Monday, September 24, 2012

All Means all, the saviors response to an exclusive discipleship. Mark 9:38-41

Life is so full of change it's almost sickening. It seems as soon as we get use to one thing, to one policy, to one leader or one way of doing things, it changes on us! For example, it seems to me that as soon I get use to my banks policy on deposits or overdrafts, they change it. Or like with the pizza guy down the street from my house. When I first got here a year ago, when you ordered a pizza sub, you could have unlimited toppings, then he changed it to 4 toppings and now when you call to order, you don't even get to choose toppings!! The sub comes only with ham, cheese, pizza sauce and pepperoni's!

Ok, now those are silly and meaningless changes that don't really effect much in my life our in the lives of others, unless they are really serious pizza sub lovers. :) But there are changes that happen in our lives that are very serious and that really make a big difference, in fact such a big difference that when they happen nothing is ever the same again! Such changes are the loss of a spouse, a child, a parent or a sibling. Perhaps its the loss of a job, which in tun causes the loss of a home and which leads to an inevitable move either to a different community or state. The experience of war is one of those life changers, it's sort of a loss of innocence. Then there are those good changes that drastically change everything. Such as marriage, or the birth of a child, one might add graduation to that list as well. Truth is there are many "game changers" as Senator John McCain might put it, in our lives that when all is said and done, nothing ever seems the same again.

I think one of the most profound changes in a persons life that ought to change everything, but often only changes their use of language, is a conversion moment. That moment when a person choses to live for a greater purpose other than themselves. In the Christian church, we call that purpose CHRIST. I think to live for CHRIST is the most life altering change a person can experience, especially if they are living for Christ in a missional and prophetic way. A way that sees the needs of humanity and seeks to fill them, away that looks at the corruption and power brokers of this world and confronts them both with the truth of an almighty God who knows sorrow, knows poverty, knows death and has conquered them all. That ought to be the most profound change in a persons life!!! But is it?

In this passage John begins a conversation with Jesus about people that he sees are impostors. People who are not in league with the 12, but who are still claiming the power and authority to release the captives in the name of Jesus. You see John had believed that his "game changer" moment had come when he was called, when the Rabbi called him and the other 12. The very fact that the Rabbi sought disciples, instead of a following is contradictory to the 1st century rabbinical trditdion. It was "kosher" if I may, to have people apply to follow you when you were a Rabbi, not for you to go and call people. John believed that this very act was so significant that he and the other 12 where in and no one else really could be.

When I was young (er) I was a Pentecostal. I grew up in the Assemblies of God, a fundamentalist, conservative and evangelically minded denomination. One of the hallmarks of pentecostalism, perhaps the sole hallmark, is tongue speech. Thats the act of speaking in unknown tongues (speech) and it is believed by the adherents of Pentecostalism that this ability comes from the Holy Spirit of God. I don't mean to argue the validity of this doctrine, but I do mean to state that when I was part of that "expression of faith" I often felt and was encouraged to feel superior to other Christians. It was like, "we got the Holy Spirit and you guys don't!" After a few years of ministry as an adult with the A/G I moved on. I joined a progressive, one might call it liberal, denomination known as the Episcopal church. As a member of that church I often felt excluded by evangelicals and conservatives because we didn't read the bible with the same slant, neither did we worship with the same music (no rock band), and because of that, the same exclusion that I had been perpetuating on other evangelicals when I was a Pentecostal was being perpetuated on me.

Jesus' response to John is not a "hi 5" nor is it an affirmation of his exclusive attitude towards others trying to minister in Christ name. Instead it was a rebuke, a reminder that any and all who do work in Christ name is called of Christ...just like they were. I think one of the major issues that faces the church today is this "us" vs. "them" mentality. Conservative evangelicals, fundamentalist, and pentecostals believe that the progressives have no claim on Christ, nor does Christ have any claim on them and in the same way progressives often believe that conservative evangelical folks are missing the whole point and are miss representing Jesus, when in all truthfulness, if we take what the master says here to St. John, "even if you give a thirsty person a cup of water in my name, you are called by me."Truthfully it does not matter so much about your "orthodoxy", that is, what you believe or profess, as long as it is Christ, what matters is what you do in Christ name. Liberals and conservatives alike are all seeking to change the world and to change it in the Name of Jesus. If it's a soul winning tent crusade or a soup kitchen, clothing drive, food pantry outreach, it does not matter... as long as it is done in Jesus name it is good. Real change happens when we realize, we're all the same, those of us in Christ. Whether liberal, conservative, or somewhere in between, if it's done in Jesus name, it's done FOR Jesus. Now that is some profound change!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Get rich or die try'n! James 3:13-4:3 Embracing the wisdom of Heaven.

