BREATH

My mom died in 2014. She could not get a good breath of air. She had COPD. But for the skill and kindness of Hospice she would have agonizingly suffocated. People who have suffered from the effects of COVID 19 on their lungs know all too well the gift of breath.

Breath was give to Adam and Eve. Breath came to the dry bones in the valley and they came alive (Ezekiel 37). Breath is a gift from God (Isaiah 42). Breath is sacred. And in the case of George Floyd, that gift was taken away by an act of evil.

I consider how many times the breath of black people has been taken away throughout our nation’s history. Time and time again their lives have been cut short by drowning, lynching, and a myriad of other ways. Their freedom to breathe has been extinguished by white people.

African Americans and other people of color want to breathe again. They want the same access to life that the rest of us have.

The riots in our streets are the choking cries of people who can’t breathe, people who have been suffocating under the giant knee of racism for so many years. Some people might say, ‘But look at the progress made by and for the African Americans over the years.’ Malcolm X once responded that if you plunge a knife nine inches into someone’s back and pull it out six inches you couldn’t call that progress.

We are all longing for a fresh breath of God given air. That’s what God wants for us. Let us hope and pray that in some better way we can all surface after this deluge of racism, murder, and street violence to once again breathe. Together.

There are some great words from a group called All Sons and Daughters. Let them be our anthem just for today.

Great Are You Lord

All Sons & Daughters

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

 

 

 

A LAMENT FOR GOD’S CHILDREN

This weekend has been declared a time of national mourning culminating in a day of mourning on June 1st. In three months over 100,000 people have died of COVID-19 in our nation alone.

People of all faiths are encouraged to join in this time of national mourning as in prayer we seek consolation and healing from our God. Every one of these lives lost matters to God as do the lives of public and private heroes. As well we grieve for the millions out of work and those devastated by the economic consequences of this pandemic.

And so we mourn together.

Below I have included a prayer from the National African American Clergy Network

God of our weary years and silent tears, we lift up our hearts in praise to you. You alone are able to receive the hailstorm of our tears and the torrential rain of our grief over the sudden death of nearly 100,000 of your precious children of all ages, backgrounds and social strata, from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Whether or not we have directly experienced the pain of loss, an indescribable spirit of lamentation and sorrow has fallen upon our collective American family. The sheer thought of 100,000 humans, made in your divine image, enough to fill any city, suddenly gone, numbs our minds and overwhelms our hearts.

O God in heaven, hear our hearts cry out for the loss of those who will never be mere numbers to us. They are our beloved mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, children, and extended family. They are beloved fellow Americans, suddenly wiped out by an Invisible enemy mightier than all the world’s armies. Merciful Lord, we ask you to bless all those now shouldering heavy financial burdens from so great a loss.

All this has happened, Lord God, but we have not forgotten your promise to be with us in trouble and deliver us. Forgive the sin of our nation for the disproportionate number of people of color among the fallen, victimized by health care inequities and the unbearable burden of systemic racial injustice.

In the days ahead, we ask you Lord, to wrap loving arms around those left only with fleeting memories of warm smiles, joy-filled laughter, spirit-lifting hugs, the matchless pleasure of special days celebrated, and contributions to a better world now ended. You, alone, O God, can turn our mourning into dancing and our grief into joy over the sweet remembrance of our beloved. May you now rest their souls. In your blessed name, Lord God, we pray. Amen.

(Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner is president of the Skinner Leadership Institute and co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network)

 

THE KILLING OF GEORGE FLOYD

As a follower of Christ I must say there is no place in the Kingdom of God life for the unjust killing of George Floyd by the police. And I for one think that Christians must raise their voices as one against such brutal violence on the part of law enforcement. We know all too well that too many black people have suffered violence and death at the hands of those who think they are carrying out justice.

There have always been rationales for the brutality most of us saw on T.V. But as Christians we know better, or should know better.

