Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Making America Good Again: Hope and Healing

Thank you to all who checked this blog and FB page to see if I'd posted something new.  We've been traveling and then our world was shaken.

While we were away, my sister-in-law injured her spinal cord in a fall and was paralyzed from the neck down.  She has since regained some feeling and has significant arm movement, but she has a long road of rehabilitation ahead of her.  She is an inspiration to her family and friends with her optimistic outlook, sense of humor and sheer determination.  How would you respond if you woke up one morning and your life was so dramatically changed?  I hope I would respond like Kate.

Her accident immediately drove my husband and me to pray for her complete healing.   Jesus encourages us to pray with persistence (Luke 18)  and with "shameless audacity" (Luke 11).  I just read last night how Peter and John healed a lame man: "Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” And the man went with them, walking and jumping and praising God. (Acts 3)   I can just see Kate doing that now, especially the jumping and praising part!  "Kate, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth walk!"  My husband and I, along with many others, continue pray to God for Kate throughout the day with persistence and shameless audacity.

Our prayers are accompanied by helping Kate and her family in the ways that we can.  We've also taken a deep breath and recommitted ourselves to what is important.

Love life.  It is short and precious.  Treat it as the valuable gift from God that it is.  Don't waste your days on things that aren't important.

Be grateful.  Thank God each day for what you do have and what you can do.  Our natural inclination is to ask "why" this happened and perhaps seek to place blame, but that is counterproductive.  Don't wallow in negativity.  Instead, embrace the positive wherever you can find it.  God is there with us, if we will only seek Him out.

Have faith.  Look for good to come out of this.  My husband's family has faced many tragedies but something good has always come out of them.  Often they didn't know what that was until long after the time of sadness.  Since I met them, I have been amazed at how strong, steady and optimistic they are when bad things happen.  They are living proof of Paul's statement:  "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  (Romans 8:28). We have faith that the same thing will happen.

Hold on to hope.  Hope is the most powerful of healers and the greatest of motivators.  Our hope is anchored in the love of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and the love we have for each other.   It is not a wishful optimism but a firm reliance on the Creator and Savior of the Universe.

Please pray for my sister-in-law Kate and for yourself.   Take a deep breath and recommit yourself to what is important:  faith, hope and love.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Making America Good Again: Cherry Picking Christians

On the front page of my local Sunday paper, a courageous woman working to revitalize her neighborhood asks:  "How do you say you love the Lord and don't love His people?"  I agree with May Lizzie Jennings wholeheartedly.  However, it is also time to ask the question in reverse:  "How can we say we love His people and not love the Lord?"

Loving each other is an extremely important Biblical principle but not the only one.  Right before Jesus told us to love our neighbor, He told us love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Further, He linked loving God to obedience:   "Love one another, as I have loved you." And "If you love me you'll keep my commandments."  Love like Jesus.  Keep all his commandments, not just some of them.  We don't get to choose which, we need to love God AND people.  'Both/and' not 'either/or.'

Sadly, it seems to be part of our human nature to want to listen to things we agree with and tune out those things that we don't.  For some reason I don't completely understand, some of us lean toward "conservatism" and some to "progressivism."  Whichever way we lean is the lens that determines how we view the world, what things we choose to believe, and ultimately how we respond to its problems. Each of us "cherry-picks," if you will, the things that confirm our biases and ignores the things that don't.

We all need to take a step back and look at how we can best love God AND all of His creation, including people.  God tells us how through Scripture, the universe around us,  and the lessons we learn from history.  The Declaration of Independence refers to this, "the laws of Nature and Nature's God." Admittedly, there are times that it seems Scripture contradicts itself.  Then we are faced with the greater challenge of working together to see what God intends, focusing on both/and and not either/or. Often we will find there is a new way open to us if we only do the hard work to find it.

I am growing increasingly frustrated with Christians and non-Christians alike who "cherry-pick"  Biblical principles to support various and sundry political points without struggling with the WHOLE of God's revelation.    

What put me over the top this week was all Scripture floating around over Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.  Many who supported the agreement pointed to God's delegating responsibility for the planet to humanity and our obligation to be good stewards. Others, focused on how the agreement hurts the people on the planet, pointing to the agreement's restrictions on ability of many to provide for their families in exchange for little climate improvement.   There is also another opinion out there that says we don't need to worry about climate change because God is in charge and won't let us destroy the planet. All of these views contain part of the truth, but not all of it.  Our discussion should be about how we can be good stewards to the earth AND use the earth's bounty for the benefit of all, recognizing all the while God's sovereignty.  Emphasizing one principle over the other is a false choice but, alas, easier than doing the hard work of uniting these principles to find a path forward.

We could have the same discussion in many areas of our life together:  do we help the poor by supporting them in their poverty or helping them out of it?   Do we welcome everyone who comes to America or insist that they be here legally?  Do we love and care for women, or their unborn children?   Do we love people whatever their gender and sexual inclinations, or acknowledge that God created male and female to enjoy the blessings of marriage?   And as the news of another terrorist attack comes out of London,  do we love our enemy or protect the innocent?  The hard answer is both/and.

Let's stop cherry-picking Scripture to make our political points and do a better job of loving God and each other by looking to the whole testimony of God, in the natural world, in Scripture, in history and in our hearts.  As much as I love God,  I confess that I am guilty of cherry-picking as well, so don't call me a hypocrite but help me do what is right.  We all, including me, need to intentionally open our eyes and ears and listen to God - and each other.  We won't always get it right, but we will do a much better job of dealing with the mess our world is in if we at least try to follow the Creator's plan.  God created us, and loves of us, and yes, our Heavenly Father knows best.  

So stop with the cherry-picking, or at least recognize that you are doing it. Let's all work a little harder at getting the logs out of our own eyes (like Jesus told us to), and start looking at all that God wants for us - not just the parts that we like.

Let's Make America Good Again.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Making America Good Again: Never Forget

Monday is Memorial Day.  It is a day for Americans to remember all of the heroes who gave their lives in the service of our country.  It was around the time of the Civil War that people on both sides of that awful conflict, mostly women, made a special effort to decorate the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers, even if they were the enemy.  That is why this national holiday was originally called Decoration Day.

There is something about placing flowers on a grave that spurs our memories.  My husband and I regularly visit the places where family members are buried and remember them.  The ritual is important to us.  We all want to be be remembered and remembering is part of the responsibility of the living.

God gave us the gift of memory.  God told Moses to remember His commandments and teach them to the children.  God also made a special point of having the nation of Israel remember important parts of their history, like when they escaped from slavery in Egypt. In keeping with this Passover tradition, Jesus told his followers to remember His last meal with them.  In more recent times, the phrase "Never Forget" is used to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust and to not allow them to be repeated.   Remembering our history, even when we didn't know the people involved, is important.

So this Memorial Day, I would like to encourage you to reclaim the tradition of Decoration Day.  Find in your community or local cemetery a memorial to the men and women who lost their lives creating or preserving the liberty we hold so dear - and decorate it.  Take a flag or a flower.  Spend a moment thinking about their sacrifice and your benefit.  Be grateful.  Be humble.

I live in a town called Bradenton in Florida.  Within walking distance of my home there is a memorial to the veterans of World War I at the city pier.  The plaque reads:  "Memorial Pier Dedicated to World War Veterans 1930."   Please notice, they didn't expect World War II.   There are memorials to all Veterans and the Confederacy at the County Courthouse.  There are memorials for those lost their lives in all wars, including Vietnam, Korea and World War II at the Veterans Park near the hospital which itself was originally named the Manatee Veterans Memorial Hospital.  The hospital was built in 1953 and on the back of a picture postcard of it, it says:  "A Memorial to Manatee County Veterans of all Wars. Contributed by the public of Manatee County."  There is nothing yet in our community for the fallen in the Gulf War or the ongoing wars on terrorism.  Perhaps someday, but we should still never forget.

