The Team That Screams the Loudest

When I was in school, we would often have pep rallies where teams or grade levels would throw a cheer back and forth, getting louder every time until all the students in that section were screaming at the top of their lungs. There was only one rule, the team that screams the loudest wins.

As I think about all of those poor vocal folds getting cracked and torn (it was a badge of honor to lose your voice because of your intensity) I am also pondering the issues surrounding internet communications. These lines of text are called social media, but I really have a hard time referring to a field of battle as anything approaching social. I’m feeling ranty and today’s my day off, so of course I am blogging about it.

Yesterday in a Facebook group someone shared a screen-shot of an actual conversation between two people who live just over 90 miles from me. The interaction was the worst of the worst of trolling, name-calling, accusations, stereotyping, all that was missing was ALL CAPS! What made matters worse was that one of the people involved in this vicious behavior proudly displays on their public information that they attended a university loosely affiliated with my denomination.

To understand why that even matters, I have to tell you that there aren’t that many Quakers walking around the US these days. We have a good reputation with most people who learned about our involvement with abolition, women’s rights, and the peace movement. Social justice is a pretty big deal to those who cherish our history and look to influence the world today. When a person even tenuously associated with our name gets it wrong, it makes a big splash.

The person posting brought this up. At that point I had a choice to make. I could defend this person’s ridiculous behavior or I could disown them, or I could say that not all Quakers believe the way he does. I suppose the other choice would be to scroll by and say nothing…but we all know you can’t let someone be wrong on Facebook.

I can not even begin to count the number of interactions I have seen in internet communications that leave me shaking my head at the bruised fingertips and cracked nails that fall victim to the ideology planted in our formative years that the team that screams the loudest wins.

Does it? Does it really?

Some days I think so. Those days are depressing. Those are the days that I don’t want to get our of bed or interact with other humans. I can’t stand the thought that so much of our lives, our futures, our children’s futures are being determined by who is shouting the loudest, and often the vulgar-est, and often the hateful-est. It is mob rule at its worst.

There are other days when I have faith in the subversive forms of love and service that hide their glory behind the scenes bringing peace-filled moments into the darkest places. On those first days, I try to duck my head and involve myself in those second day kinds of activities. I’m determined to be part of the solution, and shouting louder is only going to cost me my voice, and maybe my heart, and possibly my soul.

What if we gave up shouting for our teams and starting serving one another in love?

What if we stopped identifying by our ideology or our politics or our class and started living into the faith we profess? (I’m mostly talking to my Christian sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, cousins and relations–those who claim as master the one who said the absolutely greatest thing is to love God and the second to love the person next to us.)

What if we did choose to scroll by those wrong people on the internet and whisper a prayer for them instead of shouting them down with the greatest insults?

I am all for standing against injustice. I think we ought to speak the truth. I also believe the best way to do so is in person with full accountability for the things we say and do.

If I post about homelessness and do not love the homeless, I am a noisy gong or clanging symbol.
If I post about racial reconciliation and do not love individuals and communities other than those like me & mine, I am accomplishing nothing.
If I post about a cause that matters and am not actually doing anything to make things better myself, personally, on my own time, I am nothing.

Where there are tweets, they will cease.
Where there are posts, they will pass away.
Where there are selfies, they will fade.

But these remain:

Faith

Hope

Love

And the greatest of these enduring forces is Love.

ReFreshing

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When Justice Rolls Down, Don’t Get Swept Away

An address given at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration
January 16, 2017

Amos 5:24 “But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

I don’t know about you, but when I look at the world I am often discouraged. It doesn’t take much, if our eyes are open, if our hearts are tender, for us to see the trouble around us. When we watch the news, when we talk with people and hear their stories, we see injustice, oppression and evil. Everywhere we look, there are those with power lording it over the weak. People in authority abusing their positions, and the world applauds or turns away to walk on by. If we are people of compassion, this is troubling.

