bond is greater than themselves.

As I listened to his message, I sat in that church pew completely frozen, not being able to move, and my breath suddenly became shallow. I felt tears welling up in my eyes, and used the only movement I could muster to seek to wipe the tears away to hide the anxiety attack that I was having.

I hoped for the best for this couple — that they wouldn’t face the same thing that I did. But as a man in ministry who was in the process of his own divorce, these were my thoughts that day:

“I am just a statistic. To other Christians who don’t know me, or my story, or how my own marriage crumbled, I am just a faceless statistic who is in the process of getting something that God hates! There are churches that won’t hire me as a minister because I am getting a divorce…this church probably wouldn’t hire me…”

Before everything happened, I would have liked the pastor’s message, and I would probably say something similar in my own officianting. In fact, before everything happened, I always assumed the worst in people who got a divorce; thinking that they both must have wanted one and gave up on their marriage without giving it a fighting chance. I admit to this horrible thinking.

But I was struck with the reality that sometimes you don’t have a choice in the matter, even after taking drastic steps to save a marriage like I did. Sometimes the decision is not something you have a say in because one person cannot force another person to do anything that they do not want to do.


But God Hates Divorce…THAT is true.

Even though I believe that God would allow for my own divorce to take place, based on the scriptures, Divorce is still hated by him.

But what I realised after going through my own divorce is that God still seemed to care for me; he still comforted me when I reflected on him crying in the Garden and identifying with the suffering of humanity. And he understood divorce intimately because his own people, including me, have divorced him many times over the existence of humanity by running away from him, and his desire is for us to follow him.

God Hates Divorce.


I hate divorce, and would counsel couples away from divorce with greater importance than I would have before, when divorce was simply a law that was broken.

My passion against divorce is fueled by my understanding that divorce is absolute hell to go through, and losing that trust in the person who you trusted most in the world, is a despair that could be described endlessly.

Divorce signifies a covenant that is broken; a covenant that is meant to reflect the covenant between God and us . Your partner is meant to show you the love of God at times when you don’t think it is deserved, and when that covenant is broken, our conception of love, trust, reliance, hope, and peace is shattered.

God hates divorce because, like me, he knows what it feels like and he doesn’t want us to go through all of that pain. He wants us to have that covenant with another person to remind us of his love for us.

Sometimes divorce is unavoidable, and sometimes it is needed, but that doesn’t mean that God hates those who have to get a divorce…He just hates the divorce.

Those who get a divorce, if they come to faith, or are able to retain or rebild their faith, are comforted most by God wrapping his arms around them, and slowly showing them that his love is still real, that it won’t leave them, and that he’s been through what they have been through.

I’ve learned a lot over the last 17 months…I learned a lot about God, my own faith, my strengths, my weaknesses, but most of all, I learned that God hates my divorce…BECAUSE he loves me.

The Father RUNS towards his children

Ending Comments — I wrote this post because I believe that God is calling me to care for those that are broken in the way of trauma, and/or divorce and marital problems.

I also wrote this post because I had not made it public that I went through marital problems yet and the divorce has now been finalized after 17 months of separation. Although making it public feels weird, it hurts me when I have to explain that I am divorced to those who care about me but who do not know about it yet and ask me how my ex-wife is.

I hope that some of the readers of this post are comforted.

Originally Posted Here: LINK

Storms & Giants: Lectionary Readings for June 24, 2018

8789717f13169d2b6350faef1651ade5.jpgClick Here for Audio Recording

There are times when we are faced with something bigger than we can handle. And I know that statement runs opposite of the line “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”…But sometimes that statement does not match our experience. Sometimes that statement feels like an encouraging bumper sticker on a car that is being towed to the junkyard.

jesus.jpg

Sometimes, yes, sometimes…we are faced with things that we CANNOT handle. But hope can still give light to our existence when our past, present, and near future times still appear as dark and murky. This hope does not minimize the pain of our current struggle, but it gives us the strength and nourishment that we need to get through our struggles. 