Since this part of Florida wasn't really settled until the mid-1800s, there aren't graves of those who died in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Indian Wars or the Mexican American War but your community might have some.  Think about all of the wars Americans have fought in since our founding.  If you don't remember (or were never taught!)  what they are, here is a list with the numbers of dead and wounded from the Department of Veterans Affairs:  https://www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_americas_wars.pdf

So this Memorial Day, spend some time remembering.  Read through the list of America's Wars and rather than think not about the numbers, think about the soldiers themselves and what they went through.  Think of them as citizens, like you, fighting for their country.  Think of them as  husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters who laid down their lives for a cause greater than themselves.  Decorate the graves and memorials of those who have died to keep us free.  Find some way this Memorial Day to remember, really remember, those men and women who died for you.
Let's Make America Good Again by not forgetting our past.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

An Open Letter to Rev. Olsen about Christian Persecution in America

A family member recent shared an open letter written to Franklin Graham from a Lutheran pastor, Rev. Peter Olsen.  Here is his letter, followed by my response:

https://revolsen.com/2017/05/17/an-open-letter-to-rev-franklin-graham-from-a-small-church-pastor/

Dear Rev. Olsen,

A family member of mine shared your letter on her Facebook page and, being a supporter of Rev. Graham and a pastor myself, I was interested in what you had to say.

Interested - and then saddened - by how you misrepresented him and President Trump.  I was reminded of Jesus' lesson about taking the log out of your own eye before helping someone else take a speck out of their own.  I admit that I often do the same thing and am trying to be intentional in these divisive times to be very aware of my own presuppositions before I speak or put pen to paper, well, fingers to keyboard.  With that in mind, I would like to share my perspective on the persecution of Christians in our country.

You are quite correct that Christians are not being physically persecuted in America like they have been throughout the Middle East and other parts of the world.   Rev. Graham is intimately aware of those dangers through the work of Samaritan's Purse.  Recently, that organization set up a hospital outside Mosul, Iraq. I've been supporting them, other than Christmas Shoe Boxes, since 2014 when they stepped in to help the Yazidi's being murdered by ISIS.   They are on the ground in that region with a front row seat to the persecution of Christians, Muslims and others.  He knows what religious persecution looks like.

So when Franklin Graham talks about the loss of religious freedom in the United States, perhaps we should pay attention and not dismiss him out of hand.   You say in your open letter to him:

 "Of all the things that worry me, the loss of religious freedom for Christians in America isn't one of them. I can't say I have ever experienced anything in this country that could reasonably called a restriction on my religious liberty, much less persecution."

I respectfully suggest that you consider taking the log out of your own eye and look around. The restrictions are there, and I am concerned, like the frog in the pot of boiling water, you just don't sense the change in temperature.

The Founders of America acknowledged that governments are created by God to protect the rights and liberties God has given to humanity.   God is the lynchpin that holds our American experiment together.  The founders did not want a theocracy or even a state sponsored church, but they did not want to abandon God in the process.  Our system of government, John Adams wrote, is dependent upon a moral and religious people.  God would rule, but through the hearts and minds of citizens who controlled the power of government through their votes and participation.

To have a moral society, there must be moral citizens.  Morality, to be binding and consistent, needs to be based in God, not the whims of people.  As America slowly abandons God and increasingly seeks to determine what is good and evil apart from our Creator, we have repeated the sin of Adam and Eve.  You know, all that stuff about wanting to be like God.  

For most of America's history, the majority of the citizens agreed on moral precepts of their Judeo-Christian faith.   Discerning God's will can be a messy business.  Sometimes America got it right, sometimes we got it wrong, and sometimes, like now, it seems that we are increasingly ignoring God altogether.

Why are we ignoring God?  Over the past fifty years or more, there has been a concerted effort on the part of some (call them secularists, progressives, Marxists, or whatever) to steadily marginalize Christians and Christianity.  As a result many have abandoned the faith and many more have not come to faith in the first place.  Our culture is reaping the result of abandoning God as central to American life.

Many of today's Christians faithfully fight daily battles to live out their faith and restore faith in God to our nation.  They feel the heat.   These are the "persecuted" people Rev. Graham was talking about.

Within academia and the political classes there has been an ongoing effort, mostly through the rewriting of American history, to uncouple the foundational principles of the Declaration of Independence from the Constitution.  The mantra of "separation of church and state" and a "godless Constitution" have been repeated so often that folks believe them to be true.  But when Jefferson told the Danbury Baptists that there would be a "wall of separation between Church & State" he was addressing their concern that the government might meddle in church affairs.  He assured them the government would leave the churches alone.  Today's interpretation that the church should not unduly influence the government turns Jefferson's words on their head.  The church, and the moral teachings thereof, are essential  for our form of government to work.

As for our "godless constitution," the principle that "All men are created equal" loses its power  when you take away the reality that it is God who created us equal; people didn't just decide that one day.  If we decide we are equal today, we can just as easily decide we aren't all equal tomorrow.  It is God who gives us rights  - like that "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" stuff.  And God designed that these rights are to be protected by governments.   It is God our "Creator" who has provided us with the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God. "  It is God who as the "Supreme Judge of the Universe," holds us accountable to those laws, and who, in his love and mercy wants us to rely on His "Divine Providence."  Those are all the ways God is described in the Declaration of Independence, by the way.   We do not have a "godless" constitution, we have a God-infused Constitution.    To deny the bond between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is to deny God's involvement in our political lives.  Isn't that a restriction on Christianity?

The courts have removed The Ten Commandments from view as a "religious" document rather than celebrating it as the best moral code humanity has ever known.  Speaking of the courts,  why are they making decisions about so many issues, like abortion and same sex marriage,  that rightly should be put before our legislatures or in some cases the people themselves.  I would vote based on my understanding of Christian teaching.  Your vote would count too.  Then I would live with the result, but I resent the courts' intervention in these matters. Christians, and all citizens, are being prohibited from having a voice on changes in our laws that impact deeply held convictions.  Isn't that a restriction on Christianity?

Let's think a minute then about the bakers who lost their business. You mentioned the importance of following the law and I agree. But they reached a point where the law violated their understanding of the sanctity of marriage and choose not to participate in a same sex marriage.  They wouldn't cross that line.  Where is the line for you?  Would you perform a marriage for two people of the same sex?  Would you insist that I do?  Under what circumstances would you participate in civil disobedience in order to follow God?  Sadly to say, as laws and regulations in America become increasingly less dependent upon Biblical principles, more Christians will be forced into civil disobedience.  In a nation based on Christianity, why are we people of faith having to decide between right and the law?  Shouldn't we work hard to see that our laws are right and just in God's eyes?   Isn't this a restriction on Christianity?

Our education system fails to reinforce Christian values and virtues taught at home and in churches.  Prayer and the Bible are no longer permitted in public schools, although they were the basis of public education for the first 150 years of our constitutional republic.  How does a Christian raise their children if the schools won't even acknowledge there is a God, let alone that a significant part of human nature is our spirituality?  We are more than the sum of our cells, are we not?   Isn't the outright denial of a Creator in the education of our children a restriction on Christianity?

In popular culture and political punditry, Christians are sometimes demonized, but most often ridiculed and bullied.   TV shows and movies rarely if ever show Christians in a positive light.  Those that do are often cancelled.  And as you know, many Christians are lights whose example would benefit the world.

Again and again I read and hear folks like me - conservative Christians -  referred to as "xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted and misogynist."  It has almost become a catch-all among the main stream media to describe a person of faith.  Often it is expanded to include the "angry, fearful" descriptor you added for Rev. Graham.  Criticizing sincere Christians who don't have a hateful bone in their body is just another way to marginalize and silence people of faith.

