Be Wise In The Way You Act Toward Outsiders

September 11, 2017

“Well, isn’t it just a matter of law?” he asked. “After all they (immigrants) are here illegally.”

He was a man I respect. He was trying to be respectful while still embodying the typical rural Midwestern values he’d grown up with. It only just made sense to him.

I understand.

But, still, if only life were simple. If only everyone just followed all the laws and rules, life would be great, many think.

Many have always thought. If only everyone were like us and if only they followed our rules and laws, then the world would be perfect.

Except–that didn’t even work in the villages that many of my contemporaries grew up in. Of course, I was an outlier. In a predominantly Lutheran town, I was Methodist. In most of the villages, “everyone” was of the same Christian persuasion. The eastern half of the area where I grew up was Lutheran; the western half Catholic. Much like where all the ancestors came from–Central Europe, principally Germany.

But even the villages in the area are admitting “outsiders” at a growing rate. There are protestants in some formerly 99% Catholic villages. I remember the first time I saw a black person walking unafraid down a street in a local town. I asked, does he live there? Yes, my friends responded, we are changing.

I’m reading about this phenomenon occurring globally. It’s still difficult in a lot of areas where people still sometimes pick up weapons and drive out or kill outsiders.

But Paul, writing in a different time and place, understood this mixing of people. People of different religions, tribes, skin colors, all lived in the same city. Then some became Christ-followers. And Paul advised them, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”

That’s in his letter to the Colossians. He understood. How do you help people find a new life with Jesus if you talk about them disparagingly? How do you help one person find that eternal life that begins right now if you don’t speak kindly to them? How do you serve other people as James instructs us if you don’t act wisely toward outsiders–that is, those who are different from us?

How many opportunities for help or for our own growth have we missed by disrespecting people who live around us yet are not like us?

I’m guessing, based on my own experiences, way too many.

Who You Are Speaks More Loudly Than What You Say

September 8, 2017

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it’s the only thing”, Albert Schweitzer believes this because it shows what kind of person someone really is. 

What parent hasn’t been exasperated by what their kids have done after being told not to do it.

Floyd had the most vulgar language of anyone in the shop. One day he’s talking at break time and says he had to slap his daughter for using one of those words I’m not going to print. 

We all looked at him and said, “Where do you think she learned to talk that way?”

There was a teacher who taught what was called in the old days Home Economics. Part of the curriculum was etiquette. You know, how to eat properly. In the cafeteria, she was a slob. She told the students around her, “Do as I say, not as I do.” How do you think that worked?

There’s the preacher who speaks passionately about the love of God thinking words will move the attendees. But what they see is someone who is aloof or arrogant. 

Humility is the key to character. Every time I fail in that trait I beat myself up (metaphorically) for a long time. But at least I’m aware of it. How many people slide through life blissfully unaware of their impact on others? Don’t be that guy.

Character-One Thing We Need To Work On

September 7, 2017

Do you remember when you were an adolescent? That time of narcissism due to our developmental issues? That time that we recall and shudder at the stupid things we did?

This is a time when we should begin developing character–something that will define our life.

Does it seem like society over the past 20 years or so encourages adolescent behaviour well past 17? What are we teaching adolescents? Do we teach that they should continue the “me-first” mentality. Seeking to emulate the Kardashians rather than someone like, say, Gen. Colin Powell?
This article from Big Think caught my eye yesterday. “We Need To Develop Character Instead of Celebrity,” by Derek Beres.

In it, he says:

Language is our major form of communication. How we use it shapes our identities; we understand our societal and familial roles through the language we use. According to David Brooks, there are words we need to reinvigorate. They all have to do with better understanding our moral codes. By banishing words such as “sin,” “virtue,” “character,” and “evil” from general conversation, he claims “that does not make life any less moral.” In The Road to Character, he continues, 

It just means we have obscured the inescapable moral core of life with shallow language.

In his fantastic biography of important historical figures, Brooks repeatedly returns to the need of cultivating humility to overturn the sins of arrogance and pride. Children are being educated to succeed, but the focus of that success is monetary and status-driven. It has nothing to do with the singular trait Calvin’s father kept returning to during the decade-long life of Calvin and Hobbes. 

I think of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man. Was it perhaps that the young man had just not matured yet? Perhaps he had not developed character? 

So I wonder, what example are we leaving as a legacy?

Longing For God

September 6, 2017

I stretch out my hands toward you, longing for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143)

In today’s readings, there was this teaching from 13th century mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart, “The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love.”

So many of us miss out on this life of being filled, set aflame as he says, with God’s love. 

Where I live, and probably where most of you live, the dominant teaching is to “accept Jesus into your heart.” The typical meaning is to tell people that you acknowledge Jesus and agree with the teachings of whatever group you did that statement of belief.