I believe that God is on the side of those who struggle with things that they cannot handle (Psalm 9:9–20) because God has experienced human pain and emotion to the fullest extent. This then necessitates the belief that God stands against those who oppress others; those who intentionally do harm to children of God. 


1 Samuel 17:1–49

I remember sitting with my parents a few months ago at their place watching an old Christian movie about David and Goliath that was almost two hours long, and it was only and solely about the big fight. It was the cheesiest, most drawn-out movie I have ever seen. 

But Goliath was a bodybuilder. And David was a twig. 

The Philistines were an established nation and force. And the Hebrew people were just starting out. 

So when the Philistines offered to forgo the big battle in exchange for a champion vs. champion fight — the Hebrew people were tempted, but they remained silent. 

No one wanted to fight Goliath. They would rather die in a big battle than die at the hands of a man who probably had the most gruesome rumors spread about him. 

David stepped up to the plate, and those around him probably thought he was being sarcastic…but he wasn’t. This crazy shepherd boy who plays the harp actually wants to fight a bodybuilder who could have torn him limb from limb. 

David’s faith motivated him to overcome his fear, and it drove him to face his demons because he had the God of the underdogs and the oppressed with him. He knew that God was on his side. 

Goliath fell victim to an inexperienced and ill-equipped boy with a slingshot because of the power and compassion of a Mighty God who stepped into a situation that an entire nation could not handle.


2 Corinthians 6:1–13

Facing giants isn’t a new theme for Judaism or Christianity. It is riddled in our history as an integral part of our identity and our relation to God. 

We do not worship God because we want our best life now. We worship God because God is worthy of our praise, even when we are facing giants, or in the deepest of valleys. 

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The Judaic/Christian faith is an honest faith. The Psalms are full of celebrations and laments. It’s not all rainbows and smiles — and I like that. It is life-giving, hopeful, but it also lets us mourn, grieve, cry, and even get angry. Therefore, our faith cannot be reduced to an encouraging bumper sticker on a car headed to a junkyard — as if all hope is lost when life hits us hard— our faith is more like the family and friends who surround us and support us after the wreck.

The Apostle Paul is an important influencer on the Christian faith, but he can sometimes be an intimidating character to imagine. There are times when you’d want to invite him into your living room for a nice chat, and maybe so that he can encourage you, and there are times when you’d like to leave him at the door. He’s kind of like that family member who gives you some tough advice that you really don’t want to hear in the moment, but then later you realize how right they were in that advice, and how their roughness around the edges was motivated by their intense desire to see you succeed and grow.

Paul wasn’t like a TV preacher with a shiny suit, and a Mercedes. What he said to those who were suffering was born out of his own experiences as one who had previously caused much suffering, and as one who currently suffers for the very message that he was presenting to the church. 

In 2 Corinthians 6:1–13, Paul writes of all that he has gone through in his pursuit of God, and in the pursuit of spreading his message. He lists that he and his peers went through “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger”, but he also maintains that unrelenting hope that we’ve been talking about. He writes, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

A beaten man who had been thrown into prison on multiple occasions continues to seek and follow God because hope was no longer a manufactured emotion, but an implanted sense of direction to lead him through his calamity.

God is on the side of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. And God sends out others to wade into brokenness and to point to when all things will be made new. il_fullxfull.438193639_q47r.jpg


Mark 4:35–41

As a Christian, no figure brings me greater hope than Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Gospel accounts. So much of how we should treat one another, how we are to understand Gods love for all (including ourselves), and to what great depths God was willing to go in order to redeem a broken world, is found in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The Gospel of Mark is an intriguing read. In it we find Jesus who is equally concerned about the people’s spiritual and physical needs — but Mark focuses on spiritual warfare and power, unlike any other Gospel account. 

In the first few chapters, you find story after story of Jesus performing exorcisms; literally casting out demons. In Mark 3:23–30, Jesus gives this INCREDIBLE explanation of why he is doing it; he said that when a person breaks into a house, he binds the strong person of the house so that he can gain control of the house, and take what he wants. He is saying that by casting out demons, by binding the devil, he is debilitating the effects that the powers of evil have — Christ is taking over control of the house. 