For the record,  I am not xenophobic because I love America;  I welcome immigrants who will follow our laws;   I am not homophobic because I believe God designed marriage for men and women;  I am not a bigot because I believe all lives matter; and I am not a misogynist because I believe God created men and women to be different and equal.   All of us are God's children.  All of us are due dignity and respect.  All of us are sinners in need of His grace.  All of us will be held accountable by God for what we do and say.

Following God's will is a whole lot easier if we struggle to discern it together but how can we do that if we are discouraged - and sometimes prevented  - from talking to each other.  It is hard to speak up for your faith when you see people who think like you regularly ridiculed. Making fun of Christians is almost a new sport.  Sadly, it has  chilling effect on the free speech we also hold so dear.  Isn't that a restriction on Christianity?

Now, a bit closer to home.  Do the members of your congregation feel free to express their faith at work or school?  Or have they been shunned or disciplined for having a Bible on their desk, a quote from Scripture on their iPad, or inviting someone to church or on a mission trip?  Have they bought the lie that faith is a private matter, not to be shared in public.  I think Jesus' command to go and make disciples is very hard to do if you can't tell folks about Him.  Do they feel that their Christianity is restricted?

What about you, have you ever been asked to pray at a public event, but been told to keep your prayer generic so as to not offend anyone?  I, too am a Christian pastor (United Methodist), and I pray in the name of Jesus when asked to pray at public events.  I would expect others to pray in their traditions as well. To not pray in Jesus' name would make me feel like I am some how ashamed of Jesus.  And I'm not!  I am not ashamed of the cross, and no pastor in America should be put in that position.  That is a restriction on Christianity.

So while American Christians are not being physically persecuted like our brothers and sisters around the world, there are many in our country who are, and have been, working hard at eroding the soul of Christianity in our nation.   All levels of government, schools,  and popular culture seem hell-bent on denying God in any way that can.  The persecution of Christians in America is spiritual - but no less deadly.  The churches seem to be doing little to fight back.

Even though you say you haven't experienced it, I think you have. Can you see, perhaps a bit, how and why some Christians in America are feeling ridiculed, marginalized and persecuted?  We believe that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and as the strength of those principles diminishes in public life, so will the strength of America.  We are in a fight for the soul of America.  I hope you can see it now, and will join us.

I'll be writing you another letter soon to respond to other issues you raise in your letter to Rev. Graham. In the meantime,  may God continue to bless your life and ministry.

And by the way, you mentioned pastors doing funerals for people whose conduct we don't "approve of."  I'm not sure exactly what you meant by that, but if you mean how difficult it is to do funerals for some folks,  I know it can be a struggle.   Here is a bit of pastoral advice.  I once had a parishioner tell me that she hated going to funerals because pastors always lie and never tell the truth about the life the deceased had led.  So you know what,  I quit trying to sugar coat the lives of those I buried.   I do the funeral, give an honest (although sensitively worded) account of their lives, and entrust them to the mercy of Jesus.  Powerful stuff.  Trust me, those who mourn do appreciate it.

Peace,
Rev. Susan Schrier Clouse

































Sunday, May 14, 2017

Making America Good Again: Grateful for Mom

Today is a day to tell your Mom you are grateful for her.  No one likes being taken for granted!   See her if you can, call her if you can't visit - and remember her if she has passed on.

In honor of Mother's Day, here is a poem from the Bible's Book of Proverbs (31:10-31).  This was written about 1000 BC.  Then, as now, women are wives, mothers, businesswomen, homemakers, helpers of the poor and needy, and lovers of God. Then, as now, women are virtuous, capable, trustworthy, frugal, energetic, strong, hardworking, productive, prepared, dignified, generous, wise, kind, and faithful.  These are the ways women show love to their children, husbands, communities and Heavenly Father.  My Mother taught me all these things, and I hope yours did too.  May the next generation pass them on.

A Wife of Noble Character

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
She is more precious than rubies.
Her husband can trust her,
and she will greatly enrich his life.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
She finds wool and flax
and busily spins it.
She is like a merchant’s ship,
bringing her food from afar.
She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household
and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.
She goes to inspect a field and buys it;
with her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She is energetic and strong,
a hard worker.
She makes sure her dealings are profitable;
her lamp burns late into the night.
Her hands are busy spinning thread,
her fingers twisting fiber.
She extends a helping hand to the poor
and opens her arms to the needy.
She has no fear of winter for her household,
for everyone has warm clothes.
She makes her own bedspreads.
She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns.
Her husband is well known at the city gates,
where he sits with the other civic leaders.
She makes belted linen garments
and sashes to sell to the merchants.
She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future.
When she speaks, her words are wise,
and she gives instructions with kindness.
She carefully watches everything in her household
and suffers nothing from laziness.
Her children stand and bless her.
Her husband praises her:
“There are many virtuous and capable women in the world,
but you surpass them all!”
Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.
Reward her for all she has done.
Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.

Happy Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Making America Good Again: What a Wonderful World

He made the earth by his power;  he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. -- Jeremiah 51:15
They say the devil is in the details, but right now I'm feeling overwhelmed with details - details on healthcare, details on the federal budget, details on immigration, etc., etc. No one seems to be sharing the whole truth, and some folks seem to be lying outright;  I need a break before I dive back in and try to figure out what's best.

Sometimes we all need to step back and try to get a broader perspective on things. That broader perspective came to me in watching the very first Disneynature movie:  Earth.  What an amazing planet we live on!

This movie brought the lives and struggles of polar bears, whales and elephants up close.  I was amazed that these animals could go weeks and months without food.  I struggle to get from breakfast to lunch!  We humans are a wimpy bunch.  I was entertained by watching baby bears and ducks at their antics.  The mating rituals of the birds in New Guinea were hilarious. I was enthralled by the struggles of the cranes flying over the Himalayas.  Watching wolves hunt a baby caribou and lions attack an elephant was was both horrifying and humbling.  Disney brought the circle of life into my living room.

But I didn't need a movie, I only needed to walk out my front door.   I am blessed to live on the Manatee River just south of Tampa Bay.  On any given day, I see hawks, pelicans and egrets stalk their prey and come up with a fish.  I have recently felt a bit like a voyeur as I watched seagulls and mockingbirds at their mating rituals.  The ducks are now pairing up and we will see baby ducks soon.  Some days, I can see dolphins leisurely breaking through the surface as they travel up and down the river.  Manatees and sting rays have floated along our seawall.  "And I think to myself, it's a wonderful world,"  just like the song says.

Step outside today and look, really look, at nature around you.  How can you not be awed and overwhelmed by what you see?

The original version of that saying about the devil being in the details is "God is in the detail."   While the Disney movie didn't mention it at all, it is God who created all these animals, their instincts and the habitats they live in.  He crafted the details of their lives.  Surely He has a plan for human beings too.

Jesus put it this way:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
 And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)
Let's stop focusing on the devil in the details, which is what causes us all this worry.   Let's get to work looking for God.  

It is God's plan we should seek, not only in the details of health care, budgets, immigration but in all aspects of our lives together.  When tomorrow comes, don't worry about the problems you face, look to God for guidance.  Maybe then we'll stop tearing each other down with half-truths and outright lies and work together to discover the Truth.

There are ways to fix the challenges we face, but only if we humbly, honestly and deeply look to our Creator.  We can Make America Good Again by striving to live according to God's loving and perfect plans for us.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Making America Good Again: Pray!

May 4th is more than "May the Force Be With You Day," it is also The National Day of Prayer.  While presidents calling on Americans to fast and pray has been a part of American history since the beginning, since 1952, it has been the law of the land that:

"The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."  (36 U.S.C. § 119)[1]

So, pray tomorrow.  Pray even if it is not something you normally do, or your prayers are limited to the "OMG" or "Jesus Christ!" variety.  Take some time and think about what you would like to talk to God about. If you don't read this until after Thursday, that's OK.  Pray when you can.

