Saturday, August 24, 2013

Es past nisht

There is a Jewish phrase that some parents will use with their children when they do something wrong.  It says, “Es past nisht”.  Literally translated it means ‘this does not become you’.  It tells the child that he/she isn’t bad but that they are, indeed, too good to be doing something beneath them.  By telling children that they are inherently bad, we teach them that no matter what they pursue in life, they are bad at the core.  But the opposite is true – they are GOOD at the core.  Some of the things they do are wrong and the learning happens when they realize they are better than the wrong they are doing.

Where is your self-respect?  How do you show yourself respect and, in turn, show your children and/or those around you?  To fully understand the word translated as respect, we must consider cultural context.

In Luke 20:13 we read, “…and the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’

The Greek word here for respect is entrepomai which really doesn’t convey the power of the decision being made here.  What the father is counting on is the shame associated with the people to whom he is sending his son. The people ultimately kill the son but the father was hoping that the public disgrace that continued violence would bring upon them, might trump their need for violence.  It doesn’t.  They don’t care about public disgrace.  This verse is as powerful to us today as it was to the original audience.  The question concerns our shame, not our respect for God’s only Son. 

Once the decision is made for the violence to continue they not only disrespect that father, they no longer have the basic emotions that are humanity.  In fact, their own integrity is gone and in this act they reject forgiveness and confirm a loss of humanity.  They have lost all sense of shame.

The acts of violence did not become them.  As our acts of wrong-doing do not become us.  We are made to be mirror images of our Creator yet we openly reject the forgiveness of God by continuing on in our wrong-doings.  We fail to show respect to our Father or to ourselves.  We bring shame upon ourselves – our acts do not become us.

I have seen what the trappings of wrong-doings can do to a person.  It first eats away at the inner self and the person works harder and harder to make sure this rot doesn’t come to the surface.  But soon it does.  You can see it in their behavior, in the way they talk, in their appearance – in the way they lack respect for themselves, for humanity, and ultimately for the Creator. 

Is it time you hear God our Father say to you, “Es past nisht”?  Is there something you are doing or a way you are thinking that really does not become the YOU that the Creator originally designed? 

I like how Marcus Aurelius puts it, “never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.”

Bring honor to God and honor to your family and community by respecting yourself.  And always ask, “Does this become me?”

My father said to me many times growing up, “never do anything you wouldn’t want to be caught dead doing”.  Wow – that conjures up some powerful images, doesn’t it?  He would always follow it by saying, “remember who and who’s you are”.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Am I a Feminist?

I have been in ministry in one form or another since 1984.  Since that time I have found that, besides the pastor that deserves the title of being ‘my mentor’, I tended to side more with the female pastors on the team.  In fact, after a successful summer camp experience, the female pastor on our team wrote on my t-shirt, “we sit to the left”.  I didn’t fully grasp what she meant until a few years later.  And when I did grasp it, I fought it.  I thought I was conservative!  When I finally embraced my inner feminist, I tried hard to turn back to the right.  Honestly, I can’t STAND the terms left or right, liberal or conservative.  The fact is that I have some liberal viewpoints and some conservative ones.  I would probably surprise you on many topics, actually!  

Now I’m not typically one to just pull out one or two lines of scripture and base an entire writing or sermon on just that.  There are always mitigating circumstances before and after the chosen verse(s) that either shed light on one verse, or throw us deeper in to a state of confusion.  But there is something amazing about Galatians 3:28.  It seems to be the pinnacle of the theology of Paul.  Paul talks about the egalitarian nature in Christ.  This is the belief that all people are equal.  In this one verse, Paul establishes equality.  Here is what he says:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free nor is there male and females, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Everything that Paul says throughout his letters of the New Testament orbit these words.  If we are in Christ, we are all equal.  

This letter, as is the case in all his letters, was written because of a particular circumstance.  Paul addresses socio/economical and spiritual ‘current events’ of that time and attempts to pull everyone in to a right perspective, seeing the event through the love and eyes of Christ.

In this verse, Paul is explaining how one should be treated at the table of Christ.  The table where all are welcome regardless of age, birth right, or gender.  We are all treated as one and likewise we should treat one another in the same manner.  

Paul wrote this, I believe, to cause ripples in the still waters of conformity.  Be mindful that a very common Jewish prayer in the 1st century went something like this: “God, I thank you I was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.”  NOW put that against what Paul is writing and you have headline news.  CNN picks this up and the late night hosts are working on their monologues.  This is scandal, pure and simple.  

Paul was simply pointing out that social distinctions are non-existent, null-and-void, for those who are in Christ Jesus.  When Jesus came, he not only turned the tables in the market place - he turned the tables of social and economic inequality.  With this simple statement Paul says there is no room at the table for social inequality, economic ladders, gender bias’ and discrimination of any kind because we are all seated as one.

The last church I was at I held weekly meetings.  I purposely held these meetings at a round table.  Everyone had a seat at the round table but when we were all together at the table you could not easily distinguish a leader or a leadership hierarchy.  All were welcome, all had a place, and all were equal.  

Humanity’s nature is to want more, to be one step above our neighbors, and to be considered higher than others.  In the movie, The Three Musketeers, there is a quote from The Cardinal that goes something like this.  “All for one...and more for me”.  That is our mentality and until we can overcome that, Paul’s vision of equality at the table setting remains just a vision here on earth.  But remember this, my friends.  In the kingdom of Christ, all WILL be equal.  Our work on earth is to continually meet at the table of equality - to communion WITH one another IN Christ Jesus, regardless of any social or economic or gender issues.

