“Behold! Watch me pull a resentment out of my high hat!”.

 

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter you are well aware that people hold grudges – election result grudges, offense taken grudges and reply grudges generated when someone disagrees with your entrenched point of view. The ‘magic’ of holding grudges is that one can take offense out of thin air and then present the illusion of an injustice done to them for all to see

Holding a grudge has become a national pastime. On Twitter there seems to be a reply thread competition to see who can hold the bigger grudge and hold it the longest. With such carrying on, I am somewhat surprised that there isn’t a National Offense Taken Day. In the meantime, though, one can watch The Real Housewives of Bitter End County to get their fill of outrage. Week after week resentments are pulled out of thin air and viewers keep coming back for more high-hat hocus-pocus. There is even a show about the shows to summarize offenses taken.

I sense that behind all of the chicanery is a hot bed of unresolved anger. One person cannot forgive their parent for perceived wrongs. Another cannot forgive a friend who said something to someone about something. A parishioner cannot let go of her hurt and so she talks to others. Many others, as it seems to go. Soon a flock of resentful sheep head out the gate, creating a schism in the church. One national group decides that it must be the angry #Resistance against another national group who they feel is not like them and therefore does not give them pleasure. Such fuming unresolved anger is given new firewood to burn by social media, the place to disengage the “other” at will and without personal cost. Where does all this unresolved anger come from? It is the internalized desire to be justified.

“Where do wars come from? Why do people among you fight? It all comes from within, doesn’t it – from your desires for pleasure which make war in your members.” James 4:1

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Those entrenched and warring members of your soul do not stay entrenched. They are brought out to the light of day in pursuit of validation. Remember the illustrative story Jesus told his disciples about the tax collector and the Pharisee?

He told this next parable against those who trusted in their own righteous standing and despised others

“Two men,” he said. “went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee; the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed in this way to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the other people – greedy, unjust, immoral or even like this tax collector. I fast twice week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

 “But the tax collector stood a long way off and didn’t even want to raise his eyes to heaven. He beat his breast and said, ‘God be merciful to me, sinner that I am.’ Let me tell you, he was the one who went back to his house vindicated by God, not the other. Don’t you see? People who exalt themselves will be humbled, and people who humble themselves will be exalted.”  – Jesus, Luke’s Gospel record 18: 9-14

 

The Pharisee, in trying to justify himself before God, pulled a resentment out of his high hat: God, I thank you that I am not like the other people – greedy, unjust, immoral or even like this tax collector.

The Pharisee gave himself and his audience the illusion of being justified before God. But his self-justification was not validated by the Lord. And, that is the heart of this parable: you cannot justify yourself to the Lord. You must come humbly before the Lord for his assessment of your motives and your behavior. His light must reveal your heart and motives. Trusting in your inner ‘light’ or your sincerity is self-deceiving artifice.

Now, I have seen this parable used on Twitter to decry looking down one’s nose and judging others. In that context, a Jesuit projected condemnation onto conservatives, implying that they judge sinners and that, by contrast, Progressives love the sinner and do not judge. Yet, this application of Jesus’ parable is exactly what Jesus is teaching against: self-justification.

It seems to me that we learn to self-justify. We learn early on to measure ourselves by the perceived good or bad of others. We always find someone who we feel is beneath us. I would suggest that since the Enlightenment, though it brought about many good things, there are some self-justifying folks using mis-guided reason as a measuring stick. They see themselves as “too good, too smart” to believe in a Creator God or the concept of sin. They resent anyone telling them that there is a God and that one day we are held accountable. They belittle you If you say so.

Self-justifying resentment is used to disengage and distance oneself from the “other”, as seen in the case of the Pharisee. This disengagement, in my thinking, is also the origin of malignant use of power over others. Resentments are employing the troops of warring desires to destroy the “other”. Resentments use the force of self-justifying power to isolate and then crush the enemy – the “other”. Holding a grudge is the use of self-justification to disparage the “other” and then abandon them on the field to bleed out.

Resentment, and its unresolved warring desire to be justified at all costs, excludes the “other” who does not validate them. The person holding resentment begrudges others. This state of heart, left unchecked, can lead to violent revenge. And self-justifying exclusion of the “other” leads, not to love but to fear and hate and, even murder. When resentment is deployed on a national level there are wars and genocide.

 

Every time you pull resentment out of your high-hat to feign offense its root of bitterness is exposed. The audience can see it even if you do not. You fool no one. Before another self-justifying ‘illusion’ cut that root off, curse it and throw into the fires of hell. Though you once provided a showy diversion for your audience you provided nothing of substance. (See the Gospel of Mark 11:12-14)

If you do not deal with that root, it will continue to grow until it chokes the life out of you and others before too long.

 

 

 

