Advent-the Promise, the Here and Now and the Not Yet

30 11 2016

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I don’t normally participate in Black Friday. I don’t request the day off work. This year I couldn’t have joined in the Black Friday foray even had I wanted to. I like a bargain as well as anyone, but for me the lure of discounts can’t seem to trump dealing with my anxiety in crowds.  The rancor and distress that can go along with such shopping events is a big reminder of how we are both saints and sinners at the same time- we know God is with us and that we should be thankful for all He has done for us, but oh, how we like a bargain.  We want more kitsch and stuff we really don’t need.  We have that desire to one-up this or that relative, or to get that one must-have item at a discount price. Where did that come from?

Since when was it about who has the best or the most stuff? Or about who can buy the best or the most stuff?

The apostle Paul said, the greatest of these is love.  He didn’t mention stuff. Not even the Play Station or the new car (and being an automotive person I can really get excited about cars) or any stuff.  His emphasis was on love.

I have to admit I am terribly cynical about love, both in its baser definitions (oh, I love mustard, for example, or the more nebulous substitution of the word love to refer to physical lust) and its higher ones. This year my husband of 21 years died.  I can’t say his death was a tragedy. He had been very ill for a long time and for him death was an end to suffering. In all honesty, it was an end to a lot of my own suffering as well.  I can’t say that we had a happy marriage.  He was an alcoholic and was deeply troubled in many ways that I could not remedy or repair.  He lived his life in the “not yet.” In many ways we all do because we are all surrounded by sin and death and injustice and all the junk that is part of the human condition.

Yet we learn from Scripture that God is love. (1 John 4:8).  What do I do with that?

I can’t say that I have a clue what love really is other than what we learn from Scripture:

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends- John 15:13 (NRSV)

In a lot of ways I am also mired in the “not yet” of the human condition.  As I was saying about the Black Friday hustle earlier in this post, there was no way I could have participated, because I spent that day letting go of Lilo, one of my beloved dogs. She was over 14 years old and was ill and failing at the point where interventions would have been painful and likely ineffective.

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The short lifespan of dogs is seemingly unfair, especially when I consider that the love of dogs may be the closest we come to unconditional love this side of heaven.  In this passing I am made painfully aware that I’m still living in the “not yet” world.  But I was also reminded that I am living in the world of God’s promise, and that Emmanuel, God with us, is here and living and grieving and struggling with us in the “not yet” world.

I am infinitely thankful that I had a friend who was able to be with me – and to help me with the necessary physical tasks- through Lilo’s passing.  Not everyone would be willing or able to help deal with such a situation, and as much as I value my independence I could not have done the necessary things alone.  I am thankful for him and to God that he could be there for me in a time of great need.

It seems that God puts people in the right places to hold each other up, to keep hope alive, and to affirm the promise that He is with us, even in the “not yet.”

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.- Isaiah 9:6-7 (NRSV)

In my lifetime I have been deeply blessed as well as deeply wounded.  As I have started on a new and very different chapter of life, by God’s grace I am finding healing.  I am finding ways to pass on the blessings.  I am learning to hold on to the promise of Emmanuel, even in this “not yet” world.

 





Deep-Dish Hypocrisy (Guilty as Charged)

9 07 2015

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Tradition for tradition’s sake isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

But sometimes, it is.

I have to admit I was deeply disturbed over the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding gay marriage.  I’ve never been one to interpret Christian freedom as condoning or validating homosexual behavior, and I still don’t. I believe one’s expression of sexuality is always a behavior choice versus a “I’m wired this way” sort of thing.    Otherwise anyone could interpret his or her sins as a “I’m wired this way” sort of thing instead of a “I made a choice to sin” sort of thing.

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Even from a strictly secular viewpoint, I believe it’s a slippery slope for the courts to arbitrarily glorify the status of any behavior into a civil right.  Five unelected individuals have opened the door for any group to claim that their behavior choices are civil rights- and this is in my opinion a huge step backward for a civilized society.  I fear that NAMBLA and other perverse groups of individuals are waiting in the wings to have their reprehensible behaviors transformed into civil rights by judicial fiat as well.