The end of September is upon us, this means...well...changing leaves, cooler temps, new and returning TV series, but most of all it means we are waste deep football season!!! We are all given over to the rituals that make football, football in our society. Tailgating food feasts, face and chest painting master pieces, and vain pumping war cries...all rituals of an American football experience. A ritual American football fans and American Christians have in common is the "Hail Mary"! The last second attempt to save the day and just like in football, it rarely works in prayer. When we find out that grandma just had a stroke we got Jesus on speed dial. When we have an important test and we just can't afford to fail again, we dial God 911. When there's no money left in the bank account and it's only the 15th, we send out an emergency txt message to the father. When the biopsy comes back with bad news we get Jesus on the mainline!!! Truth is life is full of that kind of stuff, unexpected and often tragic things happen and when it does, for better or for worse we pray to God. Unfortunately that kind of prayer life is not good for us to have.

The Holy Spirit is our connection to the heavenly wisdom of God and if our connection is in constant disconnect are we ever truly operating under the wisdom of heaven, or is our wisdom more like that of the worlds? In our passage James begins with sort of a rhetorical question, "who is wise amongst you?" Knowing that there are none at all James proceeds to explain what real wisdom is all about. James refers to this wisdom as heavenly wisdom, opposed to the earthly wisdom of this world. What is different about the two wisdoms? Well earthly wisdom is a wisdom that says strength, power, prestige and violence are the answer. Wisdom that tells us to ascend the later of wealth and power as much as possible and if you hurt, wound or maim people along thats ok, they should stay on the porch if they can't run with the big dogs! It's a, in the words of 50cent, a "get rich or die try'n" wisdom.

In place of this wisdom James recommends a heavenly wisdom. A wisdom that simply does not share the perspective of this world. A wisdom that does not embrace the worlds struggle for supremacy. It is a wisdom that calls for peacemaking, meekness and humility. All of which were not virtues in the Greco-Roman world this letter was written to. A commitment to the transforming power of prayer and a value system that seemed backwards was confusing to the average 1st century person as it is to the average 21st century person, but it is a heavenly way of living, it is a heavenly wisdom.

When one makes Jesus , a peasant carpenter from Galilee, who was executed as a political criminal, their LORD it confounds the wisdom of this world. And when one makes a commitment to do the things that this crucified LORD commands, it gets even crazier. Love your enemy, feed your enemy, give drink to your enemy, pray for those who hate you. Sound crazy enough? To a person made slave to a temporal and corporeal wisdom, it's more than crazy, it's blasphemous! But to a person who's wisdom is rooted in the heavenlies and that is not of this world, it makes perfect sense.

My favorit verse from this passage is verse 18, "Peacemakers who sow in peace, reap a harvest of righteousness." None of this is easy and Jesus told us it would be hard, but it's the price we pay to serve a risen savior. Go and sow seeds of peace and in you world you will reap the righteousness of God. Embrace a wisdom not of this world and you will find peace to sow.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Good News Gossip: James 3:1-13

The fall brings about so many changes and new things in our lives. School, jobs, new towns all are new things that happen in our lives often in the fall. The lest of these things is most likely our favorite, and that is  the new television season! Our favorite shows return with new episodes complete with new plots, new twist and in some cases resolution to some amazing clif hanging season finally! One of the shows we can count on returning in the fall every year, perhaps to our dismay, is American Idol, but lets face it, it's not the same with out Simon, Paula and Randy, all whom have left the show.

