19 04 2022

It’s hard to talk of peace these days. We are at war with ourselves, our families, our nation, and our planet. We pray for peace, act for peace, and even fight for peace. Whatever sensibilities we claimed to have had regarding peace appears to have vanished. So is the absence of peace – my perception or reality?

I can make a list of the violent events and episodes just within my daily travels. I can nourish my worldview with images of war through social media accounts and professional media reports. I can search my heart and my intimate conversations and find numerous battles in which I hurl words that can obliterate the reputations of people close to me. We are at war.

Our wars – both corporate and personal – had clearer boundaries. Boundaries are what wars are about – not oil, nationalism, and prejudice. People groups have defended territory since the beginning. Adam and Eve broke clear boundaries their Creator had set. Armies have trampled across boundaries for centuries. With the technology of today, we take to the air and ignore boundaries 360 degrees from horizon to horizon.

I’m left wondering if our being at war is so common that we have become numb to its impact.

This week in our Biblical account of Jesus we encounter his encouraging and commanding words – PEACE BE WITH YOU. Peace, best realized as the embodiment of SHALOM, be with us – all who can hear and read. Since it – this Shalom – is with us, perhaps we should consider sharing it. By sharing true Shalom, perhaps it could become contagious and infect others. Perhaps then, the Shalom that is with them can be released…a cascade of Shalom.

Yes, this may sound naïve. So simple – it may just work… JOHN 20:19-23 19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 

Being at war gives opportunity to engage in the conflict itself. In fact, I believe we can’t avoid it – Jesus didn’t. So go…engage and bring Shalom where its needed most in your life.

To Whom Shall Go?

2 12 2020

At this very moment I am uncertain on what tomorrow will bring. I am confident I know who holds the future. It’s not a matter of proving or disproving this hypothesis, rather is it confirmed in, with, and under a radical, trusting faith as a baptized child of God. The norm of social discourse in an increasingly secular, faith-less society has been to question or even reject the providence and presence of God. When things go bad we find ourselves – again – on a dangerous and slippery slope conducting our daily lives without a clear sense of Godly purpose and direction.

Over the years, the focus of ministers (aka all the baptized) of Jesus Christ has been to keep Jesus – the main thing! To venture forward into the grace, forgiveness and redemption offered through Him as front and center. The phrase ‘keep your eyes on the prize’ has been adequately appropriated to help us maintain Jesus as the focus and reason for our ministry. The COVID-19 pandemic threatens our ability to maintain focus and to give glory to God, our Creator, for the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ alone.

We are extraordinarily aware of the intent of the evil one to refocus us on someone or something else. First of all to focus on ourselves, second to focus on the earthly powers and principalities to save us. Despite our trust and deep faith in God as the sole power to save us, it doesn’t mean the devil and all his empty promises don’t get front page news. In particular, it appears society places a blind trust in human endeavors and that is gaining rapid acceptance. During a health crisis the primary diversion of our attention is on a VACCINE. Before you stop reading, don’t for a minute think I am advocating not being vaccinated for any disease. Rather I am advocating attributing all that works for good in response to helping a broken world become whole and healthy – to God. Yes, God. God guides everything – people and resources – toward good. He does so in spite of governments, officials, and corporations who think otherwise.

God is not in the pandemic. By the power of the Holy Spirit, God is in those who work tirelessly to help and assist His creation to endure and eventually survive it. That is why all glory and credit should be given to God. During this pandemic, many have asked…to whom shall we go? We have gone to God in prayer, we have worshipped Him, and we laid down ours normal lives and work to see to it that His mercy and grace endures – every moment of every day during this time and all times. We are grateful to God for all He has done, continues to do, and has yet to do in the name of Jesus Christ during difficult times.

So, as we move forward and God gifts us with people who have the expertise to develop vaccines for our survival from biological evils – we rejoice. Yet, we know, since everything works together for good for those who love the Lord, God is to be given all the credit. Think for a moment on how different the world would become if God was given the proper credit for our well-being. Perhaps, we would finally recognize it’s not the devil in the details, but rather it is a loving God. We would recognize that supreme value of all life as important to God.