I don’t buy into white washing over something that’s completely wrong in the name of “charity” or “compassion.” What is wrong is wrong and telling the truth IS a loving thing to do, even when it’s difficult. Loving sinners doesn’t translate to green-lighting their sins.  Just because we as fallible humans want something to be OK doesn’t always make it so.

Jesus talked about the Pharisees being white washed tombs- (Matthew 23:26-28) and all of us are hypocrites, which underscores the fact that adding a coat of paint to something that is no-good and rotten underneath doesn’t redeem it or fix the underlying problem.  It just gives sin and destructive behaviors a veneer of legitimacy that they shouldn’t have- a sense of “since we all do it, it’s OK.”

Everything is Ok

Not necessarily…

This being said, I’m straight, and that’s only perspective that I have on this issue.  I’ve never been the least bit interested in other women- in fact, I generally don’t even like women as friends.  I usually have more in common with men. The homosexual lifestyle is just not a temptation for me, so it’s easy for me to look at that and say “ewww, gross, vile, etc.”  It’s easy for me to condemn behaviors that I have absolutely no desire to engage in.

I could use the rationalization that “I’m straight,” so yielding to my temptation to (hetero) sexual misbehavior is more “ok” than it is for a person to yield to the temptation of engaging in same-sex sexual misbehavior.  The fact of it is that I am just as guilty of improper lust and/or activity if it’s involving toward a guy I’m not married to.  It’s just as much of a sin.  And I’ve been there.  Many more times than I’d like to admit.  I like men.  A LOT- and in some ways a lot more than I should.

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Straight- yes.  A paragon of purity?  Not so much.

I am just as much of a sinner as anyone else- but some sins are more “socially acceptable” than others.

Not too many Christians are saying much about the sexual sins that plague straight people either, which goes back to that good old double standard of “everybody does it, so it’s OK.”  Straight people are more often than not into casual relationships- “friends with benefits,” serial monogamy (and yes, I’ve been divorced and remarried), general promiscuity, and adultery. Those things usually get poo-poo’d or shoved under the rug because they are common and pervasive temptations for a good number of people- me included.   And before I go squinting about to remove splinters from the eyes of others, I have to encounter the great big log in my own eye first.

I have to call sin for what it is- whether I’m “wired that way” or not.

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Thankfully my failure- and the depravity of my sin-  is not the end of the story.  Jesus forgives me for my transgressions, so I am called to forgive others as He forgives me.

What other people do really isn’t my concern, save for the generic concern for the impact of the behaviors of a few on the greater society, and concern for the well-being of others. I can’t change what others choose to think and do.  The only thing I can do is attest to the truth and try to live according to it to the best of my ability and the grace of God.  I am not the Judge, and I am glad for that.  I have enough wickedness and issues of my own that need surrender and correction.

The way of mercy and forgiveness (Luke 6:36-38) is the only way to go.





Vulnerable, Sensitive and Emotional- The Challenge of Authenticity

15 04 2014

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I have spent most of my life in denial- denying (or at least failing miserably at coping with) my emotions, never sharing any sort of sensitivity, and hiding my vulnerabilities at almost any cost.

Part of this was a survival tactic. If I pretended as though nothing could penetrate my thick skin, then maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe I could learn to ignore the teasing and the beatings, and eventually the other kids- my sisters and later their friends, and the kids at school, would leave me alone.
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I didn’t have the strength to fight back, and my calls for help were largely ignored. I didn’t get any peace until high school when I had a car and access to large friends.

Empathy and caring were liabilities I could not afford. In order to live in this world I had to create a convincing façade. I had to “out-normal” the normals.  I had to be tougher than them.  I had to be able simply stand and take it and never surrender.
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For most of my early adulthood I was NOT a nice person at all. I was cut throat, ruthless and not terribly concerned for anyone but me. But I was living a fake life. In reality, I was still the scared shitless little kid with the thick glasses and ill fitting clothes who got tossed in the bushes every morning before school.  I had made up my mind that if any pounding was going to be done (now more in a figurative sense) I was going to be the one doing it.  The pound-ee became the pound-er, in what I think was sort of a preemptive attempt at self defense.