Though gone from the ranks of American Idol, Simon and Paula have created their own pop icon search show called the X-factor. It's kind of like American Idol, but the judges have more control over who advances through the show. As cool as X-Factor "might" be, the Pop icon search show that is most popular now is, "The Voice". It's a fun and entraining show that boast some very well know "judges". R& B star C-Low Green, Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine, Country Star Blake Shelton and Pop goddess Christina Aguilera. Together their job is to simply listen to the "voice" of each contestant and decide simply based on the voice weather or not that person gets to move on. It's a different approach from X-Factor and AI (American Idol). Both of those shows take into account the look and the showmanship of the performer as well as their voice. Perhaps we should listen to voices more often than we do. Perhaps we should pay attention to the wieght of our own voice more often.

The tongue is the most powerful muscle in the body (the heart is a muscle as well, but is classified as an organ). The tongue can lift up to 80 times it's weight. Without our tongue we would not be able to speak. The only muscle, potentially stronger than the tongue is the masseter muscle, but its not technically a muscle either because it has cartilage and bone within it's structure. It's the muscle that holds our jaw in place and it allows us to open and close our mouths...perhaps more importantly close them.

The passage from James this week speaks of the damage one voice can do to a community of faith. It explicitly focuses on the damage the voice of just one bad teacher could do in a faith community. This is why the author states that not all should presume to be teachers. James goes on the state that teachers must be those willing to bridle themselves and be willing to place themselves and their voices under the authority of another, a captain perhaps, and not be a ship lost at sea, but one sailed with a specific purpose in mind.  Lets face it, teachers are the voices that speak loudest, they are the influential ones, the ones who's opinions and beliefs resonate in our minds and our hearts. Gang leaders voices give instruction on violence and turf wars. Hitler's voice influenced a generation of disfranchised and economically strapped Germans. Bin Laden's voice provided purpose, organization and direction to a group of religious zealots who's sole agenda was to propagate their world view even at the cost of innocent lives. Harris and Kiebold, the masterminds of the Columbine shooting gave direction to every other school massacre since then. These are all examples of bad, unqualified teachers with lose tongues who's words caused great evil and distress in our world.

Now it wouldn't be fair to give light to bad teachers without mentioning all the great teachers who have come into our world and who have made it a better world, but those men and women were willing to be submissive to an authority greater than themselves and for every Hitler, Bin Laden and Gang leader there's a Gary Kelly, a Chuck Abshagan, a Linda Pitts,  John Osborn, Dr. Martin and Dr. Magruder, all men and women who have influenced me as teachers in a very positive way. Good or bad, teachers are not the main focus in this passage, the power and persuasiveness that our tongues can wield is.

One of the hallmarks of our society is freedom of speech, but this freedom, like many other things can be abused and misused, especially when we use it to hurt, smear, spear and skewer others. Speech is not free when we use it like that, in fact it's very costly. It cost the feeling, the self-esteem and in some drastic cases, the lives of other human beings. It can cause fear and hatred and be very divisive  There's no better time for use to witness this on a grand scale than during an election year, and even better a presidential election year. The political mudslinging is intended to harm, it's intended to dehumanize and in some cases it's intended to insight fear into the hearts and minds of the listeners.

This type of political rhetoric was used towards President Obama during the first half of his first term. All one needed to do was to show up at a Tea Party rally and you would find signs depicting him as a Nazi, a demon, and even as a monkey. During the healthcare debate opponents of the bill released statements about death squads for our seniors and disabled and inadequate and unavailable care for our families and children. If those things weren't ment to insight hate and fear than I don't know what is, because thats exactly what it did. James refers to this kind of speech as "poison"and that's precisely what it is.

This week James challenges us to think about the toll our words have on those around us. Do our words set fire to a world already ablaze with fear, hate and POSION? Are our tongues set on fire buy the flames of hell, or are they ablaze by the Holy Spirit. Often when we think of lies and slanderous words we call that gossip, but gossip can be a good thing. Just think about how quickly gossip gets around, especially in a small town, especially in a small church. Instead of spreading hateful lies and divisive stories, spread life giving truths, share up lifting and encouraging stories. Trust me, you and others will feel better about.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Social Gospel, James 2:1-11

 A very special thing happen today, school began this week in the community I live in in Northern Michigan. It's not unusual for school to start, it does every fall, but for us, in my home it's a very special day. This year marks it the first year since 2004, that our house will be devoid of children all day during the work week! All Amanda and I's children, from our oldest boy Gabe to our youngest Rowan, all will be in school! I'm excited, I'm happy, but sad at the same time. I realize how short life is.