The people, who were formerly demon-possessed, used to be outcasts of society; their family disowned them, they could no longer go to the temple, and the religious folks gave up on trying to help them. But now they were free from the strong man that bound them, and they were free to escape their calamity and shame. Christ took over the house.

After this, Christ spends some time teaching parables — stories — that explain the importance of faith amongst, and despite of, the reality of turmoil and struggle. It is only fitting then, that the author of Mark places the next scene in the middle of a stormy sea. 

Image 06.jpgThe wind is howling, the waves are crashing, and water is beginning to get into the boat. The closest followers of Jesus on earth are scrambling to keep the boat afloat while Jesus is sleeping on a pillow — as if nothing was happening. 

Frustrated, they woke up the one person who may know what to do, and they asked him, in pure panic, “Don’t you care that we’re drowning??”

Jesus arose from his slumber and ordered the winds and the sea to be still.

All was calm. The boat remained afloat. And these followers of Jesus were left scratching their heads as they wondered who this man really was…the man who had control over the winds and the sea. 

Jesus demonstrated power and authority over the storms of people’s lives, and the storms that would cause them to lose their lives. Christ took over the house.


Application

There are times when we feel like those early followers of Jesus in the boat on the stormy sea — we cry out to God and we desperately ask: “Don’t you care what is happening to us?? Wake Up! Move! Do Something!”

And there are times when we observe others going through turmoil, shame, abuse, oppression, persecution, prejudice, and heartache, and we cry out to God with those same words.

But it is in times of destruction that renewal can most clearly begin to formulate in our vision — like a dead-looking tree in winter that begins to bud in anticipation of spring. We may see the leaves and the flowers, or maybe we won’t — but we now know that that tree is not dead. All Hope is Not lost. 

And when we realize this great hope that we had to have implanted within us, we are then called to share the source and the sustenance of that hope with those who need it most. 

In remembering the words at the beginning of this message:

God is a God who is “on the side of those who struggle with things that they cannot handle (Psalm 9:9–20) because God has experienced human pain and emotion to the fullest extent.” This calls us to stand with those who are hurting, broken, and oppressed.

 “This then necessitates the belief that God stands against those who oppress others; those who intentionally do harm to children of God.” This calls us to stand against the powers of evil in this world — to bind them and gain control for the Kingdom of God.

We may not be able to handle things on our own, but we have an ever-present God, and an ever-expanding support network to hold one another up.

“God is on the side of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. And God sends out others to wade into brokenness and to point to when all things will be made new.”

Hope is already, and Hope is yet to come. Amen.

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Gospel Without Borders: Romans 13 & The Children

Those are the words of a friend who messaged me this past weekend, searching for an answer to the anger she felt over Jeff Session’s defense of separating immigrant families by using the bible, as well as the anger she felt towards the bible passage itself.

I responded to her later in a jesting manner by saying “Don’t let Jeff Sessions be your biblical interpreter”, but I knew that the problem was deeper than that.


 

This blog post is not a news article. I am not here to inform you of the topic any further than seeking to tap into our common morality that will hopefully bridge the gap between competing political opinions.

Regardless of when this policy started, or when some of the pictures are from, lets agree with this, no matter the side you are on:

Separating children from their parents, or anyone who would care for them, for an extended period of time is NOT okay

Agreed?

We know that illegal immigration is still a problem, we know that the immigration system is a broke system.

Let’s start the reform that is needed by figuring out what to do with these children, who regardless of what some may think of their parents, deserve our compassion AND action.

The compassion of the Gospel knows no national borders. 

 


Getting back to Romans 13

While we may accept that something isn’t right here, Jeff Sessions is sweeping morality under the rug of Romans 13.

Romans 13 has hidden many messes in the past, so I am not surprised that it is being used to hide this one.  What better way to shut up the religious folks than saying, “Hey, God appointed your leaders, and you are to do what they say and respect them!”.

Just recently, I saw a post on facebook from someone explaining that although they don’t like what is happening to the children, Romans 13 gives the government the authority to punish those who break the law.  Thus, any progression to help the children is halted by the crimes of their parents, and this individual cannot do anything because they are called to respect their government.

