Wednesday, November 27, 2013

You're So Open Minded...

Every once in a while I see a zinger that makes me literally roll on the floor.  While reading a particular news story, I hit the floor when I read the following:

"You're so open minded, your brain leaked out."

Here's why I laughed:

When I arrived at college, I began hearing the exhortation, "Be open minded.  Think about everything you've ever been taught.  Question everything.*"

Suddenly, the worst thing a person could be was closed minded.  If you were a Biblical Fundamentalist, you were considered anti-intellectual and non-thinking.  If you held certain views about the appropriate place for sex, you were considered Puritanical, impractical, and goody-two-shoes.  If you believed it was O.K. to appropriate wealth, you were considered greedy and uncaring toward the poor, etc., etc.

The quite covert and sometimes overt message was, "Do not hold any firm beliefs.  Do not believe you have anything resembling the absolute Truth.  Keep your mind open, and you will be free."

Not so fast.

You see, I follow Jesus, and He is the one who famously said, "The truth will make you free."  However, it wasn't just that little snippet.  Let me give you the entirety of Jesus' words as He is teaching the Pharisees in the Gospel of John:

 31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’  John 8:31-32

You see, freedom isn't tied to keeping a purely open mind.  In fact, there is no such thing as an open mind.  It is an impossibility to question anything and everything.  There are some truths which are self-evident i.e. if you take one penny and put it next to another penny, you have two pennies.  And there are some truths which are facts which are beyond question, i.e. a water molecule is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.  You simply cannot keep an open mind about such things.  If you indeed say that your mind is open to such things, then your brain has indeed leaked out.  Either that, or you never really had one in the first place.

The next question is, "What about truth that isn't self-evident or cannot be measured scientifically?"

That is a much different question, a question which is worthy of examination.  Yet, again, I believe that there is no such thing as a completely open mind in regards to such types of truth because all of us approach such questions with basic assumptions.

For if you say, "Such truth is relative," then your basic assumption is that the statement "truth is relative" is the truth.  That's a bit of a pickle, is it not.

If you say, "Absolute Truth exists, and I know it," well, then you assume the Absolute Truth can be known and that you have the intellect and capacity to know it and understand it.

If you say, "Absolute Truth exists, but I'm not sure anyone can know it fully," then you assume the Truth is seen but dimly.

And if any of these three types of people get together to argue, nothing will ever be accomplished because none will generally question the very assumptions they bring to the table.

If you would approach yours truly and try to get him to have an open mind, you would be wasting your time.  There are more than a few things that I refuse to compromise on, give up, or question.  These things stem from my assumptions which are based in faith--not reason.  In order to get me to have such an open mind, you would have to get me to convert to different assumptions.  How good of an evangelist are you?
*That little caveat was oftentimes used by professors and others who wanted you to change your particular beliefs; however, said professors and others usually meant, "Question everything you've ever been taught, but don't question what I'm teaching you now."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Bible as God's Gift

"It is tempting in such a project to enter the conflict--long standing and now at the boiling point--about the accessibility of the "real" Jesus and his words to us now.  Because I do not do so, I will simply state my assumptions about the Bible: On its human side, I assume that it was produced and preserved by competent human beings who were at least as intelligent and devout as we are today.  I assume that they were quite capable of accurately interpreting their own experience and of objectively presenting what they heard and experienced in the language of their historical community, which we today can understand with due diligence.

On the divine side, I assume that God has been willing and competent to arrange the Bible, including its record of Jesus, to emerge and be preserved in ways that will secure his purposes for it among human beings worldwide.  Those who actually believe in God will be untroubled by this.  I assume that he did not and would not leave his message to humankind in a form that can only be understood by a handful of late- twentieth-century professional scholars, who cannot even agree among themselves on the theories they assume to determine what the message is.

The Bible is, after all, God's gift to the world through his Church, not to the scholars.  It comes through the life of his people and nourishes that life.  It's purpose is practical not academic.  An intelligent, careful, intensive--but straightforward reading--that is, one not governed by obscure or faddish theories or by a mindless orthodoxy--is what it requires to direct us into life in God's kingdom." 

--Dallas Willlard.  The Divine Conspiracy.  Kindle location 155-168

Monday, November 25, 2013

This is the King

    There are essentially two types of kings throughout history. There are those kings who believe they are above everyone else.  They believe their servants and their subjects are there solely to give them honor and praise and fund their opulent lifestyles.  These kings demand total obedience and if such obedience is not given, then brute force is often the rule used to enforce a king’s command.  History is replete with such rulers.  On the other end of the spectrum are those kings who also demand obedience; however, their approach is vastly different.  Instead of thinking themselves better than their subjects, these kings work for the well being of their subjects and their realm.  They work to improve the lot of the kingdom so that everyone finds a measure of happiness and contentment in what they do.  These kings know that their subjects will loyally follow them if their king protects and cares for them.  Many of these rulers throughout history are lifted up as the ideal models of leadership.  Mind you, these two poles represent extremes in kingly leadership, and there are those who fall all along this spectrum.

    I find it rather fascinating that throughout history, no matter what kind of king you have, there is always someone ready to seize the throne.  There is always someone who is ready to topple the king.  Be it a good king or a bad king, someone always wants the power.  Someone else always wants control.  Someone always is ready to put themselves on the throne to call the shots.  And there have been numerous ways invented to topple a regime.  Assassination.  Military coup.  Peasant revolt.  Most of the actions taken to remove a king are bloody, violent, and cause great upheaval.

    These are important points to remember as we think about the history of kings in the world.  They help us understand the dynamics at play when it comes to leadership and power and the reality of this world that our Lord Jesus Christ entered into as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

    Today is Christ the King Sunday.  It is the last Sunday of the church year.  It is the Sunday where the Church celebrates Jesus as the King of the Universe who came and who will come again in power and glory.  We longingly await that day, for then God’s Kingdom will be fully established, and God’s beneficial reign will once and for all demolish evil and suffering and death.  It is something we truly look forward to and set our hopes on.

