Saturday, July 28, 2012

Do Not Judge; Love With Love Unequalled

Love by: Cindy Andrie
I'd like to say a few words about judgment today. This is my problem and it is your problem; it is ours, each of ours. We must each own our responsibility for our drops of judgment that have culminated into a violent and destructive flood. We Christians are a body. We suffer as one; we triumph as one.  We fail as one. If you do not take vigilant responsibility for your own actions and inactions then the body is in trouble, because no one else can take responsibility for you.

There is a rampant and destructive perception in our world today that Christians are intolerant and judgmental, and I'm sorry to say it but that perception is not wholly unjustified. It would be easy and comfortable to say that the media and non-Christians ought to treat us with more understanding, but that would be passing the blame. It would be pleasant to comfort our guilty consciences with the promise that we are blessed when people hate us (Luke 6:22), but brothers and sisters we cannot give ourselves such false comfort. We are blessed when people hate us because of Christ, but we are often not hated because of Christ, but because of ourselves.  We are perceived as hateful and egocentric because we have behaved hatefully and egocentrically. We cannot hope to control the perceptions and judgments of others, but we do control our own actions. We cannot control what the world says about us, but we can control what is true about us.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is being slandered and ignored because it is not being represented. It is not commonly taught. It is not commonly lived out.  It is used and abused as a marketing tool and an excuse for attention seeking protests that neither serve God nor people.  We must change this, and that change starts with each of us.  Our love must become more pervasive and relevant than the Westboro Baptists' hate. The great commission does not call non-Christians to be indulgent or patient with loud inept followers of Christ; it calls Disciples of Christ to give compassionate witness to the radical love of Jesus Christ.

Hopefully we are will be unfairly judged, at least a little.  If we do as Christ commanded and do our good works in secret (Matthew 6:1-4), then it may be hard for us to build a good reputation in the world. This is fine. If we secretly give to the poor then our reward is in heaven; we do not need the world's approval, nor do we need to seek it.  Seek God's approval.  Our secrecy in regards to our good deeds, in a way, serves as an accountability measure. When we treat our neighbours shamefully or rudely there can be no chorus of excuses saying, “Though Christians have done some bad things, they've done more good things.” We are not afforded such excuses for sin.  As a matter of fact We are afforded no excuses for sin, we are only afforded liberal forgiveness.


Jesus knows your heart. He knows your motives, your loves, passions, resentments, sensibilities, and sensitivities.  You've done good; you've done evil.  He is still working on you. He loves you, delights in forgiving your failures and is generous in giving his Spirit (Luke 11:11-13). Therefore since you have been forgiven by Jesus, reconciled to the Father, and empowered by his Spirit, I exhort you to love with love unequaled.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” -Matthew 5:43-45

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” -Romans 12:17

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” -1 Peter 3:9

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Life is Hard, Especially For Jane Eyre

I started reading Jane Eyre this week. I am really enjoying it, and this is a relief as it is a book I feel obligated to read. Especially since I have pretended to have read it in the past. I think we all pretend to have read more books than they're actually read; I hope. At least I will pretend this is true; I cannot be the only one who feels overwhelmed by the vast universe of books I haven't read. Back to the point: I am really enjoying Jane Eyre, not just the book but the character too. Jane is magnificent.

Jane Eyre is brave, bold, and smart. I wish I was more like her. I hope I am a little, but not too much, like her. Where I am reading she has just had a rather pointed dissent from Christianity. Jane feels, reasonably, that it is unjust for her friend Helen to submit patiently to undeserved reprimands and punishments. This is a common feeling; injustice is hard to stomach. I have felt this way, and every human, especially children, feel this way from some or all of the time. We want the world to be fair and it is not. There is not a neat and easy truism that makes this problem go away. There are comforting truths; explore them. Today I will not give answers away. Some truths do not feel precious, or even trustworthy, unless you've wrestled with them yourselves.

Read Luke 13, in which Jesus explains that bad things do not just happen to bad people, and in which he heals the sick, and laments the difficulty of salvation.

Read Job, in which a lot of bad things happen to a pretty good man who feels rather put upon by it all, but in the end God has a thing or two to say as well.

Read John 16, in which Jesus promises that in this world we will have trouble, but that he has overcome the world.

Read Hebrews 12, in which the author submits a perspective of hardship that is rather comforting if you've been blessed to have kind and loving parents.

