Meet You At the Cross

The new home of theological reflections that address current events in the world.

Editorial Note: Apr 4, 2021> Below are previous entries that we located on meetyouatthecross.com which is no longer funded by these page dues the reality that that page was not generating any income and was not designed to do so and the economics that we additionally compounded by the politicizing of the pandemic caused us to down side our digital footprint.

MEETYOUATTHECROSS

reflections of a southern middle age umc preacher


Meet You @ the Cross

A blog of reflections from the heart of a United Methodist Pastor. Sharing the Good News of Christ at the crossroads of life’s joy and struggle is the hermetical opportunity that preaching and faith-sharing provides us all.

The Cross: The cross is a reminder of both the brokenness of sin and the gift of grace that shared by God with us. This is the place of connection for us all. The years and cultures might change, yet God’s participation in our lives at the point of our greatest need to our greatest joy become our meeting at the cross.

It is my hope and prayer that you find some resonance with some of these reflections as find ways to share these and your own with others along your faith journey. Meet you at the cross, the cross of Jesus Christ.

Meet you at the Cross

John Brantley is a husband and father who enjoys preaching, traveling and making hand-crafted sodas.

I welcome your question and reflections, (not your ‘business networking requests’)

Start with Jesus, in all things.

Summer time or End times! The world is coming to an end. It’s vacation time to do our own thing. The sky is falling! The sky is beautiful. Maybe or maybe not, but our response is called to be the same lamp post of the light of Jesus Christ in any time of darkness and doubt as well as in occasions of joy and celebration. Where are we right now?

Our starting point is in the reality of the present. We may be tempted to be the church we were at some time past; knowing who we were shapes who we can be now. God needs us alert and current. Therefore, take a moment to watch and listen to your heart and the heart of those around you. Encourage one another to be in prayer, study and fellowship with one another in Christ.

How do you stay afloat when everyone else is drowning in division, debt, doubt and drama? Here is a starting point prayer. “Jesus, get right here, right now. I need you. Repeat.” Continue in this prayer until it is answered. The starting point is place we begin. It sound obvious but it is actually the most important part.

Too often we choose other starting points than the present connection of our faith and spirit. We start with ideas, expectations of concepts; for example, we start from fairness, correctness or legal foundations. The homework is to ‘start’ daily in the Spirit, in the present, living out the faith we know and trust to face the day.

Join us this Sunday for more.. God bless you, in the heart.

Check out MySundaySermons for sermon notes
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MEETYOUATTHECROSS

reflections of a southern middle age umc preacher


In the Garden: “Neck-ed”, Ashamed, and Ready to Blame

The creation story answers some basic question about our relationship with God. The best astrophysicist researchers never deal with the “why” questions that are core building blocks of our faith foundation. The Genesis stories describe why God creates and gives purpose founded in a relationship of love, an interdependent relationship with all people, the earth and God’s self.

Life in the garden, revealed in Genesis was both complex and yet simple. One rule guided the relationship: trust God in all things, and express that trust by staying away from the tree in the middle of the garden. It was complex system of seasons, plants and animals, including a talking snake.

I always wondered with the tree was not hidden in the corner. If you put the no-no tree in the middle where you have to pass it on the way to everything, it feels like a constant taunting test. The struggles under girding this story are the competing forces at work in our relationship with God. God places the tree in the middle because it shapes our relationship of choice. It is a constant reminder that our love and trust of God competes with our ignoring and rebelling from God.

Keep in mind, the good garden has both room to walk and talk with God and hiding places to meet a talking snake that twists God’s word. When we forget to learn from the past and disregard the present plays in our future, we attempt to fool God and ourselves. It is in the reality of this moment, the present that we constantly choose to follow or reject God’s love. It is not a once-and-you-are-done mental decision, rather it is the groaning labor of constant labor that our relationship lives or dies on the vine.

The text is a snapshot of the moments that follow crossing that line. The result of not reciprocating God’s faithfulness with ours is separation. It is in this distance that we choose to fill the gap or allow God to restore us into wholeness. The Good News is that God is ready to heal and show us loving-grace. This mercy is God’s response act of compassion that we need, when and where we most need it.

No matter how far we are from God in our lives, God stands in the road waiting to welcome prodigal daughter and sons home. So let’s push folks away, let us model God’s grace and welcome a hurting world into our faith home. Because naked, ashamed and filled with blame is no life at all. Our loving God is ready to clothe, forgive and welcome us to the table.

Who created the properties of gravity?

Other

I’m not sure.

God

It is the radom chance that particals of matter under pressure radomly formed the force of gravity on its own.

VoteView ResultsCrowdsignal.com

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” [Genesis 3:8-15 NRSV]


Psalm 20 “Help Me Lord, Help!”