And I believe it is troubling to God, too. I say this because from beginning to end, we hear God’s prophets speak out on behalf of the oppressed, the powerless, the marginalized of society. Isaiah tells God’s people to stop their noisy pretense of worship and do the right thing. Micah tells God’s people that God’s requirements are simple: justice, mercy, humility. Jesus tells us God has a special relationship to the poor, the grieving, the empty, and the weak. James tells us that true religion is caring for the orphan and widow and holding the world at arm’s length. Revelation invites all who are thirsty to come. God cares about justice.

When our hearts cry out at the brokenness around us, you can be assured that we stand in agreement with the God of the universe, and we can know that we are not alone.

We are not the first people to look around and see that the world’s systems are broken. Tonight we celebrate and honor a man who stood not long ago crying out for justice. Before him marched men and women who called for release from oppression. We’ve been fighting for justice for a long time.

In tonight’s Old Testament reading, Amos the prophet spoke these words that are so familiar to our movements for justice. He says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

This is our cry for justice. This has been a freedom cry, a battle cry against oppression. We cry out for justice with these words, but did you know that this verse comes in a passage not about foreign oppression of Israel? They are not in the context of deliverance. No, they comes in a passage outlining how the nation God established has itself become an oppressor. The people were calling out for justice, but it was their justice, justice for themselves but not justice for all. This passage details God’s disappointment with God’s people. It is a lament, and a call to repentance. A call to turn from their own ways and to walk in the ways of God.

Tonight, my friends, we need to hear that call for repentance, as well. Repentance simply means a change of mind and heart, a turning from one path to another, to go a different way. All it takes is a glance at the situation where we find ourselves in the world to know that we need to walk in a different way! We need to turn away from oppression and toward justice. We need to turn away from injustice and towards the peace of God. We must turn away from our own solutions that have become idols to the power of God for deliverance.

We have a problem. We have lots of problems, but we have one big problem, one big failure that needs to be laid aside. It is not a new problem, this isn’t a 21st century problem, it’s a human problem. It is as old as Cain and Abel. It is an “us” and “them” problem. We see humanity divided into those who are righteous, like us, and those who are sinners, like them. We can also say we are divided into those who are oppressors, like them, and those who have suffered oppression, like us. This division kills compassion, it kills empathy, and mercy. It divides us and disables us. It leaves us all looking after our own self-interest and forsaking the interests of others.

We want things to be different! We try all kinds of ways to bring about change, we fight wars, we launch campaigns, we protest and lobby. We even lobby for God to get involved. For us, for our rights, for our own sense of righteousness.

We pray for deliverance from oppression, and this is good, but if we stop there, we fall short. What I want to know is do we also pray for deliverance for the oppressor?

Dr. King recognized that the one who oppresses us is also a child of God. They also stand in need of mercy, grace, love, and peace. Through their acts of oppression, they oppress themselves as well. Oppressors need to experience repentance, deliverance, and freedom from their own brand of evil that eats away at their very souls.

That is why Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. He does not say to pray that God would smite them because he knows they are smiting themselves by their own hand. Jesus does not tell us merely to pray for the persecutor, for the oppressor, but to love them. To love our enemies, Jesus says, is to reflect the very nature of God in heaven who sends rain on the just and unjust and the sun to shine on the good person and the evil person alike. Jesus does not pray for God to strike his enemies down, he prays for grace.

Dr. King echoes this call for forgiveness, compassion, and recognition of our shared humanity with those who are oppressors. In his work that we have heard from tonight “Love in Action,” we hear his words commending Christ who prayed, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” Dr. King tells us that Jesus had other choices!

…he could have said, “Father, get even with them” Then he could have said, “Father let loose the mighty thunder- bolts of righteous wrath and destroy them in their tracks.”  Then he could have said, “Father open the flood gates of justice and let the staggering avalanche of retribution pour upon them.” But this was not his response Though subjected to inexpressible agony, though suffering excruciating pain, though despised and rejected, nevertheless, He cries, “Father forgive them.”