When the Bible speaks about justice it does so in the context of how the marginalized people were being treated by the authorities of the day. In this instance justice must be brought to bear for those in charge of such brutality against George Floyd. And this is not just on behalf of African Americans. This must be done on behalf of all people. When one someone suffers like this, God suffers and we all suffer.

Christians can’t just read the NEWS. We are part of this NEWS and we may no more turn a blind eye and deaf ear to such horrendous murder than Christians could during the brutality of the Nazi regime.

It’s time again, as it was during the civil rights struggles, to raise one voice, no matter our race, against such violence that surely is contrary to the will of God.

It is up to the followers of Jesus to discern and determine what goes against God’s will and fight against such demonic actions with all the weapons we have at our disposal. (I refer to Ephesians 6) May God help us so to do.

And may God have mercy on the Floyd family and grant peace to Mr. Floyd in God’s eternal peace.

Pastor George Gaffga

 

MOSQUITOS AND TICKS. WHAT’S GOD GOT TO DO WITH ALL OF THIS?

I can hear Job complaining to God right now; asking why coronavirus or any virus has to exist and destroy so much that is good in life. God’s response to Job might be that even viruses have good purpose. Ask a virologist. And as organisms, living things, they have a freedom to move hindered only by the ability of free human beings to destroy them. Having been the recipient of malaria through the bite of a mosquito, I understand this. It would appear that the human reach has not extended to the parts of the world where over 400,000 people die of malaria each year. I am somewhat certain that mosquitos have some beneficial purpose, food for bats for one thing. And if I were Job I certainly would ask God what the big plan for ticks was?

There is freedom in this creation. That’s what God intended. And this freedom is only bounded by God at work WITH his creation. God’s work involves a humanity first created to commune and work with God to care for all of creation. Think about Moses for a moment. He is said to have parted the sea but he was the human agent involved with God and with the natural element of wind. Moses was God’s partner. When we read the Bible we always read about humanity and God together: from Adam and Eve to Abraham to Jesus, humanity is freely working with God towards good, for the most part.

In these past painful weeks, with more to come throughout the world, we have witnessed the human community come together to fight; to limit a common enemy.

People on this earth are pursuing a good by all means possible, even at the risk of their own lives. Religious and non-religious folks have become a community to work out God’s good purposes. God doesn’t want this virus any more than you or I do. God is not punishing anyone or wanting anyone to suffer. Just consider what Jesus did to heal. It’s not as if God gave people demons and afflictions only to have his son work to get rid of them. Recall Jesus’ healing of the blind man. When Jesus was asked about who was to blame for the man’s blindness, Jesus responded that it was the fault of no one in particular but rather it was the will of God to get this man well and know that wellness was the will of the Father in heaven. What hurts and destroys is not God’s intention.

In Haiti there is a saying, ‘Bon Dye Pa Di Sa’ (God didn’t say that), in reference to why there is disease, earthquakes and such. No, God is at work to influence, to draw people together to fight, heal, and comfort. And yes, at certain levels people resist that influence because of their own egos. That is the risk of free will. God’s grace is making a difference as it has throughout history. The miracles of God will be found in the thousands of stories that will come out of this ‘evil’ experience.

Please realize that what I am writing is from a worldview that sees Christ as the best revelation of God’s will for his creation – that one day it will be brand new. For those who have died it IS a reality, even though it brings ache and agony to friends and family.

Right now through the medicine, intellect, faith, prayer, love, sacrifice and grief of millions of people on this planet, a difference is being made. There WILL be healing and good through God’s love and the efforts of humanity. That which intends evil can be changed into good by the grace and will of God working through his creation, particularly human agency.

May God grant special, willing and wise hearts of the government leaders and people of medicine to assist all humanity in the days ahead.