Imagine a certain person who is in a terrible fix. The have trouble with the bank, trouble at home and trouble at work. The threats and fears of crisis and conflict come from every direction. It might come in waves or it might be simultaneous, but trouble might be waiting behind every door and so we feel stuck, overwhelmed and powerless. In this terrible moment and place we might find both failure of what has happened and fantasy of what might happen next. Where do you go for help?

May the Lord be your answer! The psalm praise God as our answer and solution. The verses ask for help to come from the sanctuary. It is interesting that the answer is not from the storehouse, rather the place of worship and sacrifice. We most often think if we had more money, time and effort we can solve our problems. While more of these gifts might help, it is only part and only in a temporary way. Our answer comes through worship, prayer, study and fellowship with other followers.

It’s won thing to cheer to encourage but the celebration that comes when victory is assured it filled with joy, relief, praise and confidence. In our weakest moments these gifts appear so far away. Finding the path out of fear and chaos comes when we trust God’s work of salvation. When we let go of our own pride and take on the reigns of God’s lead we find the spiritual horsepower to continue the race.

So, when you are in last place or even stuck at the gate, in the mud with the odds against you, let go and allow God to be your strength. God wants to help; allow God to be your answer, you joy and your power.

Prayer: God I need your help, your heart and your power. I give you my trust, my will and my life. My I know you presence, your joy and your lead. Amen.

The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion. May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Selah May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans. May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners. May the LORD fulfill all your petitions. Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand. Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God. They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright. Give victory to the king, O LORD; answer us when we call. [NRSV]

Join us this Sunday for more.. God bless you, in the heart.

JUNE 11, 2015 MYOIKOSSUPPORTANSWERCRISISDIRECTIONDOUBTFEARGODHELPHELPLESSHOPEJOYLORDMUDPATHPSLAM 20QUESTIONSTUCK


Revisiting the Destination

I was reminded today that our spiritual destination is one of wholeness.

The perfection of spiritual completeness is typically measured in many moments of experience and not a singular, final destination.

The world in which we live is filled with an abundance of examples of broken trusts and relationships. It is through Gods grace of self-given through the cross that restores, preemptively, we cannot carry out on our own nor even collectively.

So the way I like to think of spiritual journey as seen in the overlapping and crisscrossing the roads, highways and paths that intersect through the cross that lead us toward wholeness.  We may experience heavy traffic detours and even blaze new trails but it is through the cross that we find our hearts way home, it makes us home with our maker.

So when you hear someone say “Where is my wife’s going?” We each have an opportunity to share the cross of Jesus the love and grace of God the power of the Holy Spirit that brings us into a moment of holy connectedness and relationship.

reflections of a southern middle age umc preacher

Tender Mercies: Church under Attack

 Responding with words in our grief, while the fresh and raw moments of tragedy continue to sink in our souls, feels incomplete and often inappropriate. And yet, we want to connect with solidarity and meaning and so we say something.

  • You are in our thoughts and prayers. 
  • I will be praying for you. 
  • I am so sorry. 
  • Bless your heart. 

It might be more helpful to stand and sit in the silence of the moment and simply be present with those who suffer.

I might be more helpful to groan, wail or weep  along with those who have loss.

I might be more authentic to seek God’s comfort and presence than to politicize, blame and explain away the moments of hurt, confusion and fear.

I can imagine the loss and tragedy, as I have seen people die, saw people being shot, seen churches ablaze and families and neighbors explode in rage over acts of community violence. But no matter my experience, I cannot capture evil and sum it up to be wiped away nor explained in a soundbite.

It strikes me as a clear call to be the church, when evil invades the sanctuary of peace that he church must rise up in faith and witness in response. Instead we squabble over a half million dollar account to keep the memory of a church while the church, the body of Christ, is under attack. The attack is in South Carolina, Egypt, in Washington DC and even from within.

The answer is not within the scope of political power. No gun laws, no sensitivity training, nor heritage assimilation can do what God could do through the church.

The invasion and violation of the murders at Emanuel AME call for the church to cross all boundaries and limits to reclaim the presence of Christ for the transformation of the world.

Beyond the politics, racism and violence is a spiritual depravity that proves to the world and the church that we are not keeping our own rules: do no harm, do all the good you can, practice growing your spirit.

Yes! Pray for the people of Charleston and everywhere evil seeks to kill, destroy and divide.

Yes! Boldly be the church of Christ in deed and word. Seek Christ to send us and let go what waters us down. We are the Good Soil, We are the Best wine. We are those who make peace and not create the pieces.

Annual Conference: Finding Christ in the Crossed Wires

With all the bandwidth flying through the air between smartphones, texts, voting devices, streaming signals and human conversation one would think that communication would be better and clearer. If we could see the waves of data, signal and movement moving around us we might better see the entanglement as we gather in the name of being a connectional church.