I wasn’t going to let anyone hurt me- physically or emotionally- again. I can be a good actress.  As long as I understand the role I’m playing, I am pretty good at showing other people exactly what they want to see. For someone on the spectrum, being “socially acceptable” and learning the rules of both etiquette and power is a pretty big deal.  I admit I’ve done well with both, and for a long time, too well for my own good.

Living the soulless, emotionless façade is positively draining, and for me, dishonest. Keeping up that façade has also cost me greatly in terms of physical, emotional and spiritual health.

I am not “Iron Guts.”  Far from it.  I just don’t process emotions very well.  I can’t really feel until I have a chance to put those feelings into words, to mull them over, and actively think about them.  Sometimes that act of processing can take hours, or days, years, or even decades.

 

 passage of time

Two things are inevitable in this world- death and taxes.  Everything else…is negotiable.

I can make a good argument for the theory that time isn’t necessarily linear as we process it, but that it might just be a more cyclical thing.  Most of the time I don’t process emotional stuff in “real” (or linear) time.  I can break into inconsolable tears and that deep and breathless despair and mourning 20 years after a loss, (with or without an appropriate trigger) even when at the time of the event I couldn’t process anything other than facts.

Maybe that phenomenon of the super-delayed reaction is simply my faulty wiring taking its time making the heart-head connections that normal people just sort of do on auto-pilot.  I’m sure that the primal, emotional part of my brain has to take the long way to get the message to the analytical, logical part of the brain that can dissect, categorize, and to a degree translate those vexing and foreign raw feelings into a format I can understand.

I can guarantee that quite a few of those emotional maelstroms get lost in the translation, and that’s probably a good thing.

I know that I’m weak.  I know that sometimes my intellect makes assertions that the rest of me, for whatever reason, can’t (or won’t) understand, or back up.

I  know that I would be tempted to make the same statement as the apostle Peter – “Lord, I would never deny You,” while at the same time being willing to sell the Lord up the river for the equivalent a few silver coins.

The self-preservation instinct runs deep within humanity, but the irony is that loving the finer things in life and/or trying to save one’s hide are sure fire paths to spiritual death.  We supposedly know better, but we do it anyway.

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I don’t want to think about betrayal, but I know I do it too.

I’m beginning to believe that many of my misanthropic tendencies (dislike of people) come from the fact that I never know who is going to stab me in the back next.  I don’t trust people.  Not at all.  I didn’t trust people when I was a little kid who was beaten up every time the adults turned their backs, and I don’t trust people any more today because I never know who is going to (figuratively) throw me under the bus to save their own hide, or set me up to fail to make themselves look good at my expense.  Betrayal is part of the human condition, and it is bitter to forgive it.  I know I want retaliation. I want revenge.  “Give me my pound of flesh!,”  is usually my knee jerk response when I am wronged.

It’s sort of hard to imagine Jesus being betrayed to his death by one of His intimate friends, and then denied by one who was closest to Him.  It’s even harder to imagine forgiving those guys for doing that.  I have a hard enough time forgiving those every day slights.

Yes, I am broken.  Yes, I am a betrayer, not to be trusted.

And yes, Jesus forgives even me.

 





Isaiah 53:6- Broken Humanity, Missing Pieces, and Who Can Repay?

11 02 2014

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A Beauchene skull.  Fascinating.

I have a hard time taking the creation narrative in Genesis literally, (who is really getting down with talking snakes?) but it speaks an infinite truth even when taken (I believe it was intended) as a metaphor.  Humanity wants to believe that humanity evolves and progresses, but the story of the Fall speaks otherwise.  If anything, humanity has been continually devolving and falling further away from the heart and will of God since the Fall, and if anyone need be convinced of that, just watch the evening news.

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The Genesis creation narrative is counter-cultural.  It says (my paraphrase): God made the heavens and the earth, and it was good.  (see Genesis 1-2)

Then it goes on in Genesis 3 to add that we humans, in our disobedience to God and His goodness, screwed it all up.

God made creation perfect, but we couldn’t leave it well enough alone. We have to have what we’re told we can’t have, and that is the Fall in a nutshell.  We don’t want to listen to God, we want to be God.   We all know what happens when a mother of a toddler or preschooler decides to make cookies or cakes.  When he was toddler-to-preschool age my son couldn’t keep his hands off the freshly frosted Christmas cookies, or Dad’s birthday cake, or the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie even though there were Pop Tarts or cheese crackers or other snackies that were OK to nibble on readily available to him.  The special pie or cake just tasted better.  We have to have what we want now, and consequences be damned.

