FEELING DOWN???

On the Sunday after a parishioner had seen me taking a walk earlier in the week down one of the country roads in our village she commented, “I saw you walking with your head down and you didn’t look very cheery.” “Huh,” I thought, “so now I have to be careful where I walk lest someone see me on a bad day.”

Even pastors have down days, depressing and sad days, and even hopeless days. I believe my wife thinks I might have too many of them at this point in my life. To be ‘down’ doesn’t have to mean you’ve lost your faith. It means that sometimes our mindsets and emotions negatively impact our lives. Even the Christian life isn’t all ‘hallelujah’ and ‘victory chants’. I think of the Apostle Peter walking on water, when his common sense took over and he saw the waves and began to sink. He was feeling down about that time and his only prayer was, ‘Help me.’

Last night a friend said to me that maybe Christians need to show their weakness more so that others can see we are frail humans who still trust in the goodness of God. If Christians are so upbeat all the time maybe others will judge themselves for being less ‘victorious’ in life.

Paul the Apostle had his own weaknesses, and life sometimes got him ‘down’ but not ‘out’, as the saying goes. We can be emotionally and even psychologically ‘down’ but our will can take us forward. The grace of God can empower our ‘will’ to move when our emotions aren’t enough. Faith is knowing that it’s going to get better because Jesus went there first, before us, to suffer and identify with us.

Unlike the parishioner who looked down on me, Jesus would say, ‘Hey, George, do you mind if I walk with you a while?’ That’s what Jesus did for the guys on the road to Emmaus and over the supper they shared, Jesus reminded them that it was going to be ok.

Paul once said, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2Cor. 12) Maybe his admission of weakness was his cry from underwater for the help he was to receive. Read the Psalms. These were honest to God people who knew how to be ‘down’ and express it,  sometimes relentlessly, on their way to hopefulness and a better day.

We need to walk with one another and encourage one another. Sometimes we even need to have faith on behalf of others whose faith is faltering, standing in for them in their weakness.

I wrote this today because I was out walking with my head down, hoping someone who knows me and that I am a Christian wouldn’t judge me. So far so good. So consider this note as me standing in for some of you today. God bless.

GOD’S COSMIC PROJECT

In our men’s Bible group we are studying the Lord’s Prayer. One of the petitions to God is ‘thy Kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6).

People often ask, what exactly is the Kingdom of God? One great definition I found is that the Kingdom is the restoration and reconciliation of all creation. It is where the will of God is effective. It is the presence of Jesus which inaugurates that Kingdom, the reign of God’s love over and in all.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem to face his crucifixion, he was declared King by the welcoming crowd (Luke 19). Upon the cross, his ‘throne’, he wore a crown of thorns with a sign above his head that read  ‘King of the Jews’.  There was no doubt that Jesus came to bring God’s decision against sin, Satan and death. Satan was cast outside of the Kingdom. While Satan might be called Prince of the world he is not King. The devil is now under the sovereign rule of God. And when we see the healings and exorcisms of Jesus we see the Kingdom doing the restoration and reconciliation, a work to which the church, the community of believers, is called today. That is the Good News.

There is no dichotomy between the spiritual and earthly Kingdom. God never ceased his work on earth. God has always had a plan, a witness, a people, and prophets willing to go forward to see this Kingdom come. When Jesus tells Pilate that the Kingdom is not of this world, he is saying that the rule of the creation does not come from the will of humans or the strength of humanity nor does it take its character from the sinful way that this world operates. But make no mistake, God has always been in this created world moving God’s plan forth. As Jesus said, “Not even hell itself can stop the progress of the Kingdom, represented in the church”(Matthew 16:18).

And that brings us to now. Where is this Kingdom? What does it look like? Well, it is always a matter of action, which might begin as personal salvation, and includes all of our lives, the words we speak and the actions we take. The Trinity is now our King. In the Book of Revelation when John turns to see the Lion on the throne, what he sees is a Lamb, bloodied and bruised from suffering for us.