Many of you have children who are going back to school this week, many of you had children go back a week ago, or two weeks ago. As their level in school changes, so do the rules and the focus of the rules. For the little ones it's stay in line, hold hands and make sure you use the potty. For the middle ones the looming threat of more work and emphasis and writing, learning to not bully and what to do when bullied and time management. For the biggest, it's the on going process of what it means to be an adult, responsible driving and decision making, and preparing for college or vocational school. With all these different rules and different stages of development, one rule, rules them all...WASH YO HANDS!

For the first time in maybe two generation there is a real threat that our youngsters could come home with some monster, killer and super contagious flu bug. We all remember HINI and how terrified we were when we thought that there might not be a least for some time. But as our world becomes more global the real threat of serious epidemic becomes more and more a reality and whats so freighting is that 50million Americans are uninsured and have no guaranteed access to comprehensive healthcare.

You know, the church has always been in the healthcare business as well as the social services business. One might say that Jesus taught us to heal the sick, care for the needy, feed the hungry and always pray in private. That perhaps is an oversimplification, but is very accurate as well. The first century church carried this simple teaching on in their everyday life. This message was so convincing that at the hight of Roman persecution (270 A.D-300 A.D) the conversation rate in the empire was 40%. That means that during the most brutal time of persecution 40% of the people who met Christians, become Christians and not just nominal Christians, but devoted and disciplined Christians.

The church continued this tradition of healing and wholeness into the 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th century. They belived it to be SALVATION. The closest world in the Greek language for our understanding of salvation is THERAPUTOS, of which we get the english word THERAPY. In Greek this word means healing. The Latin word that we get our word salvation from is SALVE, of which we derive the word, SALV, an ointment or cream used to promote healing. The truth is, the early church honestly believed that faith in Jesus lead to healing and wholeness.

The church has been a center for healing and wellness for centuries. There where herbariums in monasteries where the brothers, along with physicians, would mix together medicines, ointments and creams for the sick. Brewery's in monasteries where monks would brew heavy wheat ale, that would last longer than a loaf of bread and had more nutritional value for the hungry. Then there was this place called Basilad. This was the very first hospital/poor house/social service center the word had every seen. It was the estate of a Roman ruler, named Basil, turned Monk and it was used to give social services to the empires most needy. The word hospital gets it origin from the latin word for guest house. It was Christians who established the first hospitals, as guest houses for the poor, sick, and needy.

In this passage James reminds his readers that the church ought to be a guest house for the the most needy. James is combating a practice that many of our 21st century churches are guilty of and thats ignoring the plight of the poor and catering to the desires of the rich. James points out that it's the poor that God has chosen to be rich and reminds the readers that it's, after all, the rich who make their lives difficult. They are the ones dragging them into court, they are the ones loaning them money at high interest and calling in the loans, they are the ones imprisoning their children for un paid debt and seizing their homes and goods for payment and these are the ones they are making a special place for!!?? All while treating the people that God has called chosen with contempt!

This is not a political platform or a cause, because the gospel is not a cause. Health reform, tax reform, government spending and cut backs, those are political platforms. Raising money for cancer research and helping the girl scouts by purchasing those delicious cookies, those are causes. The Gospel is not, the Gospel is a way of life! It was the church, motivated by and experience with the risen Christ, that sought out to bring release to the captives, sight to the blind and good news to the poor, and in the last two centuries, the people called Methodist lead the way!

Free education, free health care, social services, these were all first done by and army of lay Methodist women called Deaconess' and that tradition of Christian charity still flows through our veins! The social gospel isn't about causing political rukus. It's about rocking the world with Jesus. The social gospel is about healing the sick, feeding the hungry and caring for the needy, the social gospel is truly about bring good news to the poor.