Saturday, December 25, 2010

Love vs Doctrine

It amazes me that so many people who profess to be followers of the One whose birth we celebrate today believe that intellectual assent to the “right” doctrine somehow trumps Jesus’ own claims that His true followers are those who demonstrate love towards others, especially toward “the least of these brothers of mine” (Matthew 25:40).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"I will make you a great nation..."

"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing." (Gen 12:2 NIV)

As a pastor and Sunday School teacher I have always taught that verse means God's Covenanted People (first the genetic offspring of Abraham, the Jews, then his spiritual offspring, the Church) were "blessed to be a blessing."  I have taught that the passage could be correctly translated, "...I will bless that (or in order that) you will be a blessing to others."

But I recently discovered that in both the Hebrew and the LXX, the phrase "you will be a blessing" in verse 2 is in the imperative.  It is not a statement, it is a command.  In other words, God is saying, "I'm going to make you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and because I will do this for you, I command you to bless others."  The Hebrew people forfeited their blessing in part because they refused to obey the command to be a blessing to other nations.

In the Bible, the words “nation” and “nations” refer more to people groups (ethnic, cultural, etc.) than to geographic boundaries.  So I can’t help but wonder what God thinks of Tea Party type Christians who promote cultural isolation and building walls to keep the “nations” out rather than building bridges of blessings.

In my own personal struggle between balancing time spent in personal piety (prayer, Bible study, etc.) and service to others (chaplaincy, S.S. teaching, advocating for "the least of these" (Matt 25:40), visiting/helping those who are hurting in some way, etc.), it does seem to indicate that being a blessing is at least as important as being blessed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Workingclass Nostalgia

I found this poem by Marge Piercy on the web:

I remember Detroit when it hummed
with factories like an army of bees
all day, all night. I remember downtown
when it felt too fancy for us, Hudsons
with window displays of clothes
we might find secondhand 
in a year or two or three.
I remember Detroit when Grand River
was bright with stores arguing
for your paycheck. The bars
thrummed with our music.
You might have to lie to get a job
if you were Jewish, or be turned
down if you were Black, but jobs
filled the papers we marked with
crayon circles. Who sucked
the money out? Who sent the jobs
overseas to gut the unions?
They live out in the more distant
suburbs where we never went
except as maids, way past
the end of the bus lines.
Invisible unless we appear
where we don’t belong among
decision makers who view us
as beasts of burden. They are
persons; we are only numbers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Getting Richer

In 1915 the richest 1 percent of Americans possessed about 18 percent of the nation's income.  Today, the richest 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation's income.  Most of the increase came during the last 30 years.  Is it any coincidence that the rich were getting richer at the same time so many middle class and working class jobs were being “outsourced” overseas? I think not.

I cannot help but wonder how many, if any, of those 1 percent who purport to be Christians have ever meditated on (or even read) any of the following verses:
Acts 2:44-45 NIV -- All the believers were together and had everything in common.   Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Acts 4:32-35 NIV -- All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.   With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.  There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales  and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Luke 18:25 NIV -- Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

James 5:1-6 NIV -- Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Justice vs Six Flags Over Jesus

The prophet Micah wrote: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 NIV)  Several centuries later, our Lord Jesus, speaking to religious leaders who apparently had forgotten the words of their own prophets said: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matt. 23:23 NIV) 

And now, over 2000 years later, a large number of the Christian leaders in American, like their spiritual forefathers the Pharisees, are walking away from Jesus. Instead, many of them seem to be following after the Mormon demigod Glenn Beck who as all but said we should remove the word “justice” from our Bibles. The chief question of our Christian leaders in American today is not, “What can the church do for the “least of these brothers of mine?” (Matt. 25:40) But rather, “Which of us can build the biggest, gaudiest mega-church in the land?”  I just read about a church that was completed in 1998 at the cost of 88 million.  It has two indoor basketball courts, several racquetball and handball courts as well as indoor tennis and bad mitten courts. They also have a quarter mile indoor track and an Olympic sized heated pool. The energy costs for heating the pool while air conditioning the surrounding area costs more than the entire budget of the average 100-200 member church.   Meanwhile the hungry in that community remain hungry and the homeless are still without shelter. 