There’s something inherent in human nature (Catholics will call that “original sin”) that insists we cannot resist the forbidden fruit.  Even if it is better if we leave it alone.  Even if partaking of it leads to the death of us.

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The reality is that everyone has that addiction to forbidden fruit.  It’s called sin.  Sin’s not a very popular concept today.  The message coming from most pulpits today comes across more like the old Coca-Cola commercial from the 1970’s.  Let’s all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” (or “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke“) while the world goes to hell in a hand basket.  Let’s all put up a pretty, moral front and try to earn God’s love and approval- and miss the boat entirely.

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It’s not necessarily a bad message, but it’s not the whole message, and it’s not the complete message coming from Scripture.  Flowers and kisses and butterflies and singing pretty songs are all lovely, but how do you deal with the two kids ripping each other’s faces off as they’re fighting over a toy?  There is a reason why God gave humans rules- mostly to keep them from hurting themselves and others.

The Lutheran theological take on that is that there is both Law (the Bad News that we can’t come close to being able to follow God’s rules) and Gospel (the Good News- that God made a Provision to cover for our failed nature) all throughout the Scriptures.

Even though I’m not a Calvinist, I can agree with John Calvin 100% on one of the petals of his TULIP.  Human beings are Totally Depraved. Anyone who doubts this may observe human depravity in its basest forms all around us- a group of toddlers grabbing everything in sight while screaming, “MINE!” or a group of teenage girls gossiping about and backstabbing the girls in the “out” group.

mean girls

Human beings are inherently self-serving.  Many years ago, I had a debate with a psychology professor who contended that there is no such thing as true altruism.  I wanted to believe there was.  I wanted to believe that humans are inherently good and kind.  At first, as I was a young college student and more than a bit naïve, I was shocked at the suggestion that all human behavior is inspired by satisfying a human need. But as I’ve grown older and had the opportunity to observe and interact with fellow humans, I can see exactly where he was coming from- especially when I examine my own heart.  If there’s kindness or goodness to be found in me, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit- NOT me.

I can also understand why younger people have a hard time seeing how being involved in a church is relevant if it’s just a big version of the Coke commercial to them.  There’s plenty of places to get warm fuzzies and play nicey-nice and sing happy songs together.  It’s a little harder to find the Jesus Who wept with His friends when He found out Lazarus was dead.  It’s a little harder to find the Jesus Who says to the woman about to be stoned for adultery, “I forgive you, go and sin no more.”

The big question is, (and probably the big barrier that keeps many people from pursuing God and taking on a life of faith,) why do you need a Savior if you don’t know from what you are being saved from?    In Scripture we learn not only that human beings are Totally Depraved right out of the box, but that there’s not thing one we can do to change our nature or to abide by God’s Laws.  That’s what Jesus came to be- the Perfect Sacrifice to cover for humanity’s egregious and constant sin- and that is the Gospel, the good news that in Christ God wipes our slates clean.

All we like sheep have gone astray.  We have turned every one to his own way.  And the Lord has laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.”- Isaiah 53:6

The Bad News:  We are all Totally Depraved sinners, incapable of making ourselves right with God.

The Good News: Jesus took the punishment and paid the price for our sins.

Awesome.





A Change of Perspective, the Suffering Servant, and Isaiah 53:3-5

30 01 2014

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I’ve always struggled with the concept that somehow I’m “made in the image of God.”  Why would God look like someone like me?  Why would God put someone like me in a world where it seems I have no place?  I still wonder why God put me in so many places where I am so ill-equipped and knowing that I am missing pieces.  The only answer I can seem to come up with is that I have so many missing pieces because God Himself means to fill in the spaces I don’t have.

 The apostle Paul (a guy who knew a lot about being unpopular with people,) said,

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NRSV)

In most social situations and in business, I have learned what to say, when to say it, (though dealing with non-verbals is still rather vexing and confusing to me) and when not to say anything.  Age and time have helped me develop a workable façade, but I know all too well how shallow and brittle and full of missing pieces that façade can be.  It’s not natural for me to deal with people, and for me social situations are always energy-draining.