And with that statement of belief, that’s all you need. Life is changed. Everything is beautiful.

They miss the rest of the teachings of Paul (see Roman after Chapter 8, for example). The parts like “work out your faith in fear and trembling.” 

Do we even use the word “longing” any more? It means wanting something so much that you feel a pain deep in your guts. Even more than wanting that new big pickup truck. Even more than that large house. Even more than that attractive person you just met.

When we stop at just repeating the words, we miss out on life–what Jesus kept talking about and John repeated in his Gospel. Abundant life. Filled with the love of God.

And like flames, to carry on Eckhart’s metaphor, they need to be rekindled and refreshed constantly, fed with new fuel. We do that by reading spirit-infused writing and contemplation and singing.

I and the Father Are One

September 5, 2017

The small group is studying from the Gospel of John. There is something that John sincerely wants us to know. We perceive that because it is repeated…often.

I and the Father are one.

Or

I am in the Father and He is in me.

What does that really mean? Jesus was a human, a man. We have to understand that or the entire Christian faith has been a hoax. But what was it about Jesus and being “in the Father” that so impressed John?

John keeps writing in this middle part of his work about how people were struggling to understand Jesus. Not his teachings, well maybe that too, but who was he?

I’ve re-read chapters 6-10. He’s not speaking double talk the way John has it recorded. 

But the people couldn’t comprehend. When John often talks about the people being divided in opinion, I think he’s reporting that people just couldn’t figure him out. They sound like normal discussions. They don’t understand. Some people say, well, maybe this. And others say, well, not so sure, maybe that.

Was the problem that Jesus was not the Messiah (Annointed One) that they expected. He was the Messiah they deserved. The Messiah that God knew they needed.

Look at it this way, fewer than 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Romans sent armies and wiped out everything. Had Jesus been another King David, it would have been all over.

No, this was a different kind of guy. He took the discussion to an entirely different level. You see it in every encounter over the Scriptures. He took the discussion to a spiritual plane every time.

But even more amazing is how Jesus invites us into that relationship.

And how sad that so many people over the centuries have missed the relationship even while professing Jesus as their Lord.

“But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

And that life can start for you now (if you haven’t already started to really live).

I Saw The Light

September 1, 2017
Just like a blind man, I wandered along;
Worries and fears I claimed for my own.
Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight,
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.
--Hank Williams, Sr.

This week we’ve taken a deep dive into the story of Jesus healing a man blind from birth. This story has all the themes of John, Jesus best friend. Tension with the rulers. Healing on the Sabbath. Light and dark. Seeing and not seeing.

Hank Williams captured this in his country gospel song (that incidentally I’ll be singing Sunday so it’s on my mind).

At the end of the story, we see (pun) that the blind man has gained both physical sight and spiritual sight. He’s seen the light on both sides now.

Jesus comments with one of his usual cryptic sayings, “I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” And some religious leaders, one of those with the Ph.D. from the University of Shammai (the rabbi), responded, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

That would be what we call an ironic statement, I believe. They thought they could see, so Jesus told them their sin remains. But in reality, they are living an ancient teaching from God, “Seeing, they do not perceive.”

The question is presented to us, can we become aware of our blindness so that Jesus can help us see?s

-Gary Mintchell

What Had That Kid Done Now

August 31, 2017

It’s Sunday afternoon. The middle-aged couple is sitting home. Relaxing. Just had lunch. It’s a good day.

Some men come to the door. You’re “requested” to come to the courthouse to confirm that a man who has been testifying there is really your son.

Our son? He’s been homeless for years. Last we heard he was begging down by the courthouse.

The judges ask when you arrive, “Is this man your son? Is he the one who was crippled from birth? How is it that he’s now completely healed?”

You live in fear of the judges. They have the power to drive you out of the community. You’d lose your job, friends, family if they got mad at you.

“He’s our son. We have no idea what happened to him. He’s an adult, let him speak for himself. Let us out of here.”

I’m still contemplating the 9th chapter of the Gospel of John. Let’s think about the parents of the healed blind man.

Here is their son. He’s encountered the Son of Man or Son of God–Jesus. He’s been healed. Both his physical sight, and as we will learn in a moment, also his spiritual sight. He could introduce his parents to this man. His parents could have rejoiced and thrown a big party that their son is now whole.

Such is the power of fear. They didn’t want to offend the authorities. In a sense, who can blame them. Who among us wants to stand up to the authorities?

What is holding each of us back? What fears lurk within us that stop us from accepting the good news? From reaching out to others in service? From introducing others to the Son of God? From resting in peace and joy?

