Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gripes

We sang a song this morning with these words,
"Blessed be your name when the world's all as it should be .... "

That got under my craw (where exactly is a craw?  sounds kind of nasty, on second thought).

When the world's all as it should be for whom?  How self-absorbed can we get? It might be ok for me--a promotion at work, a good grade on a test, new grandchild, etc, etc.--but it could be, and probably is, horrible for lots of people in the world.  Let's get some perspective here, folks.

Perhaps we could say, "God's in His Heaven, all's right with the world" but I don't know if that is a Biblical outlook.  Sounds kind of short sighted.

Curmudgeonly thought #2:  Do we really need evangelo-tourism?  How much good do mission trips do?

Curmudgeonly thought #3:  WII-FM - the most popular radio station in the world.  (and I'm not talking about the Playstation thing).

Curmudgeonly thought #4:  Does anyone sit in church, hear the preacher say how much claim Jesus has on their lives, and say, "I didn't sign up for this?"  Have we practiced "bait and switch" Christianity?  More on this later.

Exiled – Why and How?



Sunday Bible Study Lesson, Feb. 18

2 Kings 23:1-7, 10; 24-25; 26-27.  Even though Josiah was a good king, he couldn’t stop the wave of disobedience.  It was so deep within the leadership and people (sheeple).

Why the exile?  Long-term disobedience to God’s clear law despite their history.  They had gotten so bad that they were having worship services to pagan gods in the Temple.  They were violent, neglecting the poor and orphans, as well as gross idolatry. 

2 Kings tells the story.  There were three phases of the exile.
609 BC   .  The Assyrians were defeated by the new Babylonians (Chaldeans) and Judah became a vassal state under Babylon.  Babylon was fighting Egypt at this time for world power, and Judah was caught in the middle.  Josiah sided with Egypt and was killed in battle for it.  23:29.  In 24:1 we read of a rebellion; the first part of Daniel tells us this was when Daniel and friends ended up in Babylon in 605 bc.  This is when Greece and Rome are still in their infancy.
597 BC 2 Kings 24:10-17 Daniel and friends were probably in this one.  A puppet king, renamed Zedekiah, was put in place by the Babylonians.  Eventually, another rebellion, leading to the exile in
586 BC 2 Kings 25:11-12.  Gedaliah was put in place as the leader.  Jeremiah was living at this time and part of his message was that this situation was part of God’s plan and not to buck it.  Some rebel groups were allying with Egypt but Jeremiah told them not to; they did anyway.

What did the exile mean?  Loss of everything, and defilement of their religion.  Nebuchadnezzar was not into tolerance.  He won, he got the spoils, the gold of the temple.  18-cubit, that’s a 27-foot pillar.  Took it all. 

How long in exile?  70 years from the first one of 609, so it ended around 539 when Ezra came back with exiles.  But only 42,360 came back.  Almost 2 million went into the land, according to Joshua.  What happened to the rest?  Many died, of course, but what about the rest?  They grew comfortable, they spread out.  Esther’s family in Persia (Iran).  Paul’s family is an example.  They lived far away from Jerusalem, in Turkey (Tarsus).  There were Jews all over the world, flourishing and living their lives, never to be pagans again.  Dispersed--diaspora

Let’s start by me being provocative.
America is not Israel.
           
The church is not Israel.
            Similarities:  We are under covenant.
            Differences:  Israel is God’s wife, the church is his bride.
            Israel is local and racial; the church is global and multi-racial

The church is not America and America is not the church.

Christians are citizens of two countries, two kingdoms.  We have a temporary home and a permanent home. 

In some ways, we are in exile as the church, but not because of punishment, because we have work to do. 

So how do we live in exile?

Like Daniel and Hannaniah, Azariah, and Mishael do.

Daniel 1.  Was Daniel a eunuch?  It’s highly probable.  Being made a eunuch meant he wouldn’t have offspring, and he would be safe to be around the women of the court.  In the law, eunuchs or castrated men, even by accident, were not allowed to be priests or engage in certain rituals or groups, but later it is clear that eunuchs were not separated from God.  Isaiah 56:1-6.  The imperfect enjoy perfection. 

So he has lost his homeland, his family, his manhood.  But he is not going to lose his identity, his faith, his prayer life, his obedience. 

What we don’t see here is what about the other people brought over?  1:6 “and among these were ….”  Did the others compromise?  Did they follow Daniel’s lead?

Four other incidents in their lives:
Daniel 2:14.  Crazy king. 
Daniel 3:16-17, the fiery furnace.  Still crazy king.  Daniel and his friends had to keep on their toes, but it appears that some Jews became comfortable and compromising in this new place.  Why not get comfortable?  Maybe when they lost everything, they realized what they had lost. 
Crazy king, 4:28 ff.
Other story, Daniel targeted by jealous people in the next realm, now under Medes and Persians (the kingdom that would eventually be the one Esther is in) 

Daniel could have gone home when he was a very old man.  1:19-21 says he stayed in service until 536, and they went back in 539.  He lived to be at least about 90, and would have been quite old when he was put in the lion’s den. 

Americans look at Daniel’s life and see individualism, standing up for what you believe.  That may be true, but I don’t think that is what you are supposed to see. 

What virtues do we see in Daniel’s life?   Faithfulness, hope.