Read 2 Corinthians 1, in which Paul reflects that his hardships have equipped him to comfort and serve his neighbors.

Read Jane Eyre.

Live. Ask. Struggle.


We are not given an easy answer for why God doesn't prevent bad things from happening. He does not promise to, which is at least a testament to his honesty. Bad things do happen; wrestle with it. Read the Bible. Ask the Lord. Let me know any insights or conclusions you come to, that's what the comment section is for. Good reading, and God speed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


I was going to have to take this kid to the hospital.  It wasn’t the way he fell that tipped me off so much as it was the way he didn’t get up.  I ran over to where he lay, knocked to the ground by a larger boy who hadn’t seen him; he was face down and hyperventilating.  The unfortunate perpetrator stood by: a young boy who’d honestly hit his victim by accident.  He looked terrified; sometimes it’s hard to be the big kid.  Within a few seconds the sight of a panicked kid and a prostrate kid had won the attention of about a dozen boys and adult volunteers.  The panic on the older boy’s face increased, swelled, and then burst out of his face.
            “He’s Faking!” he told me, “He’s faking” he repeated.  It became a mantra
            “What happened?”  Asked the next kid to arrive
            “Nothing He's faking, I just bumped him.”
            “You just bumped him?”
            “Yeah he’s faking”
            “Oh, what a faker” (no joke, they said, "faker")
By: D. Sharon Pruitt
            In another moment the poor guy was surrounded by boys all eager to tell the next person who arrived that the guy on the ground was a “faker.”  Fortunately the camp nurse arrived soon, and he spoke to the scared boy on the ground instead of to the scared boy towering over him.  But the kid couldn’t answer; he could barely breathe.  Most of the immediate problem was panic.  Once the taunting crowd was dispersed he finally stopped hyperventilating enough to reveal that he’d hit his head and was feeling nauseous.  I ran to get my car and driving partner.  He had a concussion.
            Why is it so easy to blame hurt people for their injuries?  The larger boy was guilty of nothing more than carelessness, but he let his fear make him defensive.  I’ve said it before: Fear is a lousy motivator.  The big kid only did something wrong once he started blaming the crumpled and panicked boy at his feet.  

It’s an easy thing to do: to blame survivors for their wounds.  Hiring managers discriminate against certain races because they perceive those races as lazy, even referencing unemployment among that race to justify their prejudice.  There is a problem with this.  Rape survivors face ridicule when they tell about their attacks; they’re interrogated about where they were and what they wore, as if they need help blaming themselves for the unsolicited violence they experienced.  This is a problem.  The poor and hungry too, often find judgment when they look for mercy. So often struggling families are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as though children deserve to live with hunger and fear because of their parents’ addictions or malfunctions.  This blame game is not acceptable.
Scripture says that we should each trust the saying: “Christ died to say sinners of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  And we're urged to consider other’s better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  It’s a hard word to accept but the Bible, in no uncertain terms, places every person on equal moral footing before God.  We're all equally undeserving of God's love.  No Christian retains the right to think of him or her self as better than anyone else.
This is not the part where I challenge you to give away all of your money and possessions. Jesus challenged exactly one guy to do that exactly one time (Mark 10:17-27) and the point that Jesus was making was this:  It is impossible for us to be good enough to earn God’s kingdom, but nothing is impossible for God.  God’s love and grace are free gifts that none of us have ever done a thing to earn.  Despite all of the kind and good things you done, God isn't impressed (Isaiah 64:6), your relationship with God is a gift.  You’re on spiritual welfare; we all are.

            Try to live the next 24 hours without judging or blaming others for their troubles.  We’ve received much mercy from God; we can pass it on.  Relying fully on God to work this good thing in us, let’s try treating our neighbors with the undeserved grace we’ve received.  Today, may we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).  God Speed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Re: American Gods

