Who Are We?


A Meditation for 31 January 2016, the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C), based on Jeremiah 4: 1 – 10, 1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 13, and Luke 4: 21 – 30

There is something rather Calvinistic (if there is such a word) about the Old Testament reading for today. If God does know me in the womb, does that mean that our lives are laid out before we are born and nothing we say or do changes the outcome? Or does God see in each of us the untapped potential that we all have? I, of course, would prefer the latter, for that gives us the opportunity to do the work that we have to do.

Standing before the people of Nazareth in the synagogue that Sabbath day some two thousand years ago, Jesus spoke of the prophecy being fulfilled. He knew what He had to do and He most definitely knew where it would lead Him. Make no mistake, if Jesus had not gone to the Cross, the narrative of life today would have been different. The difficulty that Christ had then and each one of us has today is that society defines who we are before we are born and places limits on what it is we can do based on where we were born, our race, our gender, our economic status. And when we placed limits on anyone, it becomes very difficult for anyone to see the potential you have.

If, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, there is no love behind our actions, then all is for naught. If we, as a society and as a people, do not have love for others in our society, then we are in effect shutting them out of the future. Our love for others has to be such that each person meets his or her greatest potential.

If, however, we live in a society based on our fears, our bias, and our ignorance, then we are no better than those who heard Jesus speak that first Sabbath and ask how it is that the local carpenter’s son could say such things. And our reaction today, sadly, would be the same as it was then, where because of our fears, our bias, and our ignorance we destroy or limit those who have the potential for good.

Our call today is very simple. If we say that we are Christians, then there is love in our actions. We do things, perhaps feed the hungry, heal the sick, or free the oppressed, not because it will get us something but rather because we love those people and do not like seeing them sick, hurt, hungry, or oppressed. And if we merely say that we are Christians but then do nothing, then our words and actions ring hollow and false. And in today’s world, it is quite easy to hear hollow words and see false action.

The season of Lent is two weeks away; the call for repentance and the beginning of new life, a life in Christ is two weeks away. But we must begin today. We must work for the revival of the Holy Spirit and for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and the lives of all those we touch, either personally or peripherally.

We must speak out against injustice and repression because Jesus spoke out against it. We must help people get healthcare and housing, not because it is the political thing to do but because the prophecy calls for it.

And when someone happens to ask us who we are, we can say that we are followers of Christ, who came to this world to save us from slavery to sin and death, to a live free and eternal.

My closing question this day is a very simple one, who are you?

Happenings with Energion Publishing


Last night (Tuesday, January 19, 2016), as noted below, I was part of the discusson on Creation and science.  My contribution was in the area of basic science concepts.

Tuesday Night (January 19, 2016, 7 pm Central Time): Dr. David Moffett-Moore, author of Creation in Contemporary Experience, discussing our ethical obligation to care for our planet (7:00 pm to 7:27 pm), then Dr. Tony Mitchell will discuss some basic concepts in science (7:33 pm to 8:00 pm).

The Four Gospels of American Christianity


No, this is not about the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It isn’t even about the Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Mary Magdalene, or Judas Iscariot.

Rather, it is about how I perceive churches in America operating in today’s society. This is not any sort of scientific study but perhaps anecdotal in nature. But in a world and a society where how Christianity is perceived, it might help if we consider what it is we do as a church and how it reflects on Christianity and on us.

This critique is not about the style of worship but the meaning of worship. There is an argument in churches today that music must be modern in nature, to appeal to those outside the walls of the church. But if the message that the people hear when they come is not a true message, then being hip or cool will not keep them there.  Nor is this an issue of the use of technology in today’s church.  You may use the newest and best technology but, again, if the message is old, out-dated, or limiting, all that new technology does is highlight how wrong it might be.

The “Four Gospels of American Christianity” are:

  • The Corporate Gospel
  • The Prosperity Gospel
  • The Old Testament Gospel
  • The True Gospel

The Corporate Gospel

For me, churches who believe in the “corporate gospel” are driven by the bottom line. The bills must be paid first and the building must be in excellent condition. Members of the congregation are more like customers who purchase time on Sunday. There is a set time for the service each week and members of the congregation are expected to be there at that time and in their proper seats. There are no deviations from the time or style of worship. The message given each Sunday by the pastor is very easy and never demanding, almost to the point of having no meaning at all; for to do so would drive away the customers. If churches operating on the corporate gospel have one redeeming value, it is that the coffee is good and the snacks served during the post-service fellowship hour are fresh.

The building and the operation of the building is the primary ministry of these churches. Help for the community around the church or in the world is secondary.

The Prosperity Gospel

Churches utilizing the prosperity gospel are churches filled with glitz and glamour. Pastors leading the service are among the most well-dressed individuals you will ever find because God expects them to dress that way. But suits and outfits which cost on the order of one thousand dollars require money and money is the driving force of these churches. The members of these churches give their money to support the communications ministries of the church (which are some of the best ministries in the business) but the money goes to support the minister and the life-style of the church.