Coming up: Forgiveness is Never Optional

~~~

 

Two-minutes of hate can turn into fifteen minutes of murderous infamy:

 

“A 38-year-old woman who was angry at YouTube and believed the company was discriminating against her videos, causing her to lose money and views, opened fire with a handgun at the video-sharing website’s California headquarters Tuesday, wounding three people before fatally shooting herself…

“Nasim the Persian Azeri female vegan bodybuilder, also animal rights activist promoting healthy and humane living.”

Nasim Aghdam: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

 

Aghdam shot three victims in the courtyard of the YouTube campus in San Bruno on Tuesday. Police say she then killed herself. Law enforcement officials say they believe that the motive behind the shooting is a domestic-related dispute.

Suspect in YouTube Shooting Posted Rants About the Company Online

The Summing Junction

 

We first meet Saul of Tarsus in Dr. Luke’s historical account The Acts of the Apostles.

 

But they yelled at [Stephen] at the tops of their voices, blocked their ears, and made a concerted dash at him. They bundled him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses laid their cloaks down at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Now Saul was giving his consent to Stephen’s death.

That very day a great persecution was started against the church in Jerusalem…

-Acts of the Apostles, chapter 7 vs. 58 and chapter 8 vs.1.

 

The young man named Saul, born sometime 9-15 years after the birth of Jesus, lived in a first century milieu of Jewish tradition and Torah, of covenants and commemorating, of prayers and psalms and, of Sabbaths and synagogues. In such an environment Saul learned early on that it was God’s people against the goyim – the rest of the world (e.g., David vs. Goliath).

The Jews looked for and prepared themselves for the return of the Messiah who would save his people from world rulers – Rome in the immediate- and bring justice and restore God’s Temple presence among his people. Zealous for God and Torah, the Jews of Saul’s day were resolute in their desire to see this happen. Some of the zealous were “using force against force” zealous, recalling the zealous acts of Judas Maccabeus against the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes 200 years before. Jewish revolutionaries wanted to force change against Roman rule. Others, like Saul, sought to live pious lives in expectation of the salvation to come. They kept their simmering violent zealousness under lid until such time as needed.

Saul studied the Torah, every jot and tittle, under the Rabbi Gamaliel. Politically, Gamaliel was not eager to push an agenda. The Rabbi was more “live and let live” towards Rome. Young Saul was more how can one go on living like this when one knows these things?

We recognize Saul’s Rabbinic training from his letters written to new churches. As mentioned above, we first meet Saul of Tarsus at the onset of persecution of the truly revolutionary – the Christian. I find it interesting to wonder about what we don’t know about Saul in those times.

Before the stoning, did Saul hear Stephen speak as he stood before the religious council? (Acts 7) Did he hear Stephen recount Israel’s history as the people of God and God’s dealing with them, a stiff-necked people? Did Saul sneer when he heard those words? Did Saul hear Stephen proclaim, “Look! I can see the heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!” Did Saul gnash his teeth at such a claim? Was Saul one of the men who dragged Stephen out the door to the stone pit? We know from Dr. Luke’s account that Saul was the moral vestment check at the scene of Stephen’s stoning.

Where was Saul when Jesus was crucified? I would have little doubt that Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, had heard about the sky darkening and about the Temple curtain being rent in two. Both ominous events were sure to alarm any pious Jew.

Where was Saul when Jesus was resurrected? I have no doubt that Saul had heard the reports from all quarters of Jerusalem. This news must have been unsettling for someone who knew the Law and the Prophets and wasn’t able to see such a scenario depicted in the Torah. Even more unsettling, Jesus declared himself equal with God and Stephen claimed he saw Jesus as equal with God, standing at God’s right hand!

And, where was Saul on the day of Pentecost when God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven heard Galileans speaking words from the prophet Joel in their native tongue? (Acts 2) Such things do not go unnoticed by Rabbis.

From Acts, we know where Saul was on the day he encountered Jesus. Paul was riding a donkey on his way to Damascus. He was sent to silence the Followers of the Way forever. No Messiah, he was taught, would be crucified, die and rise again! And, certainly God would not be crucified, die and rise again!

I would consider it very likely that Saul, with a lot of time on his hands riding at 3.5 mph, thought about the events in Jerusalem. He would recall Jesus entering the city on a donkey. He would recall Jesus overturning the money-changers tables in the Temple yard and calling the Temple his Father’s house.

I ‘m sure with Saul’s’ connections that he had heard about Jesus standing before Pilate. And, about the Pharisee-swayed crowd trying to influence Pilate. Jesus had been given a thumb down by many of the same Palm Sunday crowd who waved Palm branches days before. Barabbas, a revolutionary and murderer, was given a thumb up. Jesus would be sentenced in his place. Jesus is crucified. Revolution squashed. But suddenly, there was news of the buried Jesus now walking the streets.

It is also very likely that Saul was also praying and meditating on scripture, perhaps on the visions of the prophet Ezekiel. Almost certainly Saul meditated on the Temple and the return of God’s presence to Israel. Like all “zealous” Jews, Saul was very much tuned into the Temple prophecies and eschatology. Could he have also been meditating on 2 Kings (vs. 11)? 

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

For Saul the Damascus road event wasn’t a conversion experience as Evangelicals would describe it today. And, it wasn’t a turn from Judaism towards Christianity or from the Law towards love. Rather, it was a game-changing, name-changing encounter with a new reality input into his life. I would call this encounter and its result “a summing junction”. Saul met the living Lord on the road that day and came out of that encounter a new creation.

Saul’s zeal for God, Torah and the Temple was ‘summed up’ with the resurrected Jesus. Saul’s hopes for a Messiah to return and bring change was summed up in Jesus. Saul’s prayers for the salvation of the Lord were summed up in Jesus. The sum of charges God could bring against Paul, the Persecutor, were summed against the work of the cross. Paul came out forgiven. His record, once scarlet, was now white as snow.

 This is one of many summing junctions that are recorded in Scripture. As I read again Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road I thought of Jacob. Jacob at one time was going in the opposite direction from his father’s God with his life and plans. At the river Jabbok Jacob encounters the angel of the Lord and Jacob puts up resistance. Jacob wrestles with the angel. In the morning the sum of his encounter is a blessing.

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

Here’s what happened to Saul when he encountered a greater resistance, as told to King Agrippa:

“While I was busy on this work [of persecution],” Paul continued, “I was traveling to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests. Around midday, while I was on the road, O King, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the light of the sun, and shining all around me and my companions on the road. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in Aramaic.

“’Saul, Saul,’ he said, ‘why are you persecuting me? It’s hard for you this kicking against the goads.’

“’Who are you, Lord? I said.

“’I am Jesus,’ said the Lord, ‘and you are persecuting me. But get up and stand on your feet. I’m going to tell you why I have appeared to you. I am going to establish you as a servant, as a witness both of the things you have already seen and of the occasions I will appear to you in the future. I will rescue you from the people, and from the nations to whom I am going to send you so that you can open their eyes to enable to turn from darkness to light, and from power of the satan to God –so that they can have forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among those who are made holy by their faith in me.’” (Acts 26)

After each summing junction encounter with the Lord, whether Jacob’s or Saul’s, lives were forever changed. Jacob is given a new name: Israel. Saul is renamed Paul.

I wonder. Does the summing junction encounter happen at the point of a person’s most resistance to God?

Paul of earth was ‘summed’ with Jesus of heaven so that the riches of God’s love and grace would be declared to all of his creation, which meant beyond the Jews. Now, instead of avoiding the Gentiles and being at odds with them Paul was sent to minister to them.

In the king, and through his blood, we have deliverance—that is, our sins have been forgiven—through the wealth of his grace which he lavished on us. Yes, with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the secret of his purpose, just as he wanted it to be and set it forward in him as a blueprint for when the time was ripe. His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king—yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him.  The Apostle Paul, to the Ephesian churches, 1: 7-10

The cross is the ultimate summing junction. The Holy One of God took upon himself all of the world’s use of force against him and all of the powers of darkness. The outcome became multifaceted: Jesus gave us a new definition of power- dying to self; Jesus claimed victory over evil, Jesus’ resurrection claimed victory over death; there is a turning from darkness to light; we are forgiven our sins and are now able to forgive others. And, the Divine presence now fills temples of His creation.

While we are walking around on resurrection ground, we, like Paul, are to be witnesses of our own “summing junction”, both of the things we have already seen and of the occasions when Jesus will appear to us in the future. With a new name comes a new vocation.

 