    And it is with fascination that on this Chris the King Sunday, we turn to our Gospel lesson which does not show Jesus throned in glory.  It does not show Him triumphant.  It does not show Him crowned with power and honor and might.  It does not show Him surrounded by scores of angels and apostles and martyrs bowing before Him.  No.  Not at all.  Our Gospel lesson takes us to the point of utter humiliation.  Our Gospel lesson takes us to the point of utter defeat.  It takes us to the point of utter suffering and death.  Our Gospel lesson takes us right to the cross where a sign hung above Jesus which said, “This is the King of the Jews.”

    That sign was meant to be an insult.  That sign was meant to convey a warning to everyone who proposed to think of themselves as a king.  The roman procurator Pontius Pilate hung that sign there in effect saying, “If you want to be the king of the Jews, we, the Romans will decide who gets to be king.  Any other attempts at kinghood will land you in the same place as this man.” 

    For, you see, my brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus made enemies with His proclamation that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus made enemies with his teaching that He and the Father were one.  Jesus managed to make the principalities and powers very, very twitchy with the things He said, taught, and did.

    Jesus managed to get under the Jewish religious leaders’ skin with His proclamation that He was the Son of God and that He and the Father were one.  The Jewish faith did not allow for any such proclamation.  Not at all.  The first commandment was very clear, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, you shall have no other gods before me.”   God was one and one alone.  Sure, one day God would send the anointed one–the Messiah–to return and establish Israel to its former glory.  Just about everyone hoped for the Messiah’s coming, but no one expected a carpenter from Nazareth to fulfill that hope.  No one expected an itinerant rabbi who gathered a bunch of marginal fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, and farmers to restore the Kingdom of Israel.  No one expected a person like Jesus to handle such things.

    Until Jesus started healing the sick, raising the dead, and feeding multitudes.  Until Jesus started forgiving people of their sins and proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  Until Jesus started performing deeds and wonders not seen since Elijah and Elisha.  “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  The common folks realized something wonderful was at hand.  The religious authorities knew their positions of power were threatened.  This self-appointed anointed one must be disposed of, and they knew they could accuse Him of blasphemy–a charge worthy of death.

    The Romans felt the same way.  They were in charge of Israel.  They had their puppet-king in Herod.  They tried to keep the peace as best as possible; however that was no easy task in Judea.  The Jews were always seemingly ready to revolt.  They needed just a slight excuse to try to cast off those who were ruling over them.  Their belief in a messiah–a deliverer who would send the Romans back to Rome kept tensions on an edge.  And now, here was a man proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand–not the kingdom of Caesar.  Here was a man proclaiming to be the Messiah–the anointed One–the Son of God.  A king?  This could indeed send the people into revolt.  In order to squash such a rebellion, you cut off the head.  Jesus, the leader, must die.

    Little did these two opposing forces know, they were playing right into Jesus’ hands.  For Jesus was not simply concerned with the kingdom of Israel.  Jesus’ kingdom was much, much larger.  Jesus’ kingdom consisted of the entire world.  It was the world that Jesus had in mind; for He was there to reconcile the world unto God. 

    Remember what I said earlier about the difference between two types of kings?  Remember how one believed he was to be lifted up by the people and the other was a servant of the people looking out for their best interest?  Which category do you think fits Jesus?  That’s what the call a rhetorical question.  We know the answer.  Jesus is a good king.  Jesus is the king who looks out for the best interest of His subjects.  Jesus wants them to have life and have it abundantly.

    But how can they do that when they are separated from God?  How can they do that when their sin keeps them apart from the one who can truly offer them life, peace, love, joy, happiness, and fruitfulness?  How can they have such life when grief, sorrow, suffering, and hate prevent them from knowing the One who created them and looks after them?

    Jesus knew He had a job to do.  He must reconcile the world to God.  He must take everything that separates us from God and conquer it.  He must defeat suffering, evil, sin, and death.  And so, Jesus gathered it all up into himself.  Jesus took everything that separates us from God into His own being. 
    •    Every evil thought.
    •    Every evil deed.
    •    Every word of anger or spite.
    •    Every act of bullying.
    •    Every tear shed in hopelessness.
    •    Every tear shed in grief.
    •    Every broken heart.
    •    Every disease and illness.
    •    Every cancerous tumor.
    •    Every sense of abandonment and failure.
    •    Everything that has, does, and will ever put a wall between us and God.
These things, Jesus carried with Him.  Justice must be served.  A good king knows this, but rather than punish His people, Jesus allowed Himself to take the punishment.  And the punishment must fit the crime.  All of that pain and suffering; all of that illness and hopelessness; all of those tears and hurts; and even death must be reckoned with.   And the punishment was the cross–a horrible death sentence.  Why?  Because a good king is willing to die for His people to bring them life and life abundant.  Jesus died that you may live.

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world may be saved through Him.

    Look to the cross, my brothers and sisters.  Here is the King.  Here is the one who dies for you and for me.  Here is the one who offers Himself so that we may live.  Let us live in obedience to Him for what He has done for us.  For that is what it means to Live God’s Word Daily.  Amen.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yes, I Still Care

As I reflected about my post last week: Who Cares?, I began to wonder if I didn't overstep my bounds.  Some may see this post as an attempt to cover my tail, and in some ways perhaps it is.  But I think I need to add these words to further define my role/a pastor's role in caring for members in a congregation.

My entire goal in the previous post was to encourage all members within congregations to care for one another and not view such care as exclusive to the pastor/clergy.   Jesus didn't say, "Clergy members are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned."  (paraphrasing the end result of Matthew 25)  Not at all.  Jesus called all of His followers to do such things.

Clergy are not singled out nor exempted.

Which means that I believe clergy are indeed called to model and equip others on how to care for one another in a congregational setting.
  • This means clergy/I should/will continue to visit the sick.
  • This means clergy/I should/will continue to counsel people when in need.
  • This means clergy/I should/will continue to check on people who are undergoing long-term treatments.
  • This means clergy/I should/will continue to be with families who lose a loved one and endure the grief process.
  • This means clergy/I should/will continue to receive and make phone calls when a need arises.
I do not believe clergy/I are/am ever exempted from doing these things.  Whenever clergy cease to interact with people--real people who inhabit the church pews/seats on Sunday morning, then I think they become more CEO, executive types.   Now, such types may be necessary in mega-churches, but I have my doubts.

I think one can still head a large organization and still have plenty of personal contact with those in need.