Often times, it is very hard to discern where the focus of the message and the mission of the church lie because the traditional symbols of the church are missing or secondary in nature.

The Old Testament Gospel Church

If anything, churches that focus on the Old Testament as their gospel shouldn’t be even be considered Christian in nature. If the meaning of the word “gospel” is “the good news”, then it essentially applies to the New Testament. Churches who use the Old Testament as their gospel may be considered fundamentalist in nature. They have a fundamental understanding of the message of Christ but it has gotten lost in legalistic nature of their structure, much like the church establishment did in the time when Jesus began His ministry in the Galilee.

The gospel of the Old Testament is a very legalistic gospel but without much love or understanding. It is very much in tune with the written laws and regulations of the Old Testament but has no understanding of why those laws and regulations were even considered two thousand years ago, let alone today.

Christ told those who questioned his attitude towards the laws and regulations that He came to fulfill the law the following:

Completing God’s Law

Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working. (Matthew 5:17-18, The Message)

Clarence Jordan, translating Matthew from the original Greek, wrote it this way:

Don’t ever think that I’m trying to destroy the moral and religious principles of our way of life. My purpose is not to destroy them but to establish them. For I truthfully tell you that as long as he)aven and earth remain, not one dotting of an “i” or crossing of a “t” will be eliminated from our highest and noblest ideals until every one of them becomes a reality. So then, if anyone disregards one of the least of these God-given principles, and encourages others to do so, he shall be considered unimportant in God’s new order of the Spirit. But whoever lives by them and upholds them shall be considered vital to God’s new order of the Spirit. (Matthew 5: 17 – 19, The Cotton Patch Gospel of Matthew)

Now, same may argue that Jesus’ words, as given in Matthew, allow for the legalistic view espoused in the Old Testament and the imposition of a strict code of behavior. But we also have to realize that that approach limits life, not encourages life. And that is what Jesus did, he came to bring life and meaning to the people, which in turn required a breaking of the legalistic framework that had been opposed on the people by the church.

Without the love of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, all the laws do is imprison people, not free them.

It should be noted that in each of these three church models, power in the church is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals.

Another distinction is that the ministries of these churches are often considered missions, to which one gives but does not take part. The attitude is that there are others who can do the Lord’s “dirty work.”

The True Gospel

There are churches today in which the true Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is heard and seen. But one must seek them because they are not very evident. But when you find this place, you will know it.

The building may not be shiny and new as other churches but there is a warmth in the building that doesn’t come from the heating system. Extra monies that could be spent on the building and properties are often directed to ministries in the community and the world.

Such churches are clearly in tune with the needs of the community outside the building and their outreach programs and ministries seek to involve those in that community. The people of the church are involved in this programs and they are more than just an afterthought.

It is clear that the goal of such “True Gospel” churches is understanding how to make Christ part of the process rather than to simply teaching others about Christ

It is perhaps an axiom that there is something of all four churches in each church but that would force the question of which one dominates? A church was never meant to be a building but rather the people inside the building. A church was never meant to be enclosed inside a building but to be a part of the community in which the building served as a meeting place.

And in today’s world, any place can be a meeting place if the meeting is to bring the Gospel message to the world. The question then is, “What Gospel message does your church bring to the world?”

The Coming Year


I had intended to call this “America’s Coming Educational Crisis” but 1) the crisis is already there and 2) I think it is far more important that we look to the future and see if it is possible to even have a future.

Some quick statistics As of 2014, 91% of Americans held a high school diploma and 34% of Americans had the equivalent of a college Bachelor’s degree. The good news about this education is that the numbers are trending upwards. The bad news is that this may not mean a whole lot.

A recent study indicated that over 50% of Americans today believe in the Biblical story of creation which makes sense since there are other studies which indicate most Americans own a Bible. This is just one of several statistics that look at the level of scientific illiteracy in this country today.

Sixty-one percent of Americans do not believe that the “Big Bang” actually happened, despite the evidence that it did. One in four Americans still believe that the sun revolves around the earth. And a fast majority of Americans (some 70%) feel that government funding for science and mathematics education was either too generous or just right (and all one has to do with that is examine the spending on science and mathematics education in the 1960s to know that we are clearly not spending enough today).

It isn’t just the big ticket topics such as evolution, climate change, and renewable energy. It is the basic concepts that are taught, such as DNA (Americans seem to want food containing DNA to be labeled), what a microchip is, or the nature of vaccines.

In short, despite statistics that indicated that we are becoming an educated society, follow-up studies indicate that we actually know very little about the world in which we live or the people with whom we share this world (there are other statistics that indicated people in this country can’t locate states on a map or countries on a globe).

