Priorities <= Identity

Identity = Priorities

We can often be tempted to put our loves and even likes front and center. When we do we open ourselves to perceive those who disagree as enemies, and they often perceive us as the same. Now we feel attacked so we call them evil and they reciprocate. Thus labeled it becomes difficult to engage in anything but war. Christians are called to war just not against people.

I grew up in a Christian family with a mom and dad who taught us that the key to fulfillment as Christians was to live out our calling to love others as we‘ve been loved ourselves by God. That means showing kindness and seeking to serve both believers and unbelievers, Both kindness and service are hard to exhibit when we at war with one another.

The seat of all this enmity is bound up in our priorities. I’m not referring to “to do” list priorities but to alliegiance priorities. Giving our first priority is God doesn’t mean we give up other things we prioritize it means we acknowledge that they are inferior to and will always come after our first priority. Christ should always be our first priority.

Christ is our first priority because we are his. 1 John 4:11 says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Every person, no matter how little or how much they differ from us, is valuable and dearly loved by God. If we now bear his name it is because he cleansed us with his blood and adopted us into his family. We are saved by God’s grace or not at all. He gives us grace to live lives that reflect him in how we love and treat others. All others not just those who vote like we do and agree with the things we love and like.

Priority proceeds from identity. If our identity is a Jesus follower then we surrender our will and pursue his will for our lives to bring him glory through the way we choose to live our lives. If our identity is a self determination follower then we surrender our will to no one and “do it my way” to bring fame, fortune, success, pleasure to ourselves through the way we choose to live our lives. These are two starkly different paths with two starkly different outcomes.

Take for example “the cancel culture”. This pop culture term is simply descriptive of the latest form of ostracism in which someone is “cancelled” out of social or professional circles – both online on social media, and in the real world. This pop phenomena should have no place in the life of a Jesus follower. Why not? Because Jesus, truly one with the right to “cancel” anyone, instead chose to love us. The self determination follower decides whether to “cancel” someone based on what benefits their own goals.

Priority proceeds from identity. I want to focus for the rest of this post on those of us who identify as a Jesus follower. Our response to those with whom we disagree should drastically be changed by our identity and the priorities that proceed from it.

How should we respond to those with whom we disagree Politically.

No political party has the market cornered on Christian beliefs, regardless of their claims. No political party is the antiChrist, regardless of what the other party claims. I write now as one who went down the partisan rabbit hole and forgot these two facts. I thus alienated, rather than loved, those with whom I disagreed — I repent of this sin again and ask Jesus, whom I follow, to give me the grace to treat others as I would like to be treated. Thankfully, I am not the one whose path you follow! As Christians we should love our neighbors as ourselves. In fact the divine distinctive of the Christian is love. (John 13:35)

When someone disagrees with us politically, how should we react? Of course it is OK to react by expressing our political views, with these provisos:

  • avoid partisan speak (no easy task in our world today)
  • avoid “going on the offensive” to prove our political view is best
  • avoid letting a political discussion devolve into a political debate
  • instead of becoming defensive or going into debate mode:
    • take a deep breath
    • pray for an attitude adjustment
    • extend grace to him or her by being kind (even if you don’t think they deserve it)
  • remind yourself of a time when God extended grace to you

Basically we need to learn when to let it go and to always treat those with whom we disagree politically (or otherwise) gracefully by reminding ourselves that we owe our very lives to God being gracious to us.

How should we respond to our “enemies.”?

In the Gospel according to St Luke he records these words of Jesus: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” It doesn’t take a great exegete to discern what Jesus means here,

If they are “enemies” (perceived or real) Jesus says to love him or her. No room for “cancel culture here. Knowing how we like to cling to “give them what they deserve” Jesus says do good to him or her. Knowing how we like to “dish the dirt” Jesus says bless him or her. Knowing how we like to ignore those who oppose us Jesus says pray for him or her. Then after some particularly relevant examples of how to respond to your enemies Jesus says for us to treat him or her as we would like him or her to treat us.

In the Gospel according to St John he records these words of Jesus: “I give you a new commandment- to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples- if you have love for one another.

