Maundy Thursday: Biting the Hand That Feeds You

Maundy Thursday: Biting the Hand That Feeds You

We say it several ways:

  • “No good deed goes unpunished.”
  • “Those with capacity to hurt you deepest are those who are closest to you.”
  • “Biting the hand that feeds you.”

It’s about the pain of betrayal. And lest we think our God is without experience here, Jesus broke bread with Judas on the fateful Maundy Thursday. The same man who dipped bread with Jesus walked out of the room to betray his feeder.

I often talk with people who have experienced the pain of betrayal in a way that drove them from their faith. Why God seems distant when we are betrayed may have something to do with our desire for a God more swift to judge and execute justice. That certainly is how the Psalmists of the Lament Prayers felt—and may be what was behind Jesus’ prayer from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Read Psalm 22 for the true depth of all that was being prayed by the crucified Jesus. It is a Psalm about being betrayed by enemies and needing help.

Yes, we will be betrayed in painful ways. People very close to us will hurt us. Some of us will even be the betrayers—biting the very hand that feds us.

Maundy Thursday may be saying that when betrayal happens, Jesus is very near.

Photo Credit: atimetoremember7 via Compfight cc

School Stabbings, Malaysian Planes, Washington Mudslides, and God

School Stabbings, Malaysian Planes, Washington Mudslides, and God

A community is trying to make sense today of a student’s vicious stabbing rampage in a Pennsylvania high school’s hallways yesterday morning.

The people of Malaysia are hoping that a faint ping from the Indian Ocean will locate their missing loved ones who boarded a plane on March 8.

A mudslide recently in Washington mudslide brought swift death and destruction on a calm day.

The people of New Orleans can tell you stories about the destructive power of water. A raging hurricane named Katrina collapsed dams, washed away levies, and overran sandbags. Every hedge of protection set up against the tide was futile. It took everything in its path and sent wise people in search of higher ground.

What do we do when the hedge of protection that separates us from disaster is removed? And is there even a hedge? We are confronted with a 24-hour news cycle that keeps announcing bad things happening to seemingly good people. How do Christians speak of God in these moments?

Job’s Story

A good starting place might be the story of Job. You might say that his plane went down, a mudslide hit him, and a hurricane came crashing in. According to the story, it was God who moved the hedge and let it happen. But that is not the end of the story.

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Happy World Health Day and Human Cloning

Happy World Health Day and Human Cloning

I suppose Hallmark has a card for this one. I am convinced that all the holidays on our calendars are the hard work of greeting card companies. April 7 happens to be marked as World Health Day (which actually is the day the World Health Organization was founded in 1948).

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My Thoughts On The Recent Decisions at World Vision

My Thoughts On The Recent Decisions at World Vision

My heart goes out to my friends at World Vision.

It’s been a week since they made a decision and then reversed themselves—probably due to an outcry of surprising volume. I agree with their reversal. And I commend the remarkable humility that accompanied their explanation. And I feel the pain that filled the boardroom. Those of us in large Christian institutions will all face this issue, sooner or later.

The news that Christians disagree over this issue is about as surprising as the statement that Washington, D.C. is broken. Nothing new here.  I have tried to address the issue in A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.

My one addition to this discussion would be that public policy and Christian discipleship are two different things. In a democratic society, the voice of the people will eventually determine what is legal and what is not. It is apparent to me that gay marriage is on a very fast track to acceptance. The church has always taken stances calling the followers of Jesus to ethical expressions that run counter to accepted world standards. We’ve always been a bit odd. Which is why Jesus noted that the world will eventually hate his followers because they are not of the world. This is not our excuse for withdrawal but simply the recognition that we should not expect to be agreed with.

I wish we could recover a better understanding of human sexuality that would allow us to discuss an issue affecting about 3% of our neighbors with wisdom and grace. And for the other 97%, I wish we could recover the call to purity outside of marriage as an expression of faith in God. A great starting place would be a wonderful book by the Catholic author, Christopher West, Fill These Hearts.

World Vision is one of the great Christian organizations in our world today. I wish them well as they address human need while at the same time expressing a devotion to the story of Jesus that shapes us.

NOAH Movie—Now Playing

NOAH Movie—Now Playing

I haven’t seen the much talked about Noah movie—yet. But I plan to and then I will make comments on it. I usually avoid pre-hype about a movie because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I do have some thoughts that will guide how I view the movie.

The story of Noah is not actually a story about Noah. Would it surprise you to learn that in the Biblical text, Noah never utters a word? He is a speechless character. In a sense, Noah is a foil that helps us understand God.  The main character is God and something deeply significant is being revealed about God.

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A Tale of Two Cities: Yesteryear and Exile

A Tale of Two Cities: Yesteryear and Exile

I’d like to invite you to come with me to a place where some of us have lived before and some of us, the younger ones, have only heard of. The name of the town is Yesteryear.

