Monday, December 7, 2015

Is it time for an intervention?

There have been many occasions where I’ve thought “please God, help me!” or some derivation of that thought. The thought has applied to so many scenarios from the light-hearted (looking for a rest stop in the middle of nowhere after a large coffee) to the darkest moments (please don’t take my Mom, she’s not ready). In those moments my focus is singular where I just want that one thing to happen. I suppose I have been lucky because I’ve always managed to find a rest stop just in time and my Mom is still with us; but looking back, was it really luck? I did ask God for help after all.

Our discussion this past Sunday focused on the idea of God helping us or looking out for us. We referenced the story from 1 Samuel 7:3-14 where the Israelites defeated the Philistines at Mizpah. The Israelites feared the Philistines and asked Samuel to pray to God on their behalf. The Lord answered Samuel with a loud thunder which threw the Philistines into confusion and panic resulting in a victory for the Israelites. Samuel knew their victory was not a result of their army; it was a result of God’s intervention. 

In those moments of victory, where things work out, it is easy to thank and praise God. But what about those other moments where we feel our prayers go unanswered? I cannot help but think of the victims of the recent Paris attacks or the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California this week. There was even a headline in the New York Daily News of 'God Isn't Fixing This'. That headline may be partially true. Look back at that passage from Samuel. Did God strike down the Philistines? No. God's intervention gave the Israelites the advantage but the victory still required the Israelites to take action. Following the victory, Samuel set up a stone at the site called an Ebenezer to serve as a reminder and testament to God's help. 

Where is God's thunder? Did we miss God's intervention and our cue to take action? Or maybe it hasn't happened yet? The Israelites were under constant threat of attack. They came together at Mizpah and witnessed a miracle. I believe there are many similarities between the Israelites and the world we live in today. We are all children of God and we need to find a way to come together. When our Mizpah moment happens we'll witness God's intervention and hopefully take action when we need to. And like Samuel, we must set up an Ebenezer as a reminder of God's help and our ability to overcome our differences to defeat our enemies. Until that time comes we must continue to pray to God on behalf of those victims, their families and for all of us as we seek guidance and protection.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Would you know my name

Years ago a musician named Eric Clapton wrote the song “Tears in Heaven”. The song was written after he lost his son in a tragic accident. The lyrics ask the question “would you know my name if I saw you in Heaven?” A lot of people connect with the message in this song because we want to believe our loved ones are waiting for us in Heaven. We want to believe they’ll recognize us and welcome us into God’s kingdom. But the song also paints a picture of doubt as to whether that reunion will go the way we imagine.
The Bible does not address this concept directly but does offer a few examples, which suggest a reunion with loved ones. One example is found in 2 Samuel, chapter 12. This chapter relays the story of the Lord taking David’s son as a result of David’s sins. Upon learning of the child’s death, David said he would go to him as the child could not come back to David. David implies he’ll see his child in Heaven someday, which aligns with the sentiment in the song. The next line in the song “Tears in Heaven” goes on to say “will it be the same if I see you in Heaven?” We can again look to David’s words from this chapter for guidance, “who knows?”
In our discussion at Grace Baptist Church we talked about Heaven. We were split on our view of Heaven. Some felt Heaven would be a reunion; not only with the family members we knew, but also all the generations before. Others felt we would recognize our loved ones in Heaven but our connection wouldn’t be any different than with others in Heaven. It didn’t take long to get lost looking at the endless possibilities of what Heaven might be; but we all agreed Heaven will be full of fellowship and love. One member summed it up simply by saying Heaven should be seen as an eternity in God’s presence, while Hell is eternal separation from God. 
The bible does offer perspective on Heaven. In Luke (23:43) Jesus on the cross Jesus said to the thief, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise". The book of Revelations describes heaven in several ways including lots of praise time with worship of God 24/7. Maybe we don’t know exactly what Heaven will be, but the only thing that matters is an eternity with God. What we do know is our faith in Jesus Christ assures our place in Heaven. We don’t know all of the details but knowing we’ll be with Jesus and in the presence of God is all we need. 