Prayer is simply having a conversation with God, the Creator of the Universe and the Lover of your soul.  Prayer is not just us talking, but it also is us listening.  God answers prayers - sometimes with a "yes", sometimes with a "no", and sometimes with a "be patient."  I have experienced all three, and then some.

If you aren't sure what to say, you are not too unlike Jesus' first disciples who asked Him for some guidance.  Jesus gave them some advice about how to pray.  This is from Luke 11:1-13, New Living Translation:

11:1 Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

2 Jesus said, “This is how you should pray:

“Father, may your name be kept holy.
  May your Kingdom come soon.
3 Give us each day the food we need,
4 and forgive us our sins,    as we forgive those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation.”

5 Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6 ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7 And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8 But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.

9 “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12 Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Go ahead and pray.  Your Heavenly Father would love to hear from you.

Prayer will Make America Good Again.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Making America Good Again: One Nation Under God

Happy Loyalty Day!

American history tells the story of a nation striving to be like the wise man who built his house on the rock.  Jesus, the master storyteller, told the tale of the wise and foolish builders at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”  (Matthew 7:24-27)

America's Founders knew that relying on Divine Providence would provide America with a firm foundation and help this new nation weather any storm.  Over the course of America's history, there have been foolish people who have tried to sever America's reliance on the Almighty, but faithful and patriotic citizens have always stepped up to stop this from happening. 

Not so long ago, in the 1950s, when communism's threat to the United States and freedom around the world was increasing, American citizens requested that our political leaders publicly reinforce the deep and abiding patriotism and faith of the American people.  May 1st was to be called  Loyalty Day; "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance; and "In God We Trust" was made the official national motto.

While we now face different threats, a renewed public embrace of these American values is needed.  While the media foolishly mocks these things, President Donald Trump's Loyalty Day Proclamation and his continuing calls for a return to patriotism and faith are not new-fangled nationalistic rhetoric; they are deeply engrained in the mainstream of American thought and history.  He is calling us back to wisdom. 

While it had been observed since 1921, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially proclaimed May 1st as Loyalty Day in 1955, to be "a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom."  America is based on truth that our freedom comes from God, not the government.  Remembering this makes us wise;  denying this makes us foolish.  So foolish.  

Every president since 1955 has issued Loyalty Day proclamations, but often without the attention President Trump has brought to this day.  His proclamation specifically calls us to also remember that America is "One Nation, Under God."  

It was in 1954 that  "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance by a joint resolution of Congress.  The Pledge had been around since 1887 and was originally adopted by Congress in 1942. Upon signing it, President Eisenhower said:

"FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country's true meaning.
 "Especially is this meaningful as we regard today's world. Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war."
Isn't it eerie how Eisenhower's description of the world could be applied to today?  The sole exception is his image of school children across America reciting the Pledge.  In more recent decades court battles and a progressive educational system have fought against the inclusion of the Pledge, prayers and the Bible in public schools   As best I can tell, only half of the students in public schools say the pledge daily. Fewer pray or study God's Word.  Foolish.  So foolish.

"In God We Trust" has been included on U.S. currency since the time of the Civil War for much the same reason as "under God" was added to the pledge.  At the urging of citizens, Lincoln's Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, sent this request to the director of the Philadelphia Mint:

"No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition."

In 1864 the first coins were minted including "In God We Trust."  All coins and paper currency now include it,  and in 1956 "In God We Trust" became America's official motto.  There have been repeated - and foolish -  legal challenges to change this, but so far all have failed.  These judges have been wise. 

Throughout our nation's history, there have always been public affirmations of America's reliance on God despite attempts to purge faith from our life together.  Like in Jesus' story, will our generation be known for wisely building our nation on the firm foundation of God's Word or foolishly ignoring the teachings of our Creator?  

Let's Make America Good Again by being "One Nation Under God." 


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Making America Good Again: A Few Thoughts on Earth Day

Faith seeks understanding. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.   - St. Anselm of Canterbury

I don't know when or why Earth Day started.  This year there were "Marches for Science" across America.  I checked out the "March for Science" website and it is almost like reading a church's mission statement, except there is no mention of God.  Even the parts about the scientists feeling mistreated by the government could have been written by churches concerned about religious liberty.  It was weird because science as a general rule is held in high-esteem in our national conscience and education system. We like its benefits, especially in medicine and technology.

It is almost like science has taken on a cult-like place in our culture, so why are scientists feeling so abused?  Perhaps its because they are finally getting some public pushback for overstepping their bounds in asking us to take their findings on faith.  A re-evaluation of the rightful place of science and its applications in our society is long overdue.  

As throughout much of history, there continues to be unnecessary tension between science and religion.  A little humility on both sides is very much in order.

The teenage daughter of a friend wants to be a research scientist, perhaps in some area of genetics.  They are both deeply committed Christians, and the daughter is concerned about pursuing a career field where her faith could be a professional liability.

This is part of what I shared with my friend.  While it might seem that finding other scientists who are also Christians will be difficult, it is possible.  They are out there!   Many scientists know that when there appears to be a conflict between scientific findings and faith, both more research and more prayer are in order!  They have the Biblical worldview that recognizes God as the Creator, and that role of science is to help us understand God's creation and apply what we learn to make the world a better place.  When secular scientists remove God from their considerations, they will fail to grasp the full picture of whatever they are studying.  Belief in God helps scientists understand the focus of their inquiries and puts proper ethical boundaries on the uses of their discoveries.

Think about it this way.  God is the perfect Father.  He takes great pleasure when human beings, children of God if you will, figure out how creation works.  Remember the joy you felt when your kid put Legos together into some incredibly creative design.  That's how God feels when we turn trees into houses, cotton into a dress or oil into energy.  Think about the pride you felt when your kid figured out how to multiply.  That's how God feels when we understand the mysteries of physics.

Take this a step further:  you were proud when your child learned to safely light a fire on your first camping trip.  You were crushed when you found out they later used fire to destroy a neighbor's house.  Fire's not bad; it's how we use it.  Science isn't bad; it's how we use it.

Much of what I heard on Earth Day sounded a lot like a pagan religion, elevating "Mother Earth" and science to god-like status.  That is dreadfully, terribly wrong and will only cause the universe and its inhabitants great grief.

Scientists should take great joy in discovering facts about God's creation, all the while being humble enough to accept that they don't know it all and that they won't always get it right. Asking God for guidance isn't a weakness, it's a strength.  God is God, after all, and we are not.

Christians need to eat some humble pie in this area as well. Science isn't the enemy.   Science helps us be good stewards of the universe God has entrusted to us.  Ignoring scientific evidence by saying, "God won't let us destroy the world," or "God will return before this or that happens" is irresponsible.  We need to continue to care for creation until that day happens and not stop a second before. Science plays a vital role in helping us do that.  

On this Sunday after Earth Day, take a moment to thank God for this amazing universe we live in, especially this incredible planet we live on, and ask for His guidance to help us use it wisely and well.

Let's Make America Good Again by putting faith and science in proper perspective.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Making America Good Again: Why I Believe

Happy Easter!  Today Christians around the world celebrate that Jesus defeated sin and death and came back to life!   When a person predicts their own death and resurrection, and it comes true, it is logical that you would believe them.

Jesus' astounding resurrection convinced the disciples - and the hundreds of other people who saw him - that He is the Son of God.  Centuries before there was a Bible, centuries before there were Catholics or Protestants, people believed that Jesus was their Lord and Savior.  Those who put their trust in Jesus told more people, and they told more people, and the number of those who followed Jesus grew and grew.

But there is more to the story.  Resurrection Sunday not only honors this historical event, it celebrates the beginning of a new and on-going relationship between God and His creation.  Christianity has grown and spread because of what Jesus did 2000 years ago AND because of what He does every day.