As we continue to fully trust God – may we act and serve knowing Jesus is with us in every moment to help us – especially when things get very bad.

God’s Provisions for Our Time in the Wilderness

26 02 2021

Reflection on Mark 1:9-15

In this Gospel passage, Mark tells the story of Jesus’ Baptism and immediate departure into the desert wilderness where Jesus will reside and be tempted by Satan.

Jesus was led into the wilderness by the very Spirit of God, to a place where death was a very real possibility. He is in this dangerous environment for forty days.

He was not alone, however. Among no one but the temptations of satan and the animals.  Despite the trials of hunger, pain, and near death pangs – Jesus pulls deep into the promises and Words of God to survive and win this devilish test.

Finally, comes tangible provisions from God.  We are told that the angels came and tended to his needs.

Martin Luther in his reflection on Isaiah 40 writes:

 “In times of trial we should learn to judge, not by our feeling but by the Word of God. This Word promises us that every trial is only the eventide upon which the morning of comfort follows.”  

Holding fast to promises from God serves as our only defense in the face of temptation.  When we are tested, even beyond our own means to discern right from wrong, God miraculously provides.

Probably, the best provisions of God’s Word that have impacted my life and faith are more from the New Testament than the Old.  My Jewish friends are steeped in the Word of the Old Testament.  This is why its so important to engage the world together and why the beliefs of the Judeo-Christian heritage are intertwined and respected in the foundation of our democracy in the United States.

Testing of nations is one thing, but here today the testing of satan is clearly directed to us.  It gets personal.  When things get personal, we tend to let emotions drive our course of action.  Martin Luther asks us to develop defenses to overcome feelings and root them in God’s Word.

So that brought me to think of what I have in my armory as I battle temptations.  Here are a few:

Lo, I will be with you.                                                           Matthew 28:20

I am sending you an advocate – the Holy Spirit of Truth.            John 15:26

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. Psalm 145:8

Knowing I am not alone – anytime or anywhere.                                      Companionship.

When I can’t speak up, the Spirit will speak out and stand alongside me. Courage.

Trust is the most important attribute in a relationship.                           Commitment.

Today, some of us or maybe all of us are wandering and residing in what we would describe as a wilderness.

What is in your Word of God armory? 

For me, I am a survivor because God is a faithful companion, prodding me to speak truth into everyday temptations, and He is a committed, trustworthy friend who loves me unconditionally. 


Transforming the Continuum of Care

12 12 2020

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past 10 months…the global pandemic has resulted in inequitable panic, concern, and impulsive reactions among government officials and the ‘health care’ community. The reactions and fear have not been unfounded. Millions worldwide have been impacted and many have died as a direct result of the COVID-19 virus or from complications involving other ailments and conditions.

The key for the Church is to become uncomfortable with the fact that too many have died separated from families and loved ones. In the best circumstances there has been virtual visits and phone conversations. I have read numerous posts and been part of conversations among clergy and families that simply object to the separation. The objections range from selfishness, entitlement, and mistrust of doctors on the surface to blaming decision-makers; from presidents and governors and lawyers on the extreme.

The continuum of care, in a non-pandemic, has at best been loosely applied – especially when it comes to the medical community. During a pandemic it has become painfully clear that the continuum of care has been completely severed and in many ways it will never recover. Simply, the continuum of care for a human being involves the spiritual, emotional (mental health), and physical needs of the individual. I need to state unequivocally – that this continuum of care extends to both the patient AND the caregiver(s).

This tragic moment in the history of humankind presents opportunity to set in motion steps to make sure we get it right in the future. Pandemics will occur, it is part of life. The opportunity at this moment is not to work to re-create the old normal, but to transform the present into a better place that care-fully responds to the needs of one another.

This will be difficult – similar to the long and intricate process to re-attach a severed limb. Yet we are called to seek an integration of the full continuum of care within communities, churches, hospitals, and government institutions. The re-attaching needs to begin now – before the limb (the ideal continuum of care) is no longer viable.

