Thursday, December 15, 2016


Paul discusses salvation in two parts. First, is the reversal of Adam's separation from God. The human race for Paul was reconciled to God by our having a representative who lived faithfully. This is the basis for all the Second Adam and related discussion. It is in this sense that Jesus destroyed sin in the flesh and the resultant Pauline "in Christ" argument.

The second is what God has done for you, as opposed to the human race. The answer to this is, let me be careful here, not much. At least not as is often trumpeted.

We are saved by two strokes. The first is God, desiring to have a people, has thrown open the doors to his kingdom, just as he has done before. The result is that if you want to join God, you can (stroke 2) because Jesus has reconciled the world to God and redeemed the human race. You don't need your sins forgiven specifically before you can join God, but joining God allows you to be "in Jesus," in whom there is no sin.

This is roughly parallel to being an Israelite. If you were part of Israel, you were with God, with the Pauline caveat that real Israel were and are those who are faithful to God. Perfection was not required, but as the psalmist says, blessed is the man whose sins God does not count. The same is true for you and me. Our sins don't go anywhere, they simply aren't counted as long as our God is YHWH, and we are conforming ourselves to his image.

Reconciliation is sometimes linked with redemption. Often involving paying a debt, the idea of redemption is most appropriately one of setting aright someone's life state and is often a family responsibility to heal and restore. Thus, Boaz goes looking for the person with the right of redemption for Ruth and company. Ruth didn't have to do anything to be redeemed, Boaz just did it. As a result, all that had gone before is forgotten, but faithfulness going forward is expected.

The world has been redeemed and the gospel call is to "come back home while the door is open." Salvation is life with God which God offers and which you are invited to enter.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Joy at the Sound of Good News

The third week of Advent is also known as the week of Joy. The images here are those reminiscent of the carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing! and similar hymns normally sang this time of year. Our sermon text this week is Isaiah 61.1-11, which is the text Jesus uses in Luke to describe why He has been sent into the world.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, the speaker says. This applies to both Isaiah who has been commissioned by God, and to Jesus who has been baptized, and upon whom the Spirit has descended. This is a different kind of commission. We have seen visions, tongs with burning coals, and even a mantel falling from the sky. Here it is no less than the very Spirit of God that evidences the charge of our speakers.
The charge Isaiah has been given is to give good tidings to the afflicted, and to bind up the brokenhearted. While we enter the second half of Advent, of waiting, and on this Sunday of Joy, we are reminded that there are those who are afflicted and brokenhearted. Among our friends here at Covenant there have been recent great loss and grief; of loved ones and health. These seem incompatible with joy this week. But they remind us that while we are in this life, we wait expectantly for the coming of God in the final deliverance and reconciliation when we together with our friends and loved ones, together in body and health. This is not a morose waiting; a hope of escape, but a trusting and a seeing of God’s work and purpose in the world—to build a planet of loving Lovers who live in and as his image.
To proclaim release to the captives and liberation to the imprisoned.  In Isaiah’s day prisons were not places one wanted to be, nor are they today. Physical abuse, threat to life and body from seemingly capricious and arbitrary violence at the hands of other prisoners and jailers alike are moment by moment possibilities. Being released might bring some freedom to move about, but it can’t restore what one has lost—including future economic security and wellbeing. Relationships, even intimate ones are gone forever. The release of our God is different though. When God releases us, he simultaneously restores and reconciles us to himself and to each other. He picks us up, washes us off, lifts are face to his and...smiles.
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s comfort all who mourn. The year or the moment of God’s favor, showering out his blessings and reconciliation for his people. Children often jostle to see who can become the apple of their parents’ eyes because it’s nice to have the tender attention of those with power. This might happen too at our work places where we sometimes hear someone labelled a Yes Man, indicating our view that he is currying favor with the boss. These favored places, sought by children and adults alike are manipulated for fleeting benefit from people who will themselves prove to be less than reliable in all cases. But, if we might have the favor of God! This God who says he’s rather bless than curse; that he would rather relent than punish; who is described as having everlasting love for people; and who John tells us, died for whoever might believe—yes this God. If we can have his favor, oh how wonderful that would be!
This is the promise made first here in Isaiah and later Jesus will tell us he is fulfilling this promise by bringing good news, healing, freedom, and comfort not just to Israel, but eventually to all people. No wonder Simeon and Hannah almost explode with joy when they meet the son of Mary in the Temple!
How do we live this reality? The promise of Joel last week is close to becoming reality and for us, it is reality. The Spirit has been poured out and disciples have it. While you and I are not prophets or Jesus, we have the same mission of reconciling people to God, to bring good news, healing, freedom, and comfort to those around us—and we have the Spirit to help. Who can you bless this week?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