Dr. King compels us to see that the injustice towards Christ, the very sinless Son of God, results not in a cry for revenge, but a cry for mercy. Jesus prays for their restoration. He prays for them to be forgiven and returned to a right relationship with their creator. Our nature cries out for revenge, but Christ presents another way, a path of forgiveness and wholeness and truth. The path seems impossibly hard for us! Jesus does not expect us to walk alone, it is a trail that he himself has forged before us, marking the way to peace. Jesus went first, so that we could walk in his footsteps.

I will ask it again, when we pray for deliverance from oppression, do we also pray for deliverance for the oppressor?

This is an important question to ask, not only out of concern for our fellow flawed human beings but for ourselves because:

What if we are participating in the oppression of others?

When we pray for an end to injustice, we must be careful that we are not heaping judgment upon our own heads. The prophet Amos says, “Why are you looking forward to the day of the Lord?” God’s people wanted justice, they wanted the day of the Lord to come so that there would be an end to oppression. But Amos the Prophet tells them they should not pray for it to come quickly because they are also in danger of judgment!

It is all too easy to walk through life blind to the ways in which we ourselves participate in the problems of injustice. Remember that Jesus said, “They know not what they do.” If those men had known that they were driving nails into the hands that shaped the universe, would they have continued? Or would they have fallen on their faces? Would they have cried out for mercy in anguished repentance?

Dr. King tells us:
“We must continue to see the Cross as a magnificent symbol of love conquering hate, and light overcoming darkness  But in the midst of this glowing affirmation, let us never forget that our Lord and Master was nailed to that Cross because of human blindness. Those who crucified him knew not what they did.”

My friends, tonight, I am afraid that if we called for a flood of justice and righteousness, we would ourselves be swept away. How often have we participated in oppression, and systemic injustice blindly? Sometimes that blindness comes from our culture and our media and our politics. We are blinded by rhetoric and celebrity opinion. Many times we have acted in blindness and with good intentions. Dr King says again, “Sincerity and conscientiousness are not enough History has proven that these noble virtues can be relegated to tragic vices There is nothing more dangerous in all the world than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Maybe more tragic for us than well-intentioned ignorance is that sometimes we choose blindness. We feel justified by our position and our privilege. We believe that our perspective on the world, our good intentions, and our opinions are the only ones that matter. We shut out the views and experiences of others, we refuse to listen. We stubbornly blot out any hint of imbalance or inequality in the experiences of others. We are so convinced that our experience of the world is the right one that when privilege is removed, it feels like we are being oppressed. Remove advantage given to us based on our religion, based on our race, based on our class, and the leveling of the playing field causes us to feel suddenly off-balance. We have walked crooked for so long, when we stand up-right the world itself seems slanted.

Sadly, at other times we face the temptation to participate in injustice justified by our own experience of oppression. “I was oppressed, now I will show them what it feels like to walk with a boot on their neck.” We refuse to forgive. We refuse to follow in the way of mercy. We want more than justice. We are looking for vengeance.

Dr. King has something to say about this:
“Jesus eloquently affirmed from the cross a higher law He knew that the old eye for an eye philosophy would end up leaving everybody blind. He did not seek to overcome evil with evil He overcame evil with good. Although crucified by hate, he responded with a radical love. What a magnificent lesson. Generations will continue to rise and fall, men will continue to worship the god of revenge and bow before the alter of retaliation, but ever and again this noble lesson from Calvary will come as a nagging reminder that only goodness can drive out evil, and only love can conquer hate.”

How can we call for justice to roll down like the mighty waters if we are the ones perpetuating injustice? We must ask for the light of truth to illuminate not only the darkness of our enemies, but our own darkness as well. We must cry out to God both:

Forgive them for they know not what they do…& LORD, forgive us for we know not what we do.

Those we view as oppressors need forgiveness for the ways in which they rend both their own souls and the lives of their victims. They need mercy for the brokenness brought about by ignorance to the reality in which they live. The oppressor does not need to be repressed, the oppressor needs to be regenerated. They need to be redeemed, they need to be renewed in the image of their creator. And so do we.

The truth is that we need freedom, and so do they. Let us not forget that Dr. King so eloquently said, “No one is free until we are all free.”