If you’ve not read any Neil Gaiman, you’re missing out.  He tells stories delightfully, blending whimsical fantasy with honest portraits of injured and incomplete human beings.  American Gods follows the story of Shadow, who having been recently released from prison is quickly recruited by a con-man.  Despite his apparent criminality Shadow is an easy character to sympathize with.  Shadow helps American Gods to feel more like a thriller than a fantasy novel.  As Shadow meets gods we meet them too and I was grateful to be introduced to Gaiman’s strange world through a protagonist who started off knowing no more than I did.
At the beginning of the book I had favorite gods, and the idea of these myths walking in real life was exciting.  Gaiman shattered my modern ideas of the old gods by depicting them as they were first imagined: powerful and petty.  The ancient gods of Rome, Ireland, and Africa are human, and as such they are messed up.  They are as likely to be helpful as they are to be cruel; they are caricatures of the humanity, afflicted with the human condition.
American Gods also paints a startling portrait of culture in the United States. Just as old world gods are real in Gaiman’s novel, the new gods of convenience and technology are real as well.  They look silly next to the old gods, but ultimately are not different.  They are no more or less corrupt or corrupting.  They hit closer to home.  I know no one who has ever sacrificed a child to an old god.  We all know of friendships that have been sacrificed to ambition, lust, or selfishness.  These modern gods are real.  In Gaiman’s world, and also in ours, anything that a person worships with time, attention, and energy is a god.
I do want to say that American Gods is for adult audiences; there were points in the novel which vividly depicted monstrous gods of sexuality and of death exacting sacrifice.  Their sacrifice is disturbing.  These scenes were not many, and I they serve the novel's purpose of portraying how we can loose ourselves in devotion to our gods.  I mention it so that you do not read anything you cannot unread.  Overall the book was excellent, but that sort of thing is not for everyone.
            I want to say that Neil Gaiman was incredibly considerate towards Christians, Jews, and Muslims when he absented the Lord from his pantheon of mythical gods and goddesses.  Jesus does not appear; neither does the God of Israel, nor Allah.  A monotheistic God could have introduced problems into the world Gaiman wrote.  Besides the narrative problems God would cause, the books would have offended a lot of people if Gaiman had treated the God(s) of the world’s dominant religions like he treated his trickster gods.  That sort of offensive writing might have sold a lot of books, and I appreciate that Gaiman didn’t exploit that route.  Thanks Neil, if you're reading this.


Ask God to show you if you have served other gods.  Whatever your god has been it cannot satisfy the thirst of your soul.  The gods of this world only steal life.  False gods demand sacrifice, but the true God sacrificed himself.   He loved us while we were still enemies so that we could experience life to its fullest.  Read Romans 5:8-10.  Jesus death meant our forgiveness.  Jesus resurrection meant our adoption.  God is alive. God loves you.  Enjoy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

RE: Psalm 42 Our Panting Soul

The Touch by: Alan Levine
This is a singularly sensuous psalm; I love it. It initiates with an image of thirst, wild thirst, uncurbed by propriety which become the driving force of one's whole being (Psalm 42:1-2). I feel that thirst; we all do. Rarely do we see it for what it is: a thirst for God which is sated in him alone.

Unaware of it's true purpose, some idolize this kind of thirst, imitating and paying homage to it with stories of passionate romance, wanderlust, and lofty dreams that refuse deferment. Others have been disappointed by the world's inability to fulfil their innermost longing, and they live in fear of the thirst, telling cautionary tales like that of Icarus. Fear and idolatry both miss God's purpose for our thirst.

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” (C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity)


Read Psalm 42. Remember that no matter what life is like now it is God's desire to make you whole, to satisfy your deepest longings and unite yourself in perfect intimacy. Say the words of Psalm 42:11 today, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

RE: A Call To Conscience Chapter Ten

By Dick DeMarsico, World Telegram staff photographer, via Wikimedia Commons
It’s refreshing to dive back into the words of Dr. King, and surreal to dive into this particular speech.  It was delivered at the 11th annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Council.  I attended the 100th annual convention of the LCMS Michigan District this month, and King’s address follows the pattern of a good convention speech.  With no offense to anyone who spoke at the LCMS convention, King may be a superior writer.  True to convention-time speeches it is long and informative, boasting of grand accomplishments, warning of great obstacles, and doubling the courage of all who hear it. 
At their 11th convention, the SCLC had changed the shape of the United States forever, and yet there was much work to be done.  I cannot imagine the elation convention attendees felt, knowing that their actions over the past decade had struck down so much injustice.  Still, King outlined the bleak state of race relations honestly:

“Half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share: There are twice as many unemployed; the rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites; and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population. (Yes) [applause]In other spheres, the figures are equally alarming. In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites, and their segregated schools (Yeah) receive substantially less money per student than the white schools. (Those schools) One-twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college. Of employed Negroes, seventy-five percent hold menial jobs. This is where we are.” – King 1967