This Election Was A Victory For...

This election wasn't a victory for White Supremacy, misogynists, or racial bigots. It was a victory for the rule of law and the Constitution, for actual inclusion based on acceptance rather than hate, for valuing of human life, even up to birth, the reduction in federal over-reach into our lives. It was a victory for Liberty for all Americans.

This election wasn't a victory for White Supremacy, misogynists, or racial bigots. If you are a White Supremacist, a Gay-hater, a woman-hater, or race bigot, this election result says nothing about you or your quite disgusting self-love. You and your relatively small group of miscreants remain hateful and despicable misfits on the fringe of our great society.

This election wasn't a victory for White Supremacy, misogynists, or racial bigots. The people you love to hate are human beings and as such, the image of God enfleshed. You insult all of us by expressing your juvenile hate and you look as stupid as the people who are rioting in California and Oregon. Quit believing your own press; that press is only quoting the Democrat and Administration’s disinformation; they thrive on hate and racial division. Your petty little groups do not represent Republicans, conservatives, White people, men, or any valid religious group. Get over yourselves.

This election wasn't a victory for White Supremacy, misogynists, or racial bigots. If this is you, grow up. Quit acting like the juveniles being orchestrated and manipulated by the Left. Both they and you are embarrassments to America. Your isolated behaviors, enlarged and emotionally presented by the racists in the American government and Democrat party is what fueled half the country voting for a demonstrably corrupt, oppressive, and racist use of federal power and agencies, embodied in the Democrat candidate.

This election wasn't a victory for White Supremacy, misogynists, or racial bigots. The results of this election are a victory for rule of law and the Constitution, for actual inclusion of all people, for valuing human life even before birth, and the reduction of federal over-reach into our lives.

It was a victory for true Liberty for all Americans.


The redemption of the world through Jesus of Nazareth is called a new covenant by Jesus, and most believe it is the new covenant promised in Jeremiah 31. Even though it is called a new covenant, the text reads more like a re-newed covenant, rather than a new one entirely. God will forgive their iniquity and they will be His people; they will all know God and not need others to teach them the word of God because it will be written on their hearts. This, as has been observed by others does not describe a new covenant, but what God has always wanted for humans and those who would be his followers – that they would be His people, living most fully as the images of God they were made to be.

God has been so committed to the welfare of people that He has not allowed Man's faithlessness to frustrate the plan He has for a planet populated by those who would live as cosmic lovers, living as Jesus modelled. 

In God's pursuit of his desire to bless His images with a world of lovers, He has repeatedly sought His people to restore them to Himself. This effort of God's is reminiscent of a parent's desire for their children who have left home and lived similarly to the Prodigal Son. The parents let the child live as they wish for a while and then they go to find that child or reach out to the child through friends, family, and today, social media. All the parent wants is to find the child and bring them home. Images of reunions with running, hugs, and tears spring to mind. What doesn't come to mind is a listing of things the child has to do before they can come home; the parent just wants them home again. There are expectations - the child is expected to behave, to use more mature decision making, and to not be disrespectful, but these are not demanded before the hugs and tears. As we watch this unfolding scene, we understand that the parent has already forgiven the child – has let go of the hurt they may have felt before.  

If we can appreciate this dynamic, we can better understand God's approach to sinful people and the salvation "process." Forgiveness is already available; God has already made himself ready to simply accept you, if you want to come home. No begging, no justifying yourself, no wondering whether God will accept you. God stands ready for you to come home; all you have to do is come home. Are there things expected of you? Well yes there are, but God doesn't require them prior to opening the door for you. What are those things? Well, they are to submit to the goodness of God, to agree to live as the image of God on the earth, to acknowledge God as the provider of all good. 