Whether it is someone who voted differently than us or someone who has become an enemy, we can chose to follow our feelings or follow Jesus. We can let the partisan divide invade our home, church, or workplace. We can argue our position and hammer at theirs until we have created an enemy. Or we can see them as those for whom Christ died, and treat them accordingly. We can shut them down or lift them up in love and read “between the lines” and try to understand why they see the world the way they do. We can each go our separate ways, or we can find unity in our faith. We can choose to hate, or we can choose to love.

These are peculiar days. The pandemic. The election. Nerves are frayed. But I believe this is the perfect time to walk our talk before a world wanting to know if what we say we believe is authentic. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner. Thank you for your saving grace. Please enable me to extend grace to others. Please give me a measure of your Holy Spirit and enable me thereby to love the unlovely just as you so graciously love me. Amen

Just The Facts

There are a lot of claims making the rounds on the internet about the legacy left by the Trump Administration. Some of the claims peaked my interest so I did some research to contextualize them in terms of President Trumps four years in office. This process always helps me discern the efficacy of the statement or claim as presented. Maybe this will be helpful to you as well. So here are the claims and my brief responses.

  • A gallon of gasoline today costs only a $1.80.
    • To put that in context the average cost of a gallon of gas in 2016 when Trump was elected was $2.14, in 2017 it cost $2.42, in 2018 it cost $2.72 and in 2019 it cost $2.60. The plunge in price during 2020 was caused by the worldwide drop in demand because people were “sheltering at home” to avoid getting or spreading the pandemic coronavirus.
    • www.statista.com
  • 30 year mortgage rate has dropped to only 2.45%
    • A average 30 year mortgage in 2016 was 3.65%, in 2017 it rose to 3.99%, in 2018 it rose to 4.54%, in 2019 it dropped to 3.94% and in 2020 it dropped to 3.62% until the pandemic caused the bottom to fall out of the housing market which caused the mortgage rate to drop to the present average of 2.45%. –www.freddiemac.com
  • During the 2020 election process the NYSE closed at a healthy 27,848.
    • In 2016 the stock market average closing was 17,927, in 2017 it rose to 21,750, in 2018 -it rose to 25,046, in 2019 it rose to 26,379 and the average close YTD in 2020 is 26,372. All in all an impressive growth rate.) –www.macrotrends.net
  • USA GDP growth for the 3rd Quarter of 2020 was 33%
    • To understand GDP quarterly growth percentage you have to understand that percentage is the annualized growth rate (as if it applied to 12 instead of 3 months) the applied as the percent of annualized growth in the 3rd Quarter over the annualized percent of growth in the 2nd Quarter. To put this into context this 33% is a historic jump for one quarter. However the percent of growth is historic not so much for its amount as for its cause. The almost complete shut down of our economy in the 2nd quarter was being reopened in the 3rd quarter. Assisting that reopening was the purpose of the CARES stimulus package. Put all that together and you realize that the 33% growth was a good sign but since it only references the 2nd quarter in reality the GDP rate of growth is still 10% under what it was in the 1st quarter at the beginning of the pandemic. –www.macrotrends.net
  • President Trump claims he built the greatest ever US economy prior to the coronavirus outbreak and that now it’s recovering faster than ever.
    • The economy was doing well prior to the pandemic – continuing a trend which began during the Obama administration – but there have been periods when it was much stronger. Since the historic economic contraction caused by the pandemic the economy has bounced back strongly but not faster than ever as it has a long way to go to reach pre-pandemic level. –https://www.bbc.com
  • Employment for all races was at an all time historical high prior to the pandemic.
    • Indeed, the unemployment rate among Black workers was the lowest ever, although it was still double that of white workers.-https://www.rand.org
  • There were no new wars during Trump’s presidency.
    • Although we continued during his entire term as President to wage the longest war in our history it is true that Trump joins John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as presidents who did not start any new wars during their administrations.-www.USAToday.com
  • The housing market is stronger than it has been in over 20 years.
    • The US housing market rose 5.4% in 2016, 6.3% in 2017, 4.1% in 2018, 2.5% in 2019 and 4.7% YTD in 2020. The US housing market is very strong now but it was even stronger in 2006 and 2014. So the housing market is the strongest it has been in over 5 years more truthful than claiming it is stronger than it has been in 20 years.-www.globalpropertyguide.comwww.ceicdata.com

Although there are other claims about and by the Trump administration, such as the claim that they have “ended the covid19 pandemic”, but I’ll let someone younger who is not still quarantined by the covid19 pandemic contextualize that one.