I hope no one viewed my post as an attempt to say, "I don't need to care."  Far be it from that.  In reality, it was a desire to expand the view and show that the responsibility for care falls not on one but upon all.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

There are Moments

I hate running.

I have said so in this blog before.

And yet, I continue to run at least four times a week.  Mind you, I am neither sprinting nor doing any sort of distance running.  I do interval training, and if I could drop it and still see results in toning and shaping my body, I would.  But unless I do something which burns fat, my goal of becoming healthier and avoiding knee surgery in the future will not become achievable.

So I run, and I hate it.

Most of the time.

But there are moments, brief moments when something intriguing happens. 

My body does not feel like it is exerting anything.  My feet seem to glide over the pavement.  My breathing seems effortless.  It's a really nice feeling.  But then I come crashing back to reality.  It doesn't last for any length of time.  But it's there.  It's happened more than once.  It's real.

I've had such moments in my faith life as well.

When I reflect upon the words of Jesus--His ethical and moral commands, sometimes I cannot help but wonder if giving it all up would be easier:

If anyone begs from you...give.
If you are angry with someone, you've committed murder.
If you've looked at another with lust in your heart, you've committed adultery.
Take the log out of your own eye before you judge another.
It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.
Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Feed the hungry.
Give drink to the thirsty.
Clothe the naked.
Visit the sick and imprisoned.

Heck, that's just the basics.  There's more.  A lot more, and it simply isn't easy to follow.  It's difficult.  Far easier to fail than to succeed.  So, why even try?  Why even continue to strive for perfection when perfection is unachievable?

There are moments.  Holy moments.  Moments when I know God is real.  Moments when I know His presence and hear His voice.  Yes, they have happened in my life.  Some may call me crazy; irrational, I know.  But I am not alone in sensing God and hearing His voice.  There are others, and their sense is very much the same as mine.

When those times of questioning occur...
When those times of doubt occur...

I remember the One who suffered and died, for He is the one who has spoken to me and given me His presence at critical moments in my life.   He sets the bar high for me (and all who follow Him) knowing we cannot fully reach it; however, if He set it any lower, we might actually achieve it and become self-righteous.

And as we reach for that goal, responding to what He has done first to us, our spiritual muscles are honed and shaped.  He is ever working and molding us from within--a lifetime process of making us more and more like Him.

It's tough.  Sometimes, it hurts and brutally.  It would be easier to quit.

But, there are moments...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Good Question

If it is o.k. for us to seek to change one another's minds in the political sphere and convert a person to our point of view, why then is it seemingly not o.k. for us to seek to change another's mind and convert another to our religious point of view?


Monday, November 18, 2013

You are not Stones

    We love to build our temples out of beautiful stones.  Brick by brick we build them.  We try to make them as large and as grand as possible.  Oh, I am not necessarily talking about physical temples–no, not in the least.  Not many of us physically construct such a thing in our lives, but metaphorically.  Yes, we build our temples as best as we can trying to make them as beautiful as we possibly can.

    •    Here is a brick for getting a good education.
    •    Here is a brick for graduating in the top 10% of the class.
    •    Here is a brick for getting scholarships to the university.
    •    Here is a brick for getting a good paying job.
    •    Here is a brick for finding a good spouse.
    •    Here is a brick for having children.
    •    Here is a brick for having well behaved children.
    •    Here is a brick for getting involved in the community.
    •    Here is a brick for helping out at the local food pantry.
    •    Here is a brick for volunteering at the YMCA.
    •    Here is a brick for going to church.
    •    Here is a brick for putting something in the offering plate.
    •    Here is a brick for having a nice house.

And we keep adding bricks.  We keep building and building, and sometimes, just sometimes we step back and say to ourselves, “What a beautiful building I have built.”  Of course, sometimes the building doesn’t go as planned.  Sometimes the stones aren’t as beautiful as we would like.  Sometimes they don’t fit as well as we would like them too, but with just enough effort–just enough maneuvering around, we alter the construction to hide those flaws.  After all, it would be a terrible thing if someone were to see that the facade of that temple wasn’t necessarily perfect. 

    So often, our lives revolve around building such temples.  So often our lives are consumed with having such places of beauty and pristine, and before we realize it, our lives find their meaning only and solely in that temple we have constructed and are constructing.  It is then that something dangerous begins to happen to us.  When we find meaning in life from constructing such temples and maintaining their beauty, that meaning and purpose can be shaken to the core if the stones start falling apart or if they are discovered to be flawed.  What do I mean by that?

    When I was in college, one Christmas, I asked my parents for one gift and one gift alone: a gold cross necklace.  I didn’t want anything else.  That was it.  I wanted to wear my faith around my neck–so to speak.  I didn’t get the cross for Christmas, much to my chagrin.  But, my parents had a trick up their sleeve.  Since my birthday is just a couple of weeks after Christmas, they decided to surprise me by giving me that necklace then.  When I opened the box, I was on cloud nine.  I loved the gift.  I loved that little gold cross necklace.  I put it on and steadfastly resolved to never, ever take it off.

    And I didn’t.  I wore it every waking and sleeping moment.  I was proud of that necklace and what it represented.  I could argue that the necklace literally was a part of me. 

    One day, I played an intra-mural football game at school.  It was a hard-fought game, and we were pretty physical even though we had no padding on.  After the game, I noticed my necklace was gone!  I was not happy.  I searched and searched the field on which we played.  I went out after dark with a flashlight hoping to catch a glimpse of the gold in the ground.  Nothing.  I despaired.  I literally was crushed.  I felt like a part of me was gone.

     Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

    That’s not a comforting thought.  It’s not a comforting thought at all.  When we’ve spent so much time constructing these things; when we’ve spent so much time with building blocks and necklaces that mean so much; when we’ve made our purpose in life to construct more and better and beautiful temples, these are not the words we want to hear.  Now, Jesus may have been speaking about the upcoming destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D.  Some scholars believe this, but what if there indeed is a deeper thought here.  What if Jesus is forcing us to go deeper.

    For the thought of the destruction of the Temple was a horrible one.  The Jews had endured this once in their history.  The Temple represented God’s presence on earth.  It represented where God lived.  It represented the place where people could go and be guaranteed to be near the presence of God.  If it were destroyed?  What then?  If the Temple were gone?  How would God’s presence be felt? 

     “Do not be terrified,” Jesus says.  “Lots of things are going to happen.  But don’t fear.  I’ve got a plan.”