These are not new things; these are not "new" but are the same things God has expected of people throughout history. The newness of the New Covenant are not Man's response, but the universality of the offer and the perfect sacrifice of Jesus as the final and most complete sacrifice. 

Want to come home? 

Come on! 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Election

Eight years ago – actually for six or eight years before that – I had the same emotional reaction to that election as apparently some of you are experiencing to this one. That was painful, very painful and its affects have lingered, and at times returned over the better part of the past decade or more. 

I am pleased with the outcome of this election, but I am not overjoyed.

What we have witnessed over the past twenty years or more is a direct assault on liberty in the form of expanded federal power, the extension of federal requirements into our lives, and the complete corruption of the federal government including the court system. It has been made blatant under the current President in almost every way imaginable.

·         He has used the IRS to oppress and intimidate political and religious opponents.

·         He has refused to enforce law and has used the intimidation of the FBI and the Justice Department to silence opposition and free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association.

·         He has used the tax code as a threat to those who don’t want to make their personal health decisions in accordance with federal preferences.

·         He has initiated, fanned, and failed to intervene against racial, sexual, and social unrest. Rather than bringing unity, he has repeatedly encouraged division, hate, and violence on our streets. 

The rhetoric and behavior of the President and federal agencies have never been about liberty, really. We have witnessed the greatest expansion of elitist federal power and at the same time, intentional attacks against any social system that might pose a threat to that federal power. We have witnessed ongoing separation of parents from their children, we have seen assaults against religious institutions, and individual privacy, we have seen the use of law made arbitrary and unpredictable.

We have seen the elevation of emotion as a primary driving force and the use of mob and violent action to oppress and delegitimize societal norms and even the application of law. We have degenerated from a society of free expression of ideas to one in which we now provide safe places for weak-minded college students. The country – or large enough segments of it – is simply emotionally unstable.

The intent of all this is to make the federal government not the servant of Liberty and a free people, but to remove every social support except the federal government. The intent is simply to create as much dependence – actual and emotional – on the federal government as possible.

But he hasn’t done this alone, and in fact he is simply the most recent symptom and result of what the Democrat party has engendered since the 1990’s. Have all the Democrat players been intentional in their complicit participation in this assault on the country? No and many of them are good people at heart. Even so, their behaviors and rhetoric have served to propel the destruction of liberty at a faster and faster pace. Whether it is Pelosi’s insipid “you have to pass it to see what’s in it,” or Reid’s complete ignorance of the world and political reality, they have simply served to facilitate in their own ignorant and yet dangerous ways, the further weakening of liberty.

They have repeatedly used personal attacks against their political opponents, ridiculing, name calling, and insulting as a form of statesmanship. In this way they have engendered the acceptability of emotion as a policy setting standard, and ridicule for government policy, rather than reason. And so we have college women demanding that others pay for their birth control because lord knows, it wouldn’t be fair to expect her to either pay for her own, or control the behavior of her own body. Emotion is used as a tool for distraction, blaming a video for the deaths of an entire diplomatic station even while knowing those deaths were preventable. Emotion has served as the vehicle to attack the fabric of society. The President doesn’t care about wedding cakes, birth control, Gay rights, the plight of migrants, or bathroom use; nor does the federal government have a legitimate interest in most of those. Rather, these are simply points of destabilization of society – against sexual norms, faith practice, social stability, and personal privacy.

It has been a classic destabilization assault on liberty, and one that has been very painful to experience on an almost daily basis – because it has been so plain.

I am pleased with the outcome of this election, but not overjoyed.

