Monday, November 24, 2008

The Exploited Become the Exploiting

This past week's reading from Ezekiel was extremely convicting for me as I prepared and presented the Teaching Time to Faith Community Church. The passage begins with a rebuke of the shepherds, or leaders, God had appointed over Israel. They took advantage of the very sheep they were to lead, protect and provide for. God was displeased.

But what really haunted me was the rebuke God gives to the exploited sheep. It seems they began exploiting each other in the scarce and scary circumstances created by the bad shepherds. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? 'Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, Lean times had made the sheep mean. When things got tough, the sheep got tough on each other, too.

I thought of all the negative "normals" in which people develop. Homes with addicted parents, abuse (verbal, physical and sexual) and so on. How tragic that many in these situations repeat the offenses they found so offensive as children. We need a Shepherd, a King, to teach us a new normal.

I thought, too, of the times I have been put upon only to turn and take it out on someone else. The traffic jam, caused by a wreck, irratates me because it slows me up. So I get aggressive in my driving. The person in the "10 items or less" isle that obviously is too self-absorbed to notice she has 100 items and is upsetting MY rights and privileges. Displaced agression that expresses itself in harsh words to my family, irratibility with my coworkers and even "kicking the dog."

We need a shepherd to teach us how to face injustice like a lamb. We need a king to teach us how to be patient in suffering. We need to know what it could mean to "suffer long and remain kind."

Faith Worship

The liturgy for Faith looked like this Sunday, November 23:

Gathering Time
Call to Worship: Psalm 100 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Ticket to Worship: One "Thank you, God." Personal praise sentences.

Worship Time
Musical Praise
Come, Now Is the Time to Worship
For the Beauty of the Earth
Sing to the King.

Morning Prayers
Special Music: Offering gratefully received at this time.

Teaching Time
Lesson One: Psalm 23
Lesson Two: Ezekiel 34.11-24 'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
'As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
'Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

Teaching: The King Is Coming
Response: You Are My All in All

At the Lord's Table of Grace
Instruction, Reading (1 Corinthians 10.16-17), Invitation, Distribution and Participation
You Are My All in All (verse 2 & chorus)

Dismissal with Blessing
Hebrews 13.20-21 20 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Not Willing...

The Momma and I try to instill in our children the importance and fun of trying new things. So from time to time we introduce new experiences and foods and games to them. We hope they will at least be gracious and courteous when confronted with different things while we are guests in someone else's space.

Well...last night we served lasagne for dinner.Jillian ate all we would give her. Eli was not hip to the idea. So we applied the try-just-one-bite procedure. If Eli tried just one small bite, he would share in the cookie desert. Otherwise he would not.

He did not. He kept leaving the table. We have already established the may-I-be-excused procedure. He tried escaping the choice, begging out of the consequence and outright hostility all in an effort to avoid the lasagne. He threw such a fit that we went to phase two and started a count-down clock. Still he refused. He went to bed without desert.

As I sullenly sat in the doorway, barring his intended raid on the cookies in the kitchen, he intermitantly said, "Leave me alone" and "get away from me." I cannot tell how this tore at my heart. I was already sad that he had chosen to miss the cookie. I was distressed that he was upset.

Suddenly it was not his voice I heard. It was my own. I thought of many times I said the same thing to the Heavenly Father. My head began to spin as I thought of the human condition. What we long for is right there within easy attainment. But we stubbornly insist on our way, thinking it better than the Father's way. Humanity is broken in ways that only lead to more brokeness. All the sadness and stress would disappear if he (we) just did the requested.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, unconverted mankind spends their lifetimes saying, "Leave me alone, God." And in eternity, God will finally let us have our way...

Last night I stopped trying to convince Eli to eat. I just lay down beside him and cried, too. I could not make him do this simple thing without becoming a cruel dad. I could not remove the consequence without becoming an indulgent dad. But I could not let him face it alone. I hope that means I might be a good dad.

Every day I'm a daddy, I am overwhelmed with the love, patience and pain the Heavenly Father must have.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dual Citizenship

My people were Pilgrim Holiness. The name is a descriptor. The holiness aspect has been emphasized alot in my posts. Today, 2 days after the national election, I feel the need to stress the pilgrim aspect a little.