    After searching futilely for my necklace, I picked up the phone.  It was not a phone call I wanted to make.  I called my mom and dad.  I broke down in tears as I told them that my beloved necklace that they had purchased for me was gone.  I sobbed as I told them of my search and how nothing turned up.  I apologized for losing what they had given me.

    “Kevin, it’s just a necklace,” they said.  A word of grace.  Whether my parents meant it or not, the message to me became loud and clear–you are not that necklace.  Your identity is not wrapped up in that necklace.  You did not lose a piece of you when that necklace somehow was ripped from your neck.  It is a just a stone–a beautiful stone, but a stone none-the-less.  Stop worrying about the stone.  There are more important things.

    It’s hard to stop worrying about those bricks we use to build up our lives.  It’s hard to stop worrying about even building those temples.  Somehow, we have come to think that we should be judged by those temples.  Somehow we have come to think our self worth depends upon those temples.  Somehow we have come to think that how others should or should not view us depends upon those temples. 

    It’s not just necklaces which drive us to despair.  Sometimes, if a person loses his or her job, that person feels like the purpose of life is gone.  If a house is broken into and goods are stolen, sometimes people feel violated.  If a project does not go as planned, sometimes a person agonizes and spends countless hours worrying about what went wrong.  If children do not live up to expectations, parents seek out professional help to “fix” their kids.  Hey, even we pastors are not immune from such things.  When worship attendance is up, we are on cloud nine.  When it is down, we get depressed.  We all build temples, and most of the time, our emotional state is completely dependent upon how that temple looks. 

    And the scariest part is that the temple will indeed be torn down.  Not one stone will be left upon another.  It will all disappear in a heart beat; in the blink of an eye.  Or, rather in the ceasing of the heart to beat when mine eyelids close in death.  And what will become of that which we have slaved over for all of our years?

    Hear now a word of grace: you are not that temple.  Your worth is not wrapped up in that which you strive to build.  Your worth comes from something completely different.  Your worth; your purpose; your value comes from God. 

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that the world may be saved through Him.

    Each and every day, my brothers and sisters, opportunity knocks.  Opportunity breaks into this world as Christ comes to us to remind us that He has a plan and a purpose for us.  Our temples may be knocked down.  Our lives may fall apart.  We may lose our jobs, our families, our friends, but we can never lose God’s love.  Never.  Ever.  We have an assurance that not one hair on our head will perish.  Is it any wonder then that Jesus says such things are opportunities to testify?  When our identity rests in Him, we have nothing to fear.  And that is what it means to Live God’s Word Daily.  Amen.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Who Cares?

It is a question I think we as clergy and as congregations need to wrestle with more deeply: who cares?

Who cares, indeed?

In many congregations, it is assumed that the primary caregiver for people is the pastor.  When people are troubled, they go to the pastor.  When people are having surgery or they end up in the hospital, the pastor is supposed to visit.  When someone loses a loved one, the pastor is there at the death, at the funeral preparation, calls numerous times afterward, and checks in on important dates: Christmas, Easter, a year after the death.  When a member has cancer, the pastor is supposed to call, text, write, email on a regular basis to check in.  If  someone misses church a couple Sundays in a row, the pastor should call upon that person to see what is going on.  And the list goes on.

Mind you, this isn't a bad thing.  I am not trying to get into a bad versus good argument over this, but what I would like to suggest is a good versus better approach.

In the above scenario, the pastor basically functions as a congregation's chaplain offering care and concern for his/her members.  This works pretty well for smaller congregations, but as congregation's grow, problems occur, mainly: the pastor is simply incapable of caring for so many people.  More and more things pile up.  More and more people have need.  The calendar becomes overwhelmed, and, even worse, the pastor becomes emotionally overwhelmed.  With so many people to care for with so many varied issues and difficulties, the pastor eventually hits emotional overload--no matter how good he or she is with caring for him/herself.

And even in smaller congregations, while this works, I am not convinced it is the best model of care and concern.  Why?

Generally this: in those congregations, the pastor becomes the "glue" that holds the congregation together.  People have a relationship with the pastor, but not necessarily with one another.  And that brings me to an important point: what happens to that congregation should the pastor take another call or retire?  If he/she is the glue that holds things together, what happens when the glue is gone?  The results aren't necessarily pretty.  In fact, you will see many congregations experience a drop in worship attendance and giving when the pastor leaves.  This is not the healthiest thing in my estimation.

So, what model might be better?

First of all, I think there are some things that clergy must keep in mind and practice and then things congregations should keep in mind and practice.

First, I think those of us who are clergy need to remember our job is not to bind a congregation together by having people have a relationship with us.  Far from it.  I believe our job is to help people connect with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Sure, it's nice to get strokes when people tell us how much they appreciate us and like us.  It's nice to hear, "I am so thankful for all that you have done."  To a person who generally cares for others, these things touch a soul very deeply.  However, if people are simply enjoying their relationship with you, are they growing in their walks of faith?  Are they coming in contact with the God who works through you?  That is another question entirely, and it is one I wrestle with constantly.  As much as I like to be liked, I have become convinced that people don't need a relationship with me nearly as much as they need a relationship with Christ.  He alone brings the peace that passes all understanding.  He alone brings healing.  He alone brings transformation.  If folks are not experiencing such things, perhaps it is because we are in the way.

Second, I think a much better model for congregations to follow is care and concern for each other.  When a pastor cares for members, one person essentially is the care giver.  When people care for one another, well, that's a whole other ball of wax--a very powerful ball of wax.  Suddenly, it's not the pastor alone who is showing compassion, concern, and mercy--to those he or she agrees and doesn't agree with--instead, a whole body of people begin to care about one another--they truly have compassion, concern, and mercy for one another.  Suddenly, it's not one person alone trying to model the love of God for others, it's an entire group of people; and while God can certainly make a difference with one person, He can reach more people through the acts of others.

Furthermore, when people genuinely care for each other, the pastor no longer becomes the bonding mechanism for a congregation.  People's relationship with God and with each other form that bond.  Ideally, when the pastor leaves or retires, not much changes because the compassion and care is not dependent upon the pastor--it's shown with or without him/her.