 

 

 

welcoming our gay brothers and sisters

Back in 48 A.D. the church was predominantly Jewish. Soon Samaritans entered and then the Gentile world responded to the Good News. And get this- the church rulers at the time went from 613 laws of Moses to just 4, an interesting 4 at that (see Acts 15). Gentile Christians were asked to abstain from food that had been sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming the blood of animals.

Why these four? It had something to do with accommodating the consciences of Jewish believers. It was like a negotiation in order that the two groups would be able to fellowship together. Sort of like today the Presbyterians saying they won’t baptize infants while hanging out with the Baptists.

Today those four laws that came from the Council (in Acts 15) are not required for Gentile Christians. In fact most of them are not even understandable to a lot of Christians. Jewish Christians these days do celebrate many of the traditions found in the Old Testament but not as legal requirements.

But what about the question of sexual immorality? What did that even mean? It meant rampant promiscuous sexual activity outside the context of marriage between a man and woman.

Now, a parable of sorts: God is the great Maestro conducting his orchestra in such a way as to accommodate people who have learned to play a different tune And God also accommodates people who play, in some people’s opinion, out of tune. See, the tune we play is not what gives us entrance into the orchestra. It’s our trust of the Maestro to get our music to the place of glory. The Maestro has been making such accommodations since the beginning of time.

This little parable is meant for us today. Jesus gives us two commandments that he says cover the whole law. They sum up everything God wants from us. One is to love God with our whole being and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves, as Paul repeats in one of his letters.

So what about people who are of homosexual orientation and practice? Why are we laying a heavy burden on them which denies them God’s love and their intimate love for one another? I am not speaking of promiscuous sex, which is in reality outside the bounds of real love for all of us. I’m emphasizing friendship love and romantic love that comes from a commitment between two people.

In my humble opinion, we are not to prohibit homosexual Christians from embracing faith or being embraced by the church community. This is a legitimate accommodation the Maestro makes for the Kingdom Orchestra. If any person knows and lives God’s love they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yes, there is a change in the tune since 48 A.D. And God is smiling upon all the new members of his orchestra. God’s ongoing love makes more than an accommodation. He creates something beautiful from all corners of his gorgeous and glorious creation.

CORAM DEO

 

GOD’S NOT MAD AT US

Many folks think that talking about hell and God’s judgment will bring non-believers to faith. That might be good psychology but not good biblical theology. The scripture teaches that God is love. While there is talk about wrath, the presupposition with which I begin is knowing that God’s central essence, around which God creates and sustains his whole creation, is love.

God’s anger is really against the evil to which humans succumbed. Sin is the result of idolatry. Idols have been empowered by human worship, and God in Christ is out to destroy the power of that evil and thus allowing you and me to worship God. Look at the second commandment. In Exodus 20 God says that we shall not bow down and worship any idol. Worship is reserved for the one true God. When the Israelites were freed from Egypt they were to go and ‘worship’ God, not just take a nice trip to the Promised Land. We are created to worship and love God. That’s where the only real life is to be found.

Now let us realize that after all the idolatry God has made peace with his creation through the Son’s victory over death. In Colossians 1:19,20 we read ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (ESV).

Christ rescues us from the dominion of darkness. ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13 ESV). Christ has disarmed all the powers and authorities against us.

The Bible doesn’t say that God was so angry with the world that he sent his Son (John 3:16). Rather it says that God loved his world so much. It was love –  God wanting the best for his wayward children.

See, the God we know is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. And that revelation is Love. It is the self-giving of God for God’s creation in order to reconcile us with him. And we know that the Christ on the cross is there because of LOVE. So if we start with the presupposition of a loving God we will then look at all God’s revelation in Scripture through that lens. Certainly there are passages about wrath and anger and God being sorry that he created this world but those scriptures are ‘the dark side of love’, a side that while expressed is not enacted but through the pain of the cross.