Who knows where our discussion will go next time but if you’re interested you can join us in the boardroom every Sunday at 9:30 AM.

Things Aren't Always As They Seem

"Thou shalt not kill" is perhaps the most well known of the ten commandments. This commandment has crossed over into pop culture showing up in movies and television. Characters say this phrase and a lot of us know what it means. Or at least we think we know what it means. I thought it meant you shall not kill under any circumstances, including war and capital punishment. But what if I told you the wording of this commandment was dependent on which translation of the bible you were reading? What if that commandment read "you shall not murder"? Does that change anything?

The New International Version (NIV) translation uses the term murder, not kill. Murder generally refers to a crime, whereas killing is an act which may or may not be a crime. This distinction complicates my understanding of this commandment, as it does not fully close the door on killing. Does that mean that killing in the context of war, self-defense or capital punishment are acceptable in the eyes of God? When we met in the boardroom at Grace Baptist Church a few Sundays back, we discussed capital punishment from a Christian perspective. We discussed the story of Kelly Gissendaner who admitted to recruiting her lover to murder her husband and was executed in Georgia. Mrs. Gissendaner's story is unique as during her incarceration she not only accepted Jesus as her savior, but also developed her own ministry at the prison. Many who knew Gissendaner claimed her conversion was genuine and over 500 members of the clergy, including Pope Francis, pleaded with the authorities to spare her life. Imagine hearing these appeals and being in the position of deciding her fate.

As with most issues, there is no easy solution. In our discussion, we started with looking at whether a murderer could be forgiven and saved. We discovered this is a broader question of whether a sinner can be forgiven and saved. Man, not God, ranked murder above adultery, stealing and the other commandments. If you look back at the commandments in the book of Exodus, there is no specification of one sin being worse than another. We know, no matter how hard we try, we sin and that Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins. Jesus gave us the path to salvation and all we have to do is accept him in our hearts. Jesus explained this in John, chapter 8 when a woman accused of adultery was presented. Jesus advised for any among them without sin to cast the first stone. No stones were cast and Jesus told the woman to go and leave her life of sin. Christianity is about inclusion and acceptance of everyone, regardless of their sins. Therefore, it stands to reason murderers can absolutely be forgiven and saved.

That is wonderful news, but it does not help with guiding the decision on sparing Mrs. Gissendaner's life. Salvation does not mean the consequences are taken away. We know right and wrong and, perhaps more importantly, we know there are consequences to our actions. In the New Testament, there are some references to consequences including in Romans 13 where Paul tells us to obey the laws or face the consequences. Some have interpreted this language to support capital punishment. Paul doesn't directly endorse specific laws, but does make the point we should be subject to the governing authorities as they are God's servants and can bring punishment on the wrongdoer. In the case of Mrs. Gissendaner, she was subject to the laws of Georgia which resulted in her execution.
We may not all agree on capital punishment. What I hope we can agree on is that all people, regardless of their sins, can be saved if they choose to accept Jesus. No matter how far we feel we have strayed, God never strays from us. We hope to see you next time at 9:30 AM in the boardroom at Grace Baptist Church. God Bless.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Papal Politics

I remember being advised to avoid discussing politics and religion when in mixed company. I didn't really heed that advice as a young adult and would often speak freely about my point of view; even though I wasn't really engaged with the church and had no interest in politics beyond what was portrayed on Saturday Night Live. Today I find myself actively engaged with the church and politics. Religion and politics are interesting and rewarding but, ironically, I now find them more difficult to talk about than I did as a young adult. The more I study and learn, the less I feel I really know!

