Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Free but not easy

Does receiving something free make it easier to accept? I think it might just make it more difficult.

I recently bought a membership to an online audiobook club. This site has hundreds of audiobooks available for download. Since I spend so much time in my car, I thought this would be a great investment. To make it even better, for signing up I received one “free” credit. I get a free audiobook!

That was almost a week ago. I have perused the site at least once a day trying to decide on which book I want to use my free credit. I still have not decided. Why is this so difficult? There are plenty of books available, and many in which I am interested.

I think the problem is that since I have only one “free” credit, I want to choose wisely. I want to get the most bang for my “free” buck. Who would want to waste a free pick on something that is not worth very much?

I began to wonder. (I always begin to wonder.) Does this indecisiveness have any implications for my life as a Christian? Yes, I think it does. (I always think it does.)

The problem I am having using my “free” credit is I know once it is gone, it is gone. I can’t go back and change my decision. Nothing else is free.

I wonder if some of us thing of the Gospel in similar terms. There is so much that we want; much that we know we need, yet we can’t quite believe that all God offers us in Jesus is actually free. Not “free,” but free.

Some of us, for instance, accept that God offers us forgiveness. Some of us accept that God offers us a joyful life. Some of us accept that God offers us victory over death. Some of us accept that God offers us healing for the wounds of our hearts.

But I wonder if we can really accept that God offers us ALL these things. We do not have to pick one! That’s what I call good news!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

New sermon series coming

If I told you Jesus was secretly married to Mary Magdalene, would you believe me? If I told you Jesus also fathered children, what would you think?

Most of you, I’m sure, would claim I must be mad. Some of you would accuse me of heresy and call my Bishop. Some of you would wonder if it could really be true.

If I dressed up such claims in a wildly popular novel, and claimed that though the story was fictional all the historical claims in it were true, then you would want to see the movie. It opens next month.

I read Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code a couple of years ago. It is a very compellingly written story. I did not want to put it down.

It is also full of historical inaccuracies and claims that have no basis in reality. That should be okay since that is the nature of fiction.

Dan Brown’s bestseller has spiked attention to what are called the “Gnostic gospels;” a group of writings about Jesus that make claims that diverge widely from traditional history and Christianity. It seems even the History Channel is buying into Dan Brown’s version.

One of the traditional Christian responses to this movie would be to boycott it. We could raise a ruckus about how persecuted real Christians are these days. We could organize protests and picket theaters. All of which would achieve at best a yawn from the unchurched public and at worst guarantee an increased number of ticket sales.

What if, rather than whine or complain, rather than loudly condemn the whole lot of “them” to hell, rather than shake our heads with disgust at “the direction society is heading,” we engage the culture around us. What if we take up conversations with these millions of people who, for whatever reason, are interested in Jesus but not in the church?

For the next four weeks at the First United Methodist Church of McGregor, we will be dealing with how we as Christians ought to engage culture. Paul calls us to “make the most of every opportunity.” There are huge opportunities before us. Are you ready?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Are there really NO stupid questions?

This post won't be as organized as most, but I've got to write something.

I'm watching the History Channel's show "Mysteries of the Bible." This particular episode is about the Galilee of Jesus' day. I don't mean to seem conspiratorial, but here is a quick list of concerns I have over this show which allegedly deal with history.

Here are a few of points that have raised my ire and called for this post:

1) The show alleges that the Galilee is not at all like tradition has the biblical version fo the Galilee. Rather than a quaint, pastoral village, it was a bustling place of business, so archaeologists have found. The trouble is that the bible doesn't allege or base any claims on the Galilee being only a farm region

2) The point of Jesus' "render unto Caesar" story is interpreted as though Jesus meant to imply that his ministry is not at all concerned with physical, material things. The trouble is Jesus was speaking in terms of politics and graven images,not in terms of all things material.

3) The show makes a huge deal about the Gospels entirely ignoring the city of Sepharis, bigger than other cities of the era and region, alleged hometown of Mary, mother of Jesus, and "bigger and more important than Cana, where Jesus went to initiate his ministry." Scholars, at least the ones on this show, are stymied at this "problem."
The trouble is at least as John reports it, Jesus did not go to Cana to initiate his ministry. That was his mother's idea (John 2:3). While supposed scholars are confused why Jesus went to Cana rather than Sepharis, I have a pretty simple anwser: That's where the wedding was! I'm not sure what to make of the ommission of Sepharis from the Gospel accounts, except that I imagine it is not the only place in the Holy Land that is not mentioned in the Gospel. (Perhaps the Sepharis Chamber of Commerce chose not to market their town to the Evangelists)

The show isn't bad; but it isn't particularly informative either. It opened with a 1986 discovery of a ship from "about the time of Jesus." No particular claims are made from the boat or from anything learned therefrom, but it does give the hour long show an air of credibility. This show needs a lot more air.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Real Me and You

Why do we treat strangers better than we treat loved ones? No, not all the time, but most of us will say things to family and close friends that are rude, even hateful. We justify saying these things by telling ourselves it is ok; we can “let down our hair” with people we know well. With friends and family we can “be who we really are.”