Many of my friends and relatives are in a state of concern, mourning and dismay after the election returns placed a liberal Democrat in the White House. My people are by nature conservative. Some have a feeling of disappointment and others a sense of dread.

But I can't get very worked up about it all. I remember the dejection and fear that gripped the conservatives when Bill Clinton was elected. I remember the predictions of woe and doom. I bought in to the fear and sadness. But we survived that period.

I remember the joy and expectation when the Republican regained the White House and Congress. Again, I bought in to the euphoria. But the Republican-controlled White House and Congress turned out to be not so very different in spending and power-grabbing for the next 8 years. We survived that period.

I keep coming to a bedrock belief that Washington, D.C. is not the center of my universe. The places of power in this world are not my hope.

"My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand."

Today, I want to affirm my Pilgrim roots. I am a dual citizen. I am an active citizen of the United States of America. I am thankful for the blessings I enjoy here. I support my country.

But I am a dual citizen. Heaven is my native land, through Jesus Christ. My country has a King, that is not subject to polls or the "will of the people." Because He is just and good and all-powerful, His governance goes on uninterupted in peace and stability.

The Roman Empire was falling to pieces. Internal corruption from the power-hungry and external invasions from barbarians tore at it. By this time the Church was the official religion and no longer an underground movement. The believers were losing hope as they saw their City being destroyed. Then Augustine called for a refocus of faith, not in the City of men (the body politic) but in the City of God (the body of Christ), the "eduring city" of Hebrews 13.14.

So today, brothers and sisters, both Democrates and Republican, Independents and Greens and Libertarians, work hard to bring righteousness, justice and peace to our land in the name of the Kingdom. Support, campaign and vote your conscience.

But look not to the City on the Potomac, look to the Coming City! Keep the anchor for your future hopes in the King who comes! Only on the New Earth will our pilgramage be over.

Just out of my reach...

Yesterday after work, we took the kids to a local playground for some good-natured goofing off in the warm sunshine. The weather is supposed to turn back to cool and cloudy in a couple of days. Jillian ran around and tried to replace all the loose gravel back in to the play area--one gravel at a time. She worked for a very long time on this task. She shows signs of real determination (stubborness.)

Eli desided he would climb the "rock wall." He loves these and usually attempts them. Most children's "walls" are generously sloped for better gripping and only 5-6 feet tall. This allows a parent to "spot" the climber to prevent falls.

The wall E attempted was at least 10 feet high. It was designed so the child could dismount onto a raised platform only 6 feet up. The first 3 times he climbed it, he used this approach. I spotted him and things were fine. He really didn't need any assistance, but I felt better providing a Papa safety net.

Attempt 4 was more adventurous. E climbed straight up and said he was going over the wall. The last 2.5 to 3 feet I could only touch the bottoms of his shoes as he struggled to throw his leg over the top of the wall and then hoist himself over.

I cannot describe the sensation of wanting to keep him safe and yet being so very proud of his adventurous spirit and obvious strength and coordination that was lifting him to conquer a challenge. Impressive for any 3 year-old, I think. A voice of panic kept rising in my throat and yet the will to act kept it from escaping my mouth. It was a most terrific and exilerating sensation that literally swept over my whole self in wave after wave.

Having clambered over the top, he looked down with an expression of joy and pride.

And as I stood there, I realized my hands were still stretching up to hold him...

...then the swurling thought that accompanied the panic/pride solidified into a crystaline form. This is the rest of my life with my boy. I will always have to balance his need for assistance with his need to attempt. I must provide support while allowing him to struggle. This panic/pride sensation will be the emotional soundtrack of my role as his Papa.

After descending the slicky-slide, he started climbing again. "Help me, Daddy," he said. At the crucial last 3 feet of his second ascent, I prayed, "Help me, Father..."

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Vote of Conscience

Yesterday I spoke to Faith Community Church about a Vote of Conscience. My goal, to describe with broad strokes the options Christ-followers have taken in regard to elections and some issues that the Scriptures address, challenged me as a speaker and I hope my folks as listeners.