I can pass for “normal,” in most instances, but only with considerable effort,  because I have to constantly and consciously calculate my responses in social situations.  Most people do that on a sort of auto-pilot.  I don’t dare to.  Otherwise I would likely ignore the people around me, or just stand and stare at them.  Worse yet, I might actually share what’s on my mind without considering whether or not my observations are polite or kind.  Accurate assessments are not always merciful, and sometimes the truth can get you pounded.  I got into a lot of trouble with being “socially inappropriate” as a kid.  Mom was always either backhanding me for what she perceived to be snide comments, dirty looks, or for staring.  So much for calling things as I saw them.  The world wasn’t kind to me.  My reality was harsh, and my instinct was to be truthful about it.

I don’t mind standing off and watching the wheels go ’round and ’round (to borrow a phrase from John Lennon) at all.  If I were independently wealthy I probably would do exactly that- wander about and observe and stare.  The problem is that to survive in this world, one has to interact with others.  It helps if those interactions are positive ones.

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When I was growing up, I lived with the specter of failure dangling over my head like the Sword of Damocles.  I had the concept of noblesse oblige pounded into my head.  I was the third, disappointing and defective female child, so I had to do something to make up for that, and for costing money and taking up valuable oxygen.  I had certain abilities such as early reading, (hyperlexia can be quite entertaining for one’s parents’ friends) but I also had profound motor, emotional, and psychological disabilities as well as fragile physical health.  It didn’t help that I was also exposed to the theology of “God-Only-Loves-You-When-You-Don’t-Screw-Up,” which can be summed up as a sort of undue emphasis on some of the more dubious tenets of Catholic theology.  I couldn’t do enough penance.  I couldn’t be good enough.  I believed I was not good enough for my family, and certainly not good enough for God.

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I believe that it is important for Christians to become familiar with the image of Jesus as the Suffering Servant- first as a counter to the distasteful and erroneous theologies of “God-As-Santa-Claus” or “Believe-and-Receive!”

Jesus, God, Emmanuel, is literally God With Us– not a heavenly Enforcer who keeps track of every sin and misstep, not an ethereal Santa Claus who gives us what we want if only we “believe and receive,” but the One Who walks where we walk, Who weeps when we weep, and Who shares our suffering as well as our joy.

The image of Jesus as the Suffering Servant is also a powerful contradictory to the “Put-On-Your-Hair-Shirt-and-Earn-Your-Way-to-God’s-Love” mindset.

“He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces.  He was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3-5 (NRSV)

HE was wounded for my transgressions.

HE was crushed for my iniquities.

HE took the punishment for my healing.

HE fills in the missing pieces.

HE makes me “good enough.”

I can’t redeem myself.  This is the whole point: Jesus already did what I can’t.





John 7:20-26 That They May All Be One

15 05 2013

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(Jesus said:) “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 7:20-26 (NRSV)

I can say I’m probably not a likely poster child for ecumenism as I’m pretty set in my traditions, and I do believe correct theology is important.  However, Jesus Himself asks that believers will be one united body of believers, which is a tall order.

Some Christian groups believe in separating themselves from the rest of the world.  To a degree I can see the merit in that, but an extreme condition of separation can give rise to a superiority mentality, that we are the “clean, good, moral” people and everyone else is scummy or untouchable.

Other groups are so politically correct that their aim is not to “offend” anyone, so their brand of Christianity is so watered down that nobody gets told the hard truths and no one is challenged to take up their cross and follow Jesus.  It’s easy to be a Christian if it’s all about social gatherings and pretty music.

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The real deal is a lot more complicated than either pious separation and stringent morality rules or feel-good be nice to everyone platitudes.  Both Dana Carvey as the Church Lady and “Buddy Christ” miss the mark.

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Living the Christian life is messy.  It’s real. Following Jesus means being willing to cross boundaries, to forgive when we’ve been hurt, and to open our hearts to those who the rest of the world has given up on.  Even so, sometimes showing grace and love to other Christians is the most difficult thing to do- like siblings we in-fight and argue about matters of doctrine or practice that may be important, but usually aren’t essential. I can’t say I agree with some things that other traditions teach, or even some
positions held by some within the Lutheran tradition itself, but I can embrace a fellow believer. I can agree to love and pray for fellow Christians. On non-essential doctrine, (meaning pretty much anything outside the realm of the statement of faith in the Apostle’s Creed) I can agree to disagree.

