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Christmas: Are We Really Celebrating Jesus?

We celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, but too often we are confused about the meaning of that celebration. We remain captivated by a birth in Judea, but we fail to associate the child placed in a manger with who Jesus was and what the entirety of his life and ministry represent. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, God taking human flesh to be born in the family of a commoner. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, the one who taught us to count hated foreigners as neighbors we are to love. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, who elevated women from the category of chattel, calling them to embrace an equal standing among his disciples. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, who fed multitudes without testing them for drugs. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, who healed all who came to him requesting assistance. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, who taught us to care for those in debtor’s prison. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, who said we should not overcome violence with violence. We celebrate t…

Horrid Socialism

I constantly hear folks talking about how horrible socialism is. In the USA, we have fashioned a definition of socialism that has little to do with socialism and much to do with the vague ideological enemy of the cold war era red scare. First of all, socialism is an economic system, not a political one. It is on the continuum with capitalism. Communism lies on a different axis with democracy, theocracy, autocracy, and such. While capitalism elevates capital as the most important element in an economic system, socialism elevates the public welfare as the most important and valued element. This is often looked at as labor versus capital, but my understanding is that it is more than labor. It is the social sphere that includes labor as well as those who are unable to provide labor in the economic system. As to theology, doctrine, and Biblical witness, however, we find those attitudes cast against the nebulous enemies of the nation from our Red Scare days greatly impacting our attitudes …

Answering for a Slave - Philemon 8-20

There are times we wish the Bible were simply more direct on certain issues. There are many such issues and concerns. Then again, it is often a question of simply paying attention to look for what the Bible does say and stopping to concern ourselves with how that would apply to our own lives, our culture, and our social structures. At the end of the day, the Bible is often much more direct than we like to consider it as being. We just have to be willing to listen with open hearts, minds, and ears. We have to be willing to allow the demands of the gospel to interfere with our standard operating procedures. Part of the problem is that we want complex issues to be resolved with simple answers. There are some simple answers. For the most part, however, life is complex and one issue interferes with the next. One line of thinking impacts the real world relationships of another person, and what at once seemed simple quickly becomes messy. In writing Philemon, Paul was caught in one of those pr…

Believe Also in Me

Trusting God is not an easy process. Oh, it is easy and even simple to claim to trust. Allowing the reality of trust to infuse and overtake every aspect of our lives is a completely different prospect, however. In place of trust, we make claims about trust. In place of faith, we parrot the words and creeds of faith, hoping that somehow that will be sufficient. On some levels it is. On other levels, however, it is more a cry for help. Jesus’ disciples struggled to understand his words and the intent of his teaching time after time. In Jesus’ concluding discourse with them in the Gospel of John, we find them at a loss to understand what Jesus meant by going to the Father and preparing a place for them. They had come to trust that Jesus spoke for God and had been teaching them effectively and faithfully to better understand God and God’s purposes for their lives. They had seen divine action in Jesus’ ministry they simply could explain no other way. On certain issues, however, they still…

Unexpected Hope - Luke 7:11-17

We don’t really know what to do with hope. We live by hope. It enables us to dream. It crushes us when it is not realized. It casts us into despair and allows us to climb out of that same pit. It sends us through life as on an emotional roller-coaster, at times with thrills of excitement and at times with rushes of despair. It can be a cruel master giving life with one hand and taking it with the other. Without hope, however, it can seem there is simply no point behind the living of our days. We have a lot to say about hope. “Hope is the last to die.” “There is always hope.” “Hope springs eternal.” “While there is life, there is hope.” “Hope cheers our way.” “Work hard and never give up hope.” “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” “Hope is the only bee that makes honey without flowers.” “A leader is a dealer in hope.” “Without hope, we are lost.” We cling to hope. We look for hope. We hope for those things we cannot believe to be true. We allow failed hop…

Pet Bible-Thumping Peeves: “Love your enemies” Does not Apply Here

I repeatedly hear people responding to Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies” by either by claiming I am taking them out of context or conjuring a scenario of my wife and children being raped by a stranger. Let’s unpack those two scenarios for a moment. A. The context of Jesus' words: 1. What is the context of Jesus' words, "Love your enemies"? There are three passages in the New Testament where we find Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies.” They are in what we call the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27, and Luke 6:35. In the Matthew passage, Jesus has just finished speaking of exchanging revenge for graceful generosity. He addressed Mosaic limitations on revenge, turning them into non-resistance as a better response. He addressed being struck on a cheek, being sued for one’s outer garments, being forced into demeaning labor, and having people beg for money as either a gift or a loan. This is the springboard for Jesus’ comments about loving our enemies. He says, “…

Trauma, Fear, and Faith

I had the opportunity to attend a training event where one of the topics was how trauma impacts our lives. It got me to thinking about issues of faith, trust, the ability to live beyond the damaging consequences of our past experiences. One of the TV shows my sons introduced me to is Arrow. There is a lot of violence and glorying in violence, force, and death as the path to accomplish justice. It is a theme the show wrestles with over and over again. At one point, however, one of the characters makes the following comment: “We are afraid of things we don’t know. Especially when we have been living in pain this long, it’s hard to even accept the idea of being happy” (Thea Queen, Arrow S5, E7). That is a very fitting response to repeated trauma. It has to do with the way trauma teaches us to respond to the world around us. It has to do with our struggle to learn to trust others. It has to do with the way trauma interferes with that trust and our need to trust and live with the vulnerab…