You and I, friends, we all need the same things. We all need the grace of God that forgives us when we know not what we do. We all desperately need the mercy of Christ who will open our eyes to injustice, not only at the hands of our society, the hands of those in power, but injustice wrought by our own hands in our own families, in our own schools, in our own churches, in our own towns and cities, and in our own hearts.

If we would pray: Forgive them for they know not what they do…LORD, forgive us for we know not what we do, that would make a good start because:

Justice begins with repentance.

 I want to share a story with you to illustrate my point. It goes like this:

There was a man who had a problem. You see this man had a neighbor with a speck in her eye. This speck bothered that man and he was troubled day and night over the inability for that woman to see clearly. He was worried about her family. He was worried about her kids. He was worried about her workplace. He was worried about how this speck, this impediment to her vision would affect her community involvement, her church attendance, her giving to the poor. He was so worried about it that one day—he was determined to help her, you understand—one day he walked over to her house with a first-aid kit. He had tweezers and antibiotic drops and gauze bandages. He was going to help her with her speck, but she would not let him in the door. You see, he had a bigger problem of his own. There was a tree branch stuck in his eye.

Maybe it will be more familiar this way:

Jesus said “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

Justice begins with repentance. It begins with our own repentance. It begins with a recognition that we are all God’s children. That we have all gone astray, each one to their own way. We all need to have our sin-wounds bandaged. We all need to have our feet set on paths of righteousness for God’s name sake and for the sake of our souls. We must have our understanding broadened to see the ways in which we have participated in oppression. We must acknowledge that we have not loved our enemies, we have not prayed for our persecutors, we have not sought God’s peace, but instead we have walked in our own way. We call for justice, but chase vengeance. We call for freedom, while putting others in chains. We call for the healing of our nation and our world, and we think we will get there if we can only convince that “other person” to let us take the speck out of their eye.

Friends, I stand before you and admit, I am guilty. I will confess with the Apostle Paul that I have not already attained all this, nor have I already been made perfect. I do not stand above you as one who is free from this trap. I find myself making an idol of my own causes and methods and heroes and programs. Likewise, I find myself making demons of those who stand opposed. I need to repent, to turn away from my path to the pathway of God that leads to true peace. I want a peace that is not just an absence of conflict, but a peace that restores. I need this peace.

We all need this peace of God that begins at the root of who we are, a healing and a wholeness that leaks out, pouring forth into the lives of others, flowing over the land and filling the whole earth. If we want an end to injustice, we must seek this peace and pursue it in our lives and communities, increasing the health of our bodies and the justice in our society. We can only find this peace in a person, the Prince of Peace himself, the embodiment of the Divine who showed us how to walk in peace regardless of the absence of peace in the world around us.

This is how I want to see God’s justice roll down, not in a wave of destruction, but as a well of living water bubbling up from within to bring healing to nations, starting right here. It can start right now, in our hearts, in our homes and our churches and our community!

Our nation may be like God’s people of old, a people freed from tyranny turning that tyranny on others. But there is hope. There is hope in each one who will turn away from injustice and cry out for mercy. There is hope every time two or three gather to pray for release for the oppressed and restoration of the oppressor. There is hope when we recognize our common humanity and humbly seek restoration in ourselves as well as the world around us.

Then, and only then, we can pray for God’s justice to roll down like a mighty water, then we can call forth righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, and we can be confident in that day that we are already moving in the flow of those waters, and we will have no fear of being swept away.

 

 

Good in the world

I believe that God is at work in the world.

As a Christian, this should not be a controversial statement, but many would disagree, at least in practice. If we believe the world is a scary place, full of danger, darkness, hatred, and pain; if we then live our lives in fear, isolation, protectionism, and suspicion; if we define other people as our enemy and trash creation–if any of these are true–then we are denying the reality of God at work in our world.

I believe God created the heavens and the earth. I have no idea how that happened, what it meant for God to speak and suddenly photons are flying through space at the speed of themselves. I do not know how God formed the earth, lit the stars, set the universe in motion, or sparked life into existence. I stand in awe of the beauty and complexity of creation and am constantly amazed at the scientific discoveries that show this world in ever smaller, ever greater, degrees of complexity.