Why did I do all this research and why am I posting it here. One reason is simply that I’m retired so I have the time to do it. Another is that I’m good at and enjoy research. And last but not least I am sick and tired of undocumented half truths and untruths being posted on social media as fact. Once these claims are in the wild and go viral they further build up the partisan walls that divide us.

Do I think this will stop it? Not really, heck if a half dozen people read this it will be one of my more successful posts! But it sure felt good to dissect a few of these claims to see if they are true, half true, or misinformation. I’m sure that some who read this will conclude that I hate President Trump. To my shame I must admit that after the contentious election campaign of 2016 I did hate him or at least the public image of him. I repented of that sin and can say with a clear conscience that I do not hate either President Trump or citizen Trump. He still scares the hell out of me and I still find him untrustworthy so I pray fervently for him to receive wisdom to make the incredibly hard decisions he must make as President.

I also pray every morning that we as a nation will realize that we the people are more than our politics and become a kinder, more civil people. In short that we become what President Lincoln called our better angels.

Only then will President Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” have any hope of coming true.

Dead Man Walking

(This is a revisit to my blog post from August 2010.)

On this date (Aug 1) in 2010 I laid in a bed in a darkened room in the Cardiac Critical Care Unit at Athens Regional Hospital (now Piedmont Athens Regional). I was in day 5 of 7 days of a medically induced coma breathing thanks to a ventilator . It doesn’t seem a decade since God delivered me from death, but it was. What happened ten years ago changed my life forever.

On July 28, 2010 I signed up for a 30 minute cruise to St Mary’s Hospital. While on board I was to have both sides of my heart examined via a heart catheter. My cardiologist would be assisted by my pulmonologist, who had requested the test.  I knew my hospital journey could be extended were blocked arteries found, even then it would be a scant 3 hour tour. 

Just like Gilligan and the skipper too.

Three blocked arteries were discovered, all treatable with stents. However, the second stent tore the arterial wall, triggered a mild heart attack, and just like that my 3 hour tour ended up on Gilligan’s Island.  Actually, I was transferred to (then) Athens Regional Hospital, where the #1 Cardiac Surgery team in Athens was waiting to preform open heart surgery.  They opened my chest about 3:45 pm and as they were moving my heart to the cryonic operating chamber I had a massive heart attack. 

For the next 4 hours they alternated between operating on my heart and emergency medical procedures to keep me alive.  I died for 4 minutes but was resusitated. They repaired my heart, put me into a coma and sent me to CCCU.  I didn’t know I was on Gilligan’s Island until 7 days later when they brought me out of the coma. My first impressions were terrifying: I was bound hand and foot, with a ventilator jammed down my throat. I was in a strange bed, in a darkened room battling to take a breath just as if I was drowning. 

In fact I missed Gilligan’s Island and landed on the Isle of Dr. Moreau. 

How much do I actually remember of my journey to this point? Do I remember the experiences described above? From leaving home to coming out of my coma I remember nada, zip, zero, zilch.

All I knew was that I  was bound hand and food, felt like I was drowning, and had no idea where I was or how I got there. To this day this was the most terrified I have ever been.  But the terror subsided and I became aware of who I was, where I was, why I was there and discovered a vast  conspiracy. 

It was a conspiracy involving friends, family, CCF and UGA Alums, campus ministers, pastors, people of faith in churches around the world.  My baby brother Bryan flew  in from the Republic of Panama, my brother Phil, doing relief work in Haiti, began praying, my brother Scott, in Korea teaching, began praying,  Sheila, my incredible wife, not only prayed but lead the conspiracy to get others praying.  My daughters Melissa and Jennifer prayed and spread the word through their churches.  Their husbands David Berry and Eric Rubio prayed, arranged childcare for my 7 grandsons and freed my daughters to take care of their mom and me.  Our son John flew in from Maryland, praying all the way.  My mother and daddy joined the conspiracy of praying and getting others to pray.  Sheila’s brother, Boyd,  and her mother drove down from their farm in N. Georgia.  

