Category: Miscellany


I am sitting in the duck blind I call an office, watching the feathers fly over the recent comments (and reactions to the comments) of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. For those of you who are not savvy to this show, the Robertson clan (from Louisiana) are rednecks who believe in Jesus (no, that’s not redundant, at least not totally so) and who have made a fortune selling calls for duck hunting. They wear camo and hunt and fish and have Southern accents and look almost as uneducated and unrefined as it is possible to be.

 musician-phil_robertson

Phil, the patriarch, worships at a very conservative Christian church, and recently expressed in an interview with GQ that the practice of homosexuality is a sin. His language was somewhat graphic (somewhat, since I have heard worse in some restaurants and most construction sites and every middle school playground I have ever been around), and it was offensive to a wide range of people in our society, and applauded (more or less) by a somewhat less wide range of people.

 

Pro-gay supporters are apparently out in force to advocate for lynching Phil Robertson for (what they see as) his tasteless intolerance. Some conservative Christians are advocating for sainthood. And a gaggle of folks in-between are “ducking:” and running for cover as the latest barrage is fired in the culture wars.

 

All of this brings me to ask a question of the Church, what I believe is the deeper question that underlies this whole controversy.

 

But, first, the back story to my question: John Wesley summarized Methodism’s purpose as “To reform the nation and, in particular, the Church; to spread scriptural holiness over the land.”

 

For many Christians, even if they might not use that exact wording, the concept would be both familiar and acceptable. And, it makes me wonder (here comes my question), what does scriptural holiness look like in 21st-Century, pluralistic America?

 

Once upon a time (probably back when Middle Earth was still around) drinking was unholy, but smoking was not. (Today, it is the other way around…well, depending on what you are smoking, of course.) There was a time when divorce was out and homosexuals were not. It used to be that blue laws were in, and “going green” was not yet even heard of. 

 

What is the standard of holiness today? Can we find it in scripture? Or, is it determined by our society? Are we called to be people-pleasers or God-chasers? Would most Christians even recognize the phrase “holy unto the Lord?” How many would even care? Would the phrase even make it onto the plate on the turban of a priest today (Exodus 28:36), or would the marching orders be something like “grace for all – regardless?”

 

Let me ask this another way: is anything wrong anymore? Or, differently yet: does sin still exist? Who decides?

 

If the call on what is, and is not, sin is not mine to make, but God’s, how do I love my neighbor, while at the same time upholding the holiness of God? How do those who choose to follow Jesus embody both grace and truth? How can I care deeply about family and friends while standing firm in the muck that is the moral swamp of the 21st-Century? If we are a culture which has forgotten how to blush, would we know holiness from sin, right from wrong?

 

Angry people on both sides of the culture wars will take aim at those whose opinions they oppose, and whose guts they hate. But, the Church of Jesus Christ must grapple with issues we have long ago set aside, issues like holiness and righteousness.

 

I hope this question keeps you up at night: If God were to actually call the Church to reform, would we know scriptural holiness if we somehow, somewhere, were to actually stumble upon it?

 

Matthew 6:33

I have had those moments when I have viewed an incredible rainbow

or a stunning sunset; I have been overwhelmed by music or in awe of the

fantastic colors of a damselfish.

 

And you know what I DID NOT ask? “Who did this?”

 

“Who’s responsible?”

 

I’m guessing you never have either.

 

I am sure you never said that we have this Enemy who is working overtime to paint the rainbow; you never once thought that it was the Devil who composed that piece which moved you to tears. Have you ever seen a healthy, happy person, and blamed Satan?

 

Such actions are absurd. And we know it. Yet…

 

We have already talked about the damage done by the INCORRECT use of the phrase “the will of God.”

When there is an earthquake, tornado, or hurricane, insurance may call it an  “Act of God.” But it is not.

 

When a child dies, someone may say, “It is the will of God.” But it is not.

 

War, famine, illness, and evil may strike, and some will lay the responsibility at God’s feet with the words “Thy will be done.”

 

But, those are not, never have been, and never will be God’s will.

 

So, what IS the will of God?

 

How do we make sense of the confusing, painful reality we so often see?

 

Let’s turn to the oldest story of all, in the most ancient of times, about the One who is the Ancient of Days…

 

 

Gen 1: 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was VERY (my emphasis) good. And there was evening, and there was morning —the sixth day. 

 

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 

 

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. 