I believe in Jesus not only because generations of believers have passed on to me the truth of Jesus.  And I believe because Jesus is alive today.  There is a hymn that goes:

I serve a risen Savior, He's in the world today
I know that He is living, whatever men may say
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer
And just the time I need Him He's always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life's narrow way
He lives, He lives, Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Alfred Ackley wrote this hymn, known as "He Lives", or "I Serve a Risen Savior," in 1933.  While I personally find the tune a little hokey, the words resonate with me because I live them every day:  Jesus lives in me.  I could describe to you hundreds of ways Jesus is  in my life and the lives of others - guiding, comforting, correcting and just being there.

When the Great Commandment talks about loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength, that isn't just poetic language, it is profound truth.  So much of our modern world neglects the soul, but that is where our relationship with God is nurtured.  It is where we find God and God finds us.  God cherishes all of what makes us human - our bodies, our emotions and our minds.  He created us, after all.   Just as Jesus' body was resurrected and made new, so will ours some day.

God also uses all of our senses, emotions and intellect to draw us to Him, but for now, He communicates with us most intimately through our souls, through our spiritual selves.  When we fail to nurture our souls, we may not hear God calling out to us.   This is why prayer is so important.

There is a difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus.   We can learn all about Him from what others tell us,  but still not know Him.  We can follow His teachings and serve those in need, but still not know Jesus.   We can worship Him with great enthusiasm, but still not know Him.  We cannot know Jesus until we surrender all - mind, body, heart and spirit to Him.  One of my favorite Bible verses says this:

”The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (Romans 8:16-17)

Jesus loves us and wants us to be with Him, sharing in all that He has done for us.  This is why He died for us.  This is why He came back to life for us.  This is why Jesus lives in me and wants to live in you.  This is why I believe.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Making America Good Again: Hope in the Midst of Grief

Emotions are amazing things.  They rise up without being asked.  Sometimes we can control them.  Sometimes they overwhelm us.  Sometimes they inspire us to do good.  Some times they drive us to do evil.

Imagine the emotions swirling in the hearts of Jesus' followers the day after the crucifixion.  We know they went into hiding, but we are left to guess what they were feeling. Put yourself in their shoes.

They were afraid.  They might be arrested and executed. Sit with them as they listen to the voices passing outside and jump at every knock on the door.

They were feeling guilty.  They had abandoned Jesus when He needed them the most.  Just as Jesus had told him, Peter had denied even knowing Jesus.  How had Jesus known?  They had all run away.  Now guilt was gnawing at their guts.  What could they have done?  What should they have done?

They were grieving.  Their friend and leader had died.  Everyone was mourning in their own way while they struggled to comfort each other.  Jesus' mother, who Jesus had entrusted to John, needed them too.

They were grieving the death of a dream.  For three years they had followed Jesus and  His vision of the Kingdom of God.  They imagined that they were going to rescue Israel from the Roman occupiers.  Now that dream was buried in a tomb guarded by Roman soldiers.

They were grieving the death of the One whom they believed to be the Son of God.  Some of Jesus' earliest followers found his teaching too hard and had turned away.  Jesus asked if the rest would leave Him too.  "Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69).  Where was their faith now?  Did doubt creep into their souls?

I usually see Holy Saturday as a day of rest, but this year I find myself relating in new ways to what the disciples were feeling.

Like them, I am increasingly afraid to live my faith "out loud" in a culture that calls me hateful for following Jesus.  I feel guilty that I haven't done enough to defend Jesus in a world that celebrates a culture antithetical to God's design for humanity.  I mourn the decline in church attendance and, most of all, that many in my own family do not believe in Jesus.

Over the past few weeks, I have read a number of books about how Christians should adapt to this new "post-Christian" age. Have we really lost the culture wars as Rod Dreher suggests in "The Benedict Option?"  How should Christians live and witness in our increasingly sexualized and secularized nation?  Should we retreat to develop stronger Christian communities or keep up the fight In the public square?  I'm beginning to think "both" is the answer. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On that first Holy Saturday, amid the fear, guilt and grief, did hope or despair push its way into the disciples' hearts.  Was all lost or had Jesus told them the truth:  "After three days I will rise again.'  Jesus had said this many times.  Could it be true?  Dare they hope that it would happen?

Hope is what helps us hold on when all seems lost, but Christian hope is more than wishful thinking.  Hope is inseparable from faith.  "Hope is the form that faith takes in relation to the future," writes Richard John Neuhaus in "Death on a Friday Afternoon."   Faith and hope always go hand in hand.  

Saying we believe in Jesus means that we have faith, we trust,  that Jesus is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do:  "After three days, I will rise again."

Did hope enter the disciples thoughts that night?  We don't know, but the morning changed things forever.

That is why, no matter the challenges I or the Church face in the years ahead, Holy Saturday reminds me to not retreat or give into despair when things look their worst but to keep my eyes on Jesus.

What about you?  I don't know what emotions are swirling inside you today, but I know that faith and hope in Jesus can help you through it all.  Jesus is who He says He is.  He will do what He says He will do.  "After three days, I will rise again."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Making America Good Again: Why Did Jesus Die?

I have a confession to make.   I don't know why Jesus had to die.  I don't know why Jesus had to die the horrible way he did.

In seminary, we were taught what are called theories of Atonement to explain Christ's death on the cross.   All point to the same goal - the reconciling of sinful humanity with a Holy God.   The short-hand version of this is to say - At-One-Ment - making us one with God.  All the blood and pain leads to the forgiveness of the whole world's sins which is what makes this Friday "Good."  All the blood and pain paves the way for us to be filled with the Spirit of God.

Each theory tries to grasp some aspect of the the profound spiritual truth of what is going on on this Good Friday, but none quite reaches to the bottom of my soul.  None quite satisfies.

One atonement theory is that Jesus took the punishment for our sins to satisfy divine justice.  That is the primary "party line" in the United Methodist camp where I come from.  I believe it to be true, but surely there must be more?

Another atonement theory is that Jesus is the full and final sacrifice for our sins to satisfy God's anger at our disobedience.

Another atonement theory is the He paid the debt we owe God the Father for our disobedience.

In these three theories, Jesus exchanges His life for ours so that we appear blameless before God.

Another theory is that Jesus' death paid the ransom to Satan to whom we have sold our souls since the time of Adam.  Yes, I do believe Satan is real, that the spiritual world is populated with angels and demons that seek to influence us.  This is where the battles for our souls truly takes place.

Another theory is that Jesus was a righteous and moral teacher whose horrible and unjust death emphasized just how right and true is teaching was.  This one completely ignores that Jesus is the Son of God, but does include the importance of his teaching.

Another theory, perhaps one of the oldest,  is that through Jesus' death and resurrection Satan and his rule over the world was defeated.

Another theory, also very ancient, is that through Jesus' death and resurrection humanity is freed from our slavery to sin and death.  I really like this one too.

I'm sure there are more atonement theories, but these are the major ones.

Beyond the atonement theories, I also hear the questions of others for which I have no easy answers:  Would God the Father really kill God the Son?  Why did Jesus have to suffer so?  Surely God, being God, could find a better way.

There have been many times I have sat in an empty church and stared at the cross, asking God why?  Why this way?

And I came to know that I cannot fully know.

I can get glimpses of the depth of human sin - and my own - but I can't know the depth of how sin separates us from God.

I can get glimpses of a Heavenly Love that suffered and died to reconcile an imperfect person like me  (and you) with a Holy and Perfect God - but I can't know the depth of that love.

I was reminded of a passage from Isaiah 55:6-9:
Seek the Lord while he may be found,call upon him while he is near;let the wicked forsake their way,and the unrighteous their thoughts;let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your waysand my thoughts than your thoughts.
I cannot know or understand the thoughts of God on that first Good Friday.  All I do know is that Jesus, the Son of God, suffered and died an unthinkable death; He did it for me, for you and for the whole world.  Jesus did it because Almighty God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit -  loves us and wants to satisfy the emptiness in our hearts that can only be filled with Him.