I believe there is beauty in the world. I see the sky and the clouds, the deep endless variety of blue that as a Kansas girl provides the boundaries of my visible world. I drive the Flint Hills and observe the green, brown, yellow foliage that feeds animals wild and domestic. I see the frolicking calves, the bounding deer, the soaring eagle and flitting swallows playing in spaces that fit them like a tailored suit.

I meet people whose individual personalities delight me, from the cynic, to the organizer, to the ever-optimistic, to the deeply compassionate, the humorist, the critic. Each one with perspectives to share, experiences to recount, and a light to shine.

I do not see the world through rose-colored lenses, though. I know there is pain. I know there is violence. I know both are closer than I want to admit. Each one of those people I meet have scars, I have them myself.

But I believe we have a choice.

We can choose to see the good, beautiful, gracious gift of the world and all who are in it or we can cower in fear that pain will come knocking on our door. We can set our eyes on God at work in the world and receive comfort knowing that we are not alone in seeking good and just and beautiful endings. We can choose to join God in pursuing dreams of a world that is healed, and lives that are healed, and communities that are healed.

We could also choose to shut ourselves away. We could focus on the darkness. We could build our walls higher, our moats deeper, our cannons larger, our swords sharper.

When the darkness is the biggest presence in our view, it is impossible to walk in love. Love requires an open heart, and fear shuts it down. Love requires the willingness to sacrifice, but fear makes us hoarders. Love requires that we listen and learn from one another, but fear galvanizes our opinions until we are incapable of hearing and considering the perspectives of others.

I believe God is at work in the world and is looking for people to join in. God’s work is love in action. Will we choose to see the light of love and rejoice, or will we fixate on the darkness?

A Refreshing choice.

Fundamentals—How Now Shall I Live?

 

We’ve been asking the question for millennia.

How do I live my life? What is the guiding principle behind the decisions I make?

Facebook Responses How do I live

We struggle, even those who have considered carefully how we should live. We don’t always know how to apply the moral and ethical ideals that drive us. We are not always going to get it right, but we are called to walk in love, to seek the good of others, to serve them and seek to honor them.

Humility is Key

In the book of the prophet Micah, the question is asked how do I approach God to please him?

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings…Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil…?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:6-8

God is not interested in our appeasement or sacrifices. God desires that we walk in humility and love each other.

This is a problem for me, because I love to be right. There is nothing I want more than to always be right about everything in every conversation and every argument, and make every right choice. Always.

Except I am not, and neither are you. We can be assured that on some points, we will get it wrong. From time to time we will each believe and say and do wrong things. There are no exceptions, which is why it is so important to walk in humility and grace that sets us free.

Liberty.
Christian liberty is to be granted in all areas not essential to one’s final salvation. Due to human imperfection there are differences of faith and practice among God’s children, but they anticipate a time of greater unity in the faith. Until that time there must be unity in essentials but liberty in non-essentials, with love in all things.
EFC-MAYM Faith and Practice

Giving up power & position

Humility is a daily attitude recognizing that our status is not the most important thing. It doesn’t matter if I have an impressive title or great reputation if all I do is serve my own self interest. We are called to follow God’s example of using our gifts, talents, and resources to serve others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…
Philippians 2:5-7

Choosing to love

Our humility, our service, our lives are empty if we do not act in love. Love is not a fuzzy feeling or something that drifts with our moods. Love is a desire and determination to seek the good of the loved one. Love means choosing to do good for someone even if you disagree.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children  and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

God calls us to join in the work of reconciliation, to join in actively seeking the good of our neighbor along with ourselves and our world. It begins with humility and it looks like love.

 

 

 

 

 

A week of sorrow

My heart is broken.

It’s been achy all week, and the tears have been so close to the surface.

I hurt for the survivors of the night club shooting in Orlando, FL.

I weep with the families of those whose loved ones were murdered.