The annual meeting of clergy and laity gives an opportunity for accountability and transparency about our past. It is an occasion to look into the future with questions and clarifications for where we hope to be heading. What is most risky appears to be the relationship of the present.

On one hand, we are challenged to be one church with many doors and campuses to share our ministries, all the while we compete for new members and new believers in a time that the church is loosing relevant-ness to  persons under the age of 25, our primary target audience of survival.

As thousands walk outdoors into the heat of a fearful and searching world, we meet a fellow named Kenny. He is a self-professed alcoholic looking for a pastor. He is looking for transformation and connection. He wants someone to listen and to help find focus and direction. He doesn’t connect with worship. He hungers for acceptance and meaning.

Al the while we struggle with the balance of power of the distraction of caucuses, agendas and factions highlights the context in which we now live, yet we are failing to offer the spirit of transformation. Our wires are crossed. We become short-circuited, detrimental and ultimately ineffective. I thank God that Kenny ask me to listen to his story, his questions and his fears. It gave me the opportunity to do and be what I was ordained to do and what we are all baptized to do. Find ways to meet one another in a broken world through the cross of Jesus Christ.

We need to cling to and proclaim God’s continued journeying with us to share experiences of both grace and strength in the presence of disconnection and fear. At a time the church is pushing apart into camps of either/or we have crossed our spiritual connections with our agenda when we have not mastered sharing Christ.

In the 24 minutes that it seems to gather each digital vote, I found another 24 minutes of sharing the real, power filled cross of Jesus Christ that will need to be repeated 24 minutes from now, and for the rest of our lives.

Change your agenda. whatever it is, and relinquish your will and heart into the hands of God and be the church of Jesus, living in the spirit. Get some rest there are more votes tomorrow, and more folks like Kenny.

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The Slippery Slope of Signs and Symbols.

We have a warning about the power of iconic symbols for a long time. It is one of the top ten list from Exodus and the tablets directly from on high.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. [Exodus 20.4-6 NRSV]

Billions of dollars each year are invested in branding logos, signs and icons. The goal of these investments is for us to think and behave in certain ways when we come in contact with these images. Gold arches, a swoosh, or a circle divided into three equal slices represent billions and billions fast food burgers, athletic apparel and excellence in automotive innovation. Other icons and images have become synonymous with evil, such as the inverted pentagram, the swastika, and a series of the number six, six, six. The core is that symbols and images communicate a power.

To blame an image for our behavior may seem trivial. Nations, movements and causes use flags and banners throughout the generations to unify and move people into action upon seeing the sign. What of the image of two lines: one vertical and one horizontal, the cross.   When we see it on top of a building on a steeple pointing toward heaven are we not instructed to think of our creator and called to prayer and worship? When we see the sign of the cross in ashes upon our foreheads in the spring are we not telling the faithful and the world that Easter is coming soon? When we gather and sing hymns like William Kitchen and Michael Newbolt penned a hundred years ago: “Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, till all the world adore his sacred name.”

So what of flags that have stars and bars or for that matter rainbows and purple triangles? What about crosses, six pointed stars, or a star and crescent combination. Do not all these carry a faith message of unity, power and a call to action? Are not all of these fashioned images that promote, inspire and give demarcation to our people, building and some nations.

In the text from the ten commandments above, the instruction is to not have images, icons and symbols. As well as they work the seem to get in our way or are misused. More importantly, these fashioned images are the product of our effort and direct us away from God’s work in us. [It is odd that not too long after sharing ten commandments, a few chapters over, in chapter #37, we have instructions for building the tent of meetings and the golden ark.] These simply points to the power icons, images and symbols carry. Some times it not a thing, but a sound.

When visiting Jerusalem, I found myself annoyed by the over-amplified blast of the call to prayer. It was not a trumpet in the distance. It was a 360 degree distress siren that interrupted conversations and would drown out all other communications for its duration. I asked myself, how could I be offended and annoyed by a call to prayer? It was calling me to pray to a god I did not know. That is why it annoyed and offended me. By the end of my visit I had learned to tune it out or pray for those who are misguided in faith by false prophets and teachers.

The Slippery Slope

We know thousands of honored men, women and children died in the civil war and the families torn apart on both sides. The stars and bars flag was not the flag of the Confederacy. Yet, we might say it hold more power today than it did then. The meaning and message of an image have can change. It does call many people to division and hatred. It does call some to heritage and memorial. It has an eternal place in history. The question is what is it’s place and power in the present and future. Can you find other ways to honor heritage that does not divide us? Can we not transform the meaning of flag? This is the core problem with rally images: the meaning has to be explained because the symbols are not the real thing or relationship.

