No Alternative to Right

As a Pastor, I know that Jesus can seem confusing.  When we read the words, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it,” we can scratch our heads.  I know that there are different ways to understand these words.

But one way of receiving these words is that God’s kingdom has been under attack and that violent people lay claim to it (and the Greek there is almost always a descriptive of maliciousness).  We can recognize truth in that idea.  Even if we broaden it out to say, “What is right and good has always been used violently and those who do that abuse the worth of it,” we can recognize that removing the religious element doesn’t change the inherent truth of the words.  People who have no place within the truth, will try to use it for their own gains.  They will claim that it is speaking about themselves and their cause.

The claim doesn’t make it true.

There is no right or good within the alt-right movement.  There is no life.  It doesn’t speak to the worth of America or the history of America.  It is only about themselves gaining power.  It takes a bit of truth – there is value in honoring heritage – and violently twists that to gain power.  That is the skillful work of liars, taking a bit of truth and creating a world of one’s own design by manipulating it to one’s desire.

The point of the power they seek is to overthrow the value of human beings, particular human beings… our black, Jewish, Asian, or differently-oriented human beings.  The point of the power is control and dominance and prestige.  It is to make others serve a vision of the future where their whim or edict will manage life, all lives.

If we do not step into this moment, if we waffle over whether we too believe in the honoring of heritage and not recognize the lie it is being used to support, we lose what is right and good.  We lose truth.  We cannot allow that.  We cannot expose our children to this subtlety because it will confuse them and they will become susceptible to the damage this lie brings to hearts and minds.  We must be forthright and plain.

The alt-right is not honoring heritage and not claiming a historical value.  It is maligning the value of other human beings for their own gain.  They are saying they have more value than any other.  They use blame and intolerance as tools to break down truth, to guide those who have been worn-out by tough times into serving them.  They take the lonely, the frustrated, the impoverished, the aimless and give them a direction built on a half-truth, a subtle dismissing of the value of anyone but themselves.

The tools against this lie seem impossibly weak in comparison to the violence it fosters.  The tools are friendship, conversation and love.  These don’t seem to move fast enough to counter the seeming wave of hatred.  But they are the tools to use and they must be used ferociously.  We must invite our neighbors over for dinner and talk with them.  We must build friendships with the other-oriented, the differently skin-colored, the races we do not know.  And we must seek the best for these other lives, in any way we can do that.

It may mean that we receive damage to our property by those who hate, it may be that we find ourselves maligned, we may be mistreated, we may even receive death threats for loving our neighbors.  That does happen to people who take truth seriously and who stand within the value of those who are different from themselves.  It does happen.  I recognize that and am willing to live in that because, really, Jesus isn’t confusing at all.

Blessings,
Geoff

Bless

We live in a time of voice-controlled technology, which, most likely, will only get more so.  Imagine getting into your car and telling it to take you to an address and it asking if you want 158 on south Maple or north Maple.  It’s coming.

We sometimes forget the true power of the voice.  There are numerous ways to follow that thought but I’m heading toward faithfulness.  God, we are told, created through speaking.  “Let there be light.” LIGHT! And we can sometimes misplace the truth that our voices lean in that direction.  What we tell ourselves, about ourselves, what we say to others, about themselves, has power.  It creates.

This is the significance of the blessing in the Bible and explains why, once it is given, it’s done.  When Esau learns that Jacob received the pronounced blessing of Isaac, the words spoken over him even though he was disguised, he asks, “Is there nothing left for me?”  And there isn’t.  Isaac explains that he said it all.  When people used to say, “I give you my word”, it meant something.  One’s word was a created thing, more than a promise.  The blessing said over Jacob became literal, handing him the full inheritance.

In Romans 12, where we’re told to “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse”, we’re being told to create the world through our words.  We’re being told to join the work of God in the lost regions of another’s soul.  People who seek to do damage to others are, for the most part, damaging their own souls.  They are deadening a part that should be functioning, that should be telling them that what they’re doing should never be done to any human being.  The restoration and healing that needs to take place there must start with blessing, with the creative saying that brings life into existence.

So, we need to not only bless those who persecute us but also bless those who love us.  We need to pronounce blessing to our children and to others’ children.  We need to bless friends and neighbors.  We need to say more than truth, but to speak life, the life that should be, into the souls of those we cherish.