 

Chapter 1 describes the work of God creating the world with the same evaluation, over and over again until it gets to verse 31: Good…good…good…VERY good.

In other words, it is completely perfect.

Perfect in purpose & beauty.

There is no evil in God’s creation.

On top of all that, the Sabbath is given as a gift so we do not experience exhaustion, toil, drudgery.

God wants to ensure that we have times of refreshing for body and soul.

We need time with God as well as time away from work.

 

 

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

 

10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 

 

 

God builds a park (In ancient times, great Kings created great parks).

This one was pleasing to eye; and it was good for food.

God waters his park with a river (Rivers were the basis for all life in the ancient mid-East).

Here is a gift to Humanity from caring, providing God.

 

 

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of EDEN (which can mean BLISS in Hebrew) to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 BUT (CUE ominous music) you must not eat from the tree (music grows LOUDER) of the knowledge of good and evil (and louder), for when you eat from it (almost deafening) you will certainly die.” 

 

BLISS is a synonym for Paradise.

God gives meaningful work (and, no, that is not a 4-letter word.

If so, either you are doing it wrong; or you are doing the wrong thing;

Or, you still live in a fallen world.)

 

 

 

If we are not careful, it is so easy to miss the point.

It is subtle. But, here it is:

 

God saw ALL that he had made, and it was VERY GOOD.

It was “completely perfect” (in purpose and form)

The whole of creation was beautiful and fruitful.

The Garden is a park.

It is lush, verdant, laden with fruit.

The grass is manicured, the trees are trimmed and nourished.

 

Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, in his book The Will of God calls it the INTENTIONAL or ideal will of God.

 

One more time: “God saw ALL that he had made, and it was VERY GOOD.”

 

Show me anywhere here where God creates anything less than good!

(Go ahead, I’m waiting. I’m even looking at my watch.)

 

That is, I believe, the point.

 

Reserve the phrase ‘willof God’ for 2 young people declaring their intent to marry.

 

Let’s talk about the will of God when people are in good health, or have significant work.

 

The Will of God is laughter and song, poem and music, art, and beauty and color.

 

But, to talk about ‘the will of God’ as anything other is to take God’s name in vain.

 

(In the King James Version, it reads “to take 0’s name in vain.”

The New International Version translates it as “misuse.”)

We misuse God’s name when we blame God for evil, suffering, the  brokenness of our world.

 

When we look at the story, we know that something goes terribly wrong.

We will talk about that in the next post.

 

But, not now. Not here in the original moments in the story.

 

Here: God saw ALL that he had made and it was VERY GOOD.

The Creator-God of the Bible: creates beauty, wonder, and variety.

God is the author not of death, but life;

Not of brokenness, but wholeness;

Not of evil, but good.

 

I hope that we would never again blame God for evil, suffering, brokenness.

 

Could we, instead, think right about the God of Creation?

Could we understand correctly what God does?

Could we be clear about exactly who God is?

If so, we would not misunderstand as has so often been the case….

 

One Sunday, the Reverend Luke Wiseman, 86, preached twice, then went home. He sat down by the fireplace, fell asleep, and woke up in Heaven.

I would argue that that’s the will of God.

That’s the way it is designed to be.

That is God’s intention, ideal, plan.

Beauty in this life, glory in Heaven, peace on Earth.

Poem and song, art and music, humble service and lovely lives.

Happy homes, and healthy bodies, and meaningful work.

 

Maybe Paul put it best when he wrote:

 

Philippians 4:Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Next post: The ominous music in the background builds…

On May 31st, 2012, our daughter-in-law, Jennifer, was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

You hear people talk about getting bad news and not being able to breathe. I experienced that that afternoon, as we listened on speakerphone to the words from the surgeon.  It literally felt as if something had sucked all the air out of the room.

And I went through a range of emotions that many of you are familiar with –

“I can’t believe this.”

“Lord, after trying to be faithful to you all these years….”

At some level, each of those emotions had a question attached: “Why?”

“Why this? Why us? Why Jen?”

Now, there is a part of me that wants to kick myself – I KNOW that I don’t follow Jesus in order to be blessed. I KNOW that Christian faith is not a rabbit’s foot to ward off bad luck. I KNOW there is so much about life which I don’t know.

But, I still wrestle with the question – “WHY?”

I am not alone, am I?

I have heard that question from the side of a hospital bed, and I have heard it in my study. I have heard it in a surgical waiting room, and when I have run into someone in the grocery aisle. “Why?”

