Archive for the ‘Witness’ Category

Remembrance

May 29, 2023

Today, Monday, is a US national holiday called Memorial Day. When I was quite young, my great-grandmother called it Decoration Day. One of the many changes of terminology that confused me as a youth.

For her, it was a day set aside to visit the family cemeteries and “decorate”, that is place flowers by the grave markers and remember those who lived before us.

The village where I grew up always had a small parade from the water tower where someone spoke to the local cemetery on the outskirts of town (about a mile probably). Those of us in the Boy Scout program would lay flowers on the graves of military veterans (that must have come from the change of Decoration Day to Memorial Day?). I was in the school band later and participated in the event for six years in that role.

I think I’ve not been to a Memorial Day service since I graduated.

But it is probably a good thing to remember and reflect on those who went before—especially those who had a guiding impact on your life. (I’d just as soon forget those who had what we might call a negative impact.) I could take these thoughts from psychology to religious referring to the Biblical Letter to the Hebrews where the writer remembers those who went before forging the path that led to his (her?) life of faith.

And more challenging yet, we could reflect upon the impact we are leaving behind as we journey the path.

(There are many international readers of these thoughts. I suspect you all have special days of remembrance. Use them well.)

Jesus and Politics

December 27, 2022

Thinking on the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus, I was struck this year with just how political the birth was.

  • His birth is linked with Caesar Augustus (the census)
  • The magi were most likely politically tapped in their native countries
  • They saw the birth of a star linked to the king of the Jews
  • They talked with the incumbent king of the Jews (Herod the Great)
  • Visions surrounding Jesus talked of David’s throne (king of the Jews)
  • Herod had boys two and under killed in and around Bethlehem to stop any successor to his throne not his children
  • Jesus’ family fled to Egypt for a time, then settled in Nazareth to avoid Bethlehem
  • He was called Messiah / Christos / Anointed One — meaning King

Yet, in his ministry and teaching

  • He healed Jews and Romans and others alike
  • His only talk of Kingdom was the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God
  • He told the Roman authority that his kingdom was not of this world
  • The label on his means of execution said King of the Jews

I studied politics at university (along with lots of other things); got a very high score on the politics GRE exam; studied politics at graduate school. I’ve even studied the politics of the Roman Catholic Church in European governments from about 600 to 1700 CE. You cannot avoid church and politics if you live in the United States. I also have to recommend a book I read some 50 years ago called The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder–a pacifist take on Jesus’ teachings.

The fact that nothing was said in these stories about starting a church. It was pretty much kingdom, God’s kingdom, instituted and led by a man filled with God completely.

Do I have answers? No. I do think on what Jesus would like for me to do to a) live in the kingdom of heaven and b) lead others to live in the kingdom. And does it matter how I vote? Or not? And how you vote? Or not?

Jesus would ask, what is the status of your heart?

Who Is Smarter Than God?

July 25, 2022

Certainly, not I.

Like many young liberal and feminist students of long ago, I had a general dislike of the Apostle Paul. He was seen as the standard bearer of male domination/female subservience, apologist for American slavery (and therefore against civil rights), and homophobe.

Then I became a scholar of Paul. With that a deep appreciation of what he was trying to do.

I even started to reply to someone I know on Facebook who said Paul supported male domination of women. He asked me to prove from scripture that he was wrong. I thought of a dozen things immediately. It’s never a good thing to reply on Facebook. I came to my senses just in time. No one was convinced of error on Facebook. Ever.

This thought came to me recently that we spend too much time and energy thinking and memorizing from the Bible and not enough time living out Jesus’ commands–that we love one another.

I thought about that guy who was proclaiming how he should be the master of his wife’s body and soul (good luck doing that!) when I came across this teaching of Paul from Romans:

Is there anyone around who can explain God?

Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?

Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice?

Romans 11

I have met such people. I have read the works of such people. I have read of their failures in the news.

The next paragraph from Paul:

Everything comes from him;

Everything happens through him;

Everything ends up in him;

Always Glory, Always Praise

Romans 11

Every morning I sit quietly with God listening for advice and wisdom. I don’t tell God what to do. I don’t assume I know the mind of God. I wait upon God with attentive ears.

Whom Do You Eat With?

May 26, 2021

After Matthew gives us an example of how Jesus taught by detailing the Sermon on the Mount, he provides a series of brief vignettes of Jesus doing things. He heals, travels back and forth across the lake, chats with people. There’s Jesus teaching and then Jesus in action.

In one story, he tells of Jesus coming by his tax collector’s booth. Jesus offers an invitation, “Follow me.”

And he did.