Theologian Kazoh Kitamori, in his book ‘Theology of the Pain of God’, wrote that God’s love becomes the wrath of God in his response to sin. God is sorely against sin because it alienates his creation from him. And if I may be so bold I would compare this to a human father loving his child who is bent on living a life in opposition to the love the father has for them. Take for example when my son was little and insisted upon playing in the street. After three times of telling him not to, I resorted to what he might have considered my wrath as he felt the sting of my hand on his butt. But I prefaced my action by saying, ‘Son, this is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.’

So when the Bible speaks about the wrath of God, it means that WE experience an alienation from God when we worship idols. God has left us to our own devices but God has always been about redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. Read the book of Hosea.

Let’s look at a few passages about the wrath of God. In Ephesians 2:3 we are told we are objects of God’s wrath. But read carefully and you will notice that God loves these objects of wrath (some translations say children of wrath). You will find God’s love expressed in verse 4: ‘Because of His great love for us.’ In the MSG Version we read, ‘It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.’

In John 3:36 we read that, ‘whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains upon him.’ I believe this means that outside the Son there is the darkness of an unconscious life, which is then subject to the evil in this universe. And who really wants that kind of life? ‘All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that’ (John 3:36 MSG).

Now one more verse – Ephesians 5:6. After a litany of the bad things humans do, Paul writes: ‘because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.’ But there again it is the darkness of being apart from God that is experienced as wrath because remember, we were all disobedient to God, enemies of God and alienated until by grace through faith we stepped into the light of life. See Ephesians 2:4.

There are other passages but these will suffice to say that wrath is NOT the nature of God. That’s good news for all. God is not out to ‘get us’ but rather his purpose is to reconcile us to himself. As Jesus proved through the cross, this work of love pained him more than we can even imagine. That’s ‘costly grace’ that yearns for a response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRACE-THE NEW DEFAULT

Whenever I turn on my T.V. the screen displays ‘CNN’. That’s the default channel (much to the dismay of certain folks).

Grace is like that. It’s the first thing on which we want to set our minds in our everyday lives. Think of it. Grace is God’s love at work, in action. It’s God being active and moving in our lives at every moment. The purpose of that grace is to keep us connected and reconciled to God and enabled to love as God loves.

Sometimes and perhaps too often the first thing on our minds’ screen is worry about something going on in our lives like how to pay bills or get along with someone or how our children are faring, and even our own health. That default screen might be anger about someone or something that has caused our blood pressure to rise. The first thing we think about in a crisis or upon waking up isn’t always God’s grace.

But the more we get to know God and what God thinks of us and has done for us we will discover the GRACE will come into focus on that default screen of our mind. Oh, sure, sometimes we have to do that ‘reboot thing’ to get the default working. And being smart and faithful we can do it.

I love the word ‘grace’. Among all the words that might describe God, grace is my favorite. It’s the unrelenting pursuit of God for the good of God’s creation. God is eternally at work to restore all things and all people.

“Love” just doesn’t cut it. It’s too much about sentimentality and feelings whereas grace means self-giving, sacrifice, and relationship.

Love may be the essence of God but grace is that essence at work in us.

So take a moment. Turn on the screen of your mind and watch ‘grace’ displayed.

I like to start the day with the free app, PRAY AS YOU GO. Give it a try. God bless.

MICROSCOPES, TELESCOPES, AND HOROSCOPES

Humans have an endless desire for truth. We are curious. We are seekers. From the furthest reaches of our universe to the minutest movement of electrons we long for answers, answers that may well help research and progress.

We want to know the how, when and where truth is taking place that will make our lives, society and world a better place, a more flourishing environment. We develop theories, doctrines, religions and philosophies to help us not just with the ‘what’ of life but also with the why?

And this is all good ….to a point.

I think God has made us inquisitive. The sage writer of Ecclesiastes says that God put eternity in our hearts so that we will not be able to fathom all that God has done from the beginning to the end. So we will keep on searching to find truth.

But God has done something else. God has put all eternity into the person of God’s own Son, Jesus, so that though we might not be able to fathom everything about God we CAN know God intimately, know we are loved and valued by the Creator.