The Democrat party nominated a woman who is as corrupt and oppressively mean as the current President, dismissing her enabling of sexual predation, selling government access, directing mob violence, releasing highly classified information directly related to the security of the country, insulting and demeaning uniformed and protective staff who cannot respond to her. She lives, operates, and expects her staff to treat her as the clear tyrant she is. She had two selling points: she would continue the assault on liberty by continuing the extension of the federal government, taking more of your money, and the continuing destabilization of society. Except with her, the further destabilization would be through negligence because not only does she have no governing experience, she is and can only be interested in herself. Unlike the current President whose behavior has been an intentional assault on liberty, she just doesn’t care. Her second selling point: she’s a woman. Even in an atmosphere where being a woman is accepted as simply personal choice, this was her other main selling point as President.

The WikiLeaks emails revealed just how corrupt the Democrat party as a whole, the DNC and the candidate’s own campaign staff not was, is. They are disappointed, even emotionally hurt today, but that has not and will not change their character of ego-centered behavior fueled by emotional entitlement and vindictiveness.

The greatest evidence of the extent of the current President’s effectiveness in his attempts at destabilization is that most of the voters in this election voted for the Democrat candidate, and we have violent protests across the country because she wasn’t elected. Protests and violence prompted by and fueled not by reason, but emotion, in complete disregard for law or others.

We have lived with a President who is demonstrably a violent racist who is not above using the power of the federal government to intimidate and oppress anyone and everyone; destroying the liberty of an entire nation if at all possible. Even in the face of this, most of my neighbors voted for more of the same.

The cancer of emotionalism, growing dependence on the federal government, destabilization of society, and the destruction of liberty has not been excised. It has been slowed but it still festers and remains a palpable danger and threat. 

I am pleased with the outcome of this election, but not overjoyed.

Saturday, November 05, 2016


Jonah. You know the story,
Jonah is called by YHWH
Jonah flees from that call
Jonah is in the depths
Jonah calls for mercy
Jonah is spit onto dry land

Now, the parallel
All people are called by YHWH
Nineveh abandons YHWH
Nineveh is ripe for destruction
Nineveh calls for mercy
Nineveh is spared

Jonah doesn’t get this parallel; he cannot see that the mercy he celebrated for himself is available to all. In fact, he doesn’t want it to be. YHWH explains the parallel using a vine, a worm, and Jonah’s anger. It is another parallel.
YHWH creates a vine
The vine is destroyed by the worm
Jonah is angry and ready to die.

The parallel
YHWH creates a people
The people are destroyed by the Destroyer
YHWH is angry and ready to give life.

The difference in the story that Jonah again does not understand is that while Jonah will remain angry, YHWH has shown mercy to him and the Ninevites based on their coming to their senses – or repenting and returning to YHWH.

We find then that Jonah, having sought the mercy of God and having received it, is confounded when his God extends the same sort of mercy to others.

It is curious that Jonah was retained in the Jewish canon seeing as it is, a somewhat embarrassing story. Being classified as a prophecy and appearing in the midst of the Book of the Twelve, it tells the story of a people who are not the people of God and yet who both listen to YHWH and are spared by his mercy from the destruction he had purposed on them.

The book of Jonah and the Ninevites then stand as witnesses against Israel in her impending destruction. YHWH has already heard from both Moses and Ezekiel that YHWH would relent if his people would repent and return to him. This, Israel has steadfastly refused to do even though as Paul says, she has been favored with the oracles of God. Israel refuses but this Pagan town listens and is spared. Will not Israel, if she were to repent and return to her God, be more readily shown mercy?
The answer must be a resounding yes!

And yet she will not.

Jonah then is the epitome of Israel’s stiff-necked and recalcitrant existence before YHWH. Having gotten herself in trouble, having cried for mercy and received it, she continues in her rebellion toward her God and her contempt toward others. While called to be like her God, she runs from him and cannot find either mercy or repentance in herself.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Am I In The Place of God?

Late in Genesis chapter 50, there is an exchange between Joseph and his brothers. Before we can get the impact of this exchange, we need to grasp what has gone before. Joseph was Israel's favorite kid because we're told, he was a child of Israel's old age. Israel it seems dotes on the kid to the apparent exclusion of the older brothers. He even gives him a coat (of many colors, or one with long sleeves, although the many colors version is much more picturesque). It seems Joe can't leave well enough alone - we're told that his brothers can't even speak peaceably to him. Joseph gets a reputation for dreams and he has one about sheafs being gathered. You know the story, all the brothers' sheaves bow down around Joe's upright sheaf. Joseph volunteers the interpretation - his brothers will be subject to him.