My firstborn, Melissa, was tasked to do what no daughter who loves her daddy should ever have to do: tell everyone gathered that my chance of survival was 50/50 at best.  And what a group of conspirators had gathered at Athens Regional! The group had grown so large that the hospital gave them their own waiting room.  Melissa fulfilled her dreaded task but then lost it.   Her Uncle Boyd came to the rescue and took it off her shoulders.  He had everyone join hands and by all accounts delivered a stirring prayer.  Miracles were happening but all I knew was that I felt like I was in a dark place drowning.  I felt like I was on the Isle of Dr. Moreau. But the truth was greater than my feelings. The conspiracy of faith in Jesus that will not give up prevailed!

The armies of Narnia were on the move.

Once the ventilator was removed from my throat I could breath again. Then I discovered the joy of ice chips.  While I chomped on ice chips co-conspirators Sheila, Melissa, Jennifer and John began answering my questions and filling in the gaps for me.  Amazingly I was released from CCCU to the Cardiac Stepdown Unit only 24 hours after coming out of my coma.

There I would regain the strength to walk and do simple tasks for myself.  More significantly my time in CSU was when the conspiracy came more clearly into focus.  Angela Denton-Rachel came by one day and I revealed that she had gone on my computer found my meeting planner folder and sent what was needed to the leaders of the Association of Campus Ministries to begin their National Student Conference.  Angela ordered me to rest and let them take care of the Conference.  One of the things that is remarkable about her actions was that I had retired from CCF in July so all she did was totally an act of love and loyalty to me.  Of course she also was praying and enlisting others to pray. 

I remained in the CSU for about 8 days.  My time there was painful and wonderful.  I got my stamina up to where I could walk 60 feet, which sounds like nothing but, at the time, was quite significant.  I also used my time there to recover my spiritual stamina and began praying and telling any one who would listen my testimony of how Jesus had answered our prayers and mercifully saved my life. 

One day I sat on the bed with 2 of my 3 surgeons and asked them questions.  They gave me the details of the surgery I’ve written here.  They also were quite un-surgeon like in their belief that my being alive was a miracle.  Their word, not mine.  As gently as possible they told me that not one team member believed I would leave the operating table alive.  But I did.  Once I was in the CCCU they believed that I might survive but not without brain damage.  But I did (no more brain damage than when I went into surgery).  They were amazed when I woke from the coma, when I left CCCU only 1 day after the vent was removed, and that I could now walk 60 feet.  It takes a miracle to impress cardiac surgeons.  I thank God that he chose me to be that miracle!  I know I’m not worthy but I learned a long time ago that this is the way of grace.

After the CSU I was transferred into the Acute Surgical Rehab Center at St. Mary’s Hospital. There I was given 3 hours of therapy a day and re-learned about 35 essential life skills (like how to put on your socks without pulling your incisions open). God blessed me there with caring, knowledgeable therapists.

It has been 10 years, a full decade, since I became a dead man walking but I will never forget the conspiracy of those faithful followers of Jesus who would not give up.   Without them I would not be alive.  Because of them I have had ten years to serve the Lord Jesus who in his mercy answered the prayers of his people to deliver me from death. I see every opportunity to serve in the last decade as a coveted means for me to make the most of this miracle! Thank you Jesus! I never cease to marvel at how many people loved me then and now.  I am the most blessed man alive!

Long live the conspiracy of the faithful who will not give up. 

The armies of Narnia are on the move.

Imagine

This post is from my friend Jim Musser’s blog

As churches across the nation shut down their physical worship services this morning, many replacing them with livestreaming events, I began imagining what this new reality will look like two or three months from now. Will Christian communities basically become a plethora of TV churches, with everyone sitting in their own homes with their eyes fixated on screens watching the same worship services to which they are accustomed attending in person? The pastors preaching sermons. The worship bands on stages playing songs.