“Who we really are” isn’t always very pretty. That’s why we learn early to put up a front, to be polite when company is over, to behave a certain way in church, and to say “yes, sir,” “no, sir,” “yes, ma’am,” and “no, ma’am” to people we don’t know. In public and polite company we act the way we ought to act rather than being who we really are.

Being around people who love us is not the only environment that brings out this notion of who we really are. When we are stressed, tired, or otherwise pushed to our limits we also tend to let down our guard and act out without taking the time and energy to consider what we say and how we act before saying and acting.

If you don’t see it yet, let me clarify: isn’t it pathetic that “who we really are” is something that we rightly hide in public? What does it say about our lives that we think it is usually inappropriate to simply act like ourselves?

By contrast, consider Jesus, whose crucifixion and resurrection we remember and observe this week. After having been abandoned by his friends, beaten by his enemies and hung on a cross, Jesus, at a stress level beyond my imagination, welcomed a thief into paradise, commissioned his mother into the care of a disciple, and asked God to forgive all of us.

At the very point that we would all understand Jesus getting justifiably ticked at everyone, he loved. I have no doubt Jesus was under too much stress and in to great a pain to carefully consider how he ought to behave in public. “Who he really is” is seen when we look at how he acted on the cross.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” - John 14:12

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Rule of Law? Really?

Is the United States a nation under the rule of law or the rule of emotion? Zacharias Moussaoui has been convicted and is currently in the sentencing phase of his trial. As I understand Virginia law, the jury will recommend sentencing, but it is finally up to the judge.

The goal of the prosecution in the case is to convince the jury to recommend the death penalty. I am not interested in dealing here with the death penalty itself (call or email me if you’d like to discuss that), but with the method the prosecution is using to guide the jury.

“America’s Mayor,” Rudy Giuliani was among the witnesses who offered testimony. Today (Monday) family members of victims of the September 11 attacks will weigh in. To my knowledge, and according to all the reports I have heard, none of these witnesses can connect Moussaoui to the attacks.

What each of these witnesses can do, however, is remind the jury how devastating that day was in American history. As if any of us can forget, the jury in Alexandria will be taken as close to those days of shock and confusion as possible.

Here is my concern: should Moussaoui’s life or death be determined on the basis of how bad 12 people feel about how extreme the September 11 tragedy was? Is the death penalty about severe payment for crimes that we feel really bad about?

Perhaps Virginia has some criteria for legally determining which capital crimes are punishable by death and which are not; most states do. Even if I support the death penalty, I surely don’t support it’s application for crimes on the basis of which ones most disturb us.

After all, they tell us the United States is governed by the rule of law. Unless, perhaps, it helps to make the jury feel really bad about something. Then it is ok to be ruled by emotion.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Whose Time Is It?

I was finally growing up! I was taking control of my own life; just like Dr. Phil suggests. In the past couple of months, I have realized the newfound freedom of not having time for everyone who wants to make some claim on my life or my time.

I used to fall victim to anyone who happened to stop by the office, or even to anyone whose path I crossed who might want a “few minutes of your time.” It didn’t matter what I was doing or where I was on my way to, I was compelled to stop and listen and respond appropriately.

Until recently, that is. Recently I have finally realized that just because it fit the other person’s schedule to see me or stop me or want (or “need”) to talk, it didn’t have to fit mine. After all; I am as important as the next person! My time is as valuable as anyone else’s.

“Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” Romans 1:22. They are me.

I am quite sure it wasn’t really convenient for Jesus to leave the Father’s side to come to earth and live as a human; to be betrayed, hated, lied to and lied about, mocked, and killed. Yet he willingly left heaven to come so that we might be welcomed back into fellowship with God.

Yeah, I’ve got things to do, places to go, people to see. But my time is not my own; it is God’s.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hurry! Read this before it's too late!

I received an email earlier this week that read:

On Wednesday, at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06.

That won't ever happen again.

You may now return to your (normal?) life.

Were you aware of that unique lining up of the numbers of time and date? Some of you quickly point out that this “clever scheme” is inaccurate because it leave out the “20” on the year. The brighter among us might point out that according to the Jewish Calendar the year is 5766. According to the Chinese calendar, it is the Year of the Dog, and I don’t know what number goes along with that (though I’m sure you would have to divide it by 7 to get the human year).

The email spoke truth; according to our calendar and time keeping methods, it will never again be 01:02:03 04/05/06. At least not for another thousand years.

The deeper truth, of course, is that the moment you just took to read this won’t ever come by again; not even after another thousand years.

What you and I do with our moments is always significant, whether or not the numbers on our clocks and calendars line up.