“Why me? Why him? Why her? Why this?”

We are all faced with suffering, and a dark and broken world.

In just such a world, 12 who were knew to this thing of faith in Jesus,

Asked the same question, “Why?”

Here is the answer they received…

John 9: As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Do you hear the “why?” in their question? This man is born into a dark world. He has never seen a sunrise or sunset. He has never seen the blue eyes of his niece. He has never seen the crocuses in bloom.

For many in that day, where there is suffering, there must be sin. The theology was bad, but it was common. It still is today. We live in a sin-infested universe. And we are well-acquainted with sin’s results.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

While we often look for a culprit, someone to blame, and often choose the sufferer, Jesus does no such thing. NEITHER is to blame, he says. Our tendency would then be to say, “It must be the will of God.” In other words, since we can’t blame him, or his parents, let’s blame God! But, Jesus reminds us this is not of God. Jesus is the light of the world. He does the work of light. So, while God didn’t do this, God will certainly use this.

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

The man does not ask for help. Perhaps it is Jesus’ compassion that is the catalyst for the healing. Maybe it is the question of the disciples. We are not told which. But the miraculous change is obvious. The Light of the World has lit up the darkness of this man’s life.

So, what’s the point? How does Jesus answer the question:

“Is this the will of God?”

No phrase, in my opinion, has done more damage,

caused greater bitterness,

produced more confusion than this one: The Will of God.

Here is what I believe you and I need to know FIRST:

The will of God is NOT, never has been, and never will be,

the evil, illness, or brokenness of our world.

Dr. Leslie Weatherhead was a pastor in Great Britain during World War II. He wrote about his conversation with a Medical Doctor who was fighting to save his wife’s life.  The doctor’s wife finally died, and his comment was, “This must be the Will of God.” Weatherhead, who knew this man well, asked him, “Were you, then, fighting against the will of God by trying to save her life? “

At another time, a mother came to him whose son had recently been killed in air raid. She said, “It is the Will of God.”

Weatherhead refused to call such terrible events the will of God. He said you can call it the will of the enemy, or the will of Hitler, or even the will of evil. But it is NOT the will of God.

For me, his most memorable story was of a friend whose son died of cholera.

This friend, too, indicated, “It must be the will of God.”

Weatherhead could not allow that statement to stand. He responded, “Suppose a terrible person crept in to your home in the middle of the night, and placed a cholera-laced cloth over the mouth and nose of your sleeping child, would you call such a thing the will of God?”

His friend answered, “That’s absurd. I would instantly kill any person who tried to do such a thing. What kind of monster would commit so horrible an act?”

To that, Weatherhead gently asked, “Is that not what you have just accused God of doing to your daughter?”

He went on to say that what happened may be the result of mass ignorance, or human sin, but it is not the will of God. You cannot identify something as will of God for which a man would be jailed or locked up in a mental hospital if they were to commit such an act.

In Aurora, Colorado, July 20, 2012, a man shot and killed 12 people and wounded another 58.  Whether such a person is mentally ill or purely evil, such an action, and the results of it, are not the will of God.

In my next post I will talk about what IS the will of God.

But, for now, here is why this matters:

Not understanding what is the will of God produces bitterness.

Not understanding what is the will of God leads to confusion.

Not understanding what is the will of God leaves us wounded.

Before the storm is raging is the time to put down the anchor of faith.

When the storm hits is too late.

On Palm Sunday, 1994, a tornado struck the town of Piedmont, Alabama and the Goshen United Methodist Church. The storm killed Hannah, the 4-year-old  daughter of  United Methodist pastors Dale and Kelli Clem. Kelli answers the question “why” with these words: “I don’t think we’ll ever have an answer,” said Clem. “I don’t think God chooses a child to die. It doesn’t work that way. Tornadoes happen.

“I don’t blame God.”

“If something like this ever happens to you — God forbid — God will help you through it,” Clem said.

“God is on the picking-up-the-pieces side of things.”

Sure, something in us asks: Is this the will of God?

The answer is: No, it is NOT the will of God.

I will show you what IS God’s will in the next post.

Matthew 6

He was born on June 4th. His name is Matthew. But I have a hard time remembering his middle name, even though it is a family name.

Why? And what kind of a Dadu (MY appellative for grandfather) can’t remember his own grandson’s name? (I am glad you asked!)

One early evening last October, we received a phone call from my oldest son. He wanted to know if my wife and I could come up to their home. Our small group was starting in moments. It is a 50-minute ride. So, because it wasn’t terribly good timing or very convenient, I asked why.