When people show such care and concern for each other, no one feels left out.  No one feels isolated.  No one feels demeaned or unimportant.  A congregation might hold a belief or policy that people do not agree with, but because of the love that people show towards one another, such things do not take on the utmost importance.

I am convinced that when people care for one another and are not dependent upon the pastor for such care, great things happen in congregations.

Who cares about such things?

I do.  For I long to see congregations thriving and showing God's love--sharing the Gospel because they know the difference a relationship with Christ can bring.  I long to see congregations thriving in a culture which a times is openly hostile to public faith.  I long to see congregations full of joy and hope and people who smile and laugh with one another.

I simply cannot make people do these things.

All I can and will do is preach the Good News and hope that Christ transforms communities into such places of care and compassion.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What Anti-Abortionists and Universal Health Care Supporters Have in Common

I think Timothy Keller said something similar in his book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, but it didn't sink in.  It did yesterday when I was listening to a lecture by Richard John Neuhaus on Youtube. 

Neuhaus tells us he was very much the liberal back in the 1960's and wrote for liberal publications.  He said there were two forms of liberalism which surfaced in that time: a liberalism which sought the absolute freedom of the individual, and a liberalism which concerned itself with expanding the definition of who should be included when it came to who was welcome in the public square.

Neuhaus said that when the issue of abortion arose, it was the first group that seized upon the issue making it an issue of individual freedom: the "right" of a woman to choose what happens within her womb.  Neuhaus argues the second phase of liberalism made a mistake in allowing this to happen.  Why?

Going back to the title of this post, he argues it is because the dignity and sacredness of human life.  Neuhaus argues that there is no biologist in the world who argues to the contrary that once a sperm and egg join, the process begins in the formation of a human being.  As adults, we can trace our very selves to the moment when that one in 6 million sperm found an egg, fertilized it, and began the process of cell division.  All of us arose out of that biological state.  You cannot argue that simple fact.  Anti-abortion folks extend the sacredness of life all the way back to this starting point.  They have a very deeply rooted conviction that God holds the beginnings of this human being as sacred.

In many ways, so do those who support universal health care.  Again, you have a group of people who believe that each human being deserves medical attention when in need, and they believe quite strongly that a person should not go broke to extend one's life--particularly if there is the ability to treat a disease.  I strongly feel this is rooted and grounded in the care and concern for fellow human beings because life is, again, sacred.

Fundamentally, these two groups view life as sacred, but how often do you see them actually joining together to work for both of these things?

Usually, not so much.

In fact, despite sharing this common ground, usually pro-lifers (as they are often called) are found in more "conservative" camps.  Those who support universal health care are usually found in the more liberal camps.  Why is this the case?

A failure to carry one's logic all the way through.  At least, this is what I think.  Why do I think in this fashion?

Let's start with a particular premise: human life is sacred or for those who are more uncomfortable with religious language: valuable.

If human life is sacred/valuable, then what are the consequences of having such a premise?

Well, it would seem as if the common good would want to protect life and extend it to the best of our ability--at least this seems to be a logical consequence.  Therefore, one would think that extending that protection would go to the potential for human life as well as human life which has been struck by disease and illness.  It should be a both/and, at least logically.

However, oftentimes, pro-life folks are against universal health care, and universal health care folks support a woman's right to choose to abort a baby.  The common good seems to travel only so far.

For instance, for many pro-life folks, protecting a potential human is more important than providing food, shelter, an education, and health care for a living human.

For many who support universal health care, providing food, shelter, a education, and health care for a living human being is more important than protecting the life of a potential human being.

What changes the equation?

Individual freedom.

Those who support a woman's right to have an abortion have a particular understanding of individual freedom for that woman.  It is the woman's choice and no one else has a say.  In a very real way, it's radically individualistic.

Those who do not wish to support universal health care have a radically individualistic view as well--pertaining to wealth.  They believe individual freedom to earn and spend money as they choose is paramount.

Interestingly enough, each group has an idea of the sacredness of life; however, they also are (is the right word) infected by a radical individualism.  Each group is not willing to carry either one of these positions (sacredness of life/individual freedom) to it's logical consequences, and so fodder is provided for anyone who wishes to exploit this and continue what some call a culture war.

Pope John Paul II repeatedly spoke out against a culture of death--a culture which allows the potential for human life to be prematurely ended  AND which devalues the lives of living human beings as it fails to provide basic care to those in need.

It seems to me that if the Universal Church believes that all human beings are created in the image of God, then it will be very protective of those which bear that image--before birth and after birth.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Clearly and Succintly

We also need to be prepared to distinguish between what Scripture actually says and what we think it means.  It is Scripture that has the final authority, not our understanding of it.  --John Lennox  Seven Days that Divide the World (Kindle location 315)

Monday, November 11, 2013

I Know that My Redeemer Lives!

23 ‘O that my words were written down!  O that they were inscribed in a book!  24 O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock for ever!  25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. --Job 19:23-27

   These words were uttered by Job as recorded in the book which bears his same name.  As we read these words, we may detect a hint of triumph within them.  They sound ultimately hopeful!  They sound like words we too might utter if we have stumbled upon fortune.  Perhaps we got lucky enough to win the lottery.  Perhaps we were fortunate enough to be declared cancer free after fighting an arduous battle with cancer.  Perhaps we heard our child received a full ride scholarship to his or her preferred university.  “I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth!”  It is so easy to give God glory and thanks when things are going in our favor.

    But there is an interesting twist with these words which were uttered by Job–an interesting twist indeed.  Let’s set the background.

    Job was a pretty wealthy guy.  He was happily married; had several children; large flocks of sheep and goats.  He loved the Lord and worshiped Him and only Him.  Now, we are told that God and Satan are having an argument, and they decide upon a wager: Satan believes Job’s faith is only skin deep.  Satan believes that if calamity were to befall Job, then Job would curse God.  God has more trust in Job than Satan does.  God believes Job will remain steadfast in His faith.  In order to settle the bet, Satan is given reign to torment Job.   

    Satan is pretty thorough.  He afflicts Job mightily.  He sends disaster upon Job’s flocks; his crops, and his family.  He afflicts Job’s health and covers him with painful sores.  Job goes from the top of the world having everything, to the top of the ash heap having nothing.  While sitting on the ash heap, Job’s friends come to visit with him.  It’s a really interesting conversation which takes up many chapters in the book of Job–it’s particularly fascinating that they continually believe Job must have done something to deserve the calamities which have befallen him.  They say God punishes sinners in such a manner, and that Job should repent or curse God and walk away from Him.  Job steadfastly refuses to walk away from God, and he says that he has done nothing to deserves such punishment.

