Posts

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…

Pet Bible-Thumping Peeves: Where Two Or Three Are Gathered

“Where two or three are gathered, there am I in their midst.” I have heard that sentence used all my life to encourage a small gathering that their faithful presence is rewarded with God’s presence. Where do I start? 1- What I do, where I go, and what I think does not impact God’s presence. As the Psalmist declared, “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” (Psalm 139:8) As Jesus said later on in Matthew, “lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) 2- The number of people gathered for prayer meeting of Sunday worship is not what Jesus was addressing. God is with me already. If two of us get together, God is already there. God was already with each of us en route, so saying that our gathering makes a difference makes no sense. 3- Jesus was actually talking about people being reconciled to one another. That is the theme of Matthew 18. Jesus was talking about forgiveness and the lengths we should travel for the purpose of being reconciled with one another. …

Samson, The Strong Man

We like strong men. We are enamored of power, strength, and violence, or at least the potential for violence. This is shown clearly in our fascination with Samson, one of the judges mentioned in the Old Testament. What we miss is that while the book of Judges grants Samson's story a lot of space, it does not paint him in a positive light. Samson had everything necessary to have been a great man of God, a redeemer of Israel. What we find in his story, however, is that he abused God's gifts over and over for his personal gratification. It is true that he was responsible for killing many of Israel's enemies due to his great strength. All of his efforts, however, had no bearing on Ancient Israel's security. His feats of strength did not bring peace to the land. They did not grant Israel release from the oppression of the Midianites who attacked Israel to steal its agricultural bounty. I think we are often enamored of strength because we feel if we only had more strength w…