And what of the Cross of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to the world and  society to see the image of the cross upon which Jesus died for our sins and their sins? No matter how we fashion, decorate or alter the image, the gift of grace, the bridge of salvation, the offering for our unfaithfulness is paid-up by Christ on our behalf. You don’t even have to believe it, but it has already happened and not based on your nor my affirmation. It is a sign of God’s action not our creation. And the symbol has not died for our sins. The image has not loved us. This is the warning of the commandment.

Much like the bow in the clouds with Noah and his family, the rainbow became a reminded to God to not destroy. Who decides what a sign means? A cross, a bow of colors in the sky, a collection of stars and lines? If someone is offended by the cross on my shirt or the cross in my hand, am I going to put it away because they are offended?

A People defined by perception are doomed.

The church is in a precarious place with our signs, banners and flags.  The Eagle scout in me and as one who honors the service of those who defend our nation I am proud to raise the American flag. As a follower and disciples of Jesus Christ I place my greatest trust and faith. So which flag flies on top of the others. Which holds the higher honor and greater allegiance? Would I be less a patriot if I had no flags at all? All these lead me to “the offense.” The commandment calls for no graven or fashioned images. No flags, no banners just the relationship.

If we removed every sign, symbol, flag, icon, image would we stop offending one another just by doing so? 

I believe we can offend, hurt and rally with brokenness or we can love, forgive and define our broken past with grace in new ways of relationship. If ‘offended-ness’ is our matrix for defining society we are lost for certain. We don’t need flags and banners to hurt one another. When they do, we need to work to heal the relationship and devalue and reframe the signs that have divided us. As in Jesus’s parable, “If something is in your neighbor’s eye, removed the log in your eye first.” The guide is to not seek to offend, if we do, confess our sins and brokenness, and be bold in sharing the love of God, even if it is offensive to some.

My reflection leads me to move past the flags to relationships. Where we tear apart relationship with any of God’s children we move them or ourselves away from the table and point more to our brokenness rather than God’s ability to heal, renew and restore.

Live the Relationship not the Sign

Follow the design and love for which we are given breath to fulfill then together we find the loving creator who made us, saves us and journeys with us still. Meet you there.

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RACISM: Misappropriated Power

 There are legitimate circumstances where we chose to place ourselves under the power and authority of a person, organization or government for our protection and production. We trust a tour guide that we have never met to lead us around a strange city in a culture we may have never experienced. We place our children in the hands of our schools to educate, equip and prepare them to become life-long learners and leaders or at least obedient citizens. Collectively we place our lives into the hands of government and its leaders for security of our welfare and the common defense. My participating in these relationships by choice. It is a choice to give each power to someone or to the group for our good and the good of others.

Racism is illegitimate use of power. It oppresses and only serves the best interest of those in power. Racism is the cancerous power grab that is does not ask permission because it does not value those over whom they seek to control, based on differences in physical and cultural characteristics. To dominate that one group of people are of greater value based on factors that cannot be changed is not legitimate. There racism is not exclusive to culture nor economy. Division of the human race into subgroups is neither consensual nor legitimate.

Here is an example. People who are right-hand dominate out number those who are left-hand dominate. Left handed people learn to use right-handed scissors as a matter of convenience and economy. The left-handed person could develop a different skill set but that would require intentionality of choice from that person or it might be done without their consent. But it is changing something about that person for the connivence of the group with power.

When a left-handed person is asked or made to compromise you might her them say, “Well you know left-handed people are in their right minds.” Which is a loose reference that left-hand dominance is a function of the right side of the brain, but the off handed message is that left-handed people are more intelligent and therefore superior to right handed people. If right-handed people response with a commend such as, “Well, I’d rather be right than wrong.” They seek to grab the power back in trying to equalize the fight. In reality a push invites a shove, and a shove welcomes a fight. And the punches of illegitimate power dance, dodge and divide. Yet, how often does hand dominance lead to slavery?

The solution to over powering racism is not easy. The solution must be mutual. Both parties have to be a process of common ground and build an new definition of relationship. Legislation might begin a conversation, but it does not build the new relationship. Both sides must affirm that the past and present relationship are not desired in the future. Together the powerful must relent power and the oppresses must be valued as partner. It is essential that both groups allow for a new partnership that is free from the assumptions and patterns of the past. [We must always learn from the past, but not be limited by it.]

Racism is a machine that is hungry for power. To stop the machine it must not receive the energy it demands to yield its goal. Imagine the same energy that is given to debating the state of South Carolina using the stars and bars as their flag, be given to conversations over lunch between opposing sides talking about ways to love and forgive our neighbors. So why don’t we go to lunch and start the better relationship?

Power. Power is the key. Those who have the power don’t want to deal with the conversation and those without the power don’t want to give up the fight. So there is no agreement that the future will be any different. Who is most likely to make the first step of grace and renewal? Actually it doesn’t matter. It must begin and continue to build a new path for us to journey.