    Job’s friends are unrelenting.  He must have done something to have earned God’s wrath and punishment.

    Let’s stop here for just a moment because Job’s situation gives us a chance to talk about grace.  Some of you might scratch your heads at this.  How in the world does this story about a guy whose family has been taken from him; who has lost his wealth; who has lost his health; whose friends are telling him he is a sinner; and who is now sitting on an ash heap give us an opportunity to talk about grace?

    Well, remember what I started this sermon off with?  Remember those words, “I know that my redeemer lives!”?  Remember how they are often spoken when things are going good?  What do we usually say when things are going badly for us?  What do we utter when it seems like the world is against us?

    Many times, we don’t need friends to sit next to us and tell us.  Many times we say it ourselves, “What have I done to deserve this?”  You would be surprised how many times I have heard someone say this in the time that I have served as a pastor.  Cancer strikes: what have I done to deserve this?  A child is stricken with disease: what did we do to have this happen to us?  A loved one suffers a debilitating health issue: she doesn’t deserve this.  Over and over and over again.

    What is behind this?  Perhaps not in all circumstances, but I think there is a bit of commonality running through each and every one of these situations: it’s the idea that somehow we can still save ourselves.  It’s the idea of works/righteousness.  It’s the idea that if I just do the right things; believe the right things; say the right things, then everything will work out for me in the long run.  It’s the idea that if I do the right things, then I will be accepted and be blessed.  And so when things don’t turn out the way we think they should, we start asking ourselves what we might have done or not done to deserve what has befallen us.

    We must stop here and ask: is this the way God, as revealed in Jesus Christ acts?  Is this the modus operandi of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

    Actually, no.  Not in the least, because as we see God revealed in Jesus Christ, we do not see this kind of working at all.  Instead, we see a God who operates by pure grace.  We do not see a God who demands that we work out our own salvation, but we see a God who works out salvation for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity.  We see a God who literally dies for us so that we might live.  There is nothing we have to do to earn this.  There is nothing we have to do to make this happen.  There is nothing we have to say to earn God’s favor.  There is no mountain we have to climb or ocean we have to swim.

    “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.”  That’s the beauty of grace.  And God acted in this manner while we were still sinners.

    So, what does that mean in relation to when those bad things start happening?  Well, a person functioning under the works/righteousness model says, “Why is this happening to me?”  The person who operates under the grace model says something quite different.  The person working under the grace model says, “I know that I am a broken person.  God has every right to punish me in whatever mode He sees fit.  I know that I have sinned against Him in thought word and deed by things that I have done and things that I have left undone.  I have not loved Him with my whole heart.  I have not loved my neighbor as myself.  Never-the-less, God has removed the discipline of the law.  God no longer punishes me or anyone by sending death, disease, or misfortune.  This is not God’s will.  I may not know why these things are happening to me, but I do know that God is operating in the midst of this in some way, shape or form.  I know God is working to transform this situation.  I know that God has promised me hope, and I will have faith in Him no matter what happens.”

    How can we know that God has promised such a thing?  How do we know God is working in the midst of such turmoil and struggle and pain and suffering?  Well, we look to the cross.  Yes, the cross.  That instrument of death is the focal point of the Christian faith, and there is little wonder why.  For if there was anyone who didn’t deserve to die, it was the God incarnate who hung on it.  If there was anyone who had actually lived up to the works righteousness end of the bargain, it was Jesus.  If there was anyone who should not have suffered, it was him indeed.  But that’s not what happened.  Jesus was nailed to that cross.  Jesus bled.  Jesus suffered.  Jesus died. 

    But death was not the end.  Suffering did not provide the final answer.  Evil did not carry the day.  For on the third day, Christ rose from the dead showing the power and desire of God to conquer evil, suffering and death.  Christ rose from the dead to show us that the final answer rests with God and will forever be God.  Grace leads us right to this spot.

    “For I know that my redeemer lives!”  Job spoke these words from the top of the ash heap.  He spoke these words after his friends tried to convince him that he had done something wrong to anger God, to provoke God’s wrath, to make God send him suffering.  But Job would have none of it.  He would not blame himself.  He would not blame God.  Instead, he would put his trust in the one who gave him hope.  In the midst of his pain; in the midst of his suffering; in the midst of those who would call him to do otherwise; Job spoke words of faith.

    “For I know that my redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives.  He lives!  He lives, who once was dead.  He lives my ever living head!”  We will sing those words in just a moment, and whatever your situation in life–whether you are struggling mightily with what life has given you or whether you are satisfied and happy with what is going on–sing them not because you believe you have earned your lot, but because you trust that God loves you whatever you may be facing.  For that is what we do when we Live God’s Word Daily.  Amen.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

More Amazing Stuff on Evolution and Life

I found this thought exercise applying Moore's Law for computer science to biology to be fascinating.

If you read this article, you will see that in doing so, the evolution of life as we know it should have taken 10 billion years.  The interesting issue is, the earth is only 4.5 billion years old.

Now, this study assumes one can actually apply Moore's law to biology.  It's a huge, huge assumption--one that would actually take quite a bit of study to confirm.  This is why the researchers themselves call it a thought experiment.

Given this though, the thought experiment actually does confirm something biologists have known--natural selection and genetic mutation are not adequate to describe the evolutionary process.  The process has been too fast even given the age of the earth.

See, as a paleontologist described the events on earth:

For 2 billion years, there was no life.  None.  Zip.  Nada.

Then, we had bacteria form.  Pond scum was how he described it.

Pond scum reigned for 2 billion years.

Then, in the space of 500 million years--a cosmological blink of an eye, we go from pond scum to human beings.  Of course, this leaves out the complexity of the dinosaurs and the 99% of species who once roamed the earth which are now extinct.

Even Moore's Law cannot account for such complexity arising out of, well, nothing.

Cosmic chance evolution is so rapid?  Guided evolution? 

Chance isn't reasonable.