But Romans 13, if taken 100% literally, 100% of the time, would mean that Paul should have stopped preaching about Jesus when Nero said to stop.  It would mean that the early church should have ceased to exist when Roman rulers before Constantine outlawed it.  It would mean that the Nazi regime should have never been resisted by the confessing church in Germany.  It would mean that Christians should never resist evil, so long as evil is coming from the government.

Something is wrong then in how Jeff Sessions is interpreting Romans 13.  I am confident that Paul never meant for his writings to be applied like that.

Maybe Romans 12, and the rest of Romans 13 after verse 7, are meant to show the contrast that is supposed to be there between those who have come into the faith community of Jesus, and those who did not, including secular governments.

Perhaps Romans 12, which tells us how Christians are to act, is meant to be a way for us to interpret when the government is not following the will of God in their actions and laws…


When Paul wrote Romans 13, Nero was the emperor.

Nero was a known tyrant, and after this letter would have been written, there was a fire in Rome that was falsely blamed on the Christians, and Nero then started the state-sponsored persecution of Christians.

“But he was appointed by God.  We are to follow his authority and rule. ”

Yet, Paul, the author of Romans 13….didn’t follow the law of the land.

Paul did not live in a democratic republic like the United States.  He did not have a political voice. But he rebelled to the point of death when his higher authority superseded his earthly authority.


We have one authority that deserves our allegiance.

All other authorities in our lives are superseded by the authority of God.

If an authority on earth goes against our call to action from our supreme authority, we must not support the action of a lesser authority.

And in situations where we have a voice in the political sphere, we are called to speak up when we feel that a wrong is committed.

And that wrong is what is being done to the children. We agree on that.

For our God is concerned about the oppressed, and the broken, the foreigner, and the immigrant.

The book of Amos is full of God becoming angry at the arrogance and wealth of his people, while others starve.

Even Leviticus calls the people of God to care and welcome the stranger – Leviticus 19:33-34.

The bible cannot be held by a political party. And our politicians cannot be our pastors.

But what is being done should not require articles and podcasts that seek to get Christians to rally against it – we should be leading the resistance.

Let the church rise against the evils of the State, and be the example that we were always meant to be to the world.

The compassion of the Gospel knows no national borders.

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I thought this cartoon got a good point across.  Source Link – Click Here

 

 

 

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 4)

After being sealed in the tomb, along with all of our questions and concerns for our world, Jesus rose again, and the stone was rolled away from His grave.

Our God Lives.

Everything that he had said before about His Father in heaven, the Kingdom of God, the temple being rebuilt, and all of his teachings were completely confirmed in his Resurrection.  He is who he said he was.

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So where does that leave our largest looming question from Part 3 – How did the Crucifixion and the Resurrection change our world for the better?

The crucifixion was God, The Son, going to the logical end of our suffering, which is death.  This was the day that the “Revolution Began” as N.T. Wright says. Christ’s initial followers were in mourning over the great loss of losing a God that was also a friend.

The Resurrection was God overcoming all of the suffering, evil, sin, and death in the world in order to breathe life into His people.  The initial followers of Jesus, who were mourning his death, rejoice to see that Christ, their King, is Alive!

The crippling bondage of our suffering is gone through the listening and guiding of a friend who’s been there, and through the decree of a King that there WILL BE a resurrection from our earthly calamity. 

In these things, we realize that we are not alone in our suffering and that there is hope for the future, even in the moments when we can only see darkness.

a9567b09e071dba7053c224794ce804b.jpgWhen we go through trials:

  • It is liberating to have someone to talk to who has experienced something similar to you. That is Jesus.
  • It is empowering to hear the words of an authoritative figure saying, “this too shall pass; this is not the end”, when we can’t see the end of our affliction. That is Jesus.

When others go through trials:

  • The bondage of Humanity’s suffering loosens when followers of Jesus live in this world as citizens in a Kingdom that washes the feet of those that the world rejects.
    • The Church has a real message of understanding, empowerment, and hope to provide, and that message is made tangible through the love, care, service that we show others, and in the words we teach.