Tending To Overthink Things

August 30, 2017

Here’s a man who has always lived outside society. Although we are talking about 2,000 years ago, in today’s terms he’s like a homeless man who hangs out on a downtown street with a cup or bowl asking for money.

Maybe he picked up some training and education as a young person just listening in on conversations.

Oh, he’s blind. Never has seen anything in his entire life.

Then one day someone comes by and heals his sight. (And his soul, but he didn’t know that then.)

So there are these men in town. They don’t have any obvious job, but they think they are important. And…they do wield some political influence. They could cause people to be killed.

These men have spent their entire lives studying the Scripture. They have post-Docs from the University of Shammai (a famous teacher). They think they know everything that matters.

(Know anyone like that? Likeable people, aren’t they?)

So they bring the homeless guy before them to question how he was healed. And they talk about the man who did the healing and about how he couldn’t possibly be from God. And they get all theological.

And the healed man says, “I do not know if the man is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

To the man, there is no theology. He was blind, and then he could see.

Instead of rejoicing over a remarkable event, the leaders bound up tightly in their traditions and thinking couldn’t comprehend it.

Later the homeless man meets Jesus and his response is similarly simple yet profound, “I believe.”

We have to believe that from that day the man’s life was completely changed. He lived differently.

In the growth of the early church as recorded in the book of Acts of the Apostles, Luke reported that people joined in large numbers because of how the Christ-followers lived. It was different from everyone else.

The question John (I am telling stories from the Gospel of John chapter 9) leaves us with is do we simply believe–or, do we overthink things and let our theology and tradition get in the way (blind us, if you will) of belief?

How Did I Get Here

August 29, 2017

So, the guy is just minding his own business. Just like any other day in his life.

Then a group of guys stop and talk about him just as if he weren’t there.

“Why was this guy born without sight? Did he sin in the womb? Or, did his parents sin?”

What, he thinks to himself. Do you think I can’t hear as well as can’t see?

Then someone with an authoritative voice rubs mud on my eyes and tells me to go to a special place to wash my eyes.

So, what the heck? I go to the pool and wash my eyes.

And I CAN SEE!

Wow! What colors. And that’s what those people look like.

Then some people grab me and take me to a room where the religious leaders were gathered in judgement. That’s what they do. Judge. Separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak.

And they ask, what happened that you can see? And I tell the simple little story. And they don’t believe, so they call the parents and drag them into the room. He’s our son, they say, and he was born without sight. But other than that, we don’t know anything. Kind of like Sgt. Shultz from Hogan’s Heroes TV series, “I know nothing! Nothing!”

They ask more questions. I’m getting perturbed, and starting to feel stronger.  I have nothing to lose. As a deformed person, I don’t have status in the synagogue anyway. I challenge the big guys. They don’t like that, of course.

Then Jesus, the guy who healed me, finds me and asks if I believe in the Son of Man. I’ve heard of the Son of Man. He’s predicted in the Scriptures and the Essenes have been saying he’ll come soon. So I say yes, but who is this Son of Man? I am, says Jesus.

Then I believe in you. Anyone who can heal like that must be from God.

As John describes in his Gospel in Chapter 9, this man went from the life of a beggar to a disciple one day when the extraordinary happened. John took us from a story of physical sight restored to spiritual sight restored.

Who Sinned That This Man Was Born Blind?

August 28, 2017

Jesus and his guys were walking through a probably crowded street just outside the Temple when they pass a man who was sitting begging for money who had been blind from birth.

“Who sinned, him or his parents, that he was born blind?” they asked Jesus.

Jesus proceeds to give the man sight.

This is a great story of spiritual growth and the play on words John loves so well over the double meaning of physical sight and spiritual sight. (Gospel of John, Chapter 9)

As I was preparing to lead a discussion on this story, I thought about how this attitude of sinning can affect out service (or lack of).

Yes, we do live with the consequences of our actions. We make lifestyle decisions that affect our health (smoking, drugs, sedentary life, eating/drinking to excess). But many millions of people are ill, handicapped, or starving through no fault of their own.

Yet I know of Christians who refuse to help others–whether down the street or across the globe–because “they’ve brought it on themselves”.

Jesus said that this man, in this place, at this time, was there so that the power of God could be revealed.

Whom have we met who could have been there at that time and at that place for us to reveal the presence and power of God? And we whiffed. Missed the pitch.

Some of us (me) are quieter by nature, not given to public displays of much of any kind. But it’s important to know when to speak, when to act.

If I’m a follower (disciple) of Jesus, then I need to recognize that situation at that time at that place where I need to heal someone.

Service isn’t getting 100,000 people together into some parody of a football game. It’s one person at a time, at the right place, at the right time.