Then, there was a large celebratory dinner at Matthew’s house. Jesus was there with his disciples (most likely the closest 12). Evidently everyone was having a good time eating, drinking, talking.

Large dinners were held in a courtyard of the housing compound. They’d be along the street where anyone could walk by and see who was at dinner.

The proper, uptight church folks came by wearing their scowls, I’m sure. They were offended. Here was a rabbi publicly at dinner with people who were not proper church society types.

They took some disciples aside, “Why does your teacher eat with sinners and tax collectors?”

Where I used to live there was a larger, famous bar called The Pub. It was a notorious hangout for men having dates with women who were not their wives, as well as other types of people not expected in one of the many churches in the area. We had a pastor who (with permission) took Sunday night church to The Pub. A Catholic friend of mine asked me if he could go. “Sure.” He wondered if he could have a beer while there. “Sure.”

I have known people who intentionally invite diverse groups to dinner regularly.

But I am wondering, who are we all seen dining with? Can we be strong with Jesus who said that it is the sick who need a doctor, not the well. Do we only associate with the church people? Or maybe have a beer with those in need of a kind word?

He is a Liar

April 30, 2021

No, I’m talking about the politician on the other side. That may be true. Or not. And your guy may be, also. Or not.

I picked this up from the Apostle John. He is teaching what Jesus taught. Remember when Jesus was nearing the closing of his “sermon on the mount?”

John said, “Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in that person.”

I can think of three times Jesus explicitly told his followers what to do:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and, your neighbor as yourself.

Love one another as I have loved you.

Go into all the world making disciples…

How many people do you know that say they know Jesus with their lips, yet the way they live and relate to people does not show love?

We should not point fingers. We should, if at all possible, exercise that love muscle and try to lead (teach) them into the right relationship. Sometimes just a word awakens those who are asleep.

Second question. Harder.

How often do I say I know Jesus, yet my actions disprove that and make me a liar?

I am heading back “home” to coordinate referees for perhaps my last soccer tournament after a 33-year career. I’ll be interacting with more than 200 people in a competitive situation. Ask me Monday how I did.

Building Up Women’s Status

October 25, 2018

Certainly the history of the Christian church’s attitude toward women is not so progressive. Even today in the United States there are denominations that teach women are inferior to men. What shocks me is when I meet a strong, yes even domineering, woman who belongs to such a church and seems to agree with it.

They justify this attitude by lifting certain “rules” from the apostle Paul and ignoring the bulk of the New Testament.

I’m reading Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey. He helps explain things I’ve read and could not articulate well. Such as the dichotomy between what Jesus taught and did and some of those “rules” from Paul.

Jesus was a gender revolutionary. For example:

The accused adulteress whom the Pharisees wanted to stone to death. Jesus turned the mob scene into an individual responsibility event and then told the woman he didn’t accuser her and to go and sin no more.

There was Mary “sitting at the feet” of Jesus meaning that she had become a disciple. But women could not be disciples of a rabbi–as Martha tried to point out. Mary’s place was in the kitchen away from the men. Jesus told Martha she was wrong.

There was the woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, uncovered and unbound her hair to dry them, and then anointed them with perfume–all to make up for the inhospitable behaviour of Simon who invited Jesus for dinner and then snubbed him. Jesus pointed out that Simon had the wrong attitude toward her.

There was the scandalous behaviour of Jesus permitting women to travel with the group and even fund their travel.

We can read these and miss the significance of the acts at that time in that culture.

Thanks to Phil for recommending the book.

Talking Is Not Doing

June 27, 2018

The Washington Post recently ran an article profile on gossip writer Elaine Lui. In it, she is quoted–“Talking is action. Conversation is action,” Lui says. “The result of a conversation is that you’ve conversed; you’ve heard each other. That’s an action.” I picked this up from an email on the Daily Stoic.

Ryan Holiday, who writes the Daily Stoic, was aghast. Talking is not doing. He quotes Marcus Aurelius, a leading Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor–Marcus Aurelius struggled with this even two thousand years ago, and reminded himself that it was meaningless to have philosophical debates about being a good person—all that mattered was what you did. “No more talking about what a good man is like,” he said, “Be one.

I am reminded that Jesus left us with action verbs in his commands–Go into the world, Make disciples, Love God, Love your neighbor.

One of the largest bursts of growth of Christianity occurred in Rome early in the Christian era. There was a plague that ravaged Rome. All the men fled to the hills. They left women, children, elderly, servants behind to fend for themselves and probably die.

Christians came up out of hiding and nursed the sick and dying at great risk to themselves. People were so impressed by the way that Christ-followers lived that they also wanted that life. The church grew out of an active response to calamity.