Maybe for the first time I understand the advice given to me about avoiding these discussions. The advice wasn't implying these topics should be avoided completely; it is saying these topics need to be treated with the proper reverence and respect. I'm not supposed to know everything and I'm not supposed to use these discussions to say I'm right and someone else is wrong. Religion and politics are intended to bring us together, not drive us apart. On his first trip to the US, Pope Francis delivered this message when he addressed Congress and the United Nations.

A group of us gathered in the boardroom of Grace Baptist Church and discussed the Pope's visit. We talked about the lack of the gospel in the media coverage and the criticism the Pope received as some felt he missed an opportunity to evangelize. Evangelism means different things to different people and that's okay! But did he really miss an opportunity?
Pope Francis stood in front a divided congress, which is representing a divided country, and asked we come together for the common good. He asked we avoid the temptation to categorize others as it only serves to divide and polarize us. He asked we relate to one another. Why wouldn't Pope Francis take this opportunity to preach the gospel? It certainly seems like he got the same advice I did and avoided discussing religion and politics. I don't know the reasons why, but I do know over 90% of Congress identifies as Christian. Maybe the Pope realized the message this group needed was not the one they expected. Maybe he wanted to show the power of the gospel is more than Jesus' birth, death and resurrection.

Imagine if every member of Congress returned to their constituents and gave them the message they needed rather than the one they expected. A message that wasn't delivering talking points for the party designed to build up one side while tearing down the other; but rather a message of unity. Imagine the power of an elected official focusing on serving ALL of their constituents and not just those who will assure they get re-elected. Imagine those constituents returning to their homes and discussing the ideas of unity and inclusion with their families rather than showing hostility toward those of a differing view. Imagine if we all treated others as we would want to be treated. I think I read about that in a book by some guy named Matthew.

I ask again did he really miss an opportunity to preach the gospel? Or did we miss an opportunity by not really listening to what he said? I suppose time will tell what message was received. Maybe while we're waiting, you'd like to stop by Grace Baptist Church in Blue Bell at 9:30 AM next Sunday to sit in on our next chat. All are welcome!

I'll do better next time, I promise!

How many times have you heard that before? Or said that before? How often to you believe it? I suppose it depends on the circumstances, but the reality is a lot of people ask for a second chance. Some of us grant that second chance without hesitation, while others deny people the opportunity no matter how sincere they appear. The former likely believe the person will turn it around this time, while the latter have seen the scenario play out too many times before.

A small group of us gathered in the boardroom at Grace Baptist Church of Blue Bell a few Sundays ago to discuss the idea of second chances. This is a challenging topic as all of us come to the table with aired experiences, but thankfully we also come together in Christian fellowship.

So what does the Bible tell us about second chances? The Bible includes many stories of second chances. We learn from Peter, who denied Jesus, and Paul, who punished Christians before his conversion to Christianity, that getting a second chance can make a profound difference in one's life. During our discussion we were reminded it is the grace of God that allows us to move ahead in life, find our talents and exercise them. People seeking a second chance need help recognizing their talents. More importantly they need to be held accountable to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. I'm sure you can think of people who have done remarkable things with a second chance. those people were likely driven to make the most of their talents.

You can probably think of people who have squandered their second, third and fourth chances. We have to be careful not to pass judgement in these situations. Our role as Christians is to listen, offer advice and help others whenever we're able. By definition, Christianity is a second chance for humanity. One of the our members shared how our daily decisions gives us the opportunity to fill our time with our talents to maximize our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. All of us will succumb to our weaknesses from time to time. when that happens we need our family, friends and church to support us and hold us accountable. To offer praise and forgiveness with with accountability is allowing us to move ahead and focus on our talents.

Imagine if you made a habit of filling your time focusing on your talents. What kind of difference would that make in your life? For your family? For your job? Writing these words was my way of exercising my talent. Whether you like what I wrote or not doesn't matter nearly as much as the fact you've read this far. I'm hoping you're willing to take the next step and consider joining us next time. I have no idea where our discussion will take us but if you want to join the conversation, or just listen in, we'll be back in the boardroom next Sunday at 9:30 AM.