The answer was, “There has been an accident.”

My heart stopped for a moment. I immediately thought of their 2 sons, and was sick at the thought that something tragic had happened.

My son, thankfully, did not leave me hanging. He told me the “accident” would arrive in about 9 months.

I scraped my now more-thankful-than-heartsick-jaw off the floor, grabbed my wife, and headed out the door to their home.

The background to this is that they had a son who was about to turn 3, and one who was about 8 months old at the time of this phone call. In the case of No. 1 grandson, they had tried to conceive for a long time, without success, and finally had gone for scientific help.  Because the first pregnancy had taken some time, they were concerned about whether or not they could conceive another child. This pregnancy – so quick, so easy, so unplanned – was a shock. A total and complete shock.

We arrived to console and support (while inwardly excited for a new grandchild!)… knowing that our daughter-in-law was really, really upset. She sobbed quite a bit telling us about her concerns. In addition, my son’s wife only wanted two children. And she was, at first, devastated by the news that they were now expecting. (She only wanted 2 children; only saw herself as having 2 children; had said repeatedly they were never having any more than 2 children; and, no. 2 son was too young to have to share with a new brother.) She was not excited about this news.

Did I mention she was really upset?

When she calmed down some, she began to tell us of their oldest son’s reaction to how upset she had been. Several times he had come up to her, looked her in the eyes and said, “Mommy, Matthew 6!”

At first, she didn’t think anything about it, too emotional for it to really register what he was saying. Finally, both my son and our daughter-in-law asked their oldest what he was talking about. He repeated, “Matthew 6.” Eventually, they pulled a Bible off the shelf, and read these words:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

While it had not fully sunk in, they realized the message to them. They quizzed No. 1 son to discover that they had been talking about seeking first God’s kingdom and that everything else would be taken care of in pre-school that day. He didn’t understand all of it, but somehow he heard enough to know that mom needed those words at that moment.

On June 4th, Matthew Ryan was born weighing 8 lbs, 1 oz, healthy and happy.

The funny thing is, I can’t always remember his middle name. Somehow, Matthew 6 is what keeps coming to mind.

W.W.J.P?

I have a confession to make. I recently got angry. Very, very angry. It caused me to want to do some very unkind things and say some very cruel words.

What caused this?

 

I would like to tell you it was several offensive Facebook posts. I would like to tell you it was the unkind, un-Christian attitudes of friends.  I would like to tell you it was people posting cruel, mean statements aimed at others.

 

I would like to tell you that. But, it would be untrue. In truth, what caused my reaction is the sin that still dwells in me, which has not yet been rooted out completely (what this should read is “not yet been rooted out by a long shot,” but you get my drift) by the work of the Holy Spirit.

 

It has caused me to ask myself a question: What Would Jesus Post?

 

You see, I almost responded in anger. Instead, thankfully, I think I obeyed the warning of the Holy Spirit and didn’t post what I was thinking and feeling.

 

Some person far more intelligent than I once stated that we should think before we speak. (Clearly, I should think before I type.) Someone else put it like this: T.H.I.N.K.

Ask: Is it

True?

Helpful?

Inspiring?

Necessary?

Kind?

 

Is it True?

Do I know for certain that the comment I am about to make is factual?

 

Is it Helpful?

Is it going to help someone be a better husband, wife, parent, friend, person?

Or, will it harm someone?

 

Is it Inspiring?

Will it cause them to dig deep for positive life change?

 

Is it Necessary?

Exactly why do I need to get my point across in the first place?

 

Is it Kind?

Am I saying this in a way that accuses or blames and therefore, likely causes defensiveness? Or, am I stating it so someone can hear what I am trying to say?

(As someone I am married to once said, “It is not what you say. It is how you say it.”)

 

I have asked for forgiveness for my unkind thoughts.

I have thanked the Holy Spirit for warning me before I typed.

Yet, I still wonder: Is it just me who needs to confess?

Philippians 4:Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (NIV)

I am no longer my own,

But Yours and Yours alone.

Use me for whatever You will,

Place me with whomever You will.

Appoint me to do whatever You want,

Or to suffer whatever You ask.

Let me be employed wherever,

Set aside whenever,

Lifted up however,

Or humbled forever.

Let me be full,

Let me be empty.

Let me have whatever,

Or nothing whatsoever

I freely and willingly surrender

Whatsoever I have or am

to Your pleasure and will.