But Christians are not always perfect. In fact, we never are perfect.

Terrible things have been done in the name of Christ on a grand scale.

Shameful things have been done by Christ followers when they believe the doors are shut.

Hypocrisy is an unavoidable side-effect of a religion that calls flawed people to follow a flawless God. And more than that, human sins have a way of replacing our devotion to God by convincing us that what we are doing is okay – greed, pride, anger, and other things can all be justified in some way.

 

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“God [is] with us”

 

That is why when we look back in human history, (which is cataloged by war, victory, and loss more than achievement, art, and compassionate acts) we find hypocrisy…

Hypocrisy makes it hard to see the good, and harder to see the Holy.


But Jesus Christ, through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, shows us a consistency of character that is unparalleled; a character that is so completely devoted to the “other” that hypocrisy could have never been a charge made against Him.

We can’t be Jesus…but we can try to be more like Him each day, and part of this is through viewing the overlooked positive things about the past; it’s seeing the Christians fighting against Hitler and deciding, THEY are following the ways of Christ…the Nazis are just using the name. 

And we can also become more like Jesus when we begin to realize that a speck in another person’s eye doesn’t matter when we have a plank in our own…It’s harder to accuse others of sin when we realize our own sinfulness.

But when we view ourselves and others as equally in need of a God who redeems and restores, we are more willing to take part in that restoration by washing the feet of another.

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Theological Rabbit-Trail – Christians do not all agree as to what Christ dying actually accomplished:
  1. Some believe that Christ was the perfect sacrifice to the righteous Father for humanity’s sin (Penal Substitutionary Theory)
  2. Some believe that a payment had to be made to the powers of evil in order to free humanity from its grip which started after the Fall of Adam and Eve (Ransom Theory)
  3. Some believe his death and resurrection defeated the bondage of evil [sin, death, earthly governments, satan, demons] on the people of God (Christus Victor Theory)
  4. Some believe that Christ lived and died on this earth in order to restore humanity, and his death and resurrection are meant to be an inspiration for others to follow the ways of God (Moral Influence Theory)
The above popular theories of WHY Christ had to die, and WHAT that accomplished are called “Atonement Theories”, and not all of the atonement theories are present here.
I do not believe that ONE atonement theory, by itself, is completely satisfactory – I believe there is more nuance in the Bible than that in regards to these thoughts. Instead, I think that we should view the death and resurrection of Jesus with multiple theories in mind.
What do you think?

 

The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 3)

Betrayal is something that many can never get over.

As Jesus prayed in the garden for his suffering to be over, his friend Judas was orchestrating for his suffering to increase.

After Christ was arrested, the same people who shouted Hosanna before, we’re now shouting “Crucify him!”.

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His own disciples, when asked if they were a friend or follower of Jesus, denied their connection to him out of fear.

Jesus was alone in captivity, alone is his torment, and the only ones calling him a King now were Roman soldiers as they portrayed him as a lunatic with a ragtag sceptre, and a painful crown…


He carried his cross to the place where he would die. He watched as nails were driven into his hands.

87674682.jpgAs he was lifted up, not on a throne, but on an execution device for criminals, he saw soldiers gambling over his clothes…he heard the mocking of the crowds…he heard the taunts of one of the other criminals on one side, and the confessions of another on the his other side.

Some saw him as a King of the World…some saw him as the scum of the earth.

On that day, the Jesus that rules over the Passionate Kingdom, died.


Before he died, he proclaimed, “IT IS FINISHED!”.

His life, ministry, and death ALL meant something for this world – every Christian will agree to this.

But what did it do that made the world quantitatively different?

Why do we still experience evil, torment, betrayal, and blood-thirsty crowds?


Jesus knew our pain, our sorrow…our hopeless and endless longing for something to change.

He knew the hurt from betrayal.

But He became a King at a Table amongst friends and a King on a cross amongst enemies.

And he died for both audiences.


But what was finished?


In this time of reflection upon the death of Christ, our questions linger inside of a sealed off tomb.jesus-sealed-tomb.jpg



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