~~~

A summing junction symbol:

Yes, even the death of the cross

 

 

“…I’m telling you the solemn truth: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains all by itself. If it dies, though, it will produce lots of fruit…

…Now my heart is troubled,” Jesus went on. “What am I going to say? ‘Father, save me from this moment’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.”

 

 

Here is Our King!

 

 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you

Psalm 118:25, 26

 

When he came to the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to celebrate and praise God at the tops of their voices for all the powerful deeds they had seen

“Welcome, welcome, welcome with a blessing,”

They sang.

Welcome to the king in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven and glory on high!”

Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “teacher, tell your disciples to stop that.”

“Let me tell you,” replied Jesus, “if they stayed silent, the stones would be shouting out!”

Luke 19: 37-40

“Save Eternal King!”

 

 

Let’s start with some extreme telescoping of history: Long before Palm Sunday there was the Big Bang and the creation of the cosmos over billions of years. A people were later chosen by God. Those people wanted a king. First came Saul, then came David.

Do you remember the Davidic covenant made by God?

“The provisions of the Davidic covenant include, then, the following items: (1) David is to have a child, yet to be born, who shall succeed him and establish his kingdom. (2) This son (Solomon) shall build the temple instead of David. (3) The throne of his kingdom shall be established forever. (4) The throne will not be taken away from him (Solomon) even though his sins justify chastisement. (5) David’s house, throne, and kingdom shall be established forever.”  The Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant

Our God was faithful and fulfilled this covenant. A descendent of King David – Mary – gave birth to a King who would reign over the house of David, and over all nations and, would rule forever. Do you remember David’s desire?

King David wanted to build a Temple for the presence of the Lord. He wasn’t allowed to do so. But his son King Solomon did build an impressive temporary one. It was later destroyed in ~586 BCE by the Babylonians. But God’s plan to dwell with man would not be thwarted. So, not only did Jesus become King forever, but Jesus would become a High Priest forever in a ‘forever’ Temple built to unite heaven and earth as one.

“[The Father’s] plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king –yes, everything in heaven and earth in him.” Eph. 1: 10

 

Now we turn the telescope around.

Great news! “For unto you is born this Day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” A King was born in Bethlehem! A star created billions of years before guided wise men from the east to the place where the King stayed. These wise men brought gifts to the new King. Years later and a week before Passover, the crowd assembled along a road up to Jerusalem would honor King Jesus with palm branches and blessings.

King Solomon once rode into Jerusalem on his coronation day (1 Kings 1:28-40). The prophet Zechariah prophesied that the King of the Jews would do the same(Zechariah 9:9) 

Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion!  Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem!  Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Zechariah 9:9

The cheering crowd had witnessed signs of the King’s authority over his creation: water had been turned into wine; a blind man’s sight was restored; a lame man was able to walk, food was multiplied to feed thousands; a storm at sea was calmed by his words; Lazarus was raised form the dead, and a man was forgiven of his sins. That Palm Sunday was the royal appearing of the Son of Man, Lord of Creation and King. “Save Eternal King!”

 

 

At Christmas time we sing, “Joy to the world”. I say, let’s make this hymn a Palm Sunday hymn and throw ourselves down before Him right here and now! I’m guessing that stones would do so even if we didn’t!

 

Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

Toxic Fatherlessness, High T and Roughhousing

 

The real crisis in America is not among the media obsessed topics. The real crisis is not guns or climate change or lack of socialized medical care or who said what and when. The real crisis is fatherlessness. And government and new laws are not the answer to this crisis. Fidelity and faithfulness and father-fulness appear to be.

 

“All over the world where there are divorces, divorces tend to lead to a lack of father involvement,” he warned. “Where there’s a lack of father involvement, boys are in what I would call the ‘boy crisis’ mode.” 

 

“…boys with significant father involvement are not doing these shootings. Without dads as role models, boys’ testosterone is not well channeled. The boy experiences a sense of purposelessness, a lack of boundary enforcement, rudderlessness, and often withdraws into video games and video porn. At worst, when boys’ testosterone is not well-channeled by an involved dad, boys become among the world’s most destructive forces. When boys’ testosterone is well channeled by an involved dad, boys become among the world’s most constructive forces.”