And so, whenever and wherever we act in the name of Christ, in the image of Christ, we are announcing the restoration and reconciliation of God for God’s creation. It’s happening wherever the will of God is being done. It will cost us much to be part of this Kingdom work. But never doubt that what you or I may do for God is part of what will end up being the full restoration and reconciliation of earth.

Yes, salvation matters, as a lifelong process begun by God through Jesus and to be absolutely completed at the coming of Christ. (See Philippians 1) Salvation includes taking care of the most needy in this world. In his inauguration speech Jesus said,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (freedom).” (NRSV Luke 4:18,19)

This is what Jesus came to do and what he calls us to do, following his life and words. (See Matthew 7)

The rules of the Kingdom are simple: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. God and our neighbor are in everyone we encounter. We dare not denigrate the image of God in others even if that ‘other’ doesn’t realize that they bear the image. (See Acts 17)

Advent and Christmas is the season to become more aware that our King, though born in a cave, went on to be Sovereign Ruler. I love this line from the song “Mary Did You Know”:  “This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.” That’s the Christ in our lives, our suffering Lord who promises that no matter what trouble we face in this world, we can trust our Lord for deliverance… for us, for others and even for this material world.

I conclude with words from the book “Kingdom Ethics” by Stassen and Gushee: “God’s cosmic project is the reclamation of God’s entire creation.” (p.18)

Some call Christmas the birthday of the King. Let’s live like it really is. I’m going to try my best.

WAITING WITH FAITH, HOPE, AND LOVE

Advent is a season of waiting. It reminds us of the importance of waiting. And we are reminded of how much we don’t like to wait. It is a season of, in Paul’s great triad, faith, hope, and love.

There is light to break forth upon those who sit in darkness. That’s God’s promise in the coming of the Messiah; by faith, we are assured of it. And hope is our inner sight of seeing things that have not yet come. Love? Love is the way we live in the meantime, caring for the ‘other’, no matter who they are.

And these three, faith, hope, and love tell me that God in God’s goodness will, through the Son and the Spirit, accomplish God’s Kingdom and that Kingdom will gather ground. It will encroach on the enemy territory through God’s people. It is both here and yet to come in fullness. “The Kingdom of God is here”, said Jesus.

Covid, cancer, and other diseases will be eradicated. Political rivals will learn to get along for the good of the nation and the world. Life in Haiti will improve. The lame will walk. The blind will see. Immigrants will find a path to citizenship. People of all colors, genders, and ethnicities will be treated as brothers and sisters. The good news will be preached. You can add your own personal hopes to the list. And yes, the lamb and the lion will lie down together; and one day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).

Faith believes and trusts the God who promises. Hope sees it. And love will make it happen.

In the meantime, we wait….

SADNESS FOR HAITI ….AND AMERICA

I have been involved with Haiti for over 35 years and have become good friends with many people there, most of them brothers and sisters in Christ. Others and myself have witnessed love, faith, great works and ministry in the country and through the churches there. And now once more we have seen devastation, not from an earthquake but at our border.

Today a very good friend wrote me and I will let his words speak for themselves. There is nothing I can add that would do justice to the words that come from the heart, and the pain of this man I love like a brother. He is broken and his people are broken.

“My brother,

I gat tear when I saw what  happen to the Haitian people, I was really disappointed 

That situation remind me slavery period

Haitian are very angry, I know two Haitians who destroy their passport with American visas.

we all know ,Haitians helped America to fight  in order  to get his freedom , so we are part of America.

it’s inhuman when you hear testimony from people they send back to Haiti. 

We know that, American people are not happy with what’s happening at the border.

But , why Haitians ? 

Haitians love Haiti, they run away from Haiti because of kidnaping , killing, insecurity , violence and misery , we are not safe. ( nobody)

Haiti is one hour from America,  why America does not come to help with the gangs , insecurity and so one .