Think about how painful it is someone sitting in their car in a parking lot while your spouse or child is in the emergency room – imagine how exhausting physically and emotionally it is hour upon hour. Then add to that the fact that ER staff assured you they would call to keep you informed…but then they don’t – for hours. Then through your impatience you call to check on your loved one – only to be told I will let the nurse know you called. This instance, repeated thousands of times every day, is a breach in the acceptable continuum of care.

Human tendency leans toward righteous anger and blame, combined with mistrust of strangers caring for your loved one, and the shear fear of the worst care scenario coming true. Within a functional and transparent continuum of care, an equal burden of all involved exists.

Where do we begin? We seek truth and that begins with an understanding that sin and evil exist and are working overtime to create ever-lasting chasms of hate between people, their institutions and governments.

To confront this evil, people of faith need assurances – which we find in Holy Scripture. There we draw upon the Word of God to defend us in the spiritual war we face. Jesus says – on his last physical human day on earth – to His disciples: ‘I will be with you always’ (Matthew 28:20). Believing and living these Words invokes the presence of the One we need at crucial moments in our lives; when death threatens us and our loved ones. In addition, Jesus’ Words are fully and unmistakably – PROMISE. Thanks Be to God!

Christ The King

21 11 2020

We don’t often talk of kings much anymore in the US. After all we have been involved with this experiment called a democracy for a couple of centuries. In this form of government, there are no kings and are extensive guards and laws to prevent even our elected folks from acting like a king. So it seems a paradox to talk of Our King…in the midst of a nation devoted to non-kings. What sets Jesus Christ apart from all brands and notions of earthly kings is the fact that is both human and God. Earthly kings have merely been trying to play a god, yet Our King is God.

When earthly kings – all powers and principalities for that matter – make their decrees and rules, they can carry both good and bad news. Our King always decrees and rules with the Gospel – Good News! Jesus’ message is one of proclamation that frees the soul, enlivens the spirit, and assures equality. No matter of salvation can be promised or assured by earthly kings because it comes from above – God alone.

Within our celebratory calendar is Christ The King Sunday. This year it is November 22, 2020. As the Holy Spirit gathers us, we once again give thanks and praise to God, who sent Jesus the Christ into the world to win salvation. He did not do that by lording over us like earthly kings do – but by ministering in the day to day lives of His people. He experienced the whims and violent acts of earthly kings and emperors, until one day he was executed.

Our King – Jesus Christ – whom we honor through faithful discipleship – deserves this recognition day because He literally went through death and hell to sit where he was destined to sit. Our King – sits where no earthly king can. Thanks be to God!

Back to The Future

21 10 2015

With future in front of us I begin anew with this blog.  The Delorean is ready to go and programmed.  We await the future with anxious anticipation.

Laura’s Plant

12 09 2011

With all the ‘remembering’ of 9-11-01, I find that I grow weary and sometimes forget what it is I am supposed to remember.  All the getting older jokes aside…it really un-nerves me.  John Patton, in his book Pastoral Care in Context, talks about ‘re-membering’ people and events back into your life – not to make sense of them but to rest and converse with them from time to time.  While the images of the burning towers or the jumpers conjure up fear and tears – sometimes remembering the other, more positive realities of an event or a personal loss can be freeing and rejuvenating to the spirit.

This is where Laura’s plant come in.  Briefly, Laura (one of our our youth) in a congregation I ministered with in Illinois, died in a tragic car accident along a familiar country road – she was 16.  Following the funeral, her Mom presented us with one of the plants from the plethora of live plants and ceramic angels showered on the family in their loss.  That was 2002 and the plant – a vigorous house plant is still with us (if you knew how many times we’ve moved – it is also a symbol of resilience).  It is a daily symbol of life, of regeneration and demonstrates to us the hope and deep connection that still thrives in the hearts of those of us who remain, while our loved ones are fully embraced by God as they rest.

This concrete, real, living ‘thing’ is our conduit for ‘re-membering’ Laura and her family into our lives.  Sometimes leaves fall off and and at times we have cut out dead branches, but overall the plant that grows well, green and healthy.  Lately, however, there is a section that needs to be pruned back.  I don’t know why I think that is does – probably my propensity to make things look fitting for the place (our living room) in which they reside.  For the past several months, this ‘side’ of the plant has grown outward more than the rat of the plant and it looks out of place, un-kept and is not symmetrical – not sure but it might tip the whole plant and stand over by the weight.