The pandemic we are facing has no comparison to all but literally a few people in the world, those who were infants or toddlers in 1918 when the so-called “Spanish Flu” ravaged the world, infecting over 500 million and killing 20-50 million people. And just as that pandemic was a lifelong marker in the lives of many of our great-grandparents and grandparents, so this one will be a marker for our lives.

The question is, what kind of marker will this leave for us personally and for the Church? For the moment, based on God’s promise in Romans 8:28 to work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose, I want to imagine the good that will come out of this pandemic.

Imagine that Christians, instead of gathering in small groups around their computer or TV screens to watch livestreaming worship services, that they instead gather in homes to sing praises to the Lord, to pray for the world, the nation, their own communities, and for one another, and to read and discuss the Word of God. Perhaps they also enjoy a meal together that includes the Lord’s Supper. (Acts 2:42-47)

Imagine that believers truly humble themselves before the Lord in the face of this pandemic, recognizing that their lives are fragile and not guaranteed. (Psalm 39:4)

Imagine that Christians take an inventory of their priorities in life and move the Lord from the periphery of their lives to the center, making him the driving force rather than merely a side attraction. (John 14:21)

Imagine that Christians in communities, rather than isolating themselves from everyone, seek to serve those who are isolated out of necessity—the elderly and the sick—by bringing them food, household supplies, and medicine, by checking on them and even visiting them for awhile. (Matthew 25:34-36)

Imagine that followers of Jesus, rather than hoarding supplies such as sanitizers, toilet paper, and food, that they would look to share those things with others in need. (II Corinthians 8:13-15)

Imagine that in a time of economic hardship, Christians will be generous toward one another, making sure their brothers and sisters have what they need. (Acts 4:32-35)

Imagine that believers remain full of hope and peace instead of the despair and fear taking hold of the country, because they are confident in the power and love of the Lord. (Romans 8:35-38)

Imagine that Christians in our nation act as the true Church has always acted: loving one another, serving one another, meeting each other’s needs, risking their lives for the sake of serving Jesus, and being a light of hope and peace for the unbelieving world. Imagine believers across our country, rather than being participants in an institution, instead are an integral part of a community who are united in their love for and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Imagine believers once again being the Church.

© Jim Musser 2020

The Marble Maze

It is January 1, 2020. The first day of a new year and a time of making resolutions. I make the same resolution every year: to better integrate what I believe and what I practice.

Back when the iPhone was a novelty it came with a game called The Marble Maze. In order to get the digital marble to fall into the digital hole you had to get it through a digital maze by tilting the iPhone back and forth and getting things lined up just right. Integrating faith and practice is very much like playing the marble maze game. I’m an academic at heart. I love teaching. I love new ideas and chasing their implications. But I’m not the stereotypical ivory tower academic. I think ideas really matter and I especially think what I believe should determine how I live. But, like getting the marble through the maze, integrating faith and life takes awareness, commitment, focus and adjustment. It takes a lot of tilting to get through the maze of life with an integrated faith and practice. This frustration is nothing new.

Jesus, in the book of Revelation, said this to the church in Ephesus: “I know your works, your toil and patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (emphasis added).

Apparently the Ephesians aced doctrinal orthodoxy (they could tell false apostles from true) and excelled at hard work, but they had lost their first love. It is a bad thing to know what we believe, but to practice it without love.

Which is better – to believe the truth or to love our neighbor? Neither! It is a false choice. Faith and practice should be integrated.

We live active lives. But just concentrating on our actions can make us shallow. Time pressures us to live by what’s expedient. Faith provides the corrective by reminding us that the quick and easy action is often the wrong action. Knowing what we believe matters to the way we live and people are starved for it.

Ephesians 4:24 reminds us that we are to: “clothe [ourselves] with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness.” It’s easy to focus on the word “righteousness” and turn this verse easily into a teaching on moral character. Instead let’s ask ourselves what it means to be created “according to the likeness of God?” To answer that the natural question that begs to be answered is “Well, what is God like?” It seems that by exploring the nature of God (theology), we can begin to see what God expects of (and is doing in) a believer. The deeper our understanding the less likely it seems that true righteousness is a list of qualities that roughly matches our notion of a righteous character, working to realize that list of qualities, and calling it good. We love the simplicity of lists. We love the tangible, the workable. Unfortunately, I just don’t think Ephesians 4:24 yields itself to a simple workable list. It reveals a much deeper truth.