-Dr. Warren Farrell, author of the new book The Boy Crisis

 

 

When Will We Have the Guts to Link Fatherlessness to School Shootings?

Text Without Ceasing

 

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossian churches begins and ends with references to Epaphras and to prayer.

In the opening of his letter Paul gives thanks in prayer to God for “the word of truth” which is “producing fruit and growing” in the world and is now doing so among the Christians in Colossae.  Paul reminds them that the gospel had been brought to their “doorstep” (1: 6) by Epaphras. And, that their enabling to flourish was produced in them by constant prayer:

“That’s how you learned [the gospel] from Epaphras our beloved fellow slave. He’s a loyal and faithful servant of the king on your behalf. He it was who gave us the news about your love in the spirit.

“For this reason, from the day we heard [of your faith], we haven’t stopped praying for you. We’re asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Colossians 1: 7-9

 

What struck me even more about Paul’s opening words is the faithful witness of Epaphras and the “we haven’t stopped praying for you” mature Christian’s devotion to prayer. Both commitments, it seems to me, are required of us: planting the Kingdom of God mustard seed and nurturing that seedling to full maturity (Matt. 13:31).

 

The Apostle Paul ends his circular letter to the house churches in and around Colossae with greetings from those supporting him and the work of the Gospel. Among those is “fellow slave” Epaphras. And though Paul sends on Epaphras’ warm regards, the message is no greeting card sentiment.  Paul was no sentimentalist. Paul was in prison because he spoke “the word of truth”. Paul prayed that the Colossian Christians would mature and also speak “the word of truth”. Paul was aware that, like himself, the Colossian Christians also may end up in jail for doing so. But, he pressed them to remain faithful to that “word”.

In the closing Paul relates how Epaphras is asking God that the Colossians remain resolute and unyielding in their commitment to the “word of truth” they had received:

 

“Epaphras, one of your own folk and also one of King Jesus’s slaves, sends you his greetings. He’s always struggling in prayer on your behalf, praying that you will stand firm and mature, and have your minds fully settled on everything that God wants you to do.”  Colossians 4:12

 

The tongue-in-cheek title of this post is meant to be a prod for Christians to mature and to pray without ceasing. The Apostle Paul, the former Saul, who met Jesus on the Damascus road thought that prayer maintained that revelation:

 

“Never stop praying”

1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

“Devote yourselves to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving.”

Colossians 4:2

 

Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well.

Philippians 4:6

 

Pray on every occasion in the spirit, with every type of prayer and intercession.

Ephesians 6:18

 

To be sure, prayer is a mystery. We understand asking and confessing in prayer. Those are direct interactions. But interceding in prayer? It sounds right, but how does that work, especially when the objects of our prayers have a free will? Paul’s prayer for “God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,” would seem to imply that change in another’s life comes about through the effects of prayer.

Also, to be sure, those who call Jesus “Lord’ are invited into the mysteries of the Godhead. The Godhood’s desired relationship with you includes the mystery of prayer. (I don’t know about you, but I like mysteries. If I knew everything, life would be boring and romance less.)

 

From one Member of the Godhead we learn that prayer is required for life. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he said we should ask the Father for our daily bread.

Also, from Jesus we learn that prayer is required for peace. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies and for those who persecute us.

From Paul we learn that we are helpless in prayer but not left to our own devices. We are told in Scripture that when we pray the spirit intercedes for us when we do not know how to pray.

See prayer as essential to all of life. Then, pray for your spouse and for those in your church to become mature in Christ and to gain spiritual wisdom and understanding. I look around and I do not see mature Christians. I see hobbling Hobbits.

 

Pray and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8 (adapted)