Oh, there are many days we don’t know if we are coming or going but to know Jesus, the Christ, is to know the heart of God, the essence of God’s love.

Which all brings me to a wonderful passage from the Bible. It’s one that gives us assurance of the intimate presence of God and providence of God for all God’s creation, believer or not.

Colossians 2:8-10 Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.

Let those words have a place in your heart and mind. Stay close to the Christ who IS the WORD OF GOD who has come to us, died for us and lives for us.

 

PLACES IN GOD’S HEART

I am wondering why some Christians, supported by denominational doctrines, and certain biblical passages, want there to be a hell of eternal torment. Is it for justice or perhaps revenge? Like ‘they’ get what’s coming to them for not believing in Jesus or doing bad things.

Surely it’s not from any sense of love. Jesus reminds us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5) We are told often in the Bible that the essence of God is love. A great definition of love is to work for the good of others even at our own expense. I am thinking of God doing that very thing through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. Why, I wonder why would God go to such an extent with his love only to one day say to some folks, ‘Too bad for you’. God’s love is eternal. (Jeremiah 31:3, for example.) I think that Jesus expressed God’s love for the thief on the cross who was to be welcomed into Paradise. Jesus also asked God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

We know that God knew, planned, or permitted the FALL to take place back in the Garden of Eden because Scripture asserts that Christ’s sacrifice for all God’s creation took place before the creation of the world. ‘Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.’ (Ephesians 1:4 NLT) The Trinitarian love of God is eternal and being shared with us through creation and redemption and finally reconciliation.

See 2 Timothy 1:9 (God’s grace came to us in Christ Jesus before the ages)  and 1Peter 1:20 (Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but revealed in these last times for our sake).

God is a good ‘love investor’, having already planned for the inevitable conclusion of giving humanity free will. God was not giving up on creation and surely not on any of us who were created in God’s image, stamped with the life of God’s son, and it is in God all humanity lives and moves and has its being. (See Acts 17:28 for this last phrase.) This is all grace.

Scriptures declare that even after the rebellion of God’s people God’s love remains everlasting. Paul even writes that all ISRAEL will one day be saved. (See Jeremiah 31:33,34 along with Isaiah 59:20,21 for God’s everlasting love and Romans 11:26 for Paul’s statement about ‘all Israel’.)

Do I really want murderers, rapists, Nazis and the like sitting with me at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9)? ‘Of course not’, my flesh replies, but if I walk by faith and love I will not reply from my flesh. And yes, my flesh looks for the Bible readings where the righteous prevail and the wicked are doomed but I want to live by grace, forgiveness and with enduring love.

The Bible tells us that ‘God will be all in all.’ (1Cor. 15:28) Perhaps it’s a mysterious passage or it well could match up with what Paul says to the philosophers in Athens about everyone having their whole lives wrapped up in God with the possibility that we may indeed look for God and find God.

In the meantime the church is Christ on earth to help bring creation back to the Garden as it were. God, through the church, is filling the earth with God’s presence. (See Ephesians 1:23) That is a call to responsibility and joy.

The final scene in the movie PLACES IN THE HEART depicts a gathering at worship of all the characters, the ones who have died and those who are alive. Some have been mortal enemies. They are sharing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper together. I pray and hope that one day all people will bow and worship God as one. Paul writes that in Philippians 2.

So this Christmas let us proclaim God’s love, an eternal love, for all creation. It’s going to be a great day when all the creation realizes that the babe in the manger came to redeem the ones God loves so much.

 

LUCK, CHANCE AND ACCIDENT and THE CHRISTIAN

I used to be a strict Calvinist believing that God determines and wills everything that happens in this life. But I have come to understand that in life there is such a thing as accident and chance referred to by some as luck. Bad luck.