The very image of the Godhead is being restored in me/us by the grace of God. That image in us somehow involves a mutually interactive community of agape love within the Godhead. Thinking about having that image restored in me makes me think about not just my individual righteousness but the righteousness the my communities. Then the “payoff” question comes: Does my faith community reflect the image of God? Is that image being restored in us? Can anybody see it? Can we?

In the end, if our beliefs do not pierce our hearts, they are pretty useless. But when they do pierce our hearts they restore our souls. We must ponder our beliefs for them to pierce our hearts. Pondering is a kind of mixed activity. It’s more than prayer, but prayerful. It’s more than study, but studious, slow, reflective. It’s meditation in the classic sense of the word.

If you’re not pondering your beliefs like this now, the beginning of a new year is a good time to begin. Join me in the quest to integrate faith and practice.

Not to be Taken for Granted

The Hudson Family photo Thanksgiving 2019

I grew up with a dad, mom, three younger brothers, three first cousins my age, two grandmothers, one grandfather, ten uncles and aunts, several great uncles and aunts and more cousins than I can count. Growing up I took my amazing family for granted; only now am I able to see what a blessing and gift was our big extended family.

This Thanksgiving I took family photos for my mother and each of my brothers. Our two daughters, their husbands, and our seven grandsons were with their own families a state away but there were still 35 of us gathered together for Thanksgiving Day. It struck me what a wonderful feeling it is that we can count on this one simple day out of the year to bring us all together. Not even Christmas would bring each family together in one place.

The beautiful part of Thanksgiving was not the fantastic meal but the family time. Children of all ages spend time creating simple crafts, doing group activities, running in and out of the house, while the older children ate sweets and taught the toddlers to identify their great uncles and aunts. To understand why this particular Thanksgiving Day filled me with gratitude, it is probably important to point out that I have gone from oldest brother to the second oldest person in our extended family. My youth ended over fifty years ago and although my place in the family has gone from little boy to old man it is nice to know that our extended family still finds joy in being together. Even if it is only one day a year.

I am filled with gratitude for our big messy family. I am grateful for those who were together this Thanksgiving and for those we missed who couldn’t make it. I am especially grateful for those who are no longer with us but whose legacy to my generation is this not to be taken for granted family!

 

 

Cultivate and Care

Apollo 11 Earth_croppedGod created everything that is. The universe; the Milky Way and all other galaxies; the Sun and all other stars; the Solar System and all other solar systems; the Moon and all other moons; the Earth and all other planets, etc. He created all life and all the ecosystems to sustain that life then He created Humankind to take care of all he created on planet Earth. With stewardship of His creation in place he declared all His creation on planet Earth as good. 

Genesis 2:15 is His mandate for humankind, His crowning creation. Here humankind is entrusted with the cultivation and care of the world He created as our home.

The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it

My struggle to take this mandate seriously has been aided by a few key insights that I want to briefly share with you.  I now believe that the purpose for which humankind was created was to be caretakers of God’s creation.

  • Creation

Our call to be responsible stewards of the environment is rooted in the biblical account of creation in which the earth was entrusted to our care. Humankind is created to cultivate and care for God’s creation.

  • Solidarity

The challenge of protecting the environment requires that the Church look beyond national, cultural, and other human boundaries to work for the common good of all. Citizens of the kingdom of God standing in solidarity can overcome any nation, any culture and any other boundaries which keep us from obeying our mandate.

  • Stewardship

Care for creation is fundamentally an act of stewardship. As faithful stewards we should receive the gift of creation gratefully, nurture it responsibly, share it justly and charitably, and return it to God abundantly.  As faithful stewards  we should love all of God’s vast creation, recognize God, the Creator, as He reveals Himself through His creation and nurture our environment to the glory of God..

  • Respect

The way we treat the environment is often mirrored in the way we treat one another. In other words the respect we show to God’s creation is reflected in the respect we have for one another. Disrespect (abuse) of the environment disproportionally impacts the poor, but impacts all of us as we are all dependent on the earth for our physical existence just as we are all dependent on God for our spiritual existence. Showing respect for this planet God has entrusted to us is just another way for us to respect one another since care for our environment is one way to see that all have their basic needs met.