You can imagine the response this receives from the brothers.

Some time later, Joseph is sent out to his brothers and they see "this dreamer" coming toward them. At first, they want to kill him and blame it on a wild animal. Reuben doesn't want to kill him and comes up with the idea of putting Joe into a pit rather than kill him - with the intent of Reuben coming back later to rescue Joe from the pit. Everybody's happy with that until Judah speaks up and says essentially, "what's in it for us?" Let's sell him to the Ishmaelites and make a little profit. We might still put blood on the famous coat and keep with our story about the wild animal devouring Joe.

So this is what they do - they sell Joseph to a passing caravan of traders of sorts, and stay with putting blood on the coat and the wild animal story. 

Israel is distraught and the brothers try to console him.

As we can tell, not only are these brothers considerably mean - they have taken the prized coat off of Joseph, thrown him into a pit, and finally sold him off into slavery; and then took the coat as evidence for their father that his favorite child was dead - but then they play at consolation. They know Joseph's not dead and yet they let Israel go through the torment of believing he is. These are not stellar fellows.

Then follows some famous stories about Joseph. There are Potiphar's wife, the dream interpretation in jail, and the interpretation of the coming famine. Joseph is promoted to second in the kingdom and responsible for preparing for the coming famine. He will end up storing a considerable amount of food to carry the nation over the seven years of famine. He does this well.

Eventually, Israel dies and the brothers return to Joseph to tell him. They like the Prodigal Son, want some mercy, and like that son they label themselves Joe's servants. They don't dare now claim superiority over this younger brother. They are afraid of what Joseph might do to them and so they carry a message presumed from Israel that Joseph should be gracious to his brothers.

This brings us to the last few lines of chapter 50. Joseph essentially says, don't worry, I'm not God and I forgive you. I'll take care of you and yours because while you meant to harm me, God has worked your deeds to the benefit of many people; many people have been saved.

We get reflections of the Prodigal Son story in the brothers who come and rather than presume a familial tie with this most powerful man, call themselves his servants. Joseph forgives them and in this sense, and despite what he has said, he does stand in the place of God. He can forgive their sin against him, and he does. Who has benefitted from God's working of good from evil? Many people.

Who are these many people? Not just Joseph's family, not just the Jews in captivity, but the entire Egyptian nation and any others who like Joseph's family have come to him for famine relief. God has not just worked good for Joseph through all this, but for people from all over.

We have in this story a shadow of the work of Christ. Christ is rejected and killed by his people. God is in that evil work and draws good from it. As a result of Jesus' willing death, he is elevated to the right hand of God, and people from all over the globe benefit from it. Not just Jews, not just Christians, but all people are welcome to come for rest, for relief, for life. Joseph's story has a myriad of parallels with that of Jesus, it's hard to miss them. Joseph turns out to be type of Christ.

What about you? Are you a type of Christ? Do you want to be? If you have or are going through difficult times of any sort, are you looking to see the good God is working through it? Not just for you, or even primarily for you, but for others? Do you allow God to work through your life and trials to bless other people - even those you don't know or who don't share your faith?

One last observation. That "Am I in the place of God" retort? That sounds like Jesus, doesn't it? But even though both Joseph and Jesus deny being in the place of God as judge, they both have the ability to forgive those who have wronged them. Joseph flatly says he does; Jesus asks forgiveness for us while he hangs on the cross. 

Want to reflect Christ? Forgive those who hurt you.
Who do you need no, who do you want to forgive as Christ forgave you this week?

Do it.

Monday, September 05, 2016

The Big Picture

Love can be commanded, or stated as an expectation for continued relationship. In fact, the covenant with Israel established loving YHWH as a condition for continued blessing. The essence of love however, love the thing we call love, cannot be coerced or manipulated. It cannot be produced as a result of a command. Love, to be love, must be freely given. Ultimately, loving someone "because you have to" is nonsensical.

The ultimate desire or intent of God is what it always has been. That is, a community of voluntary, self-denying lovers, with God in their midst as the chief lover, the life giver, the sustainer.