I am humbled.  I am grateful.  I am overcome.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Making America Good Again: Maundy Thursday?

What is this funny word, "Maundy"?  My iPad keeps wanting to change it to "Mandy."  Perhaps we should just call it Holy Thursday. The big story is tomorrow anyway.  But let's not rush ahead.

When Jesus and his disciples gathered for the Passover meal, Jesus gave them a new commandment:  

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-35)

This is where we get the name, "Maundy". It comes from the Latin word, mandatum which means "commandment."

We hear Christians and non-Christians alike say the most important teaching of Jesus is  "Love one another,"  as if it was the only thing Jesus ever said or did.  To be sure, the world could use a lot more love, but there is more to it than that.  Jesus wasn't telling us to love others however we want, Jesus' commandment is that we love each other AS JESUS DID.

How does Jesus love?  While there is more, look at what he did just on this Maundy Thursday.

**** Jesus served his disciples like a humble slave.

Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. This type of service requires us to put others before ourselves.  Imagine a marriage where each partner seeks to anticipate and meet the needs of their spouse.  Imagine a family where parents are honored and children cherished.  Imagine a workplace where employers and employees followed this pattern of servant leadership.  Imagine a Congress filled with men and women intent on showing humility and mutual respect.
Imagine how different the world would be if we didn't just serve each other  - but we served each other like Jesus.

****Jesus established a new covenant of forgiveness.

"While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."   (Matthew 26:26-28)

Think about how wonderful it feels when someone tells you they forgive you.  We all like being forgiven, but we are not quite so quick to forgive others. Unfortunately, when we withhold forgiveness it eats away at our souls.

Imagine how different the world would be if we didn't pick and choose when to forgive - but we forgave like Jesus.

****Jesus prayed.

After dinner, Jesus went off by Himself prayed for the Father to fill his disciples with joy, to protect them from evil, and to teach them the truth of God's Word.  He prayed for all of us who would come to know Jesus through them. (See John 17 for the whole prayer.). Jesus also prayed for Himself:

 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:41)

Imagine how different the world would be if didn't just pray when there was a problem - but we prayed, earnestly, like Jesus:  for others, for ourselves, and most of all for God's will to be done.

**** Jesus laid down his life.  

Jesus was arrested and taken in chains to the high priest and his council. When questioned, Jesus did not deny that he was the Messiah and the Son of God.  They accused him of blasphemy and held him until Friday morning so they could ask the Roman governor, Pilate, to sentence Jesus to death.

Earlier that very night, Jesus repeated his new commandment and added this:  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friend." (John 15:13)

And now, he has done just that.

Imagine how different the world would be if we showed our love for each other through sacrifice, prayer, forgiveness and service - like Jesus did.

To Make America - and the whole world - Good Again, let's not just love each other - let's love each other like Jesus.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Making America Good Again: Coming to Our Senses

Making America Good Again:  Coming to Our Senses

We know something is missing in our lives.  We attempt to fill the void in our hearts with stuff, busyness and even other people.  We pretend to be self-sufficient.  But we know something just isn't right.  This is part of human nature.

Throughout Jesus' ministry, He told the crowds that He is the missing piece:  

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus' teaching, often through stories, repeated this theme that God, in Jesus, has now come to reconcile us with Himself and fill this empty place in our souls.   My favorite is about the Loving Father and the Wayward Son.  You might know it as the Prodigal Son and it's found in Luke 15.

Like the son in the story, I was the daughter who thought I knew it all and went off to make my own way in life.  But life got hard, and I couldn't handle it on my own.  As in the story, I "came to my senses" and turned back home to God.  And there, God the Father was anxiously awaiting my return, never having given up on me, and welcoming me with open arms.  I cannot describe to you how wonderful my life is now as I walk with Jesus every day.

The Gospel of Matthew describes three parables Jesus told on either the Tuesday or Wednesday of this Holy Week.  And in all of them, the climax of the message is about being reunited with our Heavenly Father. (Matthew 25)

The first is about ten young women waiting for a bridegroom to show up for a wedding.  Five were ready and five were not.  Those who were prepared were welcomed into the wedding banquet and the others were refused entry.

The second is about three servants waiting for their master's return.  Two used the resources the master had given them well.  Their reward was hearing this:  "Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master's happiness!"  The other servant was sent away.

The third is about God's final judgment.  When Jesus returns he will separate all nations and people according to how we treated our fellow man, like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  Those who helped other people doing things like feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing those in need, and visiting the sick and those in prison, will hear Jesus say this:  "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world....whenever you did this to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."  Those who didn't help those in need were "sent away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Do you see a connection between these stories?   God is waiting to welcome us home now and for all eternity.  But He will not welcome those who do not seek Him.  He won't force us.  That choice is ours.

These parables, however, do not tell the whole story.  One more thing has to happen for us to be reconciled with God. Our sin, which is what separates us from God in the first place, must be dealt with.

But for today, let's come to our senses and recognize that the only way to find rest for our restless hearts is to turn to God.  This will go a long way to Making America Good Again.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Making America Good Again: "Gotcha" Questions.

One of the primary tools the press uses these days is asking "gotcha" questions to damage and discredit politicians, often to support the interviewers own agenda.  But tricky questions designed to intentionally make someone look bad are not a new phenomenon, but an ancient one.

In the last week of Jesus' life we see him subjected to many "gotcha" questions.  The chief priests and elders in charge of the Temple questioned where he got his authority.  Then some of the Pharisees, who were strongly opposed to Roman rule, asked about paying taxes to Caesar.  The Sadducees, who didn't believe in an afterlife, asked about marriage in the resurrection.  Each group had their own reasons for wanting to discredit Jesus but asked their "gotcha" questions in ways to not overtly antagonize the crowds that loved Him.

Not everybody was out to hurt Jesus and His reputation.  Many folks during the years of his travels and teaching asked him questions, honestly wanting to know the answers.  Nicodemus really wanted to know about what it meant to be born again.  The woman at the well really did want to know where to find the living water Jesus talked about. They were honestly searching for a better life.

But those who saw Jesus as a threat focused on the "gotcha" questions. The last attempt at a  "gotcha" moment happened, probably, on the Tuesday of what we call Holy Week.

An "expert in the law" asked Jesus:  "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"  (Matthew 22:36 and Mark 12:28).   Now bear in mind, Jewish law consists of 613 laws, not just the Ten Commandments.  You can read them all in the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch (or Torah).  I've always wondered what answer the lawyer was expecting;  lawyers are always supposed to know the answers to the questions they ask, right?  But the more I pondered, I think that he was looking for any answer he could use to try to undermine Jesus.

Jesus, as always, didn't get 'got'.  Jesus responded with what we now know as the Greatest Commandment - linking together two passages, one from Deuteronomy and one from Leviticus:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  (Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:29-31)
In the account in Matthew, Jesus then turns the tables and asks the lawyer and his Pharisee friends to now tell him who the Messiah is.  They couldn't reply, and  "no one dared ask him any more questions."  (Matthew 22:46)  In the account in Mark, the "expert in the law" acknowledges (amazingly!) that Jesus is right, but the outcome is the same; no one asks Jesus any more questions.  Jesus was arrested two days later.

Jesus never fell for the "gotcha" questions.  He answered everyone truthfully and often asked his own "gotcha" questions.  All of Jesus' teaching forces us to question our own agendas and examine what is in our hearts.  Sometimes hearts and minds, humbled by the confrontation with the Son of God, are changed.  Other times, Jesus' questions hardened the hearts of those refusing to give up their own agendas.

Right after this confrontation Jesus gives one of his most blistering sermons, describing the Pharisees and teachers of the law as hypocrites, blind guides and a brood of vipers.  He warns his followers not to follow their prideful ways.