I am desperately beside myself with the grief of knowing that so many of those who are affected by this tragedy are convinced that God hates them. Because that is the only message they have heard from Christians.

Not all Christians think that way. Not all Christians (even those who are not affirming) believe that way. But all too often, we let the voice of the extremist shout “God hates fags!” without a rebuttal.

So here’s my rebuttal. God loves human beings.

The Gospel is that God put on human flesh to dwell with humans in our beauty and brokenness, to walk with us. Jesus spent his time looking into the eyes of sinners. Touching them. Healing them.

Loving us.

Here is a trustworthy saying, Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst. -The Apostle Paul

Whoever is without sin, let him cast the first stone. -Jesus the Messiah

It is time for Christians to stand up. Speak out. Love.

I am the worst sinner, I have no stones to throw. All I have to offer is the grace, mercy, kindness and love of God that have turned my life around.

God loves every person involved in this tragedy. From the straight cis to the gender fluid, and everyone in between, God’s love does not hinge on our sexuality.

It didn’t for Rahab.

It didn’t for the Samaritan woman.

It didn’t for the one who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.

God does not require that we cleanse ourselves, or make ourselves Holy or perfect. God’s invitation is clear, “Come to me those who are weary with heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” If you are tired. If you are heavy with grief and the weight of the world, come.

Come sit in God’s presence and pour out your heart.

Come with your anger. Your pain.

Come with your questions. Your doubt.

Just come.

God is waiting.

God wants to heal.

God loves

You.

 

For Orlando, for those who died, I will not be silent.

Fundamentals—Humanity

With the topic of the human condition we inevitably include the issue of sin. Don’t click away! This isn’t your average bash-you-over-the-head discussion of sin.

I asked my Facebook friends for questions they ponder about humanity and sin.

Facebook Questions Sin

To begin to understand humanity we have to start with creation.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:26, 31

God caps off creation by making people, and surveying all that was made, issues a declaration that it is “Very Good!” I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met anyone yet who would look at the world and say that everything is just as it should be. We may have different views of what would make a perfect world, but we all agree, this isn’t it.

If we keep reading, we find a story about why all is not right with the world. It tells of man and woman going outside the will of God in effort to become more like God. The temptation was to see creation as incomplete, especially in regard to just how much divinity was instilled in humanity. The result? Relationships were broken and fear was born.

Mutiny and the Beginning of the Blame Game

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
Genesis 3:8-9

God came walking in the garden, and the people hid. When asked what happened to change their relationship, the man points the finger at the woman and at God.

“The woman you put here with me—she did it. It’s her fault!”

And the woman passed the buck to a fellow creature.

“It was the serpent! He did it!”

The writer of Genesis tells us in detail what our brokenness looks like. Distance from God. Disturbance in our relationships with self & others. Fighting for survival in a hostile world.

We still see the same things thousands of years later. And we are still playing the blame game. There’s just this one nagging problem.

We have no Leg to Stand On

One thing we all agree on regarding sin is of course which sin is the worst, right?

Somebody else’s.

Ask anyone and they can tell you why their mistakes are understandable, their choices justified, and why that person over there is a big-fat-sinner. You might think this is the official position of the church, but the writer of Romans disagrees:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
Romans 2:1-4

By sitting in judgment over others, we go back to that first temptation to put ourselves in God’s place! And we don’t do a very good job of responding to failure with kindness, forbearance and patience. We don’t even respond to our own sin in that way. By seeking to justify our actions, we just bury the lead that sin is sin because it is destructive. Wounds need to be cared for with kindness and our sin needs to be addressed with grace.

Repentance is built on an acknowledgment that we are wounded and in need of care. It is literally translated as a change of mind. We change our minds, our attitudes about the choices we are making. Instead of duct-taping that gash on our leg and crossing our fingers that gangrene doesn’t set in, let’s go to the doctor and get some actual medical help!