Perhaps there are other mechanisms at play that science hasn't discovered yet.  When they do...if they do...I am sure they will be absolutely amazing and fascinating and give one more display of God's handiwork in creation.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Incognito Bullying

Incognito: adverb.  1.  With one's identity disguised or concealed.

I have been watching with great interest the ongoing situation with the Miami Dolphins.

For those who do not follow the NFL news:

Second year offensive lineman Jonathan Martin walked away from the team last week frustrated after two years of being bullied.  The ringleader of those who bullied Martin was teammate Richie Incognito--please see that I am not pointing to Incognito exclusively.  From what I read, the incident which broke the camel's back was an entire table getting up and walking away when Martin sat to eat with them.  This is not the work of one person, but of an environment which allows bullying.

The team has suspended Incognito indefinitely for his role in the bullying, especially in light of damning voice messages and texts left by Incognito on Martin's phone.  These are very graphic and explicit.

There have been some interesting reactions from others concerning this incident, highlighted in the article linked above.  No one is defending Incognito's actions--at least that I can see.

However, many are questioning Martin's reactions.

Why didn't he take on Incognito and go mano a mano?  Why didn't he physically stand up to the bullying and say "enough is enough."?

Yours truly handled bullies in such fashion when he was younger.  I didn't get into many fights when I was a kid.  Being taller than most kids had something to do with that, but I also would reach a certain point where I would handle matters for myself.  I would not allow a bully to go too far, plain and simple.

I was influenced by family members who told stories of being bullied in their youth.  One story had quite the impact as a family member told of being picked on and picked on and picked on.  Finally, having had his fill, one day, he turned and punched the bully square in the mouth.  End of bullying.

I've prepared my kids for such an eventuality.  My eldest was the recipient of bullying behavior at school.  A little boy was repeatedly picking on her and putting sand in her hair at recess.  We told her to tell the teachers (as we have been conditioned to do these days).  She apparently did, but no results were forthcoming.  She still came home with sand in her hair.  My wife and I then wrote a letter to the teachers, but I also sat down with my daughter.

"Now, sweetie, I want to tell you something.  I know __________ is picking on you and bullying you.  I know you are tired of it.  Mom and I wrote a letter to your teachers, and hopefully this will take care of it.  If it does not, I want you to tell me.  Then, and only if I tell you to.  Again, only if I tell you to, I want you to punch this guy as hard as you can.  I want you to slap him around and tell him you will not put up with his bullying anymore."

"But I will get in trouble."

"Yes, you will.  And there will be consequences at the school, but I want you to know, you will not get in trouble at home.  If I tell you to do it, you will not get in trouble here.  It will be okay for you to get in trouble at school, because that will end the bullying.  But remember, only if I tell you it's okay."

My daughter nodded.

Fortunately, nothing more happened.  The teachers handled the situation, and my daughter did not come home with sand in her hair again.

There is a point and time when standing up to a bully is the right thing to do, but I believe it's after all other alternatives have been exhausted.

I am not prone to violence, but if you push me to it as a last resort, I will.

Again, some wonder why Martin did not resort to such tactics.  I submit to you that he was exercising all options before resorting to violence.

You see, Martin is not a simple jock.  He went to Stanford University.  They are not known for their intellectual laziness at that particular university.  In all reality, Martin is probably a pretty smart guy.  He may have certain principles and values which lead him to be as non-violent as possible.  Handling things violently may not be in his nature, and so he seeks out other alternatives.

His alternative this time was to expose the bullying--bring it to the light of day.

Most bullies don't want their deeds to be noticed.  They will only perpetrate them surrounded by those who give the bully his or her power.  When exposed to others who have more authority and a better sense of right and wrong, the bully will stop.

This is exactly what happened when we exposed my daughter's being bullied to the teachers.  It stopped.

Martin exposed Incognito's bullying--and the bullying by teammates who acquiesced to Incognito's schemes.  Bringing them to the light of day has had profound consequences.

It has brought shame on Incognito.

It has brought shame on the Dolphin's organization.

It has brought shame on the NFL.

Is it any wonder why there are those who are saying Martin should have "manned up"?

They are part of this system which has allowed such behavior to continue on unabated.

Martin, in my estimation, has dared to shine a light deep into the recesses of the dark side of the NFL.  He has dared to challenge a system which makes allowances for improper behaviors.  He has dared to walk away instead of allow that system to continue to take advantage of his nature.  He is taking a path of non-violence, but one which will accord him ridicule.  He is exhausting all avenues before becoming physical.  Perhaps it would have been easier to simply fight it out, but in this manner, it could help bring healing to a system.


By bringing things out into the open.  By refusing to let things continue on in secret.  By refusing to allow the bully to remain incognito.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Happens when We Die?

I received the following email this past week:

Since the passing of my father recently the question of what happens when we die is ever on my mothers mind. I might add mine too. I have read a lot on it on the internet and the Bible and I must admit it can be overwhelming for a simple minded person like myself.  I wanted to ask you if on your blog did you address the question and if so when. I tried looking in the archives but was unable to find one...After reading a lot of thoughts from other people and their reasoning I always came to the thought of what is Pastor Haug's thoughts.

Heady topic with lots of stuff out there.

Interestingly enough, this week's Living Lutheran: Ask a Pastor section was on this very topic.  Answers there vary.  Answers with a lot of pastors and professors vary.

Here's my short answer: we don't know exactly.  That's the truth.

There's only been one person that I know of who experienced the fullness of death for three days and then returned, and He didn't do too much talking about what was going on when His body lay in the tomb.

Sure, there have been others who have had near death experiences.  Some have tried to explain these experiences as the brain going into shut down mode and having a hyper-burst of activity.  However, there are some experiences where the brain is completely shut down for days, and yet these experiences still occur.  Some have recorded these experiences and sold them on the market.  At the recommendation of church members, I have read both:

Heaven is for Real

Proof of Heaven

Both of these books are quite interesting and intriguing.  Both have sold thousands of copies, but they are vastly different in what they convey about life after death.  Vastly different.

So, what is true?

I don't know, but this is what I trust:

When I die, I believe I will go to be with God.

Yes, I know this doesn't exactly gel with St. Paul's understanding of death: that we fall asleep until the resurrection.  But it does gel with other portions of scripture.