 It is disheartening to read these figures from decades ago and know that similar disparities endure:
This prison population is disproportionately black and brown. As of 2006, the United States. penal population was 46 percent white, 41 percent African American, and 19 percent Latino. In practical terms, by 2001, about one out of every six African-American males had experienced jail or imprisonment. Based on current trends, over one out of three black men will experience imprisonment during their lives. – Manning Marable

As recently as the 1990s there have been “scholarly” attempts to prove the inferiority of black students, and thus excuse racial achievement gaps.  It feels discouraging that although so much time has passed so much injustice and ignorance remains; I’m sure conference attendees brought reasons to feel discouraged.  Fortunately, King was a champion of courage.  That enviable courage was drawn from a deep rooted faith in the all-powerful and loving person of Jesus Christ. This shows through as King paraphrases 1 Corinthians 13:

“And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. (Yes) And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. (No) And I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. (Yes) For I have seen too much hate. (Yes) I've seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. (Yeah) I've seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. (Yes, That’s right) I have decided to love. [applause] If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren't moving wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. (Yes) He who hates does not know God, but he who loves has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.
And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels (All right); you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing. (That's right) Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy; you may have the gift of scientific prediction (Yes sir) and understand the behavior of molecules (All right); you may break into the storehouse of nature (Yes sir) and bring forth many new insights; yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement (Yes sir) so that you have all knowledge (Yes sir, Yes); and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing. (Yes) You may even give your goods to feed the poor (Yes sir); you may bestow great gifts to charity (Speak); and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. (Yes sir) You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history's greatest heroes; but if you have not love (Yes, All right), your blood was spilt in vain. What I'm trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride. (Speak) So without love, benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.” – King 1967

Loyal to the word that in God’s strength nothing is impossible (Matthew 19:26), King ended his address with a call to unconditional love, and a divine dissatisfaction with anything less:

“Let us be dissatisfied (Yes), and men will recognize that out of one blood (Yes) God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. (Speak sir)

Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, "White Power!" when nobody will shout, "Black Power!" but everybody will talk about God's power and human power. [applause] . . . and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights (Well), let us remember (Yes) that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil (Well), a power that is able to make a way out of no way (Yes) and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. (Speak)
Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Let us realize that William Cullen Bryant is right: "Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again." Let us go out realizing that the Bible is right: "Be not deceived. God is not mocked. (Oh yeah) Whatsoever a man soweth (Yes), that (Yes) shall he also reap." This is our hope for the future, and with this faith we will be able to sing in some not too distant tomorrow, with a cosmic past tense, "We have overcome! (Yes) We have overcome! Deep in my heart, I did believe (Yes) we would overcome." [applause]” – King1967


What always amazes me about Dr. King is his optimistic idealism.  Although he lived in a time of darker trials than I can imagine, his words ring with hope.  Take a moment today to ruminate on Matthew 19:26; begin to imagine a world transformed by God's unconditional love.  We can create that world only if we rely on God's strength instead of our own.  Ask God to work through you today.  The possibilities are endless.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Meditation For Peace Transcending Understanding

This week I rediscovered a wonderful spiritual practice that I would like to share with you. Worshipping the Lord can be joyfully all encompassing, but I personally have a very difficult time prying my attention away from all of the stressors in my life. Worries and fears steal our attention until it is hard to give the Lord our focus. I encourage you to find a quiet place, close your other tabs, and spend a little time entering into God's transcendent peace.

  1. Find a Quiet Place.
    "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." -Matthew 6:6
  2. Place your heavy concerns in God's hands (prayer and petition). Pray, “ Dear Jesus I give you ______.” Start with the big relationships, responsibilities, and ambitions. Feel yourself lighten as your burdens are lain down.
    "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." -Philippians 4:6
  3. Place your lighter concerns in God's hands with the same prayer, “ Dear Jesus I give you ______.” Continue to feel your burden lifted
    "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" - Matthew 11:28
  4. Place your blessing in God's hands with the same prayer, “ Dear Jesus I give you ______."
     "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." - Matthew 11:29
  5. As you've surrendered your defence mechanisms and securities you may begin to feel vulnerable. When you're ready, and have laid down as many burdens as you can think of, lay down in the hand of God. Pray, “Dear Jesus I give you myself.” 
    "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:30
  6. Rest here. (Be still and know . . . )
    "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" - Psalm 46:10

    Quiet, Please by: Umberto Fistarol