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?