HOPE definition:    You have to draw a distinction between hope and optimism. Vaclav Havel put it well when he said “optimism” is the belief that things are going to turn out as you would like, as opposed to “hope,” which is when you are thoroughly convinced something is moral and right and just and therefore you fight regardless of the consequences. In that sense, I’m full of hope but in no way optimistic. Cornel West

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Radical, David Platt, and me (us)

I am reading David Platt's book Radical and digesting its message.  To say I am enjoying it would be wrong, as it is not a book to enjoy.  It is a book to think about, primarily, to take seriously, but not to unquestioningly obey.

His most powerful story is the example of the state Baptist paper that had two stories on on the front page.  "First Baptist of X builds $23 million facility" and "State Southern Baptists give $5,000 to feed starving in Sudan."  That says it all.  I don't know what state this is, but since he lives in Alabama . . .

He calls us to question our assumptions (a phrase I keep hearing in my doctoral work and that has its value, but some things don't have to be questioned) about the equation of the American dream and the Christianity of the New Testament.  He is absolutely right, and I appreciate what he is writing.  I recommend the book.

But how to obey?  Ah, there's the rub.  I feel strongly the need of the world for adequate nutrition and water, sanitation and healthcare, education and civil rights.  I am daily conscious of the persecuted church that hides to gather and worship.  While I am not sure about climate change, I want clean air and water.  But how do I contribute?  As a 57-year-old white woman, short of neglecting and abandoning my husband and ill mother to run off to Kenya, what can we seriously do?

I am not trying to be snarky here, because I agree with him that something radical must be done.  But many of us simply cannot do something physically.  And giving money is too easy an answer.  To whom?  How can we be sure it is adequately used?  There is a lot of evidence that aid can backfire.  We must be sure that our aid demands that people take part in their own "liberation" from poverty, as it were.  There are some organizations that are doing that, but who are they?

And giving more money to the U.S government to do anything--what a joke!

Perhaps that is my mission--to hook people up with organizations that really do what they say, that have long-lasting impacts in communities.  HUMMMM.  Or at least to find the ones who know that and publicize them.  My other mission is to help migrant workers.  They are the most downtrodden in this country.

Back to the point.  Read the book.  Talk about it. But be a good steward of God's money.  Keep a storehouse that can be used when the need really comes up and can be met most adequately by money. 

Judgment must begin at the house of God.  If we are slaves to materialism and gadgets and big houses and Disney vacations and boats and the next big thing, we are slaves. 


Would Jesus ? ? ?

I have way too many FRIENDS on Facebook (term used ironically) and some of them are organizations or websites.  One of them is Tony Campolo's Red Letter Christians.  I occasionally go to that site when something on Facebook intrigues me.

Such was the case with this headline, "Would Jesus bake a cake for a same-sex couple?"  The question infuriated me, not because of the reference to homosexuality but because of the assumption that Jesus' job is to bake wedding cakes, not run the universe.

Red Letter Christians represents the left wing, Sojourners, social justice side of the evangelical community.  I appreciate their efforts to waken us to poverty and real need, but I think they are misguided, as much as I respect Campolo overall and know he is educated, a college prof, etc.  (That does not make him above questioning). 

In calling themselves Red Letter Christians they are, I think, trying to find the real Jesus.  They don't like the Jesus of the traditional church, so they search the Bible and especially Jesus' words, which are in red letters in some published Bibles, with the assumption that those words will be more focused on social justice.

I don't have a problem with their questioning the assumptions of the traditional church when it comes to the identity and behavior and character of Jesus, but I think they have gone in the opposite, and yet same, direction.  They are still worshiping a Jesus of their own making.

Their Jesus is  hip, cool, understanding, tolerant, and even worse, bakes wedding cakes.  Now, seriously.  Can you really see the Jesus Christ of the New Testament, who worked in a stone quarry (not carpentry), drove out merchants from the temple, died on the cross, was resurrected, ascended into heaven, and will return as king of the universe baking wedding cakes for a straight or gay couple?  In seeing Jesus as so human, we dehumanize him, de-man him.


Yes, I know, Jesus was fully man and did physical things and had the children on his knee and talked to the woman at the well.  He ate and drank with sinners, and always said, Go and sin no more, not "let's celebrate your sin." (Although some of the commenters seemed to think he encouraged drunkenness at the wedding at Cana.)  I think we get silly when we ask if Jesus would do certain things, as if we can't judge for ourselves the good and bad of it without bringing Jesus into it and making him look foolish.

The writer's editorial about Jesus and the wedding cake was innocuous enough.  She is sympathetic to the gentleman in Oregon who is being sued under Oregon (where else?) law and isn't really saying adamantly that he should bake the cake, only that she would to show the love of Jesus, and that doing so would show imagination.  

The point of the story is that the man was being forced by the state to bake the cake anyway; his choice was taken away, which is sad enough in itself that in this country such a thing is happening.  But the subordinate point is whether baking the cake by choice would be condoning and celebrating same sex marriage.  I don't see how it wouldn't be.  Being kind to a gay couple as humans, reaching out to them in need, does not mean one must celebrate their marriage.

At the same time, a Christian who believes this shows the love of Jesus does have the right to do so.  But one who doesn't should not be criticized, sued, or called unloving or unChristlike.   


Sunday, February 03, 2013

A blessing taken for granted

Because churches are so prevalent in the U.S., we take them for granted, and we take the ability to go whenever we choose for granted.  We think it is all about us anyway, so we find excuses easily to miss. 

My attendance at church was a blessing this morning.  The choir sang a new arrangement of the beautiful song below

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o'er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o'er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
'Tis a heav'n of heav'ns to me
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

The poetry of the old songs is exquisite.

The Myth of Easy

Having recently finished leading a (small) book group with colleagues on Mindset by Carol Dweck, I have a few thoughts--well, more than a ...