In Yesteryear:

  • Laws were rooted in the Judeo/Christian ethic.
  • Families were stable, and divorce was rare.
  • Living together unmarried was even rarer.
  • Our military was superior, crime was minimal, and poverty was held in check.
  • Terrorism was not on the radar.
  • Savings accounts were common.
  • Debt was manageable.
  • The economy was growing.

Have you ever lived in Yesteryear? Do you still live there?

My guess is, you’ve moved – or been moved – to a new place.

The name of this new place is actually found in the Bible.

It’s called Exile.

In Exile:

  • We have religious pluralism – lots of gods.
  • Law is rooted in personal rights instead of personal responsibilities.
  • A family is almost any assortment of humans.
  • Our massive military cannot stamp out tiny terrorist cells.
  • Crime has caused us to secure our cars, homes, credit cards, and identities.
  • Poverty has millions living on a government check.
  • Terrorism is a daily color-coded warning.
  • Companies have downsized, shut down, or gone overseas, and the people who own them make 200 times more than the people who work in them.

Exile. Is this where you live now?

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Multiple Paths to God?

Multiple Paths to God?

A few years ago, I received an intriguing book for Christmas. The jacket cover reads:

What happens after we die? Philip Gulley and James Mulholland grew up believing that only a chosen few would be saved and go to heaven, while most people would be damned. Even while studying to become pastors, they maintained this traditional view of human destiny. But as they experienced the pain and joy of their parishioners, each of these pastors began to hear a small but insistent voice speaking to them of God’s boundless love and extravagant grace, calling them to a new understanding of divine will and human destiny. As each sought to be faithful to their experience of a loving God whose grace is unlimited and unconditional, both men arrived separately at the same truth: God will save every person.”  (If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, Harper Collins)

Could they be right? Will God save every person, regardless of his or her chosen path?

Christianity has typically affirmed the following:

  • There are two ways – the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked (Psalm 1). One flourishes; one perishes.
  • There are two roads – the broad road and the narrow road (Matthew 7:13-14). One leads to life; one leads to destruction.
  • No one gets to the Father except through the Son, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

So how do we respond to Philip and James, our pastor friends who believe that everyone will be saved? And how do we respond to the popular opinion that there are multiple ways to God? And what do we say to the grieving mother who wants to know if her non-churched, non-believing son made it? How do we navigate our world of “multiple paths” to “multiple G/gods”?

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Resurrection

Resurrection

They were dead-eyed. The married couple walking home following the weekend crucifixion of Jesus were trudging along the Road to Emmaus. They had been to Jerusalem with hopes that Jesus would fulfill their Messianic expectations. The exact opposite happened. Everything they hoped for was shattered at the end of Roman spikes and spears. And Jesus joined them on their journey.  In the Luke 24 story, pay attention to the eyes. Their eyes were “kept from” recognizing him. We are not told how nor why.

As they walk, Jesus interprets Messiah in a different way, which includes suffering and death. Their hearts burn within them, but their eyes are apparently still closed. Which seems to suggest that the best of preaching, interpreting the scriptures, apologetics, and witnessing can leave a person with heart flutters of possibility, but dead-eyed nonetheless.

It is only when Jesus sits at table with them, breaks the bread, and blesses it (and them), that their eyes are opened.

Resurrection is not as much about great explanation as it is about vibrant dinners around tables. And we who have had our eyes opened at such gatherings still dare to believe that Jesus will show up and open more eyes.

First Day of Spring

First Day of Spring

Our tradition is that I get Denise flowers on the first day of spring. Now that we have two furry creatures in our home who love to eat flowers and knock over glass vases, the tradition has warped into plant-able yard flowers, usually daffodils. We have a growing spread of them in our flower beds.

Which begs the theological question, is Easter like spring? It certainly shows up on the calendar that way.

Spring arrives and Easter is not far behind. I’ve heard adults explain the Easter resurrection of Jesus like spring flowers: what was brown and dead springs back to life again every year.

Well, yes—but no.

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3 Types of Churches—How to Choose a Church

3 Types of Churches—How to Choose a Church

Choosing a church is no easy task. In Nashville where I live, more than 1000 churches from a plethora of denominations hold weekly services, serve their neighborhoods, and offer fellowship opportunities.

While some people may base their church membership decisions on the style of worship or the senior pastor’s likability, I encourage you to consider more serious criteria as you choose a church.

I believe all churches fall into one of three categories. Where do you see your church in the following descriptions?

Safe Church

At Safe Church, Safe Pastor finds the middle of the road and stays in it.

You will not have any of your thoughts challenged. You will hear from the pulpit what you already think. The radical kingdom of God will be domesticated to fit your cultural prejudice and your convenient, uncomplicated lifestyle. The infusion of new ideas from science, politics, immigrants, minorities, or education will not be welcomed.

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