The deepest blessing we can bring to another comes from the place of our own healing.  Out of the damage that sought to deaden our souls, to separate us from life, God, other people, out of the healing and hope we have received comes words that carry new life.  When we bless from our own healing, we restore and heal because the ones who need that most are living in the damage and darkness of their own deadening.  This is why the word of the Lord is living and active and effective and more than just the Bible.  It is the life that comes through the Bible, from the creating word of the one who restores and heals, truly.

Blessings,
Geoff

Healing

After we are restored, reintroduced to our place in the family, we need to get healed.  All sorts of images are conjured up here of cancer disappearing, to visible disorders like leprosy, to being able to walk or talk or see again.  But the essence of healing that we find in the Bible is offered to all people and it is, quite simply, freedom.  It is the ability to move and act freely.  This may include physical healing, where the trap of restriction and even captivity of illness prevails, or it may be being set free from the constraints of the demands of life, family and society.

Healing is brought to people who are healthy and well, physically, but are mentally restrained.  Healing is brought to people who are spiritually oppressed.  Healing is brought to people who are trapped financially.  Usually, when healing takes place, the person is brought to a new understanding, similar to being restored, but with practical consequences.

They can finally move… either again or for the first time.

It is an amazing experience to find someone who is healed physically.  I have been a part of a handful of these moments.  Just last week a man came to church to tell me that it was after my prayer over him in the hospital that he began to feel well again, pulled back from the expectation that he had only a short time of life.  Another man, some time back told me that as I laid my hand on his shoulder and prayed, that a “warmth moved from (his) shoulder down to his hip” where a disease was requiring an operation.  He told me that as he came away from the prayer time he knew he was healed.  An examination, just prior to the planned surgery, revealed that this was true.

I experienced nothing within these profound moments.  I didn’t feel anything different than when I’ve prayed at any other time.  And that makes me reconsider Jesus’ words to the people who found healing with him, “Your faith has made you well.”

Faith isn’t a measure, an amount, of faith (which Jesus makes clear with his “mustard seed” parable (Matthew 17).  It’s a relationship… which tells us that it is interwoven with restoration.  When someone comes into the relationship that God always intended and, then, discovers the way life actually moves in living ways they find healing, freedom, the ability to move.  They choose to help when others shy or back off.  They walk into new understanding and their minds clear up with direction and purpose.  They find hope and relax and rest from anxiety.  Healing takes place in all sorts of arenas of our lives and the peace that comes upon us moves us to take hold of things we could never imagine were possible.

When we talk about healing we sometimes forget that this takes place in relationships, within our minds, in our spirits and can also be in our bodies.  But, once healing takes place, we find freedom and freedom is the reason Jesus came.  We sometimes forget that as well.  Salvation isn’t seen in becoming good.  It’s seen in freedom.  Once we are free in Jesus, we are free indeed.

Blessings,
Geoff

Restore

Before anything else can happen, we need to be restored.  Restoration is different than fixing something.  Anyone who spends the time restoring something, who brings the talent, creativity, love and deep strength that is required, knows that the work must be exact.  We can fix with duct tape… what can’t be fixed with duct tape… well, except ducts duct tape 2where it flaps off after the glue warms as hot air moves through the ducts. (What is up with that?) We may even be able to create with duct tape, but we can’t restore with duct tape.  Restoration requires master craftsmanship.  It requires steadiness to a vision of both what was and what will be.

And this is a curiosity about restoration.  The thing restored is both becoming what it was and also becoming something new.  When restoration is finished the old is actually lost because the new becomes a living experience.  That is the reason we restore.  We don’t restore so that something can now be put in the attic.  We restore so that there will be new participation in life.

That’s the work of God in humanity.

God’s work is restoration.  God doesn’t come to fix.  God comes to restore.  And by restoring God leads us into newness, new participation in living.

God didn’t come to make us good or better, but to restore us.

This is revealed in two particular stories (sort of three) in the stories of Jesus.  It is the story of the paralytic who is brought for healing.  This story is found in the Gospels of Mark and Luke and they are gently different.  In Mark’s version, Jesus, when looking at the friends who brought the paralytic and dug a hole in the roof to get him to Jesus, turns to the man and says, “My son…”  In Luke’s version, Jesus says, “Friend…”  The other story is the one of the woman with the bleeding disease who is healed when she touched Jesus’ clothes.  In that, when Jesus speaks to the woman he says, “Daughter…”

Friend, son, daughter… words of restoration.  Jesus restores these people into relationship.

