Monday, November 14, 2016

Lusting for Stuff

"We should remain within the limits imposed by our basic needs and strive with all our power not to exceed them. For once we are carried a little beyond these limits in our desire for the pleasures of life, there is then no criterion by which to check our onward movement, since no bounds can be set to that which exceeds the necessary." --Nilus of Sinai, a fifth-century Christian monk who is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Armenian Church. His feast day is November 12.
A paraphrase: "If you lust after stuff, you will never be happy because no matter how much stuff you have, it will never seem like enough." --Paul White, a Christian kvetch who is not venerated by anybody and feasts way too often.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

For around four years I was the Intake Supervisor at the Memphis Housing Authority. My group was responsible for interviewing applicants called off the waiting list to make sure they qualified for rental assistance. Contrary to what most Americans seem to believe, our clients did not get free housing. To qualify, they had to have jobs and pay a portion of their rent. We paid the rest. Most of the clients I interacted with worked a minimum wage job, some single moms worked two minimum wage jobs but even with rental assistance from the Housing Authority, they still made so little that they also qualified for EBT cards (food stamps). It troubles me that so many people look down upon those who are just trying to survive.
So I was reminded of my former clients when I read in Mark 2:15-17 this morning. The Pharisees were upset that Jesus dined in the house of a known sinner and ate alongside numerous sinners. The Greek word translated as “sinner” is αμαρτωλός (pronounced: hamartolos). The Pharisees used that word to describe both people who committed Biblical sins and people who were not Jews or “common” Jews who did not obey all the extra-biblical rules the self-important Pharisees had established. It was kind of like the way some Baptists and Southern Methodists thought of other Christians in the 1950s who went to “sinful“ places like dances and movie theaters.
Jesus replied to the Pharisees in this manner: "You Pharisees claim to be righteous and to have no need for repentance and salvation. But these tax collectors and sinners realize their need for repentance and salvation. So who do you think I’m going to spend my time with?"
I believe that true followers of Jesus should be as much like him as they possibly can be. And that means we have a similar responsibility to the outcasts of society: the poor, the homeless, the ignored. Jesus was not above ministering to such people, even going so far as to visit them in their homes. Should we be any different? Are we who profess to love Christ above ministering to and mingling with the people whom Jesus loves? I am thankful that the two churches Connie and I spent most of our time at since we moved to metro-Memphis, Community Bible Church in Memphis and St. Luke Lutheran in Cordova have no problem mingling and dining with and ministering to “the least of these who are members of my family” (Matthew 25:40)
If you are looking for a church that loves and cares about and cares for people who are not perfect, you should check these churches out. Fair warning though, they will ask you to pick up your cross and go where Jesus went. You might be happier some place else if you just want to butt-warm a pew.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Lord Have Mercy


Exodus 22:21  Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.

Leviticus 19:33-34  When an alien lives in your land do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Ezekiel 16:49  Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Mal 3:5  “So I will come near to you for judgment.  I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.

Jesus and the Apostles made if very clear that the Christian faith is one that emphasizes grace, love, and compassion toward all, even toward those who do not share our faith. The Old Testament contains many, many verses that admonish believers to treat the poor and aliens living in their land with fairness and compassion and to pay laborers a living wage.

It disheartens me that so many people who identify themselves as Evangelical Christians are supporting candidates for president who apparently do not believe the very Scriptures they claim to love.

In the latter part of the first century, Clement of Rome was appointed Bishop of Rome by the Apostle Peter. St. Clement wrote these words in a letter to the church at Corinth:

“When the heathen hear the words of God from our lips, they marvel at them as something beautiful and great. However, when they find out that our deeds are unworthy of the words we speak, they turn from this to blasphemy. They say our faith is a myth and a delusion.”

Those words are just as true today as they were in the first century.

Lord have mercy.



Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Christian Nation?

In his autobiography, published in 1845, Frederick Douglass wrote, “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference -- so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.”

I keep hearing politicians and preachers say we need to get back to our country's Christian roots. When was that exactly? Was it during the time when slaves were routinely treated just as Douglass described in his autobiography? Perhaps it was later, maybe during the late 1800s. Were we a Christian nation in the 1890s when one of the largest mass lynchings in American history was of eleven Italian Catholic immigrants in New Orleans, Louisiana, an incident that future American President Theodore Roosevelt said was probably a good thing?

Were we a Christian nation during the 1900s when over 500 African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans were lynched by white mobs, often announced in advance in local newspapers and held as festive affairs that included family picnics?
I admit it; I'm a prude. I wish we could get back to a time when advertisements on TV were not soft porn and states did not try to build their treasuries by luring the people who could least afford it into gambling away their meager incomes.