Regardless of the gravity or appearance issues…I can’t seem to find the gumption, the courage, the guts to prune it.  So, Laura’s plant is intact.  In my head I keep hearing the Beatles song – Let it Be!  My heart listens and I walk past the plant every day and let it be.  It’s mission, after all, is to embody a memory, reveal its own beauty and give me pause to remember.  Perhaps in all the struggles of life – the joy and the sorrow – the tragic events and corporate grief – Laura’s plant is a reminder that we should never prune things to make our current reality more appealing or balanced than God and the events of life themselves intend for it to be.  Thanks Laura for giving me another lesson in life and how to better cope with the events that shape it.

Impunity Does Not Imply Immunity

29 06 2011

‘Another World’ and ‘Days of Our Lives’ filled my noontime agenda at one time in my life.  ‘Another World’ is no longer on-air so I look forward to an hour catching up with the ‘Days of Our Lives’ from time to time.  The main characters are mostly the same, the younger ones are new to the daytime Grammy game, yet both still give their best ability to give virtue status to the demonstration of impunity.  Let me explain…first impunity is a noun meaning ‘exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of an action.’ Second, it (impunity) seems to be so commonplace in society that we no longer give it the time of day or at least any real thought.  In fact, the daytime dramas thrive on doing and saying anything with total disregard to the impact on the lives of others and the psyche of those watching.  Maybe the legacy of the daytime drama is that of raising impunity to the level of virtue.

Within the ministry of reconciliation, impunity has no standing.  To be fully reconciled – with God through Jesus Christ and with one another – we repent of our sinful actions, turning toward the forgiving One and asking to be forgiven.  If we believe that our actions never result in injury or that we are free through Christ and not punished therefore we don’t need to confess our actions – then we are in error.

Even on the lips of Jesus we hear the word – Repent!  We hear the word – obey!  We hear the command – love!  Jesus knew that because we sin with every breath we take and cannot fully come to him without the Holy Spirit – we must remain in a constant ready-state to repent.  A Christian only has to read through the confession for Good Friday Worship to know what needs repenting – it is every move and thought we ever make.  An excerpt from a prayer by Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell…

We confess to You, our Lord and Savior,
that we have betrayed and denied You,
forgotten and doubted You.
When our faith is tested, we wonder where You are.
When we see injustice in the world, we often stand by,
we turn our backs, we ignore the cries of others.
We confess that again and again we deny You
and betray You with our silence
when we fail to proclaim Your Good News,
when we fail to live out Your teachings
and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Forgive us, O God, and help us to truly repent.

With impunity as our guide and mantra we may never have to pray again.  Yet, we all know in our hearts that the forgiveness we receive from true repentance is not immunity.  For the same injury we have inflicted on others with our words, actions and non-actions is known by God.  We can never assume immunity from impunity.  The real zinger is that we are responsible for ALL our words, actions and non-actions – even the ones we are not aware of.  We even sin by proxy – directing or enabling others to do our sin.  For all these reasons – we are dreadfully lost and in need of a Savior.  God provides.

If we are to take even a small step toward reconciliation with God, God’s creation, one another we must know that impunity does not mean immunity.  That all our actions – even writing this BLOG – is sin.  Even when we are doing good – we sin.  Therefore, we live in a constant-state of ready-repentance.

In this world, impunity is rewarded.  Let me explain – the blame game that is promulgated by politicians, proprietors, and prognosticators makes it a lucrative venture to injure another movement, party or person.  One has only to read or listen to the daily propaganda from political pundits on both sides – liberal and conservative – to know that impunity is a virtue.  The more we can reveal about the sins of another the better our candidate, program or ideology will be.  What about advertising?  Our proprietors want to make sure we know that their product is better, improved, and of value compared to their competitor.  Prognosticators see through their crystal ball and look at a future which suits their heart instead of relying on the promises of God in Christ Jesus.