Our Attitude Should Be Humble

Especially those who are Christians, we have received nothing from God but kindness and patience, who are we to condemn someone else? The Apostle Paul has a great take on sin. I think it needs to become our new Christian talking point in regard to sin.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.
1 Timothy 1:15

Not because we are worthless, but because we know better and choose to wound ourselves and others anyway. We have great value as image-bearers of God, and we are ALL worthy of spiritual healthcare. When we choose to see our failure as worse than the person in front of us, and we know that God has responded to us with grace, we are better situated to dispense that grace freely as well. If God has forgiven my sin and accepted me as a full heir of Heaven, God can accept anyone.

Sin describes where we go wrong, but it is not the end of the story. It isn’t even the biggest part of the story. Would you find it refreshing if I told you that what is broken can be restored? What if it is God’s dream to make it all “Very Good” again? Check out the next post in this series on Salvation.

Fundamentals—Who is God?

I don’t typically post my sermons on this blog. This series is going to be an exception. Six weeks of the basics of belief for me and many of those who follow Jesus calling ourselves Friends or Quakers. This will not represent everyone, or even a majority view, but I believe these messages bring a valuable perspective to the table.

When I planned this series a few months ago, it all seemed so simple to cover what we believe about the basics in a short summer series. 6 weeks is what I have allowed for the fundamentals of our faith. It looks great on a calendar and the topics divide easily enough, but as I was preparing to cover everything we believe about who God is in one 25 minute sermon I felt a bit foolish. How do I cover Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– in 8 minutes each? An impossible goal when we have been pondering, debating and seeking for millennia to describe God. Maybe I was just a little bit optimistic in my planning. But here we are, and we are going to do our best, knowing that there is simply no way that we will cover it all.

In my research, I came across this amazing video from The Work of the People. The first half seeks to answer our question, “Who is God?” the second half deals with our response as believers. (If you don’t have time, for our purposes you can stop it around 4:00, but I would recommend the entire video, about 8minutes.)

 

In preparation this message, I reached out on Facebook and Twitter to see what questions people had about God. I don’t want to just give you the Faith and Practice definition of our faith in God, I will do that in a moment, but I want to make sure the information I am giving answers actual questions from real people. (Much of our teachings and preaching in the Church over the years have presented answers pretend questions from hypothetical people.)

Here are some of the questions I received in response: (Some serious, some obviously tongue in cheek.)
I find it interesting that when I asked for questions about who God is, the responses came in the form of questions about creation, about sickness, about belief, atonement, the trinity, and the Church. At first, I wanted to respond by clarifying that these are supposed to be questions about GOD, but then I realized that they are! These are questions about whether God is good, loving, trustworthy, or greedy, uncaring, and cruel, and whether that has any bearing on the way believers live their lives. They are questions not about the theological definitions, but about the practical reality of life on this earth.

We believe a lot of things about God, that God existed before all things, and that God will exist forever–the alpha and omega, beginning and the end. We believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and existing everywhere, all the time. These are important, and we profess them, but it all comes down to how this affects us where we live. Don’t tell me about God in high-sounding language, tell me how God affects my daily life!

The EFC-MAYM Faith and Practice says this about God:
God.
There is one sovereign God who is revealed through the Bible in the person of His son, Jesus Christ. God is the Maker and Preserver of all things; He alone is worthy of worship. In the unity of the Godhead exist three equal and distinct, yet inseparable, persons: the Father, the Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The Christian Church generally accepts the doctrine of the Trinity and many other theological descriptions of God which are such great mysteries that no one has yet given a good explanation of how and why they work. We have all kinds of analogies to describe the Trinity from shamrocks to Oreo cookies, and they move in the right direction but they all fall short. What we do know and accept and approve and believe is the “who.”

We believe that God reveals himself to the world most clearly and personally through Jesus. We believe the Holy Spirit moved in the Old Testament to empower the prophets and leaders of God’s people, anointed and infused Christ’s ministry on earth, and is freely given to all who will choose to become followers of Jesus Christ in order to direct, equip and empower them to live as citizens of God’s kingdom. We don’t know how it all works, but we trust that it is true. We trust that Jesus is God’s only begotten or uniquely begotten son, but about how that came to be our scriptures are less than forthcoming. Like the process of creation, the trinity and the conception of Christ are left as mysteries.

