Trump and The Little Children

The image of Jesus calling the children to him, after  scolding his disciples when they wanted to turn little children away, is found on pictures all over the world. Sometimes the children are of mixed races, symbolic of the song, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his site. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” That classic song, sung in most every Sunday School is a reminder of the place Jesus put children in. He said, “It would be better to have a millstone hung around your neck than to harm one of the little ones who believe in him.” (Mark 9:42

With all of that in mind, it boggles my mind and tears my heart that President Trump initiated a zero tolerance policy that is ripping children from their parents as they seek asylum in this country.

It is even more appalling that he continues to lie about the reality he created in demanding that action as a policy. It must cut the heart of Jesus to see events unfolding at the border. Jesus who said “that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters is the same as doing it to him.” I don’t understand how the president can live with himself – or with a policy that puts children in cages. Today, I am praying for a changed heart and a changed (for the better) policy – for everyone who is accountable for this decision. That and contacting the Justice Department and the White House to once again state my objection.   We cannot stay silent in the face of such evil.

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Christian Ethics 101 According to the Apostle Paul

I’ve always liked the way the apostle Paul set out his ethical worldview.  He sent it to the newly formed Christian churches in Rome as a way of encouraging them in their faith journey.   As the issues around immigration are filling our news cycle, its good to get a sense of who Paul was.    What did he value?   What would he really have said to us in our response to a  person fleeing their homeland in search of safety.   The following passage is taken from Eugene Petersons’ The Message Bible.

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”   Romans 12, The Message Bible

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Please Don’t Guilt Me

One of my pet peeves are Facebook posts that include words designed to guilt the reader if they  don’t repost the message.

Something like this will be in the post:

“Most people won’t”

“I Know who will pass this on.”

“I’ll know who my true friends are”

“ Do you believe in Jesus? If yes, repost this status on your profile. Some believers will do this. Some will not. I know who my Christian friends are and I’ll be watching to see who stands for Christ with me!”

The way I see it, a true friend does not  try to guilt their friends . . .  Not on a Facebook post . . .  Not on social media. A true friend is there to encourage and support the other person, not demand that their friends think and act exactly like they do.  Every time I see one of these, I want to respond with, “Please don’t guilt me.” It doesn’t make me a bad friend if I don’t repost that message. My other Facebook friends would thank me if they knew I refused to pass on a dose of guilt to them.

Jesus is not going to love me any more or less if I repost a message that says I’m not ashamed to call myself a Christian. But, I think Jesus would want me to put love first in all relationships, which includes not guilting my friends into guilting theirs.

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Re-framing Reclaiming Jesus

At first I was encouraged by the Reclaiming Jesus movement. After the past two years of division and having my Christian faith twisted into something it is not by a political party, I’ve been ready to reclaim the real Jesus. The Jesus who cared about the poor, who announced at the beginning of his ministry that he had come “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Luke 4:18b & 19

I’ve felt all of that. And I like the proclamation Reclaiming Jesus      but today, I saw a short promotional video and I was disappointed  . There was something missing in it for me.  Because even as I have been frustrated and resentful of today’s extreme evangelical interpretation of scripture with it health and wealth religion – and its ability to excuse President Trump from his multiple excesses – I was disappointed, that the Reclaiming Jesus people  were  turning a faith statement into politics as normal.  I think what I wanted to hear were people who were ready to confess their own complicity in the divisions in our nation. People who acknowledged that the resentment towards the Christian right is real and is wrong. When Jesus prayed that we “all be one” it was so we would look beyond our differences and see the Christ light the other is carrying.

I want a Reclaiming Jesus Movement that is more inclusive – more real, more faithful to the gospel of compassion and forgiveness. I want a Reclaiming Jesus movement that acknowledges that while the right gets it wrong, there are way too many times when the left doesn’t get it at all . . . that we have each been blinded to each other’s deepest truths about the Jesus of the gospels.

I want a Reclaiming Jesus time when we gather people from the North and South, East and West, and from all the branches we have formed. I want a movement that is true to the gospels, solidly Christ centered and infused with grace for those we disagree with – one where we do not call each other by labels . . .  rather as brothers and sisters in Christ.   I want  a Reclaiming Jesus  movement  where we can come together in peace and learn about Jesus all of again, as one body in Christ.

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Growing Old and Dear

(First Published May 22, 2015 on “A Pastor’s Heart”)

Everyone loved Gen. There was no shortage of volunteers ready to leap at the opportunity to drop something off, to make a call or to check-in with her. I knew her first as one of those gracious women who welcome the new pastor into a community. Still active, she was busy volunteering, checking in with her friends, making quilts, being attentive to her grandchildren, and dropping gifts of food off. Later she would be hit with Macular Degeneration. Where some would have felt their life slipping away, Gen did what she always did. Gen was an expert at making lemonade out of the lemons which came her way. She learned how to use her remaining sight. With a good magnifying glass she could still make out some print, and keep tabs on stitches in her current quilt.

When I planned a visit to her home, Gen would insist on my coming to her home for lunch. Being ninety and almost blind didn’t stop her from preparing that lunch. Difficulty and trials had come her way, but, from the day I first met her, until I would leave that community eight years later, Gen exuded a sense of joy. I often told her that I wanted to grow old like her. Her attitude was a gift for all of us who knew her. I was inspired by her.

Some of us grow old and cranky. Others grow old and dear. They age with grace. A friend told me this week that he decided not to be a complainer as he aged. Eighty-eight now, he admits to not always feeling his best, but after spending more time than he wanted with people who complained about everything, he simply doesn’t want to live that way. What I have found in common with those who age gracefully, is a deep-seated faith and connection with God. There is also a sense of gratitude for every good gift, from a beautiful day, to a friend who calls, to a family that cares. These aged saints, make a point of reaching out to other people, and find meaning in their lives as they do so.
The psalmist says of these:

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap” Psalm 92:12-14

I still want to grow old like Gen.

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Where are You in the Story?

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37

We call it the “Parable of the Good Samaritan.” The story is taught to small children as a means of encouraging them to grow up with a concern for their neighbor. When Jesus told this story, he chose as the hero a person who would have been scorned by the religious society Jesus lived in. Today, we’d likely to refer to “Those People” and add some negative comment. I once gave a sermon titled “The Parable of the Good Migrant Worker.”  I served a faith community that was nestled in a farming area with a large migrant population. We started seeing people arriving in late spring and staying into mid fall. Migrant workers made do with substandard housing. Several families would rent the same falling down farm house and be overcharged for it.  Migrant farm workers were in the fields from early in the morning till sundown. Some farmers took advantage of their field hands, setting them up to spend excessive money on basics. Concern for the migrant workers varied. Some of our people were committed to helping out in any way they could. Others spread malicious stories about the migrant population. I was proud of my little church though. Where others cut back on giving to the food shelf, my church increased their giving during those months.

As I’ve been listening to some demeaning words about today’s immigrants it got me to thinking. I wonder who Jesus would have chosen to be the hero today? An immigrant from Somalia or Syria – Guatemala or Iraq? Would the person be a Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist or Muslim? I wonder where Jesus would place me in the story. Would I be among those who passed the injured person by – or would I be the one who stopped? What about you? Where are you in the story?

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