Today , I hear   Daniel Foot the  special ambassador for Haiti is resigned  because of what’ happening at the border and Haiti,

Past George, when you hear and see what is Happening in Haiti right  now is two different things. Haiti looks like hell, no body wants to stay.

Last week only at least 4 ships leave La Gonave Island.

George, 50 American  soldiers are good enough to help us with the gangs , we are at 1hre 30 minutes  from America.

Let ‘ us pray for Haiti.

God bless.”

The question for us is ‘What can and will we do?’ That is the question asked by our Lord, I believe.

I will write more but for today, let us pray for Haiti and ask wisdom for the leaders of our nation and world.

george

MORE TRAGEDY IN HAITI

The news today tells of yet one more catastrophe in a country so close to our shores, a country with which I am familiar after many years of visits and ministry by our church.

A friend from Haiti wrote this morning and said, “We can’t take anymore.” But they will because the news tells us of an approaching hurricane ironically called ‘Grace’. Our friends there are becoming more hopeless.

I read an online comment this morning where someone wrote, “There but for the grace of God go we.” Not helpful and not correct. It sounds like God specially favors us because God spared us and not them.

My question is, “Where IS God in the midst of the calamities in Haiti?” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a prison cell before his execution, “Who is Christ, actually?”. He was asking what about the Jews and others who were killed by the Nazis. The same question could be asked for our Haitian friends. Does it mean the salvation of their souls as their homes tumble down on them and their children die of disease and hunger? That’s not God’s will. That’s evil against which Christ fought and for which he died. And it’s a battle to which we are called.

We are the hands and feet of Christ to reach out to those in dire straits. We are his body and we must show that to the world. There once was a leader who called Haiti a  _____hole. But Christ calls them his beloved and God’s word says that the Lord is close to the needy and broken. And yes, of course that means anyone, anywhere. And I believe that our supernatural God takes every one of those souls into his eternal care, doing for them what we have not been able to do to give them life.

At this moment all I can do is offer my sympathy and prayer for those who suffer there and in so many parts of our world. And I know that Jesus weeps with everyone of those who hurt. He suffers with them. He dies with them. May we all offer ourselves to God in these moments.

When I first heard the song below, my heart broke. I wept.

Who Will Save The Children (Randy Stonehill)

Cry for all the innocent ones born into a world that’s lost its heart,
For those who never learn to dream because their hope is crushed before they can start,
And we shake our fists at the air and say, “If God is love, how can this be fair?”

But we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who will save the children?
Who will save the children?

We count our blessings one by one, yet we have forgotten how to give,
It seems that we don’t want to face all the hungry and homeless who struggle to live,
But Heaven is watching tonight, tugging at our hearts to do what’s right.

But we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who will save the children?
Save the children.

As we observe them through our TV screens, they seem so distant and unreal, but they bleed like we bleed and they feel what we feel.

Oh, save the children,
Oh, save the children,
Save the children.

Now we decide that nothing can change and throw up our hands in numb despair,
And we lose a piece of our souls by teaching ourselves just how not to care,
But Christ would have gone to the cross just to save one child from being lost.

And we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
It must be now; there’s no time to waste,
It must be you; no one can take your place,
Can’t you see that only we can save the children?

READING THE BIBLE WITH GRACE-FILLED EYES

The violent character of God as presented in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, has always troubled me.  I grew up having been taught that the whole Bible is the word of God without any errors. This idea of inerrancy became sort of a doctrine one had to subscribe to within the evangelical church.

Some people raised in more fundamentalist homes and churches were taught the Bible says it and I believe it, only to discover how untenable some of that ancient stuff really is. So when God commands the slaughter of people, well we just know that God had his reasons. He was purifying the world by getting rid of the bad people. Some say that God’s ways are mysterious and we can’t know God’s will. We just accept the printed word.

People leave the faith because of answers like that. I believe we CAN understand the violence in the Old Testament but it will require a certain grace to read the scriptures differently than what we might have been taught.