As an observer and participant in life, I am never immune from my actions – although after accepting the consequences for my actions I always find a forgiving and loving God.  I have to demonstrate and condition myself each day to make sure I do not talk or act with impunity.  Which also implies that I must repent – for everything – even those things that I am not aware of.  Why – because God sent His Son to die for our sins.  If I act as if I don’t sin, that is impunity – every moment of every day – then I cheapen the grace given by God through Christ on the cross.

I don’t live in ‘Another World’ and I sin all the ‘Days of My Life’.  I am stronger through humility rather than immunity because I am forgiven and sent on a mission from God to bring His glory into my small world in order that the whole world can experience his love and mercy.  Because God acted globally, we can live locally by rejecting the rewards of impunity and never trust that we have immunity – we are saved only by the grace won for us by Christ on the cross.

Simply stated by Paul in the letter to the Romans, Chapter 5, verse 6-8 (Message Bible):

6-8Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

As Jesus states in Matthew 3:2 (New Living Translation) – practice faith today – “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Bondage of the Will

17 06 2011

So it goes…at 12:01 am on 6/17/2011 we filed into the 2D version ($4 cheaper than 3D) of Green Lantern.  The story was familiar, the 21st Century Hollywood twist was not.  Action packed, thrills of dogfights with F35’s and the classic good v. evil.  In the end the super hero defends the planet, reconciles with the girl and everything is well with the world…then you watch the credits and find this was just an introduction of Green Lantern II where fear seems to be a better way to keep order than will.

To make it short, the immortals have harnessed the will of the author of the universe to overcome fear.  The will of the Green Lanterns keeps the universe intact and the established order of things prevails.  Until, it doesn’t.  Then we have the Green Lantern coming to save the day with their own unique ‘willingness’ to defeat the bad guys.  For example, to keep hundreds from being killed by an out of control helicopter, the Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) protecting earth and of course the passion of his desire (the girl) he ‘wills’ a large hot wheels track to appear and take the helicopter – now turned car – on a track away from certain mayhem.

So as always I unwittingly try to intellectualize the plot and the nuances of this film and story.  In this manner, I ruminated on the whole aspect of gathering one’s will to change the world for the better.  Personally, Luke Skywalker and The Force used a similar, but much better rendition of the will technique that spawned sequels and prequels.

As often the case, Martin Luther – who did a lot of ruminating and writing – wrote a paper called ‘The Bondage of the Will.’  In this seminal work, he goes on and on about the free will of creation.  Simply summarized this work states:  “free will is an erroneous, unscriptural doctrine which, ultimately, undermines the gospel itself.”  There is nothing we can do to save ourselves – we are always – even when we are doing good – captured by sin and have death working in us.  Further Luther writes: “Let all the ‘free-will’ in the world do all it can with all its strength; it will never give rise to a single instance of ability to avoid being hardened if God does not give the Spirit, or of meriting mercy if it is left to its own strength.”

So now the whole existence of the Green Lanterns – willing things to keep order – is bunk, rubbish, manure.  Super powers or not – no life form apart from the grace of God – creator, author of all life in the universe – can will God’s saving grace.  Only through Jesus are we saved.

Yes, I am comparing apples and oranges, but the human imagination (aka comic genius) is but a fleeting glimpse of what we really believe our reality to be.  If we are free and not bound by the will of God then why Jesus?  Most comic heroes are manifestations of our inability to truly believe that salvation – saving people – even people in galaxies far, far, away – is the work of the grace of God by the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ.

Finally, I share with you one of my favorite quotes from Luther in The Bondage of the Will: “All the passages in the Holy Scriptures that mention assistance are they that do away with “free-will”, and these are countless…For grace is needed, and the help of grace is given, because “free-will” can do nothing.”

So we will always fight the ‘bad guys’ of our own free-will and remain lost but with Jesus and the Holy Spirit we receive grace.  If only we can muster the courage to believe that grace is real we will not need to look to Green Lanterns to save us from despair and death.

***In case you are wondering…I rated the Green Lantern 3 stars since there was really no story line that warranted me to think about what will happen next – action for sure but no suspense.

Marked for Life

9 03 2011

So we begin on the 40 Day journey toward Easter.

My words are insignificant so on this Ash Wednesday I share a poem by Walter Brueggemann:

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

From his Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), pp. 27-28.