Wars, famines, disease, tsunamis, earthquakes, accidents and bad people cause things to happen that a loving Father would not ‘cause’. There’s a verse that I will paraphrase. Jesus is speaking to his disciples about bad things going on in the world and the danger they might be in for. It’s in Matthew 10. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of the planes that go off course or the bullet coming your way, or that illness that’s driving you mad. These things can torture you. They can kill the body but not the soul. The soul belongs to me. There is nothing that happens in your life by chance or designs where I am not involved with you. If you hurt I hurt. My image is in you and that image will not be destroyed.”

See, God can work in and through any circumstance in our lives to orchestrate some good, good according to God’s will. God’s will we might not understand while in our earthly bodies, but it is a will that is ultimately good. I think it is well to say that while we don’t understand God’s will, we understand the heart and purpose of God revealed in Jesus on the cross where he brings all God’s good purposes for humanity to fruition.

I have a good friend who died some years ago. His wife said that God had numbered all his days and my friend’s time had come. He suffered through cancer and died too young as many do. While the grief she felt was not a subject for theological debate nor was I going to argue with the Scripture she knew so well. Psalm 139. Though now I would suggest that the part of Psalm 139 about all our days being numbered might have been the Psalmist’s understanding of God’s sovereignty at that time.

When the disciples related to Jesus some tragic events where people were killed and they were wondering what those folks might have done wrong, Jesus replied to them that it was not their sin that caused the towers to fall but that the disciples should pay attention to their own lives and relationship to God. See Luke 13.

It was no one’s fault that a certain man was born blind but the disciples always wanted things explained and Jesus said it was nobody’s fault but in this instance Jesus healed the man and brought attention to the love of God. That love is not absent in other tragedies, no matter the belief, because Christ is there, crucified and taking that seeming separation, like his own on the cross, and bringing glory to bear on every situation. Wow I am sorry for that long sentence.

When I get onto an airplane I am taking very little chance with my life. But what chance there may be I will surrender to my God. I pray that when the time comes that I die or am dying I will surrender that to God. Perhaps with complaint but still in the presence of God. I will trust in the faithfulness of my Lord than in myself.

We all groan while on this earth. Some groaning is more evident than others. And when we see children suffering and dying we run to the Master to ask why this has to happen. There is a grief that only Christ can truly understand and redeem. He told his disciples that in this world they would have tribulation, problems untold, but that he had already overcome this travail through his own suffering and his presence.

There may even come a time when I want to forget God but now in my lucidity I want to pray that God never forgets me. And Christ is that assurance.

Yes, God does answer prayers and brings certain things to happen and prevents certain other circumstances. These answers are a constant reminder to us of God’s presence. And that is with our physical bodies. There are untold matters of healing of the soul and forgiveness of sin and reconciliation of the whole world to God that are worth celebrating too.

When God told Abraham to count the stars, if he could (Genesis 15), God was telling Abraham that the souls of all humanity would be blessed through what God was doing with Abe. That’s Good News.

So I want to make apology if my words in anyway seem to minimize God’s love or role in God’s creation. I rather want us to understand that this world turns WITH God, no matter how it seems. When I read of the unfathomable evil in this world I do not understand why it is allowed. But I trust the God who is able to overcome, and will do so for this world.

So let us go out and live, surely praying that God be with us, asking for help and thanking God that God so loved the world he gave his only Son. And if God gave us Jesus will God not give us everything we need to enter God’s Kingdom forever.

So if you are reading this and have experienced tragedy or know of suffering please be assured THAT NOT A SPARROW FALLS TO THE EARTH APART FROM THE PRESENCE OF GOD. And in the words of the old gospel hymn,” if his eye is on the sparrow then I know he’s watching me.”

One final anticipation of some protest. There are many passages in the Bible that indicate God as the cause of EVERYTHING. There is some of that perspective but we have to put them all together and use the minds and hearts God gave us to search God’s heart. Our spirits and God’s spirits can do this together.

Will anything ever separate us from the love of God? NOT A CHANCE.