Let me write this cautiously because some will be offended even though they might not know why: Not every biblical event in those ancient times was specifically from God. Much that was written interpreting God’s intent and actions was actually the way a tribal society amidst other tribal societies interpreted what God was saying and doing through them.

I know that ‘all scriptures are inspired by God,’ but not all of them are accurate portrayals of God’s character. How do we know God’s character? Through Jesus, the Christ. He was the very WORD made flesh so that we can know God. Jesus himself says at one point, ‘if you see me, you see the Father’.

So I came to a conclusion late in life that if I see something from the old stories that don’t conform to what I know about God in Jesus then at the very least I say now that the old stories are problematic and probably not accurate. I feel under no pressure to believe differently now because I have come to know the living eternal God through Christ. God’s character never changes. He is love, once and for all time. The cross is the place where love and justice meet in Christ. Our God is a merciful and forgiving God. Christ shows us that time and time again in his acts of forgiveness, healing and Godly love.

 As one evangelical writer put it, “Some biblical writers got the message wrong.” Jesus even corrects some old sayings when he speaks what we now call the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5,6, and 7. (C.S. Cowles) For example: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.” – ( Leviticus 19:18) But Jesus goes on to say, “43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” ESV.

Or take Saul, for another example. (1Samuel 16) The Bible says that God sent an evil spirit into Saul. Then look at Jesus…. He never put evil spirits in anyone he encountered but rather removed them.

So I am not troubled any more by the misunderstandings I read. Although I must be forthright and say that many churches wouldn’t want such an evangelical as me. But I want to be honest to God and I want to seek truth. And the only one who really had the truth was Jesus who himself said that he WAS the truth.

So I am reading the Scriptures with grace-filled eyes these days so I can model my life on the God I know in Jesus who gave me life and life eternal. On the Mount of Transfiguration God said to Moses and Elijah, about Jesus, “This one is my son. Listen to him.” That’s who directs my ways these days.

One more thought. A man approached a monk one day and asked, “Why does the Bible contain so many bizarre, offensive and un-Christlike depictions of God?” The monk replied, “Because God let his children tell the story.”

And so it was. The children continued to tell the story progressively until the WORD became flesh and dwelt among us and we now get to behold his glory.

So, enjoy the Scriptures. We learn much about God. And when your friends tell you they can’t believe some of the violence in the Old Testament, feel free to say, “It’s ok, I have the same trouble with it.” Then get to Jesus.

THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG

I’m reading “Open and Relational Theology” by Thomas Oord in which he asks the age-old question which is the title for today. But he asks it with regard to faith and love. Which comes first? I began to think that I am no longer attracted to the Evangelical notion about faith. It’s like a formula or a barcode stamped on our hands to secure our entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God.

Oord directs our attention to Paul writing to the Galatians,

“For [if we are] in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith activated and energized and expressed and working through love”. (Amplified Bible)5:6

When I was a young pastor an older teen told me that he had ‘backslidden’ in his faith (a term meaning that he was probably into something bad) but then he said it didn’t matter because he was ‘saved’ and once you are saved you are always saved. Now, there’s a testimony that I will preach. NOT.

The church at Corinth always had problems of pride and greed. Paul wrote to them that without love even a faith that moves mountains is of no use. (See I Cor. 13.) Isn’t that something? Who would guess that such a faith without love is useless? Anybody with an intuitive mind would. Faith is trusting God in Christ. Love is God. Some see faith as simply an assent to doctrines. Love is the expressing of God’s life in ours and in others. And yes, sometimes non-believers live love better than those of us who have the ‘correct’ belief.

In Jesus’ day, people had their lives changed because they were touched by God’s love in Christ, through healing and hearing the Good News that God’s Kingdom had arrived for them. He invites them into God’s love before they can trust him. Think how often Jesus says, ‘Go, your faith has made you well.’ His love and their acceptance gave them new life.

When Jesus met with his disciples to wash their feet he said he was giving them a new commandment: “Love one another.” (John 13:34) He said it was the same kind of love with which he loved them.