And if our scientific illiteracy is shocking, consider the state of our Biblical illiteracy. While the majority of Americans own a Bible, they apparently do not know what is in it. Over 50% of Americans seem to want to slow down or stop the immigration of Syrian refugees; yet the main story of the Bible is about immigrants and refugees and the need for the people of God to help them, not turn them away. (Note – a majority of adults think that the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.)

Despite the presence of the idea that this is a Christian nation, founded on Judeo-Christian principles, most Americans would not be able to list those principles (probably because such a list does not exist). Most people (82% the last time it was checked; 83% of born-again Christians) will tell you that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible but that only works if you consider Benjamin Franklin and his Poor Richard’s Almanac as a chapter in the Bible.

Consider the following tidbits of data gathered over the years:

  • Fewer than half of all adults can name the four Gospels.
  • Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples.
    • One study indicated that many people thought that both John the Baptist and Paul were disciples.
    • 60% of Americans cannot name even five of the Ten Commandments.
  • 12% of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.
  • A survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50% thought Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife.
  • This is one of my favorites – a considerable number of respondents to one poll felt that Billy Graham preached the Sermon on the Mount.

I don’t think that we need to go on.

We cannot continue along the path that we are presently on, where fear and ignorance dominate and where the only answer seems to be to try what we have done in the past. Our answer to war and violence is more war and violence, even when we know that cycle will only end when there are no more soldiers to send into battle. In the 1960s, this country was willing to go to nuclear war against the Soviet Union, even when everyone knew that the majority of people on this plane would not survive and those who did would envy the dead. And yet, we pushed for more and more nuclear weapons.

Our politics today are the politics of fear and ignorance, fueled by the greed of those who afraid of what they may lose, but what good are countless millions of dollars when you have no where to spend your money? Very few politicians offer solutions that build up this country and this planet.

Fear and ignorance can be overcome but it has to be through education, both secular and sectarian in nature.

It is the lack of knowledge that threatens our future. Our present educational system has produced individuals who can take tests quite well but who are incapable (I am sorry to say) of generating new answers. If the answer to the question is not in the back of the book, they don’t have the capable of finding it and they don’t want it on the test.

The fundamental fact that we must understand is that there is at least one book that hasn’t been written yet and it contains the answers to the questions that we must answer. If we do not begin to change our ways, morally and educationally, we will not have the skills and understanding needed to read that book when it is published and we will not be able to answer the questions it contains.

There is a great challenge before us today as 2015 comes to a close. Cliche or not, what happens in the year 2016 will determine our future. Act as if we are at the crossroads and determine which way you will go.

Life, death, and the garden : Lifestyles


Life, death, and the garden : Lifestyles.

I just posted this article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Facebook with the following comment, “There are those who understand why I posted this. Of course, no one is ever going to believe that I am a gardener but gardeners need quartermasters to get the things they need and that is what I am. My congratulations to this church for producing as much produce as they did!”

“A Day Of Two Anniversaries”


There are two important anniversaries to note for today which are perhaps linked together in how we move into the future.  Today marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction of chemical weapons into modern warfare. It also marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day.

This juxtaposition of events speaks to the challenges that we has citizens of this planet face. Shall we use the knowledge that we have to create a better world or destroy the world that we have?

Fritz Haber, the noted German chemist and co-developer of the Haber-Bosch process (the conversion of nitrogen into ammonia), worked on the development of chemical weapons such as chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas.

Regarding war and peace, Haber once said,

“During peace time a scientist belongs to the World, but during war time he belongs to his country.”

This was an example of the ethical dilemmas facing chemists at that time. (Novak, Igor (2011). Science: a many-splendored thing. Singapore: World Scientific. pp.247–316. ISBN 9814304743. Retrieved 16 September 2014 – from Wikipedia)

Haber would rationalize the use of such weapons by saying death was death, by whatever means it was obtained. By then I remember what Robert E. Lee once wrote,

It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”

He would also state (revering, I think, to the Civil War but which can be applied to many other wars,

The war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.”

A note from my grandfather’s diary

October 5, 1918 – Received 3 letters from Elsie, 1 from my mother. First that I had received in some time. Gas is no stranger to us now.

This is the only reference he ever made. In a report I heard on NPR yesterday, they said that French and Belgium farmers are still digging up unexploded chemical shells from their fields.

Later, my father would make some comments about the impact of the use of atomic weapons on Japan and what it meant in terms of World War II ending.

Today is also the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. There are those today who rather this day be ignored; they show it in their callous attitudes about climate change, water usage, and water and air pollution. I have even hear some take the words of Genesis to mean that we can do whatever we want to this planet.

But the words of Genesis task us with taking care of the planet, not destorying it or misusing. This is the day we say to the people of this planet, you have a chance to make this a better world.

This is a day of two anniversaries; one that takes to death and one that takes us to life, which shall you choose.