Questions to ponder

  1. If we have a mandate to cultivate and care for God’s creation and we instead abuse it carelessly what does that say about our respect for God?
  2. If God made us stewards of His creation when he returns will he call us good and faithful stewards?
  3. If the Church united in solidarity against any political boundary or corporate power allowing hunger, disease and pain to flourish when its remedy already exists in God’s creation what impact would that have on how the world views the Church?
  4. Do we truly love God if we hate one another and His creation itself?
  5. Do we truly respect God if we disrespect one another and His creation itself? 

The Holidays can be Lonely

If the holiday season goes from joyous to lonely, well, join the club. Loneliness is epidemic in our society and for some the holidays just makes them feel more alone than ever. There are lots of reasons for this but in this post I’m going to focus on some “biblical therapy” from Psalm 25.

The Psalmist David was often a truly lonely man. When this emotion overwhelmed him he counterintuitively reaffirmed his belief that the Lord is worthy of his trust: “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.” This lonely man reaffirms one fundamental thing. He is unequivocally convinced that the Lord is worthy of his trust. Almost. Immediately he adds “Do not let me be put to shame,”

 Allow me paraphrase that for you: “Don’t let me be embarrassed, Lord, by the fact that I trust you. Plenty of people look at my circumstances and say, ‘Where is your God?’. They’re going to delight in the opportunity to increase my loneliness, Lord. Do not let me be embarrassed. Don’t let me down.”

He next affirms his belief that the Lord shows the way to those who are willing to follow:  “Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me our paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” He firmly believes that the Lord guides into truth all those who are willing to learn. He is absolutely convinced that the Lord delivers from trouble all those who trust him. Yet in this dark night of the soul, as St. John of the Cross would describe it, he has to remind himself of these things because the darkness comes flooding in. Strong emotion, if we’re not careful, can cause us to lose sight of what we truly believe.

He next affirms that the Lord is merciful: “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.” He believes the Lord is merciful because he’s proven himself over and over and over again in the past.  David is a member of the covenant people which means he understands that God has chosen Israel to be his unique people. God chose Abraham. God chose that out of Abraham would come a people for himself through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. He took an initiative and established a covenant with these people, and he had been merciful to them. He also know that the Lord’s mercy does not mean instant gratification. Israel became slaves in Egypt, but the Lord led them out – after 400 years.  Israel crossed the Red Sea only to wander in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years, but the Lord provided for them. The Lord brought Israel into the Promised Land and defeated all their enemies. The Lord gave them riches they didn’t earn. He gave them bountiful crops they had not planted. The Lord proved himself merciful over and over again – on his timeline not theirs.

So in the dark night of his soul, in his loneliness, in the intense inner turmoil of his heart, David reflects on the fact that God has proven himself merciful. This is what we have to do. 

David also affirms that the Lord will give forgiveness to the repentant.  I find it interesting that when he’s consumed with loneliness, when he’s distraught, he becomes concerned about the sins of his youth: “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.” I have no doubt that he’s confessed these things many times and realizes the damage they have done to his own life. He’s come before the Lord and sought the Lord’s forgiveness for them. But in the dark night of his soul, the Evil One is reminding him of these things. And he prays, “Lord, remember not those things. As far as the east is from the west, remove my sins from me.”

When we’re down, the devil is no gentleman. He’ll kick us. One of the ways he kicks us is to remind us of all the things we impulsively did in our youth. Even if we’ve confessed and been forgiven for them all, Satan will go on dragging them up. He’ll whisper, “The reason you’re in this fix is because of all the bad stuff you did in the past.”

Jill Briscoe, a Christian speaker and writer, recounted this imaginary conversation with the Lord: “Lord, do you remember that awful thing I did?”

God said, “No.”

She said, “Lord, you absolutely must remember this.”

The Lord said, “Listen, you are perfectly free to go on remembering that. I have chosen to remember it no more.”