 

~~~

Garden Praying:

 

There are times when the press of life so weighs on me that I find it difficult to pray. It is then that I go to my secret garden of prayer… 

 

In my mind’s eye I see myself standing and looking out the kitchen window. Behind me are the world of concerns which reside in my life. Out the window I see a lush garden bathed in sunlight. I feel a pull to go outside. I step out the back door and down the stairs. I walk the stone path to an arbor with two benches. The arch is covered in vines. There is a scent of Hyacinths in the breeze.

Jesus is sitting on the bench. He’s been waiting for me. I sit across from him. I want to look into his eyes. We sit in the silence of nature. Then He speaks.

“I have greatly desired this time with you.”

I begin to worship him. I confess my sins. I ask for his forgiveness. I tell him my concerns. I release control of my life. I release my control of other’s lives. I return to silence. I look into the Lord of Creation’s eyes. I see mercy and goodness and help and strength. Those eyes, those times, beckon my trust.

 

Pray the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

 

‘If there’s trouble, you should pray’

 

Hannah’s story of coming to faith and surviving a labour camp in North Korea

She prayed every day, often in the living room, quite openly. My father and I had to watch out for our neighbors. If anyone came close, we’d cough and she’d stop praying. Even on her deathbed—in the mid-nineties—she told us to always be thankful and to always pray. “Life is trouble,” she told us. “If there’s trouble, you should pray.” But she didn’t do one thing: she never explained to us how to pray.

All we could make out was, “Hanonim! Hanonim! Lord! Lord! Help.” And then we couldn’t understand the phrases that followed because she spoke so fast. Sometimes my father was annoyed with her and didn’t want her praying in the living room. So she went outside, even when it snowed. One time—when I was older—I sent my 9-year-old daughter after her to cover her up with a blanket.

Praying was so important for my mother that she even washed her hair and put on her nicest clothes. “We approach God with the deepest reverence,” she said. We had no idea who this ‘Hanonim’ was. My daughter even asked her one day why she wouldn’t simply visit this guy if he was that important to her. My mother replied, “One day I will.”

Because of my mother’s prayers, I was never as indoctrinated by the Juche ideology as other North Korean people. Especially after she confessed to me how I was born. My father and mother were married during the Japanese occupation. My father had been married before, but he was unable to have any children with his first wife. And my mother was also unable to conceive. But someone told her that if she prayed to Jesus she would have a baby. So she prayed. For almost eight years she prayed. And then, not long after the Second World War, I was born.

As I said, my mother never explained the full gospel to me, but when I got married in my early twenties, she shared this story with me. And I knew I was a gift of faith.

From True Lent to True Vindication

 

“He told this next parable against those who trusted in their own righteous standing and despised others. 

“Two men,” he said. “went up to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee; the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed in this way to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the other people – greedy, unjust, immoral or even like this tax collector. I fast twice week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

 “But the tax collector stood a long way off and didn’t even want to raise his eyes to heaven. He beat his breast and said, ‘God be merciful to me, sinner that I am.’ Let me tell you, he was the one who went back to his house vindicated by God, not the other. Don’t you see? People who exalt themselves will be humbled, and people who humble themselves will be exalted.”  – Jesus, Luke’s Gospel record 18: 9-14

 

In this teaching Jesus wants us to see each man’s perspective about their righteous standing before God.

If you were in that audience that day you already knew that the Pharisees were those who sought to live out the letter of the law. They were good men who wanted to do what God asked of them. You would expect them to be given Jesus’ vindication for their ‘moral standing’.

If you were in that audience that day hearing this parable you also already knew what the tax-collector was up to – over charging tax collection. The Roman Empire would get their required share and the collector would pocket the overage. The audience would expect Jesus to denounce such a man who worked for the ‘enemy’ of God’s chosen people.

In the parable, one character felt justified, the other felt unworthy. The Pharisee, a good man by all the Law’s standards, uses moral relativism to present his case before the Ultimate Law Court Judge. It is and was easy, of course, to point out other’s moral failures to justify our own ‘moral standing’. You will always find someone who is lacking. You will always be able to play the ‘one-upmanship game’. The Pharisee felt he was on solid ground with his indictment of others.

The tax-collector was already in a deep, deep hole and knew it. He had nowhere to point but at himself.

It could be said that each character despised others in their own way. In their respective roles, each man looked down their nose at others, whether during tax-collecting or in approval collecting. I can see each of them wearing half-glasses perched on the tips of their noses and looking down in a presumptuous gaze. Yet, their trip to the Temple for each was viewed differently by Jesus.

The Pharisee said “Look over there!” The tax-collector said, “Don’t look over here!” In effect with this parable, Jesus said, “Look! Here is what I see!”

When the tax-collector lays bare his soul before God, we see the sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit. This act of introspection in the presence of the Lord event is Lent – regaining perspective.

Now this is important. After Dr. Luke relates this parable, Luke goes on to tell us more about the eye-opening perspective required by Jesus in His kingdom:

 

Luke 18 v. 15-17: “I’m telling you the truth: anyone who doesn’t receive God’s kingdom like a child will never get into it.” What does a child see? He sees a good father. He sees someone safe and ready to put you on his knee close to him.

 

Luke 18 v. 18-27: In the days of Jesus many thought of wealth as a sign of God’s blessing. To the rich young ruler, who may have thought that he had a foot in the Kingdom gate because of his blessed circumstances, Jesus said “sell everything you own, and distribute it to the poor”. Jesus has no problem whatsoever with wealth or riches or with blessing people. Rather, Jesus wants us to be a conduit of wealth, riches and his blessing. For this rich man to change his worldview – positing his riches as a Kingdom Express Card – to looking at the Giver of a place in his Kingdom would require a change of perspective (and currency).* (BTW: this passage is not an ideological basis for redistribution of wealth as I heard a certain Jesuit imply. Rather, it is a particular instance where Jesus is realigning a man’s perspective. The rich man still had his free will to choose, whereas with socialism, choice is not an option.)

* ”When the rich young ruler heard Jesus’ reply he turned very sad; he was extremely wealthy.
Jesus saw that he had become sad, and said, “How hard it is for those with possessions to enter God’s Kingdom! Yes: it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s kingdom.”
The people who heard it said, “So, who can be saved?”
“What’s impossible for humans, “said Jesus, “is possible for God.”

Kingdom Perspective: Giving up what is treasured for the Kingdom is exactly what Jesus did for us when he emptied himself, took on a human form and went to the cross. Jesus makes the impossible possible for those who relinquish self and become conduits of his Living Water which contains the active ingredient Possible.

 

Luke 18 v. 28-30: With regard to how to view relationships, Jesus said, “…everyone who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, because of God’s kingdom, will receive far more in return in the present time—and in the age to come they will receive the life that belongs to that age.” Like with the Pharisee’s exculpatory plea bargain in the parable, you can’t say to the Lord, “But, my brother …”

 

Luke 18 v. 35-43:  A blind man cried out loudly, “Have pity on me!” and Jesus restored his sight. Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.” Those who saw what had happened gave praise to God. This is not so much a passage about physical healing as it is much more about reminding those who think they see (e.g., the Pharisees in the parable) that they do not. To see by faith, as the blind man did, requires a major shift in one’s perspective.

 

From parable to reality…

 

Next, in Luke chapter 19, comes the account of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is a chief-tax collector whose physical stature was small and whose social stature was greatly diminished by his ‘overzealous’ tax collecting. Zacchaeus also gains new perspective — in a tree. Zacchaeus, like the tax-collector in the parable, also looks down. What did he see? Jesus looking up at him.

Lent is about gaining perspective, Kingdom perspective. During this time do I look at others and decide that I am good enough and need only just need a few tweaks here and there? Or, do I look to God and expose my very being to His Light?

There is tremendous gain when you take on Jesus’ perspective – your soul sees its worth in the eyes of Jesus.

When We All Get to (New) Heaven (and New Earth)

 

Just the other day I saw this picture, a billboard remembrance of Billy Graham, posted in a Tweet.

“Gone home” brought back memories of the spurious teaching and preaching I have been under for many years regarding the end of one’s life. If we say “home is where the heart is” then yes, Billy Graham went home. If we say Heaven is our final destination, as I have heard so often in sermons and songs then no, Billy Graham did not go home.

Am I being picayune? I will tell you why I do not think so. Like with the constant preaching of “ministry, ministry, ministry”, so much of my life in attendance in a Bible church setting has been under the preaching and teaching that someday we will all be taken up and away from this ‘God-forsaken’ mess. We will either be ‘raptured’ or die. Either way, as the sermon goes, we will be taken up to our final resting place in heaven. As far as I am concerned that preaching is dead wrong for at least a couple of reasons.

First, the “rapture” is a fantasy imposed onto Scripture. We should see the Scripture in the context it was written and not add fantasy notions to it. The Apostle Paul, by the Holy Spirit, gave us the imagery of Christ returning in power. In 1 Thessalonians 4.15-16 the Apostle “Paul is casting a vision of Christ’s return wrapped in political overturns (he actually does this a lot!)”. There will be no “rapture”. “The Late Great Planet Earth” and the “Left Behind” series of ‘end times’ books are also fantasies imposed on Scripture. These books are not worth your time.

Second, when we die we do go to heaven – the place where Jesus is. And where Jesus goes, we go too. He will be returning to the worlds that are created for him.