Jesus' point:  "For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."  (Matthew 23:12)

Does Jesus' challenge humble you or cause you to harden your heart?  To Make America Good Again, we could use a lot more humility.  Let's start with ourselves.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Making America Good Again: Speaking Truth to Power

Today, Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the 101st  Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.   In many ways, the role of the Supreme Court is to speak truth to power.  America is blessed to have Justice Gorsuch, a man of deep faith with a profound understanding of how the Constitution shapes our nation and laws, on the bench.  I believe he will follow the law and not the whims of men.  As he swore in his oath:  "I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich..."

It seems fitting that the swearing in of a new Supreme Court Justice comes on the Monday of Holy Week.   The big event of Jesus' first full day in Jerusalem was his visit to the Temple and his judgment on what was going on there.  In the Gospel of Mark (11:15-19) it is described this way:

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus spoke truth to the powerful and powerless alike.  Jesus is not simply 'revealing' the truth, or 'speaking' about what is true.  Christians believe that Jesus IS the truth.  Not only by what He says but because of who He IS.  Jesus is Truth.  I know that is a bit hard to grasp, but spend some time with it.  Truth is not a "thing" or a set a facts, truth is the person of Jesus Christ.  The truth of Jesus  - and the threat this truth was to their power - is why the Jewish leaders "were afraid of him."  Their fear infected the Romans, and later in the week, they worked together to bring Jesus' execution.  That is not the end of the story, but let's not rush to Easter.

Followers of Jesus must always have the courage to speak truth to power, no matter the cost. We may not do it in such a dramatic fashion or make such powerful enemies, but living the truth consistently is what followers of Jesus are called to do.

Each of us has opportunities to speak truth to power. In the voting booth to be sure, but also by holding elected officials accountable through writing, speaking out, attending meetings and, yes, protesting.  In our daily lives, we must speak truth to power when we see coworkers, friends and neighbors being treated unjustly.

We also speak truth to power by how we spend our money.  Much of the power in our culture lies in the marketplace and media.  Withhold your support from those organizations and individuals that fail to support what you value and know to be true. Stop feeding the beast.

Make America Good Again by following Jesus.  Boldly speak Truth to power through your words and actions.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Making America Good Again: Palm Sunday


My heart is breaking this Palm Sunday for the two Coptic Christian communities in  Egypt whose worship was interrupted with violence and death.  ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombings that have killed a total of 43 (at last report, but that number is climbing) and wounded at least 100.
Blessed Lord Jesus, be with our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt.  Welcome into your presence those who have died.  Heal those who are injured.  Comfort those who survived in their grief.  Lord Jesus, You taught us to pray for our enemies and forgive those who persecute us.  It is hard to do!  Help us to pray for those who caused this destruction.  By our witness, may they turn their hearts and minds to You.  By our love, may they know Your love.  In The Lord's Prayer, you also taught us to pray, "Deliver us from evil."  Deliver us from the evil in our own hearts and in the hearts of others.  We pray that one day every knee will bend and every tongue will confess that You are the Lord God.  In that day may the world be delivered from evil.  In the Triumphant Name of Jesus I pray.  Amen.
On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. People had heard of the miracles Jesus had done, including raising Lazarus from the dead.  Crowds gathered to see him, praise him, and find out more about him.  Here is the account from the Gospel of Luke (19:29-45):

When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’ ” 

So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” 

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 

“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

Isn't it time we recognized Jesus?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Making America Good Again: Valuable Things

Over the past week, I observed important, precious and valuable things happening around me. Babies were born. Birthdays happened.  People died. Children and puppies did really cute things. Students got scholarships.  Music-lovers went to concerts.  People got new jobs. Vacations looked like fun. Friends asked for prayer and offered it in return.  I got my first hand-written note from my 7-year old great-niece.  I saw the Budweiser Clydesdales up close with family and thousands of my neighbors.  No protests, no anger.  Normal days in the lives of everyday Americans.

Today is the Super Bowl.  While not a sports fan, this is usually the one game I watch each year.  I hope those of you who love football will enjoy the fun and food, but I just can't do it this year.   Reports are that the half-time show and commercials, the stuff I usually looked forward too, are going to be overtly political.  Both pro-Trump and anti-Trump folks may have their say, but this is not the venue for that.  This is not the place for protests and political speech, but a place for Americans to show how we can actually get along.    Sure, you can be a die-hard Patriots fan or a hopeful Falcons follower,  but at the end of the day, one team will win, one will lose and, as in year's past, everyone will start preparing for next year.  True fans support the rules of the game and appreciate the hard work and effort of the opposing sides.  My prayer is that by next year the Super Bowl will be a normal day in the life of everyday America and the commercials can really  be about cars, junk food, puppies and Clydesdales.  But I doubt it will.

The issues that divide Americans are deep.  They have been coming for a long time and in the days ahead the battle for the soul of America will continue.  We can't even agree on "the rules of the game" anymore.  Once the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were the only guides we needed, but today even basic principles like free speech and the separation of powers are being challenged.  The fight for the future of America will be fierce and not over quickly.

Enjoy the Super Bowl my friends.  Maybe if you mute the commercials and skip the half-time show you'll be able to enjoy the game.

And tomorrow, as you get your, hopefully real, news and see what's going on around you, think about what is truly valuable about America and decide what role you will play in Making America Good Again.  What will you do to protect the valuable blessings of God - equality, life, liberty, and the chance to pursue your dreams  - for Americans today and for the years to come?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Making America Good Again: Time-Out

Taking a time-out is a good thing.

In sports, a time-out can help a team take a breath, re-evaluate strategy or throw the other team off their stride.  In parenting, giving your child a "time-out" helps them think about their bad behavior.  Sometimes, my computer "times out" if it can't perform the task I've asked it to do.  And taking a time-out from a week of work, God blessed and called the Sabbath.

I'm taking a time-out right now from engaging with folks who disagree with me.  I am still keeping up with the news but not responding to what I see. It is really hard to not react to what "the other side" is doing - but I'm trying! This time-out is giving me a chance to take a deep breath and re-evaluate how to contribute to the changes talking place in our country and the world.

In a recent series of sermons, Andy Stanley has talked about focusing on what you value and not just what you want.  Think long-term rather than short-term. In my "time out" I'm going to take his advice and focus on what I value.

So much of my attention these days has been on political things.  While I might want certain policies enacted,  what I truly value about America are the principles found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  As I prepare to re-engage in the public square,  it will be with these documents as my guide.

I'm also using this time-out to refresh my soul by doing what Jesus did.  He often took time away from His followers and the crowds to connect deeply with His Heavenly Father.  And so am I.  What I value most is knowing God's good, pleasing, and perfect will for me and the world around me.  As I prepare to re-engage in the public square, it will be with God's eternal principles, first and foremost, as my guide.

To help Make America Good Again, I'm taking a time-out to focus on the things that are valuable.  Do you need a time-out too?



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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Making America Good Again: Patriotism, Prayers and Protests

My emotions have been all over the map these past few days.

This inaugural weekend I watched patriots gather to celebrate the peaceful transition of power between two very different men, with two very different visions for America.  I am grateful for the change and understand that others aren't.  I've been on the losing side a time or two.  I've done my protesting with signs, my voice and my pen. I get it.  This is how our constitutional republic works.

This year felt different.  I was anxious that there might be riots.  A number of groups had publicly announced their intention to destroy property and wreck havoc.  About 200 protestors were arrested but nothing disturbed the festivities. It was a bit freaky for me to see rioting in a part of DC where I've stayed, watching windows being broken out of the Starbucks I visited near my hotel. That, and the fact that some of our local police were there, brought that part of the story very close to home.  Thank God for the police!

Seeing things were under control, I took a deep breath and watch the swearing-in.  It happened.  No glitches. The new president's speech was realistic and optimistic.  When he ended, I felt proud of my country's leadership and hopeful that the blessings of liberty will be strengthened now and into the future. But then my heart sank when the commentators decried the speech as "dark" and "divisive."   Didn't they hear the same thing I did?