When Christians step out into the world, we sometimes feel like we need to fix it.  So we approach it with our holy duct tape.  We use the language we’ve created that should fix whatever’s wrong.  “Sinner,” “need to be redeemed,” “accept Jesus,” “savior,” “lord”… And, for some reason this doesn’t work with most people.  Maybe that’s because we’re talking about relationships and the only thing our holy duct tape doesn’t work on is relationships.

Reconciliation… the ministry the Bible says we were called by God to do… means restoring an old friendship.  Restoration requires talent, creativity, deep strength that comes from character and love… and the work must be exact, so that it moves into new participation in life.

At First Pres this Sunday, June 11, downtown Lancaster, we’re going to have healing prayer as we call ourselves into being Authentic Church.  We’ve been doing this for 275 years this year.  We’re not doing something we haven’t done or been before.  We’re just reminding ourselves that the work of restoration is something to celebrate and through it we live into new participation in our future.

Blessings,
Geoff

How to Start

First morning of the week of the first day of the new year and I couldn’t locate a matching pair of socks.  Then, for the first time in my life I cut my upper lip, right along the line of the lip, like half-inch wide, while shaving.  And my cold, which had climbed into existence over Friday, had moved from severe congestion on Saturday to cough and some congestion by daylight.  By the time I left for church, I was thinking… This is not the way to start a new year.  But I didn’t have a choice.
This was the beginning… sneezing, coughing, bleeding (ridiculously), frustrated and tired.
So, as I made my way to church I claimed my position completely.  I said to God, “I’m not adequate for the day.”  That’s my prayer that means, “You know what’s going on.  I got nothing.  If any good comes from this it’s up to you.”
And so I went to church trusting.
Am I protected?
Should things not start off this way for me?  I’m a child of God!  Aren’t I supposed to be… ah… what?  Invulnerable?  Safe?

Naaah!

We all know that right?  In our reality we are prone to lose things, make wrong choices, hurt others, hurt ourselves, grow conceited, become bigoted, or even hang on to money to the detriment of life.  I am not safe.  I’m loved.  And I can also face the future because the future is made up of relationships and not stuff… at least it should be.
So, as I start out this new year in this abominable manner, I go recognizing first that I’m not adequate for the day (and that I need to remind myself of that)… let alone the year… or my life for that matter.  I’m not adequate.
And the only thing that will make me handle it well is my relationship with others.  If I showed up in church and everyone noticed my messed up lip but no one spoke to me about it, I would be only a face to them.  I would be a figurehead, leading the church like a wooden, carved image that might speak, but mostly just hangs out.  But that wasn’t the case, person after person asked, “Oh, did you bust up your lip.”  And I got to tell them the list of woes that started my day to which they all laughed… laughed, chuckled gently, smiled, whatever… met it with enjoyment and then reached out and rested a hand on my arm, my shoulder, my back or took my hand fully and shook it, each saying with confidence, “It will get better.”
Some said, “You’ll be better” or “You’ll be okay” or “It can only go up from here,” but they each confidently assured me toward hope.  I would not be adequate without the love of those around me, gifts of God for the people of God.
And so I face the year… bloodied, sniffling, hacking but unbowed.
I don’t need no stinking resolutions.  I just have to wake up tomorrow and start again.  That will be plenty.  I’ve got relationships and One who loves me more than I can ever figure out.

Blessings,
Geoff

All the Jesus Stuff

“At this festive season of the year,… it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.”

Why?

I called this blog “crediting marvels” because I want to take note of things that capture my attention and make me lean into wonder.  This is probably the biggest one to me.  Jesus.  Jesus… made this severe difference in the world.

The essential idea is that a construction worker from some Podunk corner of an occupied country said that every individual is significant.  He said the only way to convince them of that is to love them… each of them… one at a time.  The task he laid out for his apprentices was to deliver this message to the people they met.  The earliest way of referring to this news was that it was a “well-message.”  We turned that into “good news” and “God’s spell” and “Gospel,” but the main concept within the word was that this brought wellness to people who didn’t have it or expect it.

Everything about the well-message fit.  It was first given by a baby whose family was impoverished, day laborers.  They lived, at least for a while, as refugees and almost always as social outcasts.  There was nothing about this one that would have attracted people.  Referred to throughout his life as a bastard, he had no standing in the community.  The only thing he had was a truth people couldn’t deny.  And he brought it as just that, a plain truth to everyone who paid attention.  It came down to “this other one has the same worth as me and so I should treat them the way I’d like to be treated.”  It was just truth that was newly said as an active expression.

