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Showing posts from August, 2017

Transitioning Toward Grace

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted an account of her child's struggles. She and I were friends growing up in Brazil. An older sister lived in our home for a while. I have journeyed with her from afar over several months as she has struggled with how to support her child in an environment that has been anything but supportive.
As is true for a couple of other friends of mine, all of them steeped in Baptist church life from the cradle, sometimes the life of a parent pulls you into a context which is anything but familiar, anything but what your culture, society, and faith tradition has prepared you to experience with grace. Often as not, those to whom you would normally turn for support have not traveled the same road and do not have the background to respond to challenges that are wholly new.
The easy response to uncomfortable challenges is to seek the pat answers of our heritage and tradition. The question is which answers do we select and prioritize when confronted with wh…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 70

“I feel sorry for these people. They have been with me for three days, and they don’t have anything to eat. Some of them live a long way from here. If I send them away hungry, they might faint on their way home.” Mark 8:2-3
By what definitions were Jesus and the disciples responsible for feeding the crowds who had run out of food? Had the people not made the choice to follow Jesus to hear him teach? Had they not failed to prepare to stay three days with Jesus by not bringing enough food? Should the onus not have been upon the crowds to provide for their own needs?
This was not the 21st Century with laws governing the gathering of large crowds, health inspections of kitchens, toileting facilities, and the like. Jesus had not invited the people to come out to hear and follow him. He had not sent out flyers announcing his presence or charged admission for the crowds who wished to hear him teach. Why would he feel responsible for those who had come on their own volition and with an obvious…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 69

Then the Israelites got rid of the idols of the foreign gods, and they began worshiping only the LORD. Finally, there came a time when the LORD could no longer stand to see them suffer.” Judges 10:16
So often we relate to prayer and God along the lines of the jinn of Arab mythology as we know them from the stories of Arabian Nights. We consider that prayer functions as the rubbing of a lamp which somehow grants us control of an all-powerful being. We wield that lamp in order to gain power, control, and enforce our will upon those around us. We seek to manipulate our circumstances in a manner as to advance our personal needs, desires, and whims above those of others.
In our competition over resources, security, and personal advancement, we dis-consider that a proper relationship with God is rather different from such an approach. Here in the midst of Judges, we find a passage that shouts aloud a reminder that Yahweh is no jinn to be controlled and abused for our pleasure and satisfactio…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 68

'Isn’t he the laborer, the son of Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon his brothers? Don’t his sisters still live here in our town?' The people were very unhappy because of what he was doing.” Mark 6:3
The term we find translated as “carpenter” would be better-translated as day-laborer. Jesus was not the son of a skilled tradesman. Instead, he was the son of a tekton, one who works with his hands. As such, Joseph would have built walls, gathered grain, or done whatever job was needed by whoever would pay for a day's work. He would have been a simple man by economic standards of his day.
What that means in this passage is that Jesus was of the lower working class of Jewish society. He would not have had access to the kind of education that would allow one to become a rabbi. Jesus would have grown up doing the same kind of work as his father, learning from an early age the ins and outs of working in accordance with the needs of the day. He would not have lived in the …

Supremacy and the Bible

After preaching today on Matthew 15:21-29, someone raised a question about white supremacists citing a verse in Genesis to promote what is often called the "Theology of Ham." In Matthew 15, Jesus spoke of how laws of ritual purity had no value in determining one's worth before God. Then he left Israel with his disciples to meet a Canaanite woman (a descendant of Ham) who had no standing or hope of standing before Yahweh from a First Century Jewish perspective. After offering her the standard Jewish responses (silence, then brushing her off as unworthy), she knelt before him asking no more than the crumbs that fall from the master's table and are eaten by dogs. It is at this point in the narrative that Matthew names Jesus as speaking, "Oh, woman, great is your faith." The text in Genesis regarding Noah's curse of his grandson was directed at the very people to whom this woman belonged. They were the people of Canaan, the Phoenicians in other texts. Of Noah…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 67

Then once again the Israelites started disobeying Yahweh, so he let the nation of Midian control Israel for seven years.” Judges 6:1
The cycles came and went between faithfulness and unfaithfulness. The people would rally to serve Yahweh under one judge, then forsake Yahweh to worship the gods of the peoples round about. They would become contented with the bounty of the land and succumbed to the promise of greater agricultural bounty promised by the fertility cults. Instead of relying upon Yahweh's provision to be sufficient for all, they would act in greed, seeking to build up personal wealth while allowing others to go without.
With the Midianite plague, the invaders would come in to steal the crops Israel had harvested, taking from them the bounty of their granaries. Then, when the people found themselves desperate as a whole, they returned to cry out to Yahweh. This was no cry of faithfulness. It was a recognition that they had erred by not caring for the needy among them. Suc…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 66