But I suspect that what many of those calling for a return to our Christian roots mean is a return to complete WASP (White Anglo-Saxton Protestant) control of the country. Why else would these same politicians be doing everything they can to restrict minority voting?

This country never has been a Christian nation and probably never will be. But we could be more of one. I'm not speaking of legislation or even evangelism. We would be more Christian if each of us who claim to follow Christ would earnestly try to live out Christ's Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). If you have not read it in awhile, I encourage you to do so.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hospitality


Hospitality


“Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” Romans 12:13
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2


The phrase “hospitality to strangers” used in these two verses is one word in the original  Greek of the New Testament: philoxenia (Φιλοξενία). Philoxenia comes from two root words, the noun “xenos” meaning alien, foreigner or stranger; and the verb “phileo” meaning to love, to have affection for, to delight in. The Greek language had several words for love. Most of us are familiar with “eros” which is often identified with physical or sexual love, and “agape” which is a deep caring love that seeks to provide what is in the best interest of the one loved. “Philo” love is a brotherly or familial kind of love. The early Quaker settlers in Pennsylvania established Philadelphia as the “City of Brotherly Love.”


So word philoxenia, translated as “hospitality” in Romans 12 and Hebrews 13, has the connotation of loving strangers as you would a brother or family member. And as I have stated before, to the first century Greeks and Greek speaking Hebrews and Palestinians, the word “stranger” did not just mean someone you do not know, it meant someone from an ethnic background, race, religion or culture that was different than your own. That is why some translations use the words “alien” or “foreigner” to translate “xenos” (ξένος). And that is what makes these verses so radical. Jews in the first century considered themselves “unclean” if they were even accidentally touched by a non-Jew, a Gentile. If a Gentile came into their home, they would have to ritually clean it before they could allow any of their Jewish friends or family to enter.


As I pointed out a few weeks ago, in Matthew 25 we see Jesus praising those who welcomed strangers (aliens) and condemning for eternity those who did not. In Romans 12 we see that the Apostle Paul commands Hebrew and Gentile Christians to show brotherly love to strangers (including aliens or foreigners). And the same command is repeated by the author of Hebrews in chapter 13 of that epistle. So I remain amazed and saddened that so many of my Christian acquaintances who say they want our nation to return to Christian values, are in fact demanding our nation do just the opposite of what the Bible commands and shut our borders to refugees from war and poverty.


The Christian church grew exponentially in its first few centuries of existence. Living out the Bible’s commands to show hospitality, the brotherly love of aliens, foreigners, or strangers, was the number one reason for that growth. If you really want a Christian revival in our land, then live like you mean it. Love the strangers, the foreigners, the refugees just as the early church did. To do otherwise mocks both the Christ and the Holy Scriptures you profess to love.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Refugees

The Christian Bible records that around 2,000 years ago a man and a woman and their baby fled their homeland because a cruel despotic ruler was slaughtering innocent children. Joseph, Mary and Jesus became refugees in Egypt. Thankfully, there were no Teapublican governors at the border to turn them away. 

Apparently All Lives Don't Matter

I find it more than a bit disingenuous that many of the folks who demanded that the slogan "black lives matter" be changed to "all lives matter" are now, in effect, saying Syrian lives don't matter.

A Parable of Christ’s Return
The Sheep and The Goats


Several of my FB friends, both those of a secular background and those who purport to be Christians, have taken umbrage at my pleas to welcome to our shores a refugee population our nation helped create. It is to those who claim Christ I write now.


Just days before his crucifixion, death and resurrection, Jesus told this parable about his return:


31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.


34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'


37 Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'


40 And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'                                
41Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'


44 Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'


45 Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'


46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."


It is the word “stranger” in verses 35 and 43 that I would like to draw your attention too. The New Testament and thus this passage here were originally written in Greek, the language of commerce and diplomacy in the first century. And the Greek word translated as “stranger” in this parable is “xenos” (ξένος). Literally, xenos means foreign or alien. It is from this word we get the English word “xenophobia” which means fear of foreigners.


In the time of Christ, his people, the Jews, tended to look down their self-righteous noses at people who were not of their ethnic background. If a non-Jew entered their home they would have to ritually clean it before a fellow Jew could enter. If a non-Jew touched their garment, they would have to ritually clean it or perhaps even burn it. So this teaching of Christ was very radical to those who heard it the first time. Jesus was very clearly saying his followers are to be people who welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the alien, the person of a different culture and ethnic group, into their communities and, yes, into their homes.


And so, to my FB friends who claim Christ yet want to shun those he would welcome, I ask that you prayerfully reread the parable of the sheep and the goats and then make a decision to not be a goat.