Oh that American Christians might strive more for mega-justice, mega-mercy and sharing God's love than for mega-churches and self love. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I have found over 15 verses in the Pentateuch where God commands the Israelites to treat aliens in their land with the same respect and compassion that they would show to each other.  I can’t find in any of those verses where there is a differentiation between how to treat “legal” vs. “illegal” aliens.  So I guess it is a good thing that we New Testament Americans don’t have to follow those outdated Old Testament commands of God.  We can cheerfully continue to jail, deport and tear apart the families of the tired and poor “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” who have somehow made it to our shores.  All the while giving nothing more than a slap on the wrist to the CEOs and boards of directors of the corporate farms, meat rendering plants, and sweat shops that lure these “illegals” here with jobs we descendent's of previous immigrants won’t take.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Business Practices God Detests

I found the following verses in about thirty minutes.  I probably missed several.  If you think of any that I missed, please let me know.  All citations, unless noted otherwise, are from the NIV.  
 Leviticus 19:35-36 -- Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity.  (36)  Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 24:14-15 -- Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.  (15)  Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
Deuteronomy 25:13-16 -- Do not have two differing weights in your bag--one heavy, one light.  (14)  Do not have two differing measures in your house--one large, one small.  (15)  You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.  (16)  For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.
Proverbs 11:1 -- The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.
Proverbs 16:11 CEV -- The LORD doesn't like it when we cheat in business.
Proverbs 20:10 CEV -- Two things the LORD hates are dishonest scales and dishonest measures.
Proverbs 20:23 -- The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him.
Proverbs 29:27 -- The righteous detest the dishonest; the wicked detest the upright.
Ezekiel 28:18 -- By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching.
Hosea 12:7 -- The merchant uses dishonest scales; he loves to defraud.
Amos 8:4-7  Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land,  (5)  saying, "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?"-- skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales,  (6)  buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.  (7)  The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.
Micah 6:10-13  Am I still to forget, O wicked house, your ill-gotten treasures and the short ephah, which is accursed?  (11)  Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?  (12)  Her rich men are violent; her people are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.  (13)  Therefore, I have begun to destroy you, to ruin you because of your sins.
I believe God is condemning all dishonest business practices in these verses.  The banker who talks a poor working woman into a balloon mortgage she does not understand and cannot possibly pay is just as guilty as the merchant using corrupt scales. I wonder how many high paid corporate executives, who fill their warranties, contracts, and rebate instructions with confusing legalese loopholes that allow them to renege on their promises and cheat their customers are aware that the LORD their God detests them. I wonder how many corporate CEOs and small business owners whose companies do not pay their employees a living wage are aware that the God they claim to worship has said such practices make them “guilty of sin.”  I wonder how many of their pastors have had the courage to preach honestly on these passages.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gift Giving

If I see a gift as mine alone to give, I might give hesitantly, even grudgingly, considering my options, then giving from a sense of ought. If I see the gift as God's who allows me to use it for a time, then the gift can flow more freely, as I join with others to be a channel for God's love and mercy.
Roberta Porter, from her poem, "Grace in Giving"

Passion Without Compassion

Far too many of the churches I have visited seem to be spiritually dead or dying.  Others seem to be fired up with passion and zeal...but I can't figure out what is the focal point of their passion.  Services at some of these churches remind me a lot of the pep rallies we used to have in high school the day of the game.  Only instead of promoting the team, its a new program, upcoming event, new sermon series or new support group that is being touted.  

What I don't see at most churches is true ministry to the "least of these." (Matt. 25:40 & 41).  There is much passion, but very little compassion.

I remember reading a few years back that many of the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets and T-shirts sold in Christian bookstores were made in South American and Asian sweatshops where the workers toiled in unsafe and unsanitary working conditions for a salary that amounted to little more than slave labor.  What hypocrisy!

Instead of wasting time contemplating what Jesus would do, we ought to be simply doing what he commands us to do.  Most of his commands can be summed up in one four letter word: LOVE.  Who are we to love?  God tells us in Matthew 25, in Luke 10, John 15.  

I used to complain frequently about the high rate of Biblical illiteracy in today's churches.  But a man far wiser than I told me recently that people don't really learn by memorizing, they learn by doing.  Memorizing a cook book does not make you a cook anymore than memorizing Scripture makes you a disciple.  As important as it is to hide God's word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), it is far more important to do God's word (John 14:21 & 15:14).

I was reading through some back issues of Pray Magazine online recently and came across the following from the November/December 2006 issue: “'Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.' Are you willing to pray the same prayer? God will take this prayer seriously, so make sure you mean it. But if you do, pray it now. Then watch for God to give you His compassion as you pray for the hurting and hopeless."

Lord, God, let my heart be broken by the things that break your heart.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

While the children die....

If 2010 is like recent years, we can expect 11 million children under the age of 5 to die this year. That means 30,137 children will die today. Approximately 1,256 of them will die while we are at worship next Sunday morning. 418 children under 5 will die during the time I preach my next sermon. The overwhelming majority of these children will die of malnutrition and preventable or easily curable diseases. This year thousands of children will go blind due to vitamin A deficiency. If they were given the vitamin A found in just 2 carrots each week they could retain their sight.

What will the church in America do on behalf of these children? If 2010 is like recent years, the average American church member will spend more money on pet food and pet toys than they give to missions.