YHWH has demonstrated a desire that the people he blesses (but more importantly and by extension the people he has created) should both acknowledge his graciousness toward them, and use that divine grace as a model for their own lives. The location of this community (earth or Heaven) is irrelevant because the expectation is the same - an expression of the economy of God. We aren't waiting for Heaven to pull this together - it's supposed to be reality now, just as it is in Heaven.

Reconciliation or redemption (salvation) is not primarily about sin or damnation. It is rather, about restoring the object of the redemption to a previous state. That is accomplished by the gracious, unforced act of God. Having been restored or redeemed, or saved, the expectation remains as it always has - gratitude toward the redeemer, and a life modeled on the redeemer's life. Forgiveness of sins is a consequence, not a prerequisite for salvation and no longer being damned.

The cosmic redeemer says, "I have set things right, come back to me." As has been demonstrated through Scripture, life with God then becomes an open question for those who have been redeemed or reconciled to God. Deuteronomy 30 and Jeremiah 18 provide two examples of God's urging people to remain faithful to him and live in the world of his blessing. The relationship they have with YHWH exists because he wants it to exist, but they have the opportunity to reject the relationship. Similarly, we can accept the reality of redemption and reconciliation, or we can reject it. If we reject it, we separate ourselves from God and his life. There are natural consequences to choosing to not live with God, but they remain the result of our choice, not an imposition by God.

Why would God want you to live with him, as a cosmic lover yourself? Well it seems there are two interconnected reasons:

That is the best sort of life for any sentient being, and
That is the purpose and design for which you have been made. To become such a lover is to become most fully your true self.

God has created people in his image. We have, as our core values, desires, wants, drives, and ultimate satisfaction, to live as God lives - in his character; reflections or icons of God himself. Sin, at its basic level, is not behavior, but character fault. Sin is a failure to live as love itself. In Scripture, we can be both saved from our sins (having God reconcile us to him) and saved from sin (returning to live as the image of God we are).

This is the offer of God - return to me and live the most satisfying life possible for you. Salvation isn't primarily about sin, but being restored to real, full life. That life is the ultimate life for which you are made and is lived with the same characteristics as the very life of God. It is simply, the most natural for you and is the purpose or telos of your creation.

The ball's in your court.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hosea 11 - How Can I Give You Up?

If YHWH picks you to be one of His spokesmen, you can be pretty sure of two things. One, this is a great honor if you can pull it off; and two, your life is going to get pretty problematic really soon. A cursory review of the people who have been tapped by God (not the modern, "I'm a prophet" sort of people; the real ones in Scripture) will easily bear this out. 

Hosea is a wonderful example of this. Perhaps best known for the story of he and his wife, Hosea is directed to take a wife of whoredom. As the story progresses there are a number of infidelities and reunions between the couple. Eventually, Hosea's wife Gomer, gives birth to three kids. Now if you're a prophet, not only does your life become problematic, but various aspects of it will be used to help spread the message YHWH wants communicated. Such is the case for Hosea. Those three kids are named by YHWH Himself and they aren't flattering names. They mean, in order, Jezreel, No-Mercy (or Not-Pitied), and Not-My-People. These three kids' names are part of Hosea's message to God's People. The first may well be the basis or cause of the other two named realities to come. Jezreel, where the blood of innocents has been shed and YHWH pursued unfaithfully, will result in there being No-Mercy for Israel, and Israel becoming not the people of YHWH. We can imagine the sorts of abuse Hosea would have born having had these judgments and proclamations as his message.

This message is the theme of Hosea's prophecies to Israel.

It is remarkable then, that in chapter 11, beginning in verse 8, we read these lines:

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
     How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
     How can I make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is changed within me;
     all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
     nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man--
     the Holy One among you;
     I will not come in wrath.

After promises of judgment and causing deliberate signs to be delivered in the very names of Hosea's children, YHWH here declares His compassion and His desire not to harm Israel. Hosea includes urgings to return to YHWH like these lines in chapter 12:

But you must return to your God;
     maintain love and justice,
     and wait for your God always.