One of today’s greatest cultural problems is that way too many people spend their time debating–or spouting off–ideas and opinions. We are doing way too little doing.

To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, “No more talking about what a Jesus-follower should believe. Be one.

Get a Guide, or Be a Guide

April 2, 2018

“Do you understand what you are reading?” said Philip to the Ethiopian. “How can I sir, unless someone guides me?” came the reply.

How did Philip know the Ethiopian government official was reading from the book of Isaiah when he approached him? People in those days did not read silently just to themselves. They read aloud.

Why did Philip, an observant Jew up until a few days ago, go to an “unclean” man–darker skin, sexually impure? God told him to. If you are around my age you remember the comedian Flip Wilson who had a routine, “The devil made me do it”? Well, God made Philip do it.

Side note–could you as a modern Christian go up to a person of another race and/or one who is not “straight” and guide them through the Scripture to a belief in Jesus? Could you accept them into the fellowship no strings attached–just like God does? Something to ponder.

Could you, like the Ethiopian eunuch, ask someone for help? Oh, and then listen to your guide?

Could you, like Philip, not only respond to God’s urging, but also be of such an open personality that someone different from you would actually ask you to sit beside them and guide them?

We only read about Philip in one chapter of Acts of the Apostles. Yet, he is a powerful example to us about reaching out to people we have been taught to hate and sharing effectively with them.

When God’s Spirit whispers to you, are you listening?

It Is The Quality of Your Questions That Counts

March 26, 2018

“Bacon is the answer. Now, what’s your question?” So goes a popular quip.

“Jesus is the answer.” Seen on bumper sticker every day at the gym. It is implied, I guess, now, what’s your question.

If you begin with an answer, you will learn nothing new.

If you begin with an answer, you will be unable to help anyone.

I’m in the midst of recertifying in First Aid / CPR / AED. We begin with questions. May I help you? Please describe what happened. Where does it hurt?

Better than saying, “Jesus is the answer” is “How can Jesus help you?” This direction means that we must focus on the other person’s needs not on our “answer”. Maybe it is the need for food. Or shelter. Or peace. Or to be understood. Or it’s something you can provide in the name of Jesus. Now that’s a revolutionary thought! Maybe we don’t just sit back and shout “Jesus is the answer.” Maybe Jesus wants us to say, “How can we be the answer in the name of Jesus?” That is starting to sound like much of what happened in the Acts.

This is Holy Week. Reporting the details of this week from almost 2,000 years ago comprises a huge part of the Gospel of John. That must mean it’s important.

We could be asking better questions this week in our private time–and maybe even our discussions–than simply rushing from one event to the next.

How am I like the disciples?

How am I like the Pharisees?

How am I like the Jewish religious establishment?

How am I like the Roman soldiers?

How am I like Pilate?

What one thing would I like to learn from this Holy Week experience that had never dawned on me before?

I Don’t Believe In That God Either

August 7, 2017

“I don’t believe in God.”

“Tell me about the god you don’t believe in.”

“Oh, I don’t believe in that god, either.”

Gene Appel (Eastside Christian Church, Orange County, CA) and Andy Stanley (North Point Community Church, suburban Atlanta) have each done a teaching series on the topic. Yesterday I heard another take on the subject rolling up an entire series into one talk.

You know, you have what I have called the “Great Vending Machine in the Sky” God. Granted James tells us (and it’s in several other places as well) that if you ask with enough faith, you’ll receive. But what happens when you drop in your four quarters, press the buttons, and the bag gets stuck against the window. You can see it, but you can’t get it. Now you blame that God and cease to believe.

Or the political god who cares about which political party you vote for. Vote the wrong party and you’re going to hell. Just a personal observation here–I haven’t found either Democrat or Republican in the Bible yet. I’ll keep searching, but after 50 years of study I doubt that I find it. But if you teach that, then you only reach 50% of the people that God wants you to reach–since he wants us to reach out to everyone.

Going back to my conversation–

I love the second sentence. Without threatening, we just try to draw out a conversation about God. 

How many of us would just jump in with a monologue about our god? Then pull out John 3:16 or another favorite verse. And tell them they are going to hell. And then leave. And they thing, there goes yet another judgemental Christian. Why would I want to be like them?

More than 30 years of my career have been devoted to definitions. Even now, I’ll be in an interview with some technology expert and they will throw out a word. I think, Hmm, I think I understand that word, but what does she really mean by it? I’ll say, At the risk of seeming ignorant, what do you mean by that word? 

Often that leads into a wonderful conversation and I get a deep explanation of the topic.

Works with God conversations, too. “Could you describe the god you don’t believe in.” Followed by “Oh, could I tell you about a different God–one who seeks a relationship not a subject.”