So, the chicken or the egg? In my mind they are an organic whole. They are a unity in Christ. They are like the two wings on an airplane. We can’t trust or live without both of them together. But I will say this: The virtue of love expresses a whole lot more in this creation than believing. Sometimes I have to believe and trust in order to have love. But love is the thing.

When I go to a doctor my first concern is not if they are a Christian. Rather I want to know that this person is skilled in the art of medicine and care. All their hard work finds it’s greatest expression in love (deeds of love). Thankfully I have a doctor who has connected both. Or consider marriage. I believe in the covenant. I believe in my wife. But if I don’t love her with more than words, then I’m ‘toast’.

Finally, it’s rather easy to declare faith or belief. Love is the thing. We can’t counterfeit it. It’s relational and it changes the world.

If anyone is interested in reading the book I mentioned, it’s “Open and Relational Theology” subtitled ‘an introduction to life-changing ideas’ by Dr. Thomas Jay Oord published in 2021

PANHANDLERS AND GRACE

I’ve been reading online comments about the people who stand on street corners asking for donations. Often it’s a family with a sign pleading for some help. The online comments usually list all the reasons why we should not give these panhandlers money.

Some say ‘they drive BMWs’ or ‘they live in nice homes’. People have actually followed them to their supposed houses. ‘They are ripping us off’, or ‘they are part of a scammer gang’, I read. ‘They use their children to play on our sympathies,’ one person suggested. ‘They should get jobs, like the rest of us’, or ‘we shouldn’t reinforce their behavior.’ And there are some good-hearted folks who suggest that people give to a rescue mission where one can know the ‘needy’ are being taken care of. Good idea.

I recall Jesus words, ‘Give to everyone who asks of you.’ (Luke 6:30). I like the MESSAGE VERSION: ‘If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.’ How many people ‘used’ Jesus for their miracles? Remember the lady who stole a miracle when she snuck up and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment? And there are still people using Jesus like a vending machine. ‘Cheap grace’ is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it.

I am embarrassed to recall an incident in NYC when a street person asked me for money and I took to the time to explain to him how he would probably use the money for drink or drugs and such. Was I a jerk or what?

Here’s what I think. Giving is good, not just to help someone but for the building of our own character of grace. It’s probably why Jesus said, ‘Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.’ (Sermon on the Mount) It means that we are not to keep track of how we give money. Certainly stewardship is a good thing. But grace is even better and it may cost us a dollar or two. Grace has even cost people their lives. That’s what happened to our Lord. If he had been more earthly sensible he would have moved to Galilee and set up shop for the rest of his life.

I’m thinking of a scene in the final judgment when God looks over my life and says, ‘George, you were so wasteful for giving $10 to that so-called family on the street corner or that supposedly homeless man who begged some money from you.’

I know that we can find some creative ways to help those in need but remember that grace comes in the giving, not in any form of judgment on our part. Listen, God knows how wasteful I have been in spending money for myself. And while I am not deliberately trying to be wasteful on ‘panhandlers’ it is a good lesson for my soul to just give ‘without asking for anything in return’.  And please let’s not judge the people who are asking. In this past year those people have been some of us.

Just maybe, out of all the money we give away in such instances, someone’s life is touched by the love of God we show. And by the way. Offer a blessing of God to those in need. You are the one who will be truly blessed.

THE WATER AUTHORITY: A PARABLE

A few weeks ago the City Water Authority where I live came to my home at my invitation. They came to inspect all my sprinklers to make sure they were efficient and they programmed the system that turns the water on and off at correct intervals for conservation and effectiveness. All this was done for free.

The whole experience was wonderful. What happened next was the best. I shared my experience with my neighbor. He was overjoyed because he was having problems with his own system. He made the call. Then I overheard him sharing the news with another neighbor and then another. The water folks are going to be busy in our neighborhood.

You could say that this was GOOD NEWS, a proclamation of what the City was doing for us. Now, here’s the thing. Let’s say my neighbor Phil listened to their recommendations, read their follow-up email….  and did nothing; told no one. Ah, but that’s not how it works.