You see, “heaven” is just a way station, an intermediate stopping place. Heaven can be thought of as a station set between principal stations on a line of travel. Think railroad. Heaven is not our final destination. Heaven is a way station along the way.

As such, heaven is not a retirement community, as has been implied by so much preaching and teaching and by popular songs and hymnody. I remember singing “This world is not my home I’m just a passing through” and wondering, “Is that all there is? If we’re just passing through what was the point of all this? Is heaven some hyper-imaginary place where I put my feet up after a life of work? There are many more escapist songs just like “This World…”.

I remember singing “When we all get to heaven…” and “I’ll fly away” and “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there”.

 

Now, why would God create a new heaven and a new earth if “heaven” was your final destination?

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, from God, prepared like a bride dressed up for her husband. I heard a voice from the throne, and this is what it said: “Look! God has come to dwell with humans! He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or weeping or pain anymore, since the fist things have passed away.

The one who sat on the throne said, “Look, I am making all things new….” Revelation 21: 1-5

Compare Genesis 1 and 2 and Revelation 21 and 22. Creation was meant to be a place where God dwells with his creation. Creation is the temple designed by God where He is to dwell among his people. Consider the Garden of Eden, Consider the tabernacle, the Temple, and now the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us who are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Consider the new heavens and new earth where God dwells with his people. The work of Jesus on the cross is a work of creation’s redemption, of restoring Genesis in Revelation. The life of Jesus and his death on the cross is for the reunification of heaven and earth. You and I, after passing through the way station of heaven will return and take up roles in the new created order.

Jesus, in fact, will be returning with Billy and all those who have gone on before. Jesus is not giving up on his creation. Jesus will be returning to put things right and he will use us to do so, since when we see him we will become like him. In the context of current church life, Paul writes:

“Don’t you know that God’s people will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you really incompetent to try smaller matters? Don’t you know that we shall be judging angels?” 1 Cor. 6:3

The reason I write this post is to get instill the reader with spiritual momentum that will push one past the grave and past the “final resting place” thinking and towards the dynamic of the Kingdom of God on earth. With your death you are not being put out to pasture. Rather, you are being resurrected and repurposed to do the work of the Kingdom of God on earth where God will dwell with you. Lay up for yourselves those ‘retirement fund’ thoughts now.

Groans are Many, Hearts are Faint

 

The recent tragic events in Florida have elicited cries for action to be taken by those in government. But is government involvement the answer? And who is to blame for what happened? Are we corporately responsible for what an individual does?

Let’s start with my estimation of what our U.S. government’s interface with us should entail before immediate demands are made on it. The secular state, otherwise known as government, should be limited in size and scope of power. It should provide order, transportation infrastructure, protection from foreign enemies, border protection, and enforce contracts. Beyond that a secular state should not have duties including any onus to hand out subjective rights that benefit only certain groups and health care. The secular state, by its very impersonal nature, is not to decide who is more equal than others nor to be given charge of care for others or to become a brother’s keeper.

The people of a secular state should look to government as the enforcer of order. Yet, its powers are limited and rightfully so in our free society. In the matter before us, the FBI, a law enforcement agency, knew about Nick Cruz’s online behavior. But what could the FBI do about such knowledge except to keep an eye on Nick from a distance? Free speech allowed Nick to post what he wanted on YouTube. In fact, Nick’s freedom, our freedom, was what allowed him to do evil.

There are earnest protestors demanding more gun control laws from the government. They are sincere in their demands for a response. Some protestors, though and as we have witnessed before, are likely paid-for protestors from out of town. There are those with money (e.g., Bloomberg and Soros) who want to rile up protestors to get their way inculcated into our laws. Their way involves restricting even more freedoms but does not address the underlying problem. The real problem is evil.

Many today focus their laser sights on government since government and politics have dominated our national focus from the very start of our nation. They want government to shepherd us and use its ‘rod and staff’ to comfort us and to bonk any discomfort away. They want government to lead us beside still waters and into green pastures. But government is not a shepherd unless you are a sheep.

At the beginning of our nation it was understood by those involved that “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” (Alexis de Tocqueville) But today, we as a nation have since walked away from morality and a faith in God’s sovereignty. We have instead put our trust and faith in collective sovereignty – “We the people” government. In this milieu we expect government to be omniscient and omnipotent and controlling with respect to others but not with respect to ourselves.

Where should our focus be? Should we focus on increasing the size of government until all freedoms once taken from your neighbor are repurposed and are now taken from you? How do we address things beyond our control and outside a limited control of government?

Now, I am not suggesting that a secular government should not mandate Christianity. The state, rather, should coexist with Christianity and seek Christianity’s guidance and blessing. But the two should not become one. I am suggesting that we realign our focus off of government and onto the One who is good. I am suggesting that the answer to what is beyond our control is not to increase government control. Rather, the answer is to increase the good we have control of.

If evil in society is the absence of good in society, then good must return in full force. Christians are exhorted in Scripture (Romans 12: 21) “Don’t let evil conquer you. Rather conquer evil with good.”

Now, who is to blame for what happened? Are we corporately responsible for what an individual does? I certainly do not agree with Hillary Clinton that “It takes a village to raise a child”. We are not corporately responsible for what happened in Florida. As a gun owner I am not individually responsible for what happened in Florida. Just the other day, as I was discussing these matters on Twitter, a woman replied that I was “owned by the NRA”. She didn’t like my questioning the narrative she was positing. The NRA is not responsible for what happened.

Only Nick Cruz is responsible for what he did. And, he admitted to the guilt of his crime in court. Only Nick Cruz is responsible. Though personal rights are en vogue, personal responsibility is not. The collective thinking says society caused the problem and now government must fix my problem – “I am not the problem”.

Is what I am positing above a simplistic and pedantic answer? No, I don’t think so. Actually, throwing more gun control laws on the books is as simplistic as it gets. It is using “the rod and staff” of ‘good shepherd’ government to bash other sheep into submission. But the problem of evil lurks in the bushes ready to leap. So, how do we address evil in our land?

Prayer. Yes, prayer. I know, there are some who think prayer is not taking action. I have debated those people on Twitter, as well. There are Progressive Catholics who see social justice action as the epitome of Catholicism (along with bits of Contemplation). Prayer is not weakness, or inaction. Prayer taps into the resurrection power of God, the power that destroyed evil’s power over us forever. 

Do you want to restrain evil in this world? If so, then pray. When we pray we invoke our faith and trust in God’s sovereignty. In fact, the only way to deal with the horror and confusion of evil is to turn to God. The only way. And when we pray as Followers of the Way in the Kingdom of God on earth we stand between heaven and earth pleading and groaning with all creation. We bring to God the pain, the hurt, the sorrow, and the deepest longings of the world. The Searcher of Hearts knows the mind of God and knows our hearts. The Searcher lifts our prayers to the Father who then acts in accordance with His goodness.

 

On a related matter, I will say more in a future post about how we should love and care for our physical neighbors and not do so vicariously through government programs. It takes you to be a neighbor. Neighbors understand brokenness more so than evil. Nikolas Cruz was, by several accounts, a troubled and depressed young man before he acted. The mother who adopted Nikolas died of pneumonia Nov. 1, leaving him without parents. He stayed briefly with a family friend but wanted to move on. For now, though, I will share with you how I am praying against evil and for the good of my neighbors.

Not long ago I found out that down the street from where I live a man was robbed of his wallet at gunpoint. This occurred in the parking lot of a Section 8 apartment housing complex. I also learned that heroin deals we going down in that same government housing project. Drug use might explain the recent armed robberies of banks also down the street from me. I am praying that God would restrain the evil from taking hold in my community. I am praying that no one will be robbed or accosted by druggies. I am praying that law enforcement will be able to monitor the situation and catch evil in the act. I am praying for LE’s safety. I am praying that those involved in crime and those around crime will, by the Holy Spirit, be convicted of sin, of righteousness and judgment. The ruler of this world is judged already and I am enforcing that verdict. (see John 16: 8-11)

 

There is too much to say in this one post. There are too many threads I could pull on. But I hope I asked questions to spur your thinking as to how to relate to the problem of evil. Evil is all around us, even on days where there are no monstrous crimes committed. As Followers of Jesus we must appropriate God’s good through prayer and conquer evil as it lurks waiting to pounce. The world will turn to more and more government to please itself and to protect itself. But, regarding evil and all else, the Church must turn to God in prayer. God’s vantage point is needed, along with full body armor.

“What else is there to say? Just this: be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his power. Put on God’s complete armor. Then you’ll be able to stand firm against the devil’s trickery. The warfare we are engaged in, you see, isn’t against flesh and blood. It’s against the leaders, against the authorities, against the powers that rule the world in this dark age, against the wicked spiritual elements in the heavenly places.” The Apostle Paul writing to the churches in Ephesus, 6: 10-12