I believe the Bible is not partisan but is political. Issues like support of life, care of the poor, widows and orphans, stewardship of the earth, justice, women's role in society, treatment of aliens and workers flesh out in the body politic of any society. Laws either sanction or subvert these Biblical values. Even if we choose not to engage in political activity, we must admit a political element to these issues.

Views of a Vote of Conscience

1. Declare one political party the "Christian" party. Evangelicals as a whole have adopted this view of voting since the mid 1970's. During this time the Republican party has been canonized as the Right party. Those looking at politics through this lense struggle to understand or accept that a Christ-follower could, in good conscience, vote Democrat. This outlook often expresses itself in voting "Straight-ticket."

2. Declare all political parties "Pagan." Some in my particular denominational heritage followed this thinking. The world system is evil and we are "just-a-passin'-through" anyways so leave the government to crooked politicians. Most would associate the Amish with this fortress and separatist mentality now. This view is expressed in not voting or otherwise engaging in the political process.

3. Vote on Issues of Conscience. A middle way between the extremes of #1 & #2 is to set personality and party aside. Key issues involved in each election are weighed against Kingdom building and Kingdom values. This approach requires that the Christ-follower enter into a deliberative process. A clear understanding of Kingdom values, priorities of values, position statements of candidates on the issues and comparisons must be found. Then the informed voter votes for the candidate based on Conscience.

ISSUES that GOD is Conscious of...

Not every plank of a candidate's platform rises to the level of a moral issue. Big government or smaller government, free-market capitalism or socialism or communism or feudalism, representative republic or direct democracy or even monarchy all deal with intricacies important to Americans, but not necessarily any is right or wrong. Christ's Kindgom is growing independent of all of these in every part of history and the globe.

But even a casual look at the Bible reveals several issues that are of repeated interest and emphasis.


God, in numerous places, takes a strong stand for life. God creates life. God commands man and woman to procreate life, to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." He declares life sacred and attached the sternest penalty to any man or beast that takes the life of a person.

God speaks of the unborn as persons. Psalm 139.13-16 describes the intimate involvement of God with the writer, prior to his birth. Isaiah 46.3-4 takes this "from-conception" involvement and shows it extends to the aged. Those at the ending of life are not to be discarded, as many ancient cultures thought, but supported. One's value does not depend on productivity or contribution. James 5.6 also declares God's concern for those wrongly condemned and executed. People are not to be "thrown away" or devalued even after committing henious crimes. The Bible does call for capital punishment, but sets a very high standard for its enactment. The condemned remains a person.


The prophets cried out against injustice more than any other "political" issue. The effects of sin are corporate as well as individual. Whole societies need salvaging and sanctifying. The poor often suffer injustice as those with more resources can present a more developed case in court. Many of our current practices exploit the poor -- exorbitant interest rates and fees from check-cashing companies, the lottery, rent-to-own...

The uninsured are treated differently than those with insurance. Medical and life-changing decisions are made based on ability to pay. The poor receive poor care.

God is concerned about the treatment of aliens and strangers among His people. Those visiting our country need to be treated with care and their personhood maintained. This is often a difficult mandate to balance with the need for safety and immigration control.

The worker who is defrauded honest wages also concerns the heart of God. James decried the abuse of workers that further enriched the wealthy. Today large companies make decisions in favor of profit sharing with stock holders over paying or retaining the workers that produce the profits.

God safeguards the rights of women. In Numbers 27, god affirms the inheritance rights of women. The divorce laws in Deuteronomy provide protection to women who were being "swapped" at the whim of husbands. The law specifically forbids divorcing and then later remarrying a wife after she has been remarried to another man. This effectively put an end to the trade of women as property and emphasized their personhood.


Everyone has certain basic needs. Among these are food, shelter and clothing. Matthew records Jesus' teaching about the final judgement of humanity. There God will seperate persons based on the following criteria: "I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was a stranger and you took me in." The astonished examinee will declare they can't recall doing these things for Jesus and he says, "If you did it for the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me."

Lastly, the Judge recalls that he was "sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me." Humans also need, in a very basic way, interaction with other human beings. We all too often will give toward charities that meet the basic needs of others. But we do not personally interact with others ourselves. Everyone needs to be looked in the eye, taken by the hand and given a pat on the back. No one benefits from being looked down on or ignored. No one should feel abandoned or invisible.