Everyone who had seen what had happened told about the man and the pigs. Then the people started begging Jesus to leave their part of the country.” Mark 5:16-17
Ever had too much of a good thing? Ever had something good make you uncomfortable? That is kind of the way the people in Gadara were looking at Jesus. He had worked a miracle among them, but with that one action, they had had enough. They weren't sure what to do with him, and they wanted him to keep walking so as not to interfere with life as they knew it.
Sure, Jesus had done something good for the man who had been demon-possessed. Sure, that man had been freed from his plight and brought back into contact with his society and restored to humanity. He had been released from whatever had been holding him back. At the end of the day, however, the people were more concerned about what had happened with the pigs and figuring out how safe it would be to have Jesus remain among them.
Jesus was an unknown quantity. If our current …

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 65

The Breath of Yahweh took control of Othniel, and he led Israel in a war against Cushan Rishathaim. Yahweh gave Othniel victory, and Israel was at peace until Othniel died about forty years later.” Judges 3:10-11
Judges is often referred to as a history of Israel's wars with its neighbors. It addresses the cycles of how Israel would fall away from Yahweh, be attacked by invaders, and Yahweh would raise up a “judge” to deliver Israel. We fail to recognize that the point in all of this was not Yahweh's desire for war. The point was teaching Israel how to live in peace.
The recipe set forth was simple. If Israel would be faithful to Yahweh, they would live at peace with their neighbors. Conversely, when they began to worship the idols of the nations around them, they would find themselves in competition with their neighbors.
Yahweh's instructions were about relationships with one another. They were about an abundance of agricultural production that would meet the needs of all. …

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 64

Listen carefully to what you hear! The way you treat others will be the way you will be treated—and even worse.” Mark 4:24
This is Mark's version of Jesus' “Golden Rule.” Mark does not set up Jesus giving the more famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Instead, he takes an assortment of Jesus' sayings and places them in a unit as a summary of the things that Jesus taught over the course of his ministry. The initial setting for the passage is Jesus teaching on the shore of Lake Galilee, but we are not being led to believe that Mark is transcribing specific words spoken at a specific time. We would understand from Mark that Jesus repeated himself on many occasions. Mark is just giving us a smattering of those teachings.
While Jesus is talking about generosity, the CEV's translation provides a sense in which Jesus' words have a broader meaning. The specific context of the giving or treating others here is tied to a reciprocal action, ostensibly from God. The surface point here …

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 63

Rahab and her family had to stay in a place just outside the Israelite army camp. But later they were allowed to live among the Israelites, and her descendants still do.” Joshua 6:25
Israel always had difficulties relating to immigrants in their midst. This passage points to a time-limited issue in regard to becoming full participants within Israel. It also points to the fact that Israel did include Rahab, her family, and their descendants. This was a process, but it was a process designed for inclusion and welcome.
At first blush, they were kept just outside the Hebrew camp. They were not allowed full participation prior to a period of ritual purification. This purification process was likewise required of the Hebrews themselves who became ritually impure through contact with various elements that were a draw towards fertility cult worship. Certain foods, bodily fluids, and processes dealing with birth and death were so often deemed to hold power in relation to controlling the gods th…

After Pentecost Devotional - Day 62

Jesus finished by saying, 'People were not made for the good of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the good of the people.'” Mark 2:27
I remember being told as pastor of a church in rural Virginia that I should not mow the grass on Sunday afternoon. Some people would consider it work and would be upset that the pastor of the church was mowing on a Sunday.
At the time, I bowed to the expectation, determining that it was not worth fighting over something so mundane. Perhaps, though, I performed a disservice to that congregation by allowing them to dictate what was appropriate activity for a pastor on Sunday.
I could have made a point of the fact that Sunday was a workday for me. I could have made a point of the fact that mowing my lawn had nothing to do with earning a living, which is what the Sabbath rest was about. I could have referenced Jesus' teaching about the Sabbath being a respite from the week's labor, trusting God's provision to be sufficient to allow me …

A Confederacy of Heritage?

No one really likes to be termed a hater. No one likes to be called names. No one likes to hear, "Your symbols, language, or culture are expressions of hate." As such, I hear people speaking of the Confederacy and its symbols as tied to a sense of history and heritage, not to hate. While I am pretty sure they are being honest in their comments, there is another side to this history and heritage. The Confederacy is part of my heritage, too. While there are positive elements to this Southern heritage to which I belong, there are far weightier matters in that heritage I find questionable at best. Among other things, the Southern Heritage in the Confederacy is... -A heritage of seceding from the Union over the desire to continue subjugating others; -A heritage of keeping "coloreds" "in their place"; -A heritage of saying, "We were justified in fighting against Northern aggressors telling us we could no longer hold people as property"; -A heritage of wh…