For instance, this Sunday's Gospel passage from the book of Luke.  Jesus is asked a question about the resurrection by the Sadducees.  Of course the Sadducees don't believe in the resurrection of the dead.  They believe once a person is dead: that's it.

Yet, Jesus doesn't buy that train of thought.  He answers them rather profoundly (bold emphasis mine):

 27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’  34 Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’ 39Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, you have spoken well.’ 40For they no longer dared to ask him another question.

"Now, He is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to Him all of them are alive."

This is quite the interesting statement, is it not?  How can Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still be living?  Their bones have surely decayed and returned to the dust long sense?  How could they be considered living?

Jesus offers more insight when He gives the parable of the rich man and Lazarus:

19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’ 

While this indeed is a parable; it does tell us something of how Jesus viewed what happened after death.

#1. There is life after it.
#2. Some are taken to be with Abraham wherever he may be (With God?).
#3. Some head to torment.
#4. There is a separation between these two places that cannot be crossed.

Some might like to stop here, but Jesus certainly doesn't.  Jesus, as Paul talks about the resurrection.

Some folks like to do an either/or.  Either heaven and hell or resurrection to a new heaven and a new earth.

I like to combine them with the both/and.  Some part of us goes on living--goes to be with God (or torment) as we await the last judgment.  Then, on that day, we are reembodied at the resurrection.

Again, I don't know for sure.  Haven't been on the other side to check.  One thing is for sure: we'll all find out. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

We Are God's Children, Now!

    I don’t know how many of you have seen the Broadway musical and motion picture, "My Fair Lady." It is based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, "Pygmalion." It is about a brilliant professor, Henry Higgins, who transforms a humble flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into an elegant English lady. In the midst of her brilliant transformation, Eliza falls in love with Henry Higgins, but he treats her only with disdain.

    Towards the end of the play, she expresses her complaint to their mutual friend, Colonel Pickering: "You see," she says, "Really and truly apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not in how she behaves, but how she is treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will."

    Think about this story for just a minute as we consider the fact that today we celebrate All Saints Day in the life of the Church.  It is the day in the Church year where we remember the saints–those who have gone onto eternal glory and those who are among us now who have profoundly impacted our lives–particularly our lives of faith. 

    For many, when the term saint is mentioned, they think about a person who has exceptional morals or who had done extraordinary things.  They think about a Mother Teresa, a Pope John Paul II, a Peter, a Paul, a miracle worker, a person who volunteers all of their spare time to help out at soup kitchens, food pantries, or other charitable organizations.  Rarely do we think of the person sitting right next to us as a saint.  No.  We know too much about that person.  We know too much about his or her past.  We know what he or she does on the weekends or how he or she treated us with just a touch of anger at some point and time in our lives.  We know how they don’t keep their lawns perfectly manicured; how they spend money frivolously; how they could do so much more to help others but they choose not to.  No, that person couldn’t possibly be a saint.  She is just a simple flower girl, never a lady: or, in Christian terms, that person is a sinner not a saint.

    One might think that with such an attitude, these folks would think more highly of themselves than they should.  One might think that those with such an attitude would consider themselves above the people they think about.  However, I would submit to you this morning, they probably don’t.  They probably look in the mirror and say, “I am no saint either.  I do not do enough good things.  I am no Mother Teresa.  I am no St. John.  I am no St. Francis of Assissi.  I’m not the most horrible person in the world, but neither am I so great.  I get angry.  I get frustrated.  I say things I shouldn’t say.  I do things I shouldn’t do.  I know my limitations and my imperfections all too well.  I am no saint.  I am a sinner.”  I am just a simple flower girl, but I really am not a lady to return to the opening illustration..

    This is where we get with either/or thinking.  This is where we get when we start thinking in terms which are not necessarily Christian.  For the orthodox Christian faith proclaims that we are not either a sinner or a saint.  The orthodox Christian faith proclaims that we are both a sinner AND a saint.  Consider that very, very carefully, and then consider its implications.

    And as you consider it, listen once more to the words of 1 John.  Words that we heard earlier this morning: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

    John holds up this balance very well.  We are children of God NOW.  Not later.  Not when we are finally brought to perfection.  We belong to Him NOW.  Yet, we have not reached perfection.  We have not been fully purified.  That will take place slowly and surely in a process called sanctification.  We are in the process of being transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.  God has claimed us NOW, but we are not there yet.

    And that raises and interesting question for me: how am I then called to treat others?  How am I called to look at them?  What am I called to emphasize about them, and how am I supposed to relate to them?  As simple flower girls?  As ladies–going back to the original story? 

    Let me try to shed some light on this question with another story.  It is a story I have told before, but it bears repeating again and again and again.

    Back in the mountains of Tennessee, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, 'Hey boy, Who's your daddy?  Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, 'Who's your daddy?'

    He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid
going in to stores because that question hurt him so bad. 'When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. Little Ben had heard good things about this preacher how he was kind and non-judgmental.  He heard that he was compassionate and full of the Spirit.

    Before long, Ben decided he wanted to check this preacher out.  He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, 'Who's your daddy?'  Ben liked the things he heard in that church.  He liked hearing about a God who loved and forgave.  In fact, on one particular Sunday, Ben was so caught up in the message that he forgot to slip out early.  Before he knew what was happening he got caught up in the crowd.

    Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, 'Son, who's your daddy?'

    The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church
looking at him.  This was the question everyone was dying to receive an answer for.  Ben expected harsh words, condemnation.  But something very different happened.

    This new preacher looked deeply into Ben’s eyes.  With a great big grin, the preacher said, “Wait a minute! I know who you are! I see the family resemblance now, You are a child of God.”   With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, “Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.”

    Perhaps I should tell you that little boy went on to become the governor of Tennessee.  Perhaps that is relevant to the story.  Perhaps it is not.  Perhaps what is most important was the way the preacher thought to look at Ben.  Whereas many could only see him as an illegitimate son of an unwed mother, this pastor saw him as a child of God–and worthy of love, respect, care, concern, and compassion.

    Each of you are worthy of such things as well.  Each of you have been adopted in the waters of baptism and have been claimed as God’s children now.  No, you are not perfect, but God’s not done with you yet.  He loves you dearly.  He wants you to know that, and He hopes that you will treat one another with the same love He gives you.  For that is what it means to Live God’s Word Daily.  Amen.