The best description his closest friends had for him was “God.”  The way he lived was so core to life that they couldn’t imagine anyone being able to speak wellness better than one who spoke creation into being.  It brought life.  So they began repeating the words and actions and discovered that it continued to bring life.post

Slaves, women, children… all those who were daily and individually taught they had the same value as dirt, were told the “well-message.”  And some who had power but had also discovered that its self-focused use demeaned something deep within them were drawn to it.  They ached to do what they knew they always should do with power.  This message made them well also.  Life became life.

So, all these people began to wonder and to make different choices.  They freed slaves.  They took care of special needs children or female children or sick children.  They stopped killing children.  They began to take care of others… any others.  They lived into a different expression of marriage.  They brought education and even the latest technology to those who would never otherwise receive it.  They brought rights to those who never knew them.  It wasn’t done as law first.  At first, it was simply how they chose to live and to speak.

They made this slight provision for the poor… who suffer greatly.

All the other pieces, the miracles, the resurrection, the promise of returning and the culmination of the age… all of it became proof of the well-message, but from the beginning they weren’t the point (Mark 1:38).  They just proved this truth as more deeply true than anything else.  This is why it is the biggest marvel to me.  It altered me.  So, I believe it all… all the Jesus stuff.

Blessings,

Geoff

Somewhere Out there

Somewhere out there is a person who knows this story is true.  Truth is a big deal to me because I grew up as an exquisite liar.  When I came to faith I found that truth shifted big into my priorities.  It’s been more helpful than not.  This is a true story.

I was told this story over a couple of beers in a little bar in PA by another pastor.  The story didn’t actually take a couple of beers, but it was told and we were sitting there… yeah, you get it.

So, my fellow pastor decides he needs a new suit.  That’s a big deal for a pastor.  New clothes are immediately noticed by parishioners (you know who you are).  Comments to many pastors, even complimentary comments, are received as judgments.  There are pastors who wonder what everything said to them means.  If you notice his or her new suit… perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, I guess we’re paying her pretty well.”  Or, “Hmmm… wonder if he bought that before or after the last fundraising campaign.”  Many if not most pastors are thin skinned in receiving comments.

I realize I’m not like that, but, I will admit that my son is 35 and I have a picture of him as a nine-year-old and I’m wearing the same jacket that I still wear today.  So, maybe I’m just avoiding the comments by wearing clothes until they just fall apart.

I had a man in one church offer me $250 to go out and buy a suit.  I had 3 suits that I just didn’t wear that often, but I was advised to accept the money.  Then I went to a 2 for 1 sale at a nearby men’s shop and did just that.  I have a friend who is an interior decorator, like a “let us fly you to Japan so you can do the interior of our yacht” kind of interior decorator.  When I told him about the initial offer he said, “Did you tell him ‘add $750 and then we’ll talk!’?”  I didn’t mention the sale to him.

So, anyhow, my fellow pastor gets a new suit that has to be fitted, etcetera, and so he goes to pick it up.  Since he has a meeting just after the purchase he wears the new suit out.  He arrives at a office building, parks and makes his way through the lot.  As he does he realizes there is something cutting at that soft skin in the back of his knee.  It begins to plague him as he walks and, of course, he shifts as he is walking, pinches at the material, thinks if may be a pin and stops to examine it all, walks and shifts and shifts and shifts.  All the time it is getting worse.  He can’t find anything.  There’s no lump, no pin, just the little jabbing, gently slicing feeling that gets more and more irritating.

Finally, he’s through the lobby of the building and into an elevator and heading up to the meeting.  Now, you should follow his emotional experience of this moment.  After all this frustrating irritation, he’s feeling like he’s suddenly in an enclosed space, all alone and with a few minutes to himself when he can probably take care of this issue.  He unzips his pants, hunches just a bit and jams his hand down his pant leg to right behind his knee.  As soon as his fingers touch it, he knows what it is.  It’s one of those “inspected by #3” stickers.inspected

But just as he is able to get it between two fingers, the elevator stops and the doors open.  Two women are right there, who suddenly stop their conversation and step back, staring wide-eyed at the hunched man with his hand jammed through his zipper hole.  And, of course, my friend says the worst thing he could possibly say at that moment, as the doors close, “Wait!  It’s okay!  I’m a pastor!”

Pastors will think about what other people think… forever.

Blessings,
Geoff

P.S. See… didn’t think about the election the whole time you read that, did you?