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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lord, I Don’t Think You Understand How this Game Is Played

And the people brought their little ones to Jesus, for him to lay his hands on them and pray, and to give them a break for a few hours.  The disciples scolded them, but Jesus said, “Let the little children alone, and do not stop them from coming to me; I will teach them one of the games that we play in the Kingdom of God.”

“First he said we put out a circle of chairs – one fewer than our number – and then we play some music.” Jesus winked to the kids. “Perhaps Simon Peter will sing a song for us, one of the fishing songs.” The children giggled. They knew that Peter did not like to sing.

“Then, as Peter sings, we will walk around the chairs. And when he stops singing we will all scramble for a chair…”

Andrew interrupted. “Jesus. We know this game too. It’s Musical Chairs.”

“Of course,” Jesus said. “So let’s play.”

Jesus and the children made a circle of chairs and Peter sang for them as they walked around the circle (though he sang like a distressed mule).  And when he stopped, Jesus and children all clambered for a seat. One boy missed out and ended up sitting in the dust. Everyone laughed.

“Great. Great.” Jesus said. “Now round two, we add another chair.”

Andrew interrupted again, “No, Jesus. You mean we remove a chair.” 

And Jesus said to him, “In the Kingdom of Heaven we always add a chair and another player with each new round. There’s always room for one more.”

But Andrew said, “Lord, I don’t think you understand how this game is played…”

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Earth Is Patient

The Earth is as patient as it is old, but it is tired. It is worn.
An involuntary subject of another’s will,
the Earth knows futility.
The Earth knows frustration.

With ineffable, tectonic groans
and tidal sighs
it waits for liberation,
for salvation.

It was said once that
The day will come when the vines will grow with ten thousand shoots
and each shoot will have ten thousand branches
and each branch will have ten thousand twigs
and each twig will have ten thousand clusters
and each cluster will have ten thousand grapes.

And in that day humankind will be pressed out.
Make no mistake – the natural world is not neutral. 

(See Romans 8: 18 - 27 and II Baruch 29: 5)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Like a Gentile or a Tax Collector

“Jesus,” I said, “I can’t stand that man. He lies to me. He lies about me. I can’t stand him.”

Jesus nodded and said, “Jeff, I understand your frustrations and sympathize with your hurt. I know the pain of calumny.”

“Yes, Lord, I’m sure you do. But this guy is the worst. I want nothing to do with him, anymore.”

“Jeff, if someone wrongs you, you should go and have it out with him – privately. Alone. Between the two of you.”

“Yes. Jesus,” I said. “I have gone to him alone and asked him to stop. But he continues. Can’t I just dislike him?”

“If he hasn’t listened to you, then you should take one or two others with you to speak to him. Everything should have a witness, two or three witnesses would be even better.”

“Jesus! Yes. Yes. I’ve done this Jesus. But he still lies about me. He’s never going to change. He’s just an evil, terrible person.”

“Well then, Jeff,” Jesus put his hand on my shoulder. “If you’ve talked to him alone, and if you’ve tried again in the presence of witnesses, then bring your concerns to the community.”

“What then, Jesus?” I asked, impatient now. “What should I do if he refuses to listen to the church?”

“Then, finally, you may treat him as a gentile or a tax collector.”

“Then I can hate him and shun him?” I asked.

“No! Good God, no!” Jesus snapped. “Don’t you remember how I treated Zacchaeus and the Roman Centurion?”

Matthew 18: 15 - 18

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Trump Is Not a Christian.

I ruffled some feathers and poked the badgers on Sunday when I posted the following on the Twitter machine:

Some, in the time since, have argued that no one except God can judge another person’s heart,that I have decided to “usurp the judgment of God Almighty.” But, while we may not be able to know the inner thoughts of another, we are called to make judgments about our fellow believers. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians explicitly says that immoral behavior within the body of believers is to be judged. (1 Corinthians 5) It’s even in the paragraph titles that many Bible translations supply to the text. (“Sexual Immorality Must Be Judged” – NRSV)

And I do not believe that I have usurped the prerogatives of the Almighty for myself. In fact, I very rarely – almost never – I think this may be the first time – say that Person X is not a Christian. I am reluctant to make such a claim because I know how hurtful such a statement can be. 

So let me be clear about what I mean when I say that “Trump has only a pretense at faith.”

I am not saying that President Trump is not a Christian because I dislike his political agenda. I know and love Christians across the political spectrum. Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, Communists, Libertarians, Anarchists… I do not say this because I didn’t vote for him.

Also, I am not saying that President Trump is not a Christian because I disagree with his theology. (In fact, I think you’d be hard pressed to identify his theology.) I know and love Christians across the spectrum of theological interpretation. We debate. We argue. But I don’t dismiss their faith; we can debate and still be brothers and sisters in faith.

I'm reluctant to say Person X is not a Christian because I know, from personal experience, how much that hurts. I’ve been told that I’m not a Christian because I’ve voted democrat, or because I accept the label of Socialist. I’ve been told that I’m not a Christian because I’m a pacifist and because I think that LGBTQI persons should be fully welcomed into our congregations. I was even once told that I can’t be a real Christian because I don’t like Southern Gospel music. (True story.)

But if it doesn’t look like a duck, swim like a duck, or quack like a duck it’s probably not a duck.

Maybe we should bring back the old youth group chestnut: If Donald Trump were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict him? The answer has to be no. If God is love, and Jesus is God incarnate, and Christians are called to love – ask the questions: Is President Trump patient, or kind? Does President Trump put away envy? Does he refrain from boasting? Is he not easily angered? Does he keep no record of wrongs done to him?   - And here’s the kicker – Does he rejoice in the Truth? (1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7)

Even the 81% of Evangelical Christians who voted for Donald Trump should be able to recognize that there is nothing in his actions, his behavior, his words, or his attitude that reflects the person or love of Jesus Christ. (Some few do, and I appreciate their willingness to admit that Trump does not reflect their values or ethics.)

Now, again, this is not a condemnation of those who struggle to put their beliefs into daily practice, or those who fail to live up to the standards of their convictions. This is all of us. We fail, we fall, we get up and try again.

This is not a condemnation of those who doubt, or waver, or even of those who wander into the darkened corners at the edge of faith and belief. These are real, even if variable.

But this is not Trump. He has only a veneer of godliness. He is a whitewashed tomb. (Matthew 23:27)

And my critique of Trump’s faith (or – more accurately – lack thereof) and his Presidential call to prayer is not a dismissal or rejection of prayer itself. I do believe in prayer and that Christians should pray for those who are hurting.

But again, the words by themselves are nothing. If we pray, “Give them peace, keep them warm and fed” but we do nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16) (And that very question – that Scriptural question – is a value judgment question…)

Faith without works is dead. (James 2: 17).  Even more, the profession of faith, the pretense of faith without any works, any evidence, any substantive action is a corpse, and it stinks.

Sunday, September 3, 2017


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