Think of the times that Jesus confronts or is confronted by people who thought, taught and spoke differently. He draws the attention to God who loves us all. The answer is not found in feelings of offense; it is not in having equal quotas, and it is not in stirring up the media and politicians, nor about flags.

The answer to dis-empowering racism is in God who made the human race, God who creates us different and unique, God who values the genetic code in our design.  Think back to the story of our first relationship. In our first garden story, with Adam and Eve, power and freedom, choice and trust, first come into play with one another for humanity. What is the less learned? Every time we choose illegitimate power that is not ours it oppresses others and ourselves. There are consequences. We can forever dwell on blame or we can turn to God and find the garden made new with God’s love and help. If you don’t believe me, just keep doing what you are doing and let evil hearts rule. If you agree, yield yourself to God and be part of the new creation.

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Finding God Present, Somewhere over Albuquerque

Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama conference extended at challenge to use the special time traveling in captivity as a time to share one’s faith. So with my recent visit to the west coast I have given it a try. On my first flight my neighbor swiftly fell asleep and I thought of Jesus sleeping on the boat in the storm where the disciples gather around him in fear of the storm, and they awaken him to save them. The person next to me didn’t seem to be Jesus and their was no storm and so I didn’t interrupt their slumber.

My return trip had two legs, so with the first flight a wash, I had two more opportunities. The first plane was rather small and the seats were so narrow that I was not in the best of moods to be sharing the love of Jesus when my hips were being compressed, but I readied my self with prayer and waiting for the kingdom of God to unfold. To my left was a sleeper. No wonder is was 6:05am and most everyone was asleep. To might right, was a neighbor who arrived with noise-canceling earphones and was lost in a book. This reminded me of Jesus’s parable of the good seeds that were scattered on hard soil. The word was silenced before I had time to start the conversation.

Leg three seemed most promises. It was not a full flight. People had space for elbow room No one entered with headphones. The hour was eight and folks were more alert. The seats were offset  across the isle. So even though I had an isle seat those to might right were not easily approached. And with books and digital distractions, there seemed busy. But to my left an empty seat and a relocating, flight attendant was eager to talk.

Not that she was eager to talk with me but with the other working flight attendants coming and going down the main aisle. I inquired if she was returning home to Atlanta or was that her destination for the day. She replied, “No.” I clarified, “not home or traveling on somewhere else?” She replied, “No, and Yes.”

This was going to be a tough nut to crack. I asked if she enjoyed working for American or if she had transferred from U.S. Air. She replied, “I’m new.” I believe her name tag said, “Terse.” Actually it read, “Terreza,” yet the former seems more fitting. I tried a few more questions and she finally said, “I’m off duty.” To which I replied, “Thank goodness God is never off duty.” And the gates began to open.

Somewhere over Albuquerque I stopped asking questions and offered an affirmation. A made a faith statement and just but God out there. When we say, “All the time, God is Good; God is with us, or This is a time to praise God.” we move ourselves out-of-the-way and open up a path to God.

It always amazing me how air moving over a foil of a wing creates lift that overcomes gravity, so well that some 200 people can be lifted in an airplane. But it amazing me even more how might try to make faith sharing too hard. We are called to put God out front and enjoy the ride.

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Love is not a Convenient Truth

We live in a season where most people seek to have their morality taught through government schools, social media and ‘reality’ TV and not from the people equipped and called by our creator and the author of love; the indictments rests on many sides. The church has relinquished the power of love and calling entrusted to it and the vacuum is filled by those who seek power for themselves at the people’s expense, in the name of good and love.

Jesus has some one-on-one time with the Roman Governor Pilate, prior to Jesus’s crucifixion (John 18.) They talk of politics and faith together. Pilate asks Jesus, “What is Truth?” Jesus describes his mission, message and authority are spiritual, divine. Should the matter of ‘truth’ be shaped by the votes of the Sanhedrin, or the perceptions of the people, or the laws  of the land.

The conversation between Jesus and the governor are in the context of a trial of politics and public opinion, but the scene of this conversation is more like being “in chambers.” Pilate makes an exact judgement of the Jesus. He finds no fault, no legitimate charges, no broken laws. He knows the truth and yet allows the politics, public opinion and job security to not act with integrity about the truth. He looks for a loop-hole and attempts to absolve himself by ritually washing his hands of the matter. Pilate makes one statement that is also true, but pressured to change his action and leadership based on political threats and fear loosing his job security. This is not an example of being guided by truth.

There are defining moments when we are called to stand with Jesus in the truth and to boldly stand in loving opposition of the noise clanging gong of public opinion and agenda driven leaders who are threatened by Jesus declaration of truth.

So what is the truth to rally behind: God’s Love.