I will heal their waywardness
     and love them freely,
     for my anger has turned away from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
     he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
     he will send down his roots; 
     his young shoots will grow.

There will be restoration eventually but even now, if Israel would return to her God, calamity could be forestalled. Alas, she will not. Even so, there remains a time in the future when YHWH will restore her. A time when Israel will become strong and vibrant again - after her travail.

The message of Hosea is that God does not overlook persistent evil, but will punish it. This punishment is not something He wants to do -- God is much more willing to forego any punishment because the punishment is intended as discipline rather than wrath. If the lesson can be learned soon, the discipline will not be needed.

YHWH prefers compassion and mercy; He punishes to correct, not for punishment's sake. Unfortunately, we humans are a stubborn bunch and we throw ourselves almost headlong into worthless pursuits that result in discipline. God much rather would bless us with life in the Garden with Him than have us in the wild places estranged from Him. In fact, that is always the promise and always the offer - return to me and I will bless you; or I stand at the door and knock.

The choice is ours. God has come in the person of Jesus for the purpose of overlooking our sin and restoring us to life with Him. What will we do? What will you do?

Monday, March 21, 2016


Forgiveness is a choice that does not require anything from the other. Forgiveness simply accepts the human condition as it is, realizing that the offender is also human. It need not agree with or legitimize the offense in order to forgive it or the offender.

Forgiveness does not pretend that the other's character, reliability, or trustworthiness is changed or that we must continually leave ourselves open for abuse. The Kennedy quote is instructive in this regard, but the others are as applicable. Forgiveness includes, at its fullest, a renewed desire for the good of the offender. This is not codependency, not porous boundaries, not severe self negation. It is simply living in community with integrity, accepting others as broken humans.

In this sense, forgiveness is more of a stance, a readiness, a willingness more than a specific act although such a stance will result in behaviors of forgiveness. Those who are open to the reality of broken human society forgive as a matter of course.

An addendum. Sometimes forgiveness leads to or even requires grieving what we have lost in ourselves, for ourselves, and even for the other. If grief remains strongly associated with the hurt, defensiveness rather than forgiveness may result.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Triumph and Tragedy

On this Palm Sunday, many churches rehearse what is known as the Triumphant Entry. The palm branches, the coats on the road, the hallelujahs, the excitement, the exaltation of the crowds. Some will have a children’s procession in which they march in carrying palm leaves which they deposit at the front of the auditorium.
One of the texts often used comes from Luke 19 and this gives us the image of the crowds celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a king, riding on a donkey. But if we read the text closely, we find that the crowds aren’t celebrating because they think Jesus is king, or even that anything momentous is going to occur. Rather, they are celebrating the one who has blessed them, healed them, fed them. This is not God, but a miracle worker. These crowds are not lining the walls of Jerusalem, but they are with Him on the road. They are his escort as Jesus completes what Mark recounts as the “journey narrative.” With the crowd on the road are not just those celebrating but also some folks who are a little uncomfortable with all the commotion. These, called Pharisees tell Jesus to stop the crowds from declaring and being excited about His arrival.
Part of their concern may have been because it might appear that He is a competitor to Pilate who would also have entered Jerusalem by another gate. Pilate would have come to Jerusalem to make sure the Jews didn’t get out of control during their annual Passover feast. What they didn’t want is for Pilate to understand this procession around Jesus as the beginnings of an uprising. And so they say, top these folks from doing what they’re doing.
It is often that in the Bible people will do things that are part of God’s work without realizing that is what they are doing. An example of this is the argument that it would be good for one man to die than that the whole nation be destroyed. That speaker didn’t know that what he said had two meanings. One, the one he meant as a practical political consideration, and the other of which he was unaware. So here, the crowds are celebrating the coming of this wonderful sign worker, but they remain oblivious of who He actually was. Jesus’ response to their concern and demand that He tell the crowd to be quiet, was to say, If these folks were quiet, the rocks themselves would start to sing. Well that sounds silly, doesn’t it?
Not so fast. While the crowd is celebrating because of the benefit He has been to them, Jesus knows that He is actually God, come to die and set not just us right, but the entire creation aright. We are told that the creation waits as in birth pangs for the consummation of the ages; no doubt the stones themselves would have been ready to sing of their deliverance too!
This wonderful story, even if not fully understood by the participants is sandwiched in Luke’s account by two ominous stories. The first is the last sentence or so prior to the untying the colt story. At the conclusion of Luke’s recounting of the talent story, the demand is that those who would not want to be subject to the king are to be slaughtered. Then, immediately after the entrance passage, we are told that Jesus – even while in this very procession – cries over Jerusalem’s reluctance to accept her King. This Triumphal Entry then is not all rainbows and lollipops for Luke. Jesus has already told all of us that He goes to Jerusalem to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders and crowds. Within this week, He will die despite this celebration, or maybe even because we did not perceive who He actually was. Because of that misperception, Jerusalem and the Temple will be completely destroyed.
The question then for us, is the same question begging to be asked by those celebrating in Luke’s description. We have to ask for ourselves whether we celebrate Jesus because of what He will do for us, or do we celebrate His coming because He is God; a God who demands we die to ourselves? Is the coming of Jesus triumph or tragedy for you?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Valentines Day and Lent