~~~~

Added 2/19/2018. Here‘s a partial solution – Gun-violence restraining orders (GVROs) – to guns used for violent means. The solution supports what I said about “neighbor” involvement above and due process:

A Gun-Control Measure Conservatives Should Consider

When those put in positions of authority do nothing, added 2/23/2018:

3 Broward County Police Officers Made No Attempt to Enter the School and Stop Nikolas Cruz

Added 2/24/2018:

Caller told FBI Florida shooting suspect ‘going to explode’

The Associated Press on Friday obtained a transcript of the Jan. 5 tip to the FBI’s call center. The FBI acknowledged it failed to investigate the tip about 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, but the transcript provides the fullest glimpse yet into the seriousness of the woman’s concerns.
“I know he’s going to explode,” she told the call-taker.
The FBI briefed congressional staff Friday about its failure to act on the alarming tip, as well as why it did not delve into a September 2017 YouTube comment posted by a “Nikolas Cruz” that said, “Im going to be a professional school shooter.”

Vocation, Vocation, Vocation

 

op·por·tu·ni·ty cost

NOUN

economics

“Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action. Stated differently, an opportunity cost represents an alternative given up when a decision is made. This cost is, therefore, most relevant for two mutually exclusive events. In investing, it is the difference in return between a chosen investment and one that is necessarily passed up.” Opportunity Cost

 

Investors will consider opportunity costs when deciding on the best financial vehicle to place their money in. Once the money is placed in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, money market funds, CDs or saving accounts the money does not gain the returns of another opportunity. Investors will carefully weigh financial objectives on a scale of time. We must do the same with our life choices.