God loves us unconditionally and eternally. God does not always love the things we do and think and say. The truth is that God’s love is greater than our love and this is the reason we give ourselves to God in faith to fulfill our mission and potential together with God’s helpful grace.

Zacchaeus was one of Jesus’s neighbors. He had oppressed the people of his community by intimidation and extortion collecting taxes for the government. Jesus invites himself in the home and to the table of Zach to meet the truth with his neighbor. In love of Zacchaeus, the community and God, honest conversation was shared and explained to show how Zach’s behavior and choices were destroying the community and himself. Zacchaeus sees the oppression and sinfulness of his behavior, repents: asking for everyone’s forgiveness, and of his own will, restitution defined by his own understanding of extravagant generosity to return what was stolen and more to restore relationship and the community. Jesus didn’t say, keep on doing what you think is best and what gratifies you in your self-identity.

Jesus meets the woman the leaders bring to him to judge her sentence for sexual infidelity. Jesus doodles in the sand with his finger and asked the leaders and the crowd, “If you have never sinned, cast the first stone to condemn her.” Everyone leaves Jesus standing with the woman. He said, “Neither do i condemn you.” But it doesn’t end there, he adds. “Go and sin no more.” The truth is that adultery is a misuse of the sacred gift of our sexuality. Jesus does not say, keep on sinning and one day the truth with be more clearly understood and customs will make sexual ethics more relaxed in modern and enlightened societies.

Love your neighbor. Jesus declaration to those who are born with impairments, diseases and illnesses to be healed, get up and go, and sin no more. The brokenness in which we live in the world and in our own bodies is not the whole/perfect humanity created in our garden story where creation is declared as Good, truth, whole. Sin has since skewed our reality.

Understanding love necessitates clarifying what it means to love and to not love. To not love is sin. To love is God. God eternally loves us, even when we act in sinful ways. Unconditional love forgives when the other person in the relationship has pause or stopped loving. God loves us in this way. God calls us to learn to love in this way. Sin is when we love ourselves, our bodies, our power, our will, our purpose as greater or more important than loving God.

The truth of what is loving does not change. God has not changed. We are the ones who redefine in our context and to suit our own understanding of what it means to be loving, true and righteous. Did Jesus give Zacchaeus, the woman on trial, those sick and broken the opportunity to know God’s love? Yes! Did Jesus encourage them to keep living as they were living and loving? No. Here is the truth. Go and sin no more. Go and work toward loving as God loves. Love the person not the behavior. Love the sinner, not the sin. Love the neighbor, not the brokenness that divides the neighborhood. Love God and we will find the grace to grow in community and faith together, through Jesus Christ with the power and guide of God’s Holy Spirit, not the government, Facebook and the latest opinion polls that change like the weather.

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Bulletins for the Eschaton

I certainly believe there will be an “End of Days” occasion where God brings to completion and accountability all creation. I believe that Jesus is our hope and salvation in the face of our obvious brokenness and sinful separation. I believe that God will never forsake us, no matter how terrible the trials and journeys we travel. I believe that God gives us signs and warning in scripture, nature and through scientific reflection, reason. I believe people who don’t want to pay attention to warning and signs will be content to quote, “No one knows the time the Lord will come.” They will go on waiting for the movie to come, and wait for the reviews and plan to catch it when it comes out on Netflix, if something more exciting doesn’t come along.

The brain the God has installed in our heads, can figure out,  if we are living in hazardous community where crime is all around and threatening to break in and steal all you have, you should not be surprised by the thieves who come night after night. If you house looks like a crack-house then don’t be surprised if the police show up with a warrant. Most of the work of the biblical prophet is not prediction, rather it telling us the obvious that we obviously are not seeing.

If it looks all the blueberries are gone, then the season is most likely over. If the signs look like rain, don’t plan for a picnic and a swim party. If it’s snowing, don’t wear your flip-flops. If there are floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, disease and famine, don’t be surprised there are crazy, nutty people mailing End-of-Days brochures in your mailbox. Somewhere in the middle of the extremes of “do nothing” and “sell it all and wait on the street corner,” we are called to live our faith, each day.

The timeline above is not one that I advocate as ‘the’ definitive model of dispensations, but it reflects that some people want to neatly present some order in the chaos to help us. Graphics such as these are intended to both comfort and challenge the viewer. We see that assurance that there is a plan, and by having the road map we know where were are going. I suggest that most of these models are off the chart and are not as helpful the authors would hope.

I truly believe there are folks waiting on ushers to hand out well ordered liturgies and worship bulletins for the Eschaton, and without such preplanned and well organized event plans they will never recognize the Savior standing in their presence or working through the church as promised. I’m not picking on worship committees, I’m pointing to folks who face fear by running from it. We living in a time where terrorist threaten the world, nuclear powers are growing, core traditions and beliefs are turned inside out, and the church is ask to be politically correct in respecting those with contradictory agendas and beliefs.