How can you not get excited when the President, echoing George Washington's distrust of political parties, points to the promise in Declaration of Independence that government derives its power from the consent of the governed.  He said:

"Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People."

Or how can you not be heartened when the new President reminds us that what unites us is more important than the identity politics that now divides us:

"It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator."

How could the pundits not feel hope and optimism - unless they were choosing not to?

So I took another deep breath and stayed glued to the TV to watch the speeches at the luncheon.  The new president was gracious to his political opponent.  The opposing party leadership was welcoming to the new president.  That was good.

I stayed on my love seat and cried with pride as military and high school bands marched down Pennsylvania Avenue.  I was moved when the President and First Lady, Vice-President and Second Lady danced with soldiers at the Salute to Our Armed Services Ball.

And then on Saturday morning, I watched the National Prayer Service.  The new President and Vice-President were led in prayer at the National Cathedral by 26 spiritual leaders representing 12 faith traditions including the Navajo Nation, Evangelical, Mainline and Catholic Christians, Mormons, the Greek Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Baha'i.  They prayed for our leaders, the military, the diplomatic corps, teachers, law enforcement, health care workers, working folks, the poor and neglected, the unemployed, the rejected and disempowered, widows and orphans, outcasts and refugees.  They prayed for our nation and our world.  They shared sacred texts and songs.  The music was glorious.  The recessional hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" had me in tears again.  What a great God we serve!

And then I caught glimpses of the "Women's March."  I lost interest in participating when they banned pro-life groups.  Abortion is one of those defining issues for me and if I could get to Washington for the March for Life next weekend I would.  But the so-called "Women's March" wasn't about issues important to all women, it was about issues important to some women.  Protest all you want, but don't say you are speaking for me especially when you express your disagreements with the new administration in such vulgar and repulsive ways.

I'll stick with patriotism and prayer over that kind of protest.

I try to understand "the other side."  I've gotten my news from sources all over the map. I kept all my Facebook friends even when some of the posts got ugly. I've tried to politely engage with folks to understand their positions and express my own.  It hasn't gotten me anywhere. I'm done. I need a rest from the folks who say I'm hateful because I'm not. I find myself wanting to hate them back and I don't like how that feels.

I just can't take it anymore!

So, it's time to disengage.   I'll spend my time cheering on those who think more like I do, including our new president and my legislators.  I'll get my news from primary sources - even if it's a tweet.

Sometimes just for a season, you need to walk away from conflict if you're going to stay sane.  For now I'll focus my time and energy on folks who love God and America - and keep praying for those who don't.  That's my part in Making America Good Again.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Making America Good Again: No Justice, No Peace

"How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law."  -Martin Luther King, Jr.  Letter from Birmingham Jail

While we remember Dr. Martin Luther King today and his impact on the civil rights movement, thousands of Americans are planning to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump as the the 45th President of the United States.  Dr. King created nonviolent  public protests that brought about righteous changes in America.  What would he think of those planning protests this week?

Are their demands just or unjust according to Dr. King's definition?  While some might be just in the eyes of God, many protestors have thrown away any pretense of following in the Judeo-Christian foundation of America's founding and of King's philosophy.

As you watch the news this week, analyze whether the protestors' demands and actions are just - or not.  For example,

Do the protestors want the things that others have without earning them?

Are the protestors demands based upon truth or lies?

Do the protestors demands respect the property of others or seek to steal or destroy it?

Do the protestors demands honor marriage?

Do the protestors demands protect life?

Do the protestors demands respect the wisdom of our ancestors?

Do the protestors demands reflect a balance of honest work and rest dedicated to God?

Do the protestors demands idolize things, policies and personalities above God?

Do the protestors words and action honor God and God's law?

Do the protestors words and actions show love for God and neighbor?

Do the protestors acknowledge that all people, male and female, are created in the image of God?

We shouldn't stop with these questions only for the protestors.  After they go home, will President Trump's administration follow Dr. King's definitions of just and unjust laws as well?

To Make America Good Again, let's follow God's laws in our own lives and make sure we speak up if our government  - at any level - violates the "laws of Nature and Nature's God."   These few questions are based upon the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20), the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-38) and the Creation (Genesis 1:27).  The Bible includes much more on God's justice and guidance for us if we would only look.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Making America Good Again: Lifelong Resolutions


By the time he was 24 years old in 1730, Ben Franklin, had lived a quite a life.  He had also established himself as a printer, married and started a family.   While not a fan of the organized church, he supported his local Presbyterian congregation and attended occasionally.  As Franklin described in his Autobiography, one Sunday the sermon focused on this verse from the fourth chapter of Philippians:

 "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Franklin assumed the message would be about morality, doing good and avoiding evil, but the pastor talked about what we Methodists call "attending upon the ordinances of God":  keeping the Sabbath holy, reading Scripture, attending public worship, partaking the Sacrament, respecting God's ministers.  Disappointed, Franklin never returned to that church, but he never gave up on God and God's ways.

Franklin writes:  "It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection."  He wanted to live a faultless life and conquer any vice that "natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other."

After much study, he made a list of thirteen virtues he thought were "necessary and desirable" and defined each:

1.  TEMPERANCE.  Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2.  SILENCE.  Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3.  ORDER.  Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4.  RESOLUTION.  Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5.  FRUGALITY.  Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6.  INDUSTRY.  Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7.  SINCERITY.  Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8.  JUSTICE.  Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9.  MODERATION.  Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10.  CLEANLINESS.  Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11.  TRANQUILLITY.  Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12.  CHASTITY.  Rarely use venery [sex] but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
13.  HUMILITY.  Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Franklin focused on one virtue each week for thirteen weeks. He kept track of how he did each day, first in a little notebook and later on a piece of ivory that he could more easily erase and reuse.  Some years he repeated the thirteen week course 4 times (the whole year), others he just did it once.  He did this, in some fashion, for many years.   Later, the demands of his very famous public life as one of our Founding Fathers and champion of liberty kept him from such rigorous such record-keeping, but by then the habits were ingrained.

In the little book where he recorded his successes and failures (he admitted that Order was the most difficult for him), he included quotes from Cato, Cicero and Proverbs for encouragement, and:  "And conceiving God to be the fountain of wisdom, I thought it right and necessary to solicit his assistance for obtaining it; to this end I formed the following little prayer, which was prefix'd to my tables of examination, for daily use.

"O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates.  Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me."

He also used a little prayer he took from Thomson's poems:

          "Father of light and life, thou Good Supreme!
          O teach me what is good; teach me Thyself!
          Save me from folly, vanity, and vice,
          From every low pursuit; and fill my soul
          With knowledge, conscious peace, and virtue pure;
          Sacred, substantial, never-fading bliss!"

When he was 79 years old, Franklin wrote, he owed "the constant felicity of his life" to his little plan and the blessing of God:

"To temperance he ascribes his long-continued health, and what is still left to him of a good constitution;

"to industry and frugality, the early easiness of his circumstances and acquisition of his fortune, with all that knowledge that enabled him to be a useful citizen, and obtained for him some degree of reputation among the learned;

"to sincerity and justice, the confidence of his country, and the honorable employs it conferred upon him;

"and to the joint influence of the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to acquire them, all that evenness of temper and that cheerfulness in conversation which makes his company still sought for, and agreeable even to his younger acquaintance.

"I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit."

Wouldn't we all benefit by considering ourselves descendants of Benjamin Franklin?  To Make America Good Again, what would happen if we each embarked in our own way upon a path to encourage ourselves to become a more moral people?  List those virtues that are important to you, prioritize them, and then take a moment each day to reflect on how you can improve on one or two of them.  And don't neglect to ask God to help you!

All quotes are from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, a copy of which can be found here:  http://www.archive.org/stream/theautobiography00148gut/bfaut11.txt