It got me to thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if we shared the Good News of what God is doing for us with those around us? I could sound something like, ‘Guess what God is doing in my life?’ ‘Can I pray for you?’  ‘Hey, if things are going so wrong let me share where I have found some help.’ An understated, subtle comment is often more effective than a forceful evangelical approach. Heck, you could even write a little blog on the Good News. And if you are reading this and not a person of faith, then invite God into your life perhaps not knowing what to expect at first. You can discover who God is by reading one of the Gospels in the beginning of the New Testament. Listen, I never knew that the City provided their service until I read about it on a neighborhood website.

The second thing I thought about was how sometimes we receive the Good News about God and do nothing with it. God is always about reconciliation, reform, renewal and I am sure a whole lot of other ‘r’ words. The Good News is about changing the world for good by God’s grace. Grace changes everything: the way you see yourself, the way you see others and best of all the way you see God through his Son Jesus, the Messiah. God coming into our lives as Good News changes the earth… not the way we care for just our lawns but all of creation. The Good News changes the ethic, the worldview by which we live.

Now I would have loved the water authority folks to stay with me and help me day to day cause something always is going wrong with my sprinklers, but of course they can’t.. But the Good News of God is that God stays with us to repair and renew everything in our lives. Oh, sometimes the system of this world might not be able to be repaired at the moment, but the Good News is that something good can come from the brokenness.

So make the call, accept the invitation and live into the change that the Good News of God can make. A change not just in you not but also in this world that God loves so much.

I welcome your thoughts.

LIVING INSIDE OUR OWN HEADS

‘Living in your own head’ can mean to be introspective but often times it means to overanalyze life even to the point of feeling self-critical. Too much second guessing ourselves.

There are certainly times when we need to reflect within ourselves, take stock of our lives, and see what needs to be done. And that soul searching needs to be done in love, not judgment. If we are to love others as ourselves, well, then, I guess we need to have an unconditional self-acceptance in order to be able to be healthy about loving others. And that can be a life’s work of maturation.

This is so true in the Christian life. Our view of God’s judgment and anger can lead to a lack of self worth.  This might come from some bad parenting or even lack of success in some endeavor. We end up with a bad image of God thinking that we need to please God, achieve some great thing for God.

Self-flagellation is what it was called in early Christianity. It was practiced as a form of mortifying the flesh, inferred from some places in the Bible.  In Romans 8 Paul writes: 13” for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Notice that Paul says ‘by the Spirit’. This is no directive to physically abuse oneself in some kind of effort towards purification. It is more meant as a means of subduing one’s earthly ways that are contrary to God’s will. If anger is my problem then I need to subdue it, not repress it. I need to name it and conclude that I am invited into a better way to live.

I think that’s the meaning of ‘repentance’. In some instances ‘repent’ might have to do with being sorry for sinful deeds but generally it means to be ‘changing one’s mind’ and even being ‘out of one’s mind’. Stop regurgitating the same ole way of living and believing and get out of your head and discover that the Kingdom of God has arrived and is here for God’s good purposes of defeating evil and bringing abundant life to God’s creation. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 4:17, “Repent for the Kingdom of ‘Heaven’ (meaning God) is at hand.”

Let’s paraphrase that verse. “I invite you to change your way of thinking about life as a dead end and instead try to think outside your own mind into a new way of understanding that God’s eternal and unconditional love has come close in the person of Jesus. And this love will change your life.”

There is no need for self-belittling or self-incrimination. Rather this is an opening of our minds and hearts to receive the Father’s love. Even for those who haven’t had good fathers, this God is the father and perhaps mother that we have longed for.

And once we start thinking God’s thoughts, and having the mind of Christ, as Paul puts it in Philippians 2, we discover why God’s ways and God’s love manifested in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is a wonderful way to live. Not by rules but by a relationship. Then we will be in our right minds.