It seems that the world does not want to hear the church’s warning and invitation of faith. Here is the rub. If the only message, is to warned without grace then we extend the fear the world seeks to avoid. If we only extend grace and not grab the world’s attention we miss the opportunity.

The visual model is much simpler and not as detailed. Take sign of the cross. The crossroad is the intersection of truth about our faith and our fears. Jesus is waiting to meet us there, at the Eschaton and today. So if you need a bulletin of what’s going to happen when, meet Jesus with your faith and fears and every day will be and end and a beginning. So if you are worried or you hear someone worried about the End of Days, here is your sign: God is with us, Emmanuel!

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RACISM: Misappropriated Power

 There are legitimate circumstances where we chose to place ourselves under the power and authority of a person, organization or government for our protection and production. We trust a tour guide that we have never met to lead us around a strange city in a culture we may have never experienced. We place our children in the hands of our schools to educate, equip and prepare them to become life-long learners and leaders or at least obedient citizens. Collectively we place our lives into the hands of government and its leaders for security of our welfare and the common defense. My participating in these relationships by choice. It is a choice to give each power to someone or to the group for our good and the good of others.

Racism is illegitimate use of power. It oppresses and only serves the best interest of those in power. Racism is the cancerous power grab that is does not ask permission because it does not value those over whom they seek to control, based on differences in physical and cultural characteristics. To dominate that one group of people are of greater value based on factors that cannot be changed is not legitimate. There racism is not exclusive to culture nor economy. Division of the human race into subgroups is neither consensual nor legitimate.

Here is an example. People who are right-hand dominate out number those who are left-hand dominate. Left handed people learn to use right-handed scissors as a matter of convenience and economy. The left-handed person could develop a different skill set but that would require intentionality of choice from that person or it might be done without their consent. But it is changing something about that person for the connivence of the group with power.

When a left-handed person is asked or made to compromise you might her them say, “Well you know left-handed people are in their right minds.” Which is a loose reference that left-hand dominance is a function of the right side of the brain, but the off handed message is that left-handed people are more intelligent and therefore superior to right handed people. If right-handed people response with a commend such as, “Well, I’d rather be right than wrong.” They seek to grab the power back in trying to equalize the fight. In reality a push invites a shove, and a shove welcomes a fight. And the punches of illegitimate power dance, dodge and divide. Yet, how often does hand dominance lead to slavery?

The solution to over powering racism is not easy. The solution must be mutual. Both parties have to be a process of common ground and build an new definition of relationship. Legislation might begin a conversation, but it does not build the new relationship. Both sides must affirm that the past and present relationship are not desired in the future. Together the powerful must relent power and the oppresses must be valued as partner. It is essential that both groups allow for a new partnership that is free from the assumptions and patterns of the past. [We must always learn from the past, but not be limited by it.]

Racism is a machine that is hungry for power. To stop the machine it must not receive the energy it demands to yield its goal. Imagine the same energy that is given to debating the state of South Carolina using the stars and bars as their flag, be given to conversations over lunch between opposing sides talking about ways to love and forgive our neighbors. So why don’t we go to lunch and start the better relationship?

Power. Power is the key. Those who have the power don’t want to deal with the conversation and those without the power don’t want to give up the fight. So there is no agreement that the future will be any different. Who is most likely to make the first step of grace and renewal? Actually it doesn’t matter. It must begin and continue to build a new path for us to journey.

Think of the times that Jesus confronts or is confronted by people who thought, taught and spoke differently. He draws the attention to God who loves us all. The answer is not found in feelings of offense; it is not in having equal quotas, and it is not in stirring up the media and politicians, nor about flags.

The answer to dis-empowering racism is in God who made the human race, God who creates us different and unique, God who values the genetic code in our design.  Think back to the story of our first relationship. In our first garden story, with Adam and Eve, power and freedom, choice and trust, first come into play with one another for humanity. What is the less learned? Every time we choose illegitimate power that is not ours it oppresses others and ourselves. There are consequences. We can forever dwell on blame or we can turn to God and find the garden made new with God’s love and help. If you don’t believe me, just keep doing what you are doing and let evil hearts rule. If you agree, yield yourself to God and be part of the new creation.

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Prayers for Schools

Walking down the halls of schools this week, I prayed for children, families, teachers and staff persons who will spend more time with our students than most other groups this year.

The schools in our neighborhoods have poverty levels ranges from 80% to 89% living at or below poverty. Just what is poverty level? The number is variable for the size of one’s family:  a single parent with two children, annual income of $20,000, or $28,400 for a two-parent family with three children. A single person with one child the level is $15,900.  Forty hours at week at minimum wage with no vacation is $10,700 before withholdings.