If we read the writings of Paul with new glasses - the glasses that see nothing but equality (which I believe is Paul’s social hermeneutic), AND we keep in mind that this is contrary to the Jewish and Greco-Roman world at the time, I believe your ears will experience a new sense of openness.  

Oh yeah, and on the whole, am I a feminist or not.  Safe to say I probably am based on the fact that I believe we are ALL equal when we are in Christ Jesus.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Where Is Your Happy Place?

Many thanks to my high school classmate, Michelle, for giving me the inspiration to write today.  Michelle lives in New Hampshire and often posts photos of the many outdoor activities she enjoys with her family.  Recently she posted one of her family and admitted it was taken when they were somewhat lost, having taken a wrong turn down the river, and ending up in a bog.  What is so striking in this photo is the contentment and the smile on one of her kids while sitting in the middle of a bog not really knowing where they were.  THAT'S a happy place.  

She described it as being one of her happy places and asked her friends to share their happy place.  Where IS your happy place and who is there with you?  What is around, the sounds, the sights, and smells?  How often can you go there?

I look forward to reading the responses from people and hope there are many shared.  It got me to thinking about my happy place and, although I came up with an immediate response which I will share later in this blog, I have been thinking about my happy place – or rather, happy placES.  As my mind began to wander through the years of my life I came up with many places that bring a smile to my spirit.  Some of those places were more about the experience and the people than the actual place. 

Where is my happy place? Mine is anywhere that conjures up thoughts and memories of my mom.  I know in those times that she is still with me and that God is the bridge between her and I, with his hand in mine and the other in hers.  I love you and miss you Mom.

I pray you have many happy places in this life.  Although dark times are all a part of our human experience, those happy places in our lives are a tremendous gift from our Creator.  Know that, not only in the dark times but also the good ones, God has you securely in His hand.

Where is your happy place?  What goes on there and who is with you?  Share them with me, won’t you?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Perfecting of Our Faith

The past two weeks have been rather dark in my life.  For a myriad of reasons, the evil one has seen fit that clouds of sadness have lingered over my spiritual house.  It has been a trying time indeed.  I am not fully out of the darkness but today I rejoice because I feel a slight bit of warmth from the light of hope.

I found myself returning to one of my favorite Scriptures.  It can be found in the letter to the Philippians, first chapter, and verse six.  This letter is a thank you note from Paul for a gift they had sent him while Paul was imprisoned in Rome.  Paul’s purpose is not only to teach theology but to call the church in to unity on the basis of the servant-mentality and humility of Christ. 

“I am confident of this; that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in and carry it on to full completion until the day of Christ’s return”

In this verse, Paul recognizes the work God has done in the hearts of the Philippians and also the continued work of grace that God will do through-out their life and up to the moment of Christ’s victorious return to earth.

There is a wonderful promise in this verse.  First, God started the work within our hearts and second, He WILL be faithful to complete it.  In other words, God is preparing our hearts and souls for the exact moment of the return of His Son.  God is faithful to us – yes – even when OUR faithfulness wanes.  The work is God’s.  He began it the moment we accepted the consecration of our hearts in to the servant ministry of Christ.  What exactly is this work though?

This work is the perfecting of our fellowship with one another in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

But I believe there to be one more important lesson to learn here.  You see, God didn't start a work in us to bring us to the moment of our own death.  He isn't working on us to bring us to the final seconds of this life so that we are ready to enter the life eternal.  No – that works is OURS to do.  But God is working WITH us to prepare us for the return of Christ.  Not the ‘end of all things’ but for the beginning of all things.

God begins many things in us throughout our life.  He plants seeds of hope and of dreams and ambitions.  And He continues to work those out in us as part of the process of a life designed for the Kingdom of God.  Not the kingdom of man.  Our knowledge that God is continually working in us, through us, and around us AND, many times, in spite of us, should serve us well in lifting us out of those dark times in our lives when we cannot see the direction we are going. 

The past two weeks I have not been able to see any further than the moment in which I was living.  This did not bring me joy because I had no light to see.  The moment is great WHEN you can see it.  But when you are suddenly thrust in to darkness it can be very disturbing.  You know that feeling when you go outside in the bright summer light and then walk back inside your home?  You can’t see anything, really.  You stretch your eyes wide open as if that’s going to increase your ability to see but your eyes are still adjusting from the massive amount of intense light that was just thrown at them.  You can’t see – so you wait for the darkness to subside and you are able to see well. 

Today God began to lift that darkness and my eyes are just now adjusting properly to the light.  He gave me hopes, He gave me ambitions, He gave me dreams to dream AND to build – and He has been faithful in carrying out His work.  Shall I be passive in my work or shall I also participate in the work that will bring me to the moment of Christ’s amazing return?  I rejoice because by God’s Grace, and only by His Grace, I am able to see through the darkness of the evil one, and once again take another step in my journey that God has prepared for me.

May God’s Grace grant you safe passage through every darkness that will come in to your life.  May you hold fast to the promise that the One who began an amazing work in you, will continue working it out until the moment of Christ’s return.  Work not for your own death but work for the return of the resurrected Christ.