There is right and wrong, joy and pain, love and discipline, and all of these things are part of the package.  It is true that by God’s grace we have freedom, but it is also true that with freedom comes responsibility and accountability.  We have to live with the Holy Spirit, Who speaks through our conscience, and at the end of days we will stand before Christ and He will be our Judge.   When a child is baptized and the pastor says the words, “You are marked with the Cross of Christ forever,” or when a person is drawn to Christ through another means of grace, it means that person belongs to God- open not only to God’s salvation and blessing, but also to His discipline and His correction.  A child of God will not live a perfect life and will not be sin-free, but a child of God will not be satisfied with life in the pig pen.  He or she will long for the Father’s House.   The thing is, we have no way of knowing who is a native of the pig pen, and who is a child of God taking a sojourn in the pig pen.

Therefore, the default for us should be to see everyone as children of God regardless of where they might be right now.  Who knows if God is putting us in the same place He put Ananias?

The apostle Paul touches on the concept of accepting and living with believers who practice differently or who observe different traditions in Romans 14:

“Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.  Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.  Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.” Romans 14:1-12 (NRSV)

I think we will be judged more thoroughly on how we loved than on whether or not we played by all the rules.





2 Timothy 4:1-8 Itching Ears and the Crown of Righteousness

8 05 2013

 

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In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully. 2 Timothy 4:1-4 (NRSV) 

I’d have to say that the time is already here where people won’t listen to sound doctrine, and that there are plenty of teachers and preachers out there catering to the itching ear crowd.  I’m not the one to go out there with Chick Tracts or to scare the bejezus out of people with fear of hellfire.  I do believe in a real, literal hell, but I also understand that fear of hell doesn’t save- only the grace of God in Christ does.

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This being said, a Christian pastor who is doing his job isn’t always going to be popular, and the sermon should make you squirm from time to time.  I can’t say that I agree with everything that comes down from the pulpit, especially when it challenges my understanding of orthodoxy, but I do understand that the pastor’s job is to preach, teach and challenge me.  If what he (they) is (are) saying doesn’t inspire serious prayer, study and reflection- even if I still don’t agree- then either I’m not listening to the pastor, or the pastor is afraid to get me where I live.   I am thankful that for the most part the pastors at my church aren’t afraid to tell it like it is and they aren’t afraid of “offending” anyone.  “Christian” is not a synonym for “nice.”

Sometimes being nice is un-Christian, especially when it is necessary to tell that truth or give that wake-up call.

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I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me the discernment to accept right doctrine even when it seems contrary to my notions of orthodoxy, even when it’s not comfortable because it calls me out on my own sin, and to remind me that I’m not a dog.  I don’t need my ears scratched.  I need the truth, even when it hits me where I live.  Even when it offends.

“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:4-8 (NRSV)

righteous

At first I had to wonder what Paul was getting at, but looking a little bit deeper we can see throughout Paul’s letters that he insists that righteousness is something that:
a.) Does not come from observing the law or by our own good works.
Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law.But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” Galatians 3:21-22 (NRSV)
b.) Is found only in the mercy and the grace of God in Christ.
“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11 (NRSV)
 
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NRSV)
So the good works that we do are merely the good works that God created us to do and that God gave us the resources to do.
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3 (NRSV)
run race
Now if you really want to get into something weird in Revelation (and now that I found it, I’ll probably have to keep digging…) check this out:
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.'” Revelation 4:9-11 (NRSV)
 
I understand that Revelation is apocalyptic literature, and therefore there is a great deal of symbolism and allegory to be had in that particular book.  There are many groups who have theories (here’s one of the more theologically sound ones) as to who the twenty-four elders refer to.  You can pretty much disregard the ones that involve monsters and space aliens, unless of course, you’re into that.  I’m not much into literal interpretations of Revelation or way-out versions of end-time prophesy, but what I take from this passage is that everything that the “great” people of God ever had came from God and all the glory goes back to God- and that worship is infectious. (in a good way of course.)