And now, awesome and loving God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

You are mine, and I am Yours –

Whatever!

And may this vow,

which I have taken here on earth,

Sound loud and clear,

Until there echoes through Heaven,

The sound of Your ‘Amen!’  *

* copyright 2007, Michael C. Loomis

(May be used as long as credit is given)

Debbie brought dried papayas to our granddaughter (age 3) the other day.  It is one of her favorite, all-time treats.  With a papaya in each hand, she exclaimed, “I asked God for papayas, and Nana brings them!”

I have heard worse theology from much older people-who-should-have-known-better.

Someone on an on-line forum commented on his sister, who would never think of defending herself from a criminal action, because “she felt that fate would determine whether she would live or die.”

I have heard bad logic before, but this ranks high on the list.  Such a mentality would mean that this same individual would not wear a seat belt, nor ever go to a doctor.

I think we certainly are expected to fend for ourselves in many situations.  God is not likely to change my tire when it goes flat, especially if I am able.  But, if I am not, that doesn’t mean God won’t send someone who will.  God often chooses to use antibiotics, even though a well-timed miracle would do just fine.  It is just His way.

I think my granddaughter, brilliant theologian that she is, has hit on something quite important:  God often uses moms and dads, nanas and dadoos, friends and teachers…and a host of others.  And they do just fine.  And when they don’t, let’s go back to God and ask again.

Friday, August the 13th…

I was wandering through a large, discount box store earlier today, when I saw him.  He was likely in his 60s.  Long, white hair and beard, cowboy hat and boots, and covered with tattoos.

One tattoo stood out clearly: a death’s head and a swastika on his left forearm.

What bubbled up from deep within caught me by surprise: rage.  Deep, explosive rage.  Hate-filled, violent rage.  The action that came to mind was neither Christ-like nor legal.

I headed on, deeply aware of the enmity in my heart, and very uncomfortable with the feelings I had discovered.

Where did those emotions come from?  I am reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.*  I am learning more than I have known before about the Nazi hatred for Christianity and the burning desire to destroy a religion that they viewed as impure and weak.  In the process, they began to cleanse Germany of Jews; they murdered opponents (political and military); they set in process a path of destruction that would threaten to consume much of the world.

And the moment I saw those tattoos, symbols of an evil and dangerous religion (yes, National Socialism was and is a religion), which would destroy lives and mock Christ, I almost lost it.

What I also remembered was the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer dealt with those who hounded him, imprisoned him, threatened him and, eventually, murdered him.  He kept his cool.  He treated even those who were his enemies with kindness and respect, all the while fighting to save the Church of Jesus Christ, as he watched it burning in the fires of Nazism.  He pondered his future, through the lens of his faith, and chose a Christ-like attitude over bitterness or hate.

I want that.  And the guy with the death’s head and the swastikas reminded me of that, even if it took a little while for me to get there.  I can choose the Son of Man over the death’s head, the cross over the swastika, love over hate.

* Bonhoeffer is the biography of one of my heroes.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a theologian and pastor who clearly saw the storm clouds gathering in the tornado that would become the Third Reich.  He argued and fought against the co-opting of the German Church by the National Socialists.  It would cost him his life, as it cost the lives of many millions of people, both within Germany and without.

My 3-year-old granddaughter loves to chase, capture and carry her chickens.  Sammy, the rooster, along with the three hens, Meep, Ella and Amelie Poulet, are not, it appears, quite as enamored with the whole process as is my granddaughter.

I watched her yesterday as she chased, and mostly missed catching her brood.  Sammy seems to be the most comfortable with being caught and carried around by someone who is not THAT much bigger than is he.  Hence (pun intended) he found himself precariously perched in the arms of this pint-sized chicken wrangler more often than did the 3 hens.

On several occasions, when our little bundle of joy could not catch one of the hens, she would eventually get frustrated.  The more frustrated she got, the louder the volume became.  The louder she got, the more frantic the hens became—squawking and flapping their wings with great fervor.  It didn’t help her catch them; it only made them crazy.

After an afternoon of watching this display of chicken wrangling, and observing the chickens become more frantic and upset, I came in and turned on the news.

Imagine my surprise as I watched the news, and listened to the commentators become more frustrated; the more frustrated they were, the louder they grew; the more the volume was amped up, the more the masses became frantic and upset.

Who knew you could watch chicken wrangling, played out on national television, day after day?