And that, of course, is what forgiveness is all about. David is being convicted of past sins. Satan is making him question the Lord’s mercy.  He prays, in effect, “Please assure me at this time of my intense inner turmoil, of my loneliness, of my affliction. Assure me that I still matter; I’m still significant; you still have something in mind for me.” It’s a healthy thing to know where to turn to reaffirm our faith.

To recap: In the midst of loneliness and turmoil we need to affirm these three beliefs:

  1. The Lord is worthy of trust.
  2. The Lord knows what is best and is working what is good in our lives.
  3. The Lord is merciful.

Ignore evidence to the contrary and hold to these affirmations if you find yourself with holiday loneliness instead of holiday joy!

Unity and Love

Unity and love go hand-in-hand. Unity

One cannot be fully experienced without the other.  Striving for unity in our relationships without a commitment to love is futile.  Hate groups have the appearance of unity but what they have is union NOT unity.  All it takes to form a union is a common enemy, but it takes love for true unity to form.  During World War II the USA formed a union with the Soviet Union against a common enemy – Hitler — but as soon as the threat of Nazism was extinguished, so was our common bond with the USSR and we stopped being friendly.  We were united temporarily against a common enemy, but that was all, what we had was a union, not unity, and even that was short-lived.

Some Christians are precariously united over a common enemy — they’re against the latest “badest” thing –but they’re not united in love for one another.  Our Christian fellowship can’t be determined by who or what we’re against.  We don’t need to show the world how much we hate whatever the most current evil issue is.  Instead, we need to show the world how much we love one another and them.  As Jesus said in John 13:34:

“By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Redwood trees can grow as high as 300 feet and yet they have a remarkably shallow root structure.  Do you know what keeps them strong, what keeps them from blowing over in the midst of a storm? Their roots may be shallow, but they intertwine.  Each tree derives strength from the others.  That’s not all.  Each tree also shares its resources with the others.  The trees that are closer to the water are able to give nourishment to the trees that are further away.  Jesus followers are meant to work the same way.  We are to be intertwined, interdependent and united in love.  We are meant to give strength and spiritual nourishment to one another.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “All your strength is in union — all your danger is in discord.” He could have been talking about Jesus followers, couldn’t he?  When we start fighting with one another, we stop being effective.  We need to keep in mind that we’re all in this together, and we need to hang in there with one another.

Mountain climbers are all tied together to ensure that everyone makes it to the top of the mountain. Likewise, we need to stay “tied” to one another to make sure that no one gives up but that every one of us makes it to the top of the mountain!

I think one reason so many people found shows like Cheers, Friends, and Seinfeld (ask someone you consider old about these shows!) so appealing is that these shows demonstrate relationships between people who are united in love. These flawed characters reach us because beneath their selfishness they are committed to each other. (In fact, the conflict between individual selfishness and group unity is what fueled most episodes.) Even though their character flaws are obvious to everyone in the group, they still belong to the group. People like that; they want to experience it for themselves.

A driving force in Paul’s life was to make that happen.  He wanted all Jesus followers to be united with one another in love. Are we driven by this ideal as well?  How is true unity formed? It is formed when we all fall head over heels in love with Jesus!

A thousand pianos tuned to one piano will all sound the same.  If the prime piano is in tune they all will be in tune.  If the prime piano is out of tune they will all be out of tune.

It is the same with unity among Jesus followers as well.  When we, as a group, are each in tune with Jesus — when we are all committed to following Him – we will find that we are committed to one another in love. But if we are tuned to anyone else or any other cause we may form a union but we will not form true unity.  Paul wants us to be united with one another in love; the source of our unity is the source of our love –  Jesus.

“Christian unity is not found in uniformity, organization, or a particular church, but rather in Jesus and our commitment to his teachings, and living them out in our lives…It is only as we join together with others who look different than we do but share a common love and commitment to the Truth that is Jesus, that we can know the completeness of the body of Christ.” -Bob Snyder

A driving force in Paul’s relationships was to help Jesus followers become united in love. Is that what drives our relationships?  Let’s look for ways to spread unity throughout our society by being more in love with Jesus that we are with ourselves.

Centuries ago Thomas A Kempis wrote this excellent reminder,

“If Christ is among us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore, trust not too much in your own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others.”