Valentines Day falls on the first Sunday of Lent this year. We could probably ignore that fact since there's very little between them, at least from a cultural perspective. One is supposed to be full of romance, roses, and chocolate, and spending time with the one you love. Not a bad idea and many a marriage therapist would suggest special attention to this day as an opportunity to refocus and put a bit of extra effort into your relationship. Lent on the other hand is often seen as well, a downer. Self-denial, self-reflection concerning guilt and depravity, and what not. Lent seems almost the opposite of Valentines Day - it even calls for -- fasting! Highly liturgical churches will even remove the alleluias from their rituals during Lent. No fun, no rejoicing, certainly no foodie indulgences. Probably best to do Lent on days other than that for lovers.

It is probably true that we spend too much money on those closest to us on Valentines day but we do so to demonstrate something about our relationship, about them, about them as someone special to us. Valentines Day is first about love which is itself, all about self-denial, of giving, of putting someone else first. The problem of course is that we normally focus on someone we are already close to; someone we already feel a connection with. Normally, that's OK.

But this is Lent. Just as Isaiah reminds Israel that a fast her God appreciates is not one spent in sackcloth and ashes (nothing wrong with Lenten ashes), but one that blesses others, that saves or reduces eating so that the extra, rather than being saved, can be given away to those who actually need it. Valentines Day at the beginning of Lent can be a great reminder that Lent is about love, about connection, about others and The Other. In addition to flowers and chocolates for people who already expect them, look for someone who needs that same sort of love, uplifting, or connection.

On this day for lovers, be a cosmic lover.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent 2016

Lent is traditionally and routinely considered a period that requires observers to abstain from something they normally enjoy, or behaviors that are not considered reflections of a mature faith. This is characterized as a period of self-denial, of stopping the doing of something for a period of time.

There are two observations we might make this year. The first is that Lent need not involve giving something up that is not conducive to the Christian walk. What if instead of giving something up for 40 days, we began or took something up for those 40 days? Is there something in your walk that is missing, that you have not been consistent in doing? Are there practices you have thought about beginning? Maybe a more consistent quiet time, or an intentional ministering to the homeless or poor? Maybe it's journaling prayers, or maybe something that needs you to be more consistent at home, work, or school. Lent need not be a subtraction, but a growing into something positive, more disciplined, more other-focused.

The second observation is that we shouldn't treat Lent as only a limited period of time of denial or practice. Rather than giving up chocolate for seven weeks, intend to establish a habit of healthier eating that will last beyond Lent. If, rather than subtracting, you elect to add or develop a new practice or behavior, similarly do so with the intent of continuing the practice after Lent, rather than simply as an experiment.

The purpose of Lent can include reflection, waiting, remembering, or in some other way growing closer to God. If this is true, then it may be appropriate to add or begin something rather than ending something. Once begun or ended, whatever we choose for Lent, use the extended period of Lent to establish a basis to launch a truly changed perspective that would live well beyond Lent.

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