My prayers are for the country in which these families, employees and children live. How many of these fresh kindergarten students will excel at reading a year from now; how many will struggle, and  how many will just get by at a lowest-common-denominator measure. How many come from abusive homes and communities? How many will only have regular meals when they are at school? Are our prayers enough?

Prayer is a starting point. Prayer is the conversation with God and God’s people that orients our hearts and actions. Prayer is the place that listen to both God’s call to serve the poor AND God’s call to transform the poor as disciples of Jesus Christ. Some how we think that if only wages were higher, test school would be higher. If only the richer were more generous, the poor would not struggle as much. Our schools have tools and teachers. What our school no longer have are community members actively involved in the day to day operation. We have left family standards to the government. We have left the burden with teacher, coaches, administrators and bus drivers. We value and appreciate their service but they need our help.

God is with us in a broken and sinful world. If our prayer does not guide our families, schools and nations we will continue to spiral. 1) Pray for our schools but don’t stop there.

Those who founded our country dreamed of a freedom to WORK for that they were willing to die to provide for future generations. Our current generations only seem to care for themselves. If you want to see Jesus at work teach a child to read, including the bible, so that you can share prayer, faith, worship, fellowship and life with them. It is time for us as people of faith to work transforming the world so close to home.

If we teach a child to read and the only thing they read is fantasy novels, how to install consumer electronics and complete a job application they will have no moral ground of love and grace. We don’t need 60 seconds to pray in schools. We need the love of Jesus Christ to be physically transforming our children. We don’t need legislation to make people pray, we need to ignore the politically correctness that assumes an unguided time of silence equips children with all they need to know for their moral compass. 2) Prayer is a way of life not simply a repeated phrase.

We need to show children, families and schools God’s love by transforming the communities with the things wages and tests will never measure. The power of God, the presence of the church as the body of Christ and the guidance of the holy spirit. If the schools won’t allow it then build schools the children can come to learn as a whole person. Complaining will not transform a child or their family. The power and love of God in action through the church will restore our children.

If you disagree, just keep blaming the other side of the isle and do nothing more. Call the school and start reading. Call the school and volunteer to be a role model/mentor. Call the school and make an appointment to meet with the principle and share your passion, faith and prayers for them.

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Prayer: Listen to Lead

The least practiced part of prayer is listening.

Can you imagine a child starting to school and having  a 60 second period of quiet as the prescribed method of learning the alphabet or algebra or amoeba’s cell structure?

i remember listening to teachers.  He listening inspired questioning. The questions lead to challenges and exams and project to sharing with piers and the community.

if no one spoke and shared, I would have quit listening

Think of the teachers that instructed and inspired our desire to learn, to learn and to lead others:

Mrs Reid taught us he concepts of “small” and what are the parts “Inside” by exploring single cell organism, the amoeba, the protozoan, we learned about the tiny part that could only be seen with strong magnification that lived all around us. Creatures we never knew were all around us,

Ms Jones taught us the reward of reading. Diving a story into parts and characters they helped is not only learn the reveal of the plot, but value the details of the creative process.

Mrs Williams made cookies cakes and pies to help us consume the concepts of fractions. He chocolate chip cookies we made in class had us begging to go to the board to solve problems to get another bite.

Mrs Smith was not fun, but she made government and history come alive with costumes that she made with us in class. (She looked like George Washington by the way.

Ms Browning read our secretive shared journals. She asked us questions and she answered our questions. Despite the red ink corrections and our rewrites we had a treasured journey that we shared and as unique as each of us,

I never remember a teacher leading our class in prayer except for my physics/chemistry teacher in High school. He was a Baptist preacher on the weekends and a praying scripture quoting teacher in the classroom during the week. Every class began with the Lords prayer and ended with the 23rd Psalm.

There are others who helped open life changing moments, and together, what started as listening inspired leading

Know that we are all committed to more than test performance we work I the conversation business. Let every conversation be a lesson

Allow frustrating empty hearts and minds find water and sun and nutrient of love in the lessons.

When faced with overwhelming odds turn to God who is able to all things.

God you need to show up, what are you going to do.

I’m listening, I’m trusting, I’m following, I’m leaning on you,

let the desire to inspire fan the fire in the hearts and minds of those who walk these halls

do not go alone, God goes with you

listen for God, look for the open doors, do not give up or give in to fear

do settle for the lowest denominator of mediocrity, you have the power passion and life God has give you

Exodus 23:20-22  [MSG]
20 “Now get yourselves ready. I’m sending my Angel ahead of you to guard you in your travels, to lead you to the place that I’ve prepared. 21 Pay close attention to him. Obey him. Don’t go against him. He won’t put up with your rebellions because he’s acting on my authority 22 But if you obey him and do everything I tell you, I’ll be an enemy to your enemies, I’ll fight those who fight you.

Exodus 23:20-22 MSG Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. 

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