God is credited with the creation of all things, John tells us the Word-Jesus- was the means of Creation. In him all things were made, without him, nothing was made that has been made. Genesis tells us that before the start of creation on earth, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. Creation is God’s masterpiece, and every part of the God-head took part in crafting something beautiful, so why is it so broken and painful? We will talk about sin in a future message, but it needs to be said here that God is not the only one influencing things on earth.

There are other forces at play, physical and spiritual ones. God created the earth, and God is the rightful owner, but God gives his creations the ability to make choices. Every part of creation, from angelic beings to the smallest microbe, all have freedom within their scope. God does not control everything like a cosmic puppet master. If he did, that god would be cruel indeed with all of the wars, oppression, injustice, sickness, and death. If the god of the universe was the cause of all those things, we should despair of ever seeing goodness because not even heaven would be safe. But our God is not that. Our God is all-powerful, and all-loving which means our God allows for free choices to be made, freedom is a prerequisite of love relationships. It is rare for God to exercise his power over creation, taking control from his created beings. That is why miracles are so miraculous.

What it boils down to is this, God is not the only one influencing what we see around us. Other spiritual forces are at play in our world, as well. The Bible refers to them in many ways, but one I have always found intriguing is “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” There are Spiritual forces working diligently to cause destruction and to incite rebellion. These spiritual forces are real, and they are active, but they may not be the biggest threat to creation.

Our God seeks to draw our hearts to himself so that we make the right choices, but God does not force us to choose what is good, or right, or healthy for ourselves and others.

Humanity was given dominion over the earth, God entrusted the stewardship of creation to us. That means we can destroy creation if we want to. We can hunt animals to extinction. We can bomb the cities of our neighbor. We can enslave the children across the street and around the world to cater to our whims. We can do these things, and we do every day. These things can happen because God is not a dictator.

We want God to give us freedom, he has. We want to do whatever we please, we can.

But we are not free from the consequences. If I kill you, you are dead. The end.

Here is how God describes himself in Exodus 34 as he reveals himself to Moses on the mountain:
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
Exodus 34:6-7

Perhaps the most amazing thing is that God continues to sustain creation through his loving grace. God continues to pour forth creative power to breathe life into the next generation and the next. “In him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28

Here is what other Bible-writers say about God:
One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: ‘Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love.'” Psalm 62:11 
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Hebrews 1:3
The Son is the image of the invisible God.” Colossians 1:15
God is Love.” 1 John 4:20
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9

God’s attitude towards creation, all he has made, including you and me, is love. God looked at creation and declared it to be very good. God’s love continues to reach towards us even when we are not following God, believing God, or even when we are actively running from God. God’s love is not dependent on our response.

God’s love and mercy abound as much as God’s truth. That does not mean that we don’t face the consequences of our actions, or even that we are the only ones who suffer when we choose poorly. God’s love does not mean that we will not face trouble or persecution or hardship or poverty or even a violent death at the hands of violent people. But we are promised again and again that when we walk through difficulty, God walks with us. God walked the most painful and sacrificial of roads to demonstrate his love for us. Why do we think he will shrink back from our pain and brokenness today?

“He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.”
Psalm 91:15
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:38-39
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

God is love, God is good, God is with us, and we can trust him. God loves us and wants to be in fellowship with us. God has revealed himself in the person of Jesus, the exact representation of his likeness and possessing God’s full character. If you have images or definitions in your mind and heart that do not look like Jesus, it is time to let them go. If you have been told that God isn’t loving, or that God only loves some people—the good and perfect ones—it is time to let that go.

God demonstrated his love for us in this, while we were still at war with God, he stepped out of Heaven into the flesh to live and teach and walk among us, to show us who he is and to demonstrate the lengths to which he would go to seek reconciliation with this broken humanity. I hope this prompts in you a desire for a renewed sense of God’s heart, and maybe also to challenge old and inaccurate pictures that seek to take the place of the truth that God is the creator and sustainer and healer of all things because of his unfailing love.

Perceiving God’s heart,
ReFreshing