When we choose a path and wonder about the path we veered from, we are likely to wonder if we made the right choice. I see this as especially true when our heart wants to go in one direction and we must choose to go in another. We may feel that we have given up on a dream to pursue uninspired options. We may feel “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen”.

Will our speculative investment bring returns that are greater than the investment that we didn’t make? If we choose a so-called “secular vocation” have we chosen a lesser return on investment instead of a greater one? These questions came to mind recently as I reviewed the opportunity cost value of my own full-time work. And that of my father before me.

Early in his career life my father was presented with life choice alternatives or “vocations” as it is called today. Around 1950 my dad and mom attended Moody Bible Institute as married students. (I was born before they graduated. I slept in a crib in their apartment which was located above a nearby Chinese Restaurant.)

My parents attended Moody so that they could go into ministry. After their graduation my dad accepted an offer to pastor a small church located in the frozen tundra of northern Minnesota. The congregation, being just a handful of low-income folks, could not support our family. So, my dad had to work another job to make ends meet. During that time mom gave birth to my brother. She kept us kids from going cabin crazy during the frigid days. She chipped the ice off of the milk bottles that the milk man had delivered to our porch that morning. And, she moved my crib around when the spring thaw delivered leaks through my bedroom ceiling.

I relate these things to show that our Lord has a way of turning us around and sending us in a new direction where unthought of opportunities lie outside of our ministry dreams. This happened to my dad and mom.

After serving in this church for a time my dad eventually brought our family back to Chicago. Economics played a roll in my dad’s vocation change. There were mouths to feed.

I wonder if some weighing of opportunity cost was on my father’s mind in those days. I don’t think it was easy for my dad to leave behind a ministry calling and choose to work full-time to support a family. My dad went on to work in what some have called a “secular vocation”. In doing so he provided for our growing family. He worked and worked hard, and sometimes at two jobs. And yet he maintained his ministry vocation.

My father was a Sunday School teacher. On Saturdays I would see him sitting at the dining room table with the Bible and concordances laid out before him. He was preparing his lesson.

My dad was our church’s chairman for many years. He oversaw the budget and the practical matters of the church. Both him and my mom were also on the mission’s board. They wanted the world to be reached with the Gospel. They invited many furloughed missionaries to our home for Sunday dinner. That is how I learned about the Congo, Ecuador, New Zealand, Japan and many other places

My dad’s opportunity “trade-off” benefitted many. What my dad “lost” in a specific ‘calling’ he gained in a much wider ‘calling’: he was able to support his family and to continue the work of the Lord he so desired to do.

Like my father I chose to go into full-time ministry at the start of my career life. And, like my father, I was influenced to do so by the church. My folks brought me to church every Sunday. I attended a Bible church most of my life. In this environment there were altar calls to “be saved”, to “rededicate your life’ and to “go into the missions” every Sunday. These impassioned appeals became so engrained in me that I attended Moody thinking that I would go into a Christian Education/Music ministry and perhaps the mission field. I ended up in a career as an electrical engineer.

During those early church days, I never gave a thought about going into “secular work”. By its absence from any message or challenge in church I never thought of such work as something to invest my time in.  And, how could anything ordinary measure up to the ‘glamor’ of ministry or the mission field? In my world, import, credence, and “value” were given to being in “ministry”. I heard, “ministry”, “ministry “, “ministry “. I feel now that I was shortchanged by the lack of talk about vocations other than “ministry”.

Looking back over sixty years of church life there is only one time when I heard a preacher say something good about a “secular vocation”. The preacher had learned that my father would run for a trustee post in our suburban village. I heard the preacher endorse my father’s running for that office, as my father and I sat in the pew.

My father won the trustee position. He would subsequently become the village’s mayor.

Where am I going with all this talk about opportunity cost and ministry and vocation?

In churches I generally see social professions blessed. Professions like teaching and missionary work are professions that deal directly with people. But what about someone like me who deals indirectly with people as an electrical engineer? I work in the power distribution industry. I help keep people’s lights on and their heat flowing. What about a geneticist who discovers a gene which triggers a disease? Or, a physicist who smashes atoms to find the beginning elements of life? What about the businessman who provides products that sustains us?

“Secular vocations” go unnoticed in the church. Why? I wonder if the lack of blessing on secular vocations has help create the Bible vs. science warfare? Or, the big business vs. the poor rhetoric? Or, the polarization of sacred and secular? Jesus came to reconcile the two forever.

Now, I do not like the term “secular vocation”. I see all work as a gift of God. In the Kingdom of God on earth, the works of our hands should be an offering to our Lord. 

The Veteran in a New Field 1865 by Winslow Homer

 

What I would like to see happen in the church:

1.       At least one Sunday where vocations are talked about, honored and then blessed. Perhaps the Sunday before Labor Day when everyone is still in town.

2.      I would like to hear STEM careers being promoted in messages and in teen gatherings as vocations that God can richly bless. (I have read the Bible through several times. I attended Moody Bible Institute. And, I am as excited by what God has revealed in nature as I am when reading the Scripture. The study of science has been an enormous blessing to me.)

3.      Perhaps a short bio of a member be put in the church bulletin every Sunday. The bio would provide info of the profession of that member, e,g., “John Doe is a CPA…”

By now I hope you can see where I am going with this. My father and I started in “ministry” vocations, then at a point considered the opportunity cost and switched to less “spiritual “vocations. And that has made all the difference, even for the church.

 

 

 

II. For Commerce and Industry

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life
shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with
thy people where they work; make those who carry on
the industries and commerce of this land responsive to thy
will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just
return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer

~~~

The world celebrates vocations. Why can’t the church?

February 11th is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here’s someone’s recent Tweet: