COVID-19 and Palm Sunday

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Thank You

Happy Palm Sunday

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.

Pilate has also arrived, riding on a war horse.  

Two leaders. Two different ways of leading. 

Two animals. Two different images.

When writing about this event, Matthew reflects on Zechariah 9:9:

“Say to Daughter Zion (Jerusalem), 

‘See, your king comes to you,

Gentle and riding on a donkey,

Even upon a colt, a foal of a beast of burden.

“Gentle?”  

“Riding on a donkey, even a foal of a beast of burden”?  (No, the Rolling Stones are not the originators of the phrase.)

What kind of King is this? 

Where’s the display of power? 
Where’s the “Hey, I’m a big deal!” attitude? 

It’s not there.  We won’t “see” that in Jesus. In Jesus, we “see” a different way to live and to lead.  Jesus is reframing power. Oh, yes, Jesus has power.  “All power (authority) has been given to me (Matthew 28:18),” Jesus tells his disciples.

But this Jesus kind of power is “seen” not in the person who is served but in the person who is serving (Matthew 20:25-28).  

Wanna see power today?  Look at  the 1000s of medical personnel serving us, “giving their lives as a sacrifice” in this war against COVID-19.  

That is power on display.  

On this Palm Sunday, the beginning of Passion Week, we thank them for their passionate and sacrificial service.

 

A Kindness Comeback

MAKA

A member of the church I pastor, The Venues, gave me for Christmas this year, “Dr. Seuss’s You Are Kind.”  The book is an ode to Kindness.  

The book both humbled me (it is a “thank-you” book) and challenged me – to everyday, in every way, be kind.

Just a few days ago we were singing “Silver Bells” that has this insightful line: “In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.” 

We live and move in an atmosphere.

We breathe in and breathe out certain types of air.

We feel feelings.

Today, there is a feeling of meanness. 

We breathe it.

We move in it.

America is becoming a meaner place. 

Hate crimes have soared. Americans have become more polarized.  Average Americans say and do things to people they disagree with that in a different time would have been unthinkable.

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) reminded us of that different time when she released a letter written by her late husband, Congressman John Dingell, upon the death of George H.W. Bush.  She released the letter as a response to the “Maybe he’s looking up, I don’t know” slur that was made about her deceased husband, inferring that he maybe was in hell instead of heaven. 

Here is an excerpt of Mr. Dingell’s letter: 

George Bush came from a time (as did I) when we believed that American equality demands that we treat one another with the same dignity and respect with which we expect to be treated. He was horrified at the harshness our national discourse has taken and deeply disturbed at watching too many people speak past each other. We both shared deep concern about the hateful taunts, the despicable actions and language that plague our political culture.”

What can we do to improve the atmosphere? 

Congresswoman Dingell gave an answer to that question when she introduced the release of her husband’s letter:

“As an antidote to the last week, I found John Dingell’s own words from last December. He was alive at the time and wrote these words about his friend George H.W. Bush. His words were about him and his friend, who both worried about the direction of this country. Happy Holidays and may we take their message to heart.” 

“An antidote” to the poison of meanness is kindness.  

Denise and I went to the movies Christmas night and saw “Little Women.”  I really liked it. Seeing it made me want to read the book. In the book version, there is this exchange between Amy and her mom: 

Amy: “Because they are mean is no reason why I should be.  I hate such things, and though I’ve a right to be hurt, I don’t intend to show it…”

Marmee (Mom): “That’s the right spirit, my dear; a kiss for a blow is always best, though it’s not very easy to give it sometimes.”

The author, Louisa May Alcott, added that Marmee said this “with the air of one who had learned the difference between preaching and practicing.”  

Three writers – Dr. Seuss, Louisa May Alcott, John Dingell – one message:  Rise above the meanness with kindness.  

Marmee is right.  It’s easier to preach kindness than practice kindness.  I should know!

Robert Sutton, PhD, put it like this: “The more assholes you’re around the more asshole-y you get.”  

Here’s my plan for changing the atmosphere.

-Spend more time contemplating Jesus.  My dad used to say, “You become like that to which you pay attention.”  

-Live in that atmosphere of the Spirit of the Christ.  Breathe it in. That’s the only way to breathe it out. “Walk in the spirit and you will not do what your old self desires” (Galatians 5:16).

-Choose not to perpetuate the cycle of meanness. 

-Give a kiss for a curse. 

-Eat more cookies.  I always feel more nice when I eat cookies.  

Trying to Keep Up

Can't Keep Up 2

The above pic is from a classic episode of the classic “I Love Lucy” TV show in which Lucy and Ethel take a job in a candy factory. Watching them trying to keep up with the conveyer belt is hilarious.  
Watching John MacArthur’s response to a question at the “Truth Matters Conference” held at his church October 16-18 is distressing.  

The very influenctial pastor, leader, author, was asked to give a gut reaction to a one- or two-word phrase.   The phrase was “Beth Moore,” the name of a well-known Southern Baptist Bible teacher.  MacArthur’s response was “Go home. ” 

The attendees at the conference “Amened” applauded and laughed their approval of his response.  

MacArthur went on to accuse the Southern Baptist Convention of no longer believing in biblical authority because they were, in his opinion, taking a “headlong plunge” toward allowing women preachers at its annual meeting this summer. 

Oh my. You can read more about his statement here.

Christians have been beating up each other and others for centuries. But for MacArthur to pick a fight with the SBC kind of makes me laugh – maybe to keep from crying.  The SBC and MacArthur’s organization are two of the most conservative Christian groups on the planet.  I guess the SBC isn’t conservative enough for John MacArthur.  

I don’t see the SBC allowing women preachers. Maybe I should not be so pessimistic.   They did, afterall, abandon their views on slavery.   On the matter of women-preachers/pastors, right  now, the following views of these SBC leaders represent, I think, the view of the SBC.  

“For a woman to teach and preach to adult men is to defy God’s Word and God’s design,” wrote Owen Strachan, professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. 

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky, piped in with, “There’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice.”  

So, I don’t get the beef MacArthur has with the SBC.  I guess he just really, really, does not like Beth Moore preaching.  

From this whole, sad mess, let’s create something happy and helpful. Let’s approach it with the philosophy of Bob Ross: “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents,”

The “happy little tree” that comes out of this for me is a new way of determining my ethics. 

Some friends and I were discussing this morning through our “Theology through Texting” group my teaching from yesterday in which I spoke of the evolved ethics regarding Domestic Violence.  I showed pictures of print-advertisements that were horribly offensive yet, in the 50s, must have been perfectly acceptable.  

We’ve evolved. Thankfully.  

Tragically, much of the misogynistic views and subsequent treatment of women came from a “biblical ethic” – an ethic that sees women as property, as “under” a man (1 Corinthians 11:3), who is to “obey” her husband (1 Peter 3:6) in the same way that slaves “obey” their masters (Ephesians 6:5) or children “obey” their parents (Ephesians 6:1). It is a view that women are “not to have authority over a man” (2 Timothy 2:12).  

Most of culture has evolved beyond this ethic.  Much of western Christianity has not.  Why not?  

Why have Christians been so slow to evolve in regard to science, in condemning and abolishing slavery, in embracing the equality of the races and gender equality?  

Here’s a thought.  Just a thought.  Christianity – at least the Protestant version of Christianity – has been shaped by a book more  than a spiritual connection with God within, the spirit.    We see it in phrases such as “Biblical worldview” “Biblical authority” and so many other things to which the prefix “biblical” is attached.

Maybe there’s a better way.  The way of the Spirit.  

In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus tells him that “the spirit moves (blows, changes) where it wishes (wills, desires, wanting what is best)” – John 3:8.  The Spirit moves –  is fluid – is active.  The Greek of John 3:8 is literally, “The pneuma pnei.”  “The spirit spirits.”  “The wind winds.”  

The spirit (wind) moves.  

A book is stagnant.  It sits on a shelf.  

Maybe that’s why the writer to the Hebrews says the Word is active – living (Hebrews 4:12).  The “word” here is not a book.  It is the Christ of John 1:1.  Still speaking of the “word” in 4:13, the writer uses the masculine pronoun and says, “no creature is hidden from him.” The word is not a book.  The word is Jesus (see also 4:14-15).

If Christians took their cues from the spirit rather than a book, maybe we’d be quicker to evolve (move, blow, change).

 I have 7 of MacArthur’s books in my library that I purchased, read, and from which I preached in what seems to be another life.  I liked him.  But today, I’m sad. I’m sad for him. I’m sad for the state of Christianity. 

I want to evolve.  To move with the spirit.  To change with the spirit.  To, as Paul says to the Galatians in 5:25 of his letter, “keep in step with the spirit.”  The spirit is moving.  Am I keeping up?   

Bringing Kindness Back in Style

Kindness Stories

I read two stories Monday, October 7, about kindness. 

Story #1 was from USA Today.  The story in the print edition is titled: “Kindness is trying to make a comeback.”   

 

It’s kind of like that Ella Moss Bell-Bottom Button Down Jumpsuit that I bought for Denise last Christmas, 2018.  The fashion world said Bell-Bottoms were making a comeback. Not for Denise.  They’re hanging in her closet with the price tag still attached. 

 

Well, she’ll be ready for Halloween!

 

Kindness has been out of style for a while.  But a few people are bringing it back.  

 

A Los Angeles police officer recently posted a video of a homeless woman singing a Purccini aria in a deserted subway station.  The video went viral.  Emily Zamourka, the “subway soprano” is a classically trained violinist from Russia.  She moved to the United States about 30 years ago. Three years ago she became seriously ill.  That illness bankrupted her, forcing her to the streets.  

 

Now, thanks to that video taken by the police officer, Emily, with a recording contract in hand, is on her way to becoming a professional singer.  In the wake of this overnight turnaround, Emily said,

 

“I want to thank the police officer who was so kind to me and  made me gosh, I don’t know, so famous.”  

 

Then she gives us all a sobering perspective and challenge:

 

“I am so grateful, but I also wish that the kindness I am experiencing now I might  have felt when no one knew of my singing…There are people out there and do need to be reached out to, and they’re waiting to be helped.  We’re all the same, and some just need to be reached out to and given an opportunity.”

 

Story #2 is the story of Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the famous Preacher of Hate at the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.  Megan, in a Ted Talk, reminds us that “We are all a product of our upbringing and our experiences.”

 

Her upbringing was in a religion of:

  • “Us vs. Them.”  The “good guys” were her church.  Everyone else made up the group of “bad guys.”
  • Fear. Her mother summed up the Bible in three words, “Obey. Obey. Obey.”
  • And hate.  Such hate. Megan joined her family on a picket line for the first time when she was five years.  In her little hands, she held up a sign that she was too young to read, much less understand: “Gays are worthy of death.”  Maybe you remember other signs: “God is Your Enemy,” “Your Rabbi is a Whore,”   “God Hates Jews.” God Hates________Just fill in the blank), on and on.  

 

The hate coming out of her family and church was so vicious and disgusting that even   the KKK called them extreme!  Now when the KKK calls you hateful, that’s saying something.  

 

Megan has written a book, “Unfollow” – her story of growing up in hate but choosing love. What turned Megan around? Kindness.  

 

Megan was in charge of the church’s Twitter account.  While others attacked with protests and signs, Megan would attack with Tweets.  

 

She said she was prepared to argue online with the same passion, anger, and self-righteous assurance she was used to when picketing.

 

“What I wasn’t prepared for was kindness,” she said. 

 

She reached out to David Abitbol, the founder of Jewlicious.  

 

She says, “I got to tweeting about how Jews really need to repent for their sins…I accused the Jews of killing Jesus.  David’s response was swift, cunning and angry, exactly the response I expected…but soon after his initial foray, something changed.”  

 

She said she kept sending hateful messages, but he replied differently.  “His responses went from angry insults to friendly bars.  He started asking me questions, and I started asking him questions about Jewish theology, both of us genuinely curious how the other had come to such different conclusions about the Bible.”  

 

Kindness led Megan from hate to love.  

 

Here’s another story of kindness from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.  Francis was riding his horse in the countryside when he saw a leper walking toward him.   His instinct was ours – to turn around and head the other way – to avoid the leper at all cost.  But something happened within Francis. He rode directly toward the man with parts of his face and hands eaten away by the horrible diseases.  Fancis got off his horse, walked to the man and then, hugged him and kissed him – on the lips.

 

Francis writes, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure, but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them…After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.”  

 

No, he didn’t die.  That’s not what he meant by “leaving the world.”  St. Francis left the world of meanness to live in the world of kindness. 

We live in a mean world of harsh words and rude behaviors.  

Let’s leave that world (kingdom) and become residents of another.  

Let’s write our own stories of kindness.

…of kissing the leper.

…of listening.

…of seeking to understand.

…of showing kindness.

 

Let’s bring kindness back in style.  

 

A Wrinkle in the Sheet of Immigration

Fitted Sheets

Did you know that Ruth, the lady whose story is told in a book in the Hebrew Scriptures that bears her name, was an illegal immigrant?

How does that fact affect your view of the immigration issue that heats up our country?

I talked about Ruth in my teaching last Sunday in our series “What Would Jesus Say About…”. 

The issue about which we tuned our ears to Jesus was immigration.  Christians often agree with the many  “be kind to foreigners” verses in both the Hebrew Scripture and Christian Scripture, but they also often add this caveat: “Yes, but those were legal immigrants.  Since illegal immigrants are lawbreakers they shouldn’t have any rights.”

Then, we read the story of Ruth.  And she throws a wrinkle in our position (Have you tried to fold a fitted sheet?).   People think they have a Biblically wrinkle-free position on immigration until they read the story of Ruth.  

Ruth was an illegal immigrant.  She’s from Moab.  One of those countries.   Check out Israel’s policy toward immigrants from Moab:  

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever” (Deuteronomy 23:3).

“Forever”  is a long time.  

Still not convinced that Moabites were excluded…that Moabites were to be kept out? 

Look at Deuteronomy 23:6: “You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever.”  

There’s that word “forever” again.  

The Hebrew of this verse is colorful.  Check out these different translations:

Never pursue their welfare or prosperity – CSB

Never promote their welfare or prosperity – NRSV

Never seek a treaty of friendship with them – NIV

Never seek their peace or their prosperity- NASB

Don’t wish for their peace or success – NCV

Don’t be concerned with their health and well-being – CEB

 Ok.  I get it.  The message is clear.  Don’t give a hand to help the Moabite and Ammonite.  They’re not good people. 

Here’s the wrinkle.  Boaz, the hero of the story, flagrantly disobeyed Moses’ law.  He showed Ruth, and her mother-in-law Naomi, kindness, provided food for them, pursued their welfare, helped them succeed.  And friendship?  

Oh, Boaz went way beyond friendship and got intimate with Ruth.  

Follow that intimacy down the family tree and we arrive at Jesus – Jesus, the Son of David (Matthew 1:1).  Ruth and Boaz were great-grandparents of David.  Jesus was the “Son of David”, and David was the great-grandson of an illegal immigrant mother and a law-breaking father.  

Boaz, like his descendant, Jesus, chose love over law.  Kindness and compassion over keeping the rules.  

What would have happened had Boaz obeyed the law?  

He wouldn’t have been kind to Ruth.  He wouldn’t have provided care for and to them. 

He and Ruth would not have fallen in love.  They would not have had sex and conceived a child, a grandchild…and if you keep going, Jesus would not have been born.  

That was my point in the sermon.  Afterwards, a good, wise friend pointed out to me another way to look at it: If Boaz had kept the law, God could have found another way to bring Jesus to the world.  True. Then my friend said,  “But isn’t it cool that God chose to use an illegal immigrant to bring Jesus to us?”  Cool indeed. Thank you friend!

I get that nations have a responsibility to protect their borders.  I’m not campaigning for illegal immigration.  Here’s what I’m thinking:

* Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world.  As a follower of Christ, I am, foremost, a citizen of that kingdom. For me, that citizenship takes precedence over my U.S. citizenship.  I am to embrace and express the values of His kingdom – values of love and service to the least of these.  How can I live in the  kingdom of the U.S. and live by the principles of the kingdom of Heaven?

*What should be my motivation?  Respect for the law or love of people?  Let’s not forget that it was famine and death that compelled Ruth and Naomi to migrate to the land of Israel.  The same story can be told millions of times today.  Think about the words of an immigrant from Kenya, Warsan Shire,

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

Maybe I should have more compassion for people in horrible situations?

So, if God broke the Mosaic law, or used a law breaker and an illegal immigrant to bring Jesus to us, lifting love and compassion over law-keeping, what might God think of people today who challenge the law for the cause of love?  Think about it.  

Seeing Through Jesus’ Glasses

Aniumal glasses

I was raised in a culture that taught us to develop a “Biblical worldview.”  If we break that down, I guess it means to see the world through the lens of the Bible.  Or, to allow the Bible to  inform and influence the way we:

 – see the world.

 – talk about the issues in the world.

 – respond to the issues in the world.

 I appreciate the intent of the instruction. But, I wonder if the instruction falls short? If it is misguided?

You see, The point of the Bible is to guide us to Jesus – at least that’s what Jesus himself says (John 5:39)

So, why settle for a Biblical Worldview when Jesus invites us to a Jesus Worldview?  

Honestly, we don’t really follow the Biblical worldview of stoning disobedient children, sacrificing animals to appease God, slavery, silencing women, and on and on.  So, I really don’t get the “Biblical Worldview” thing.  I can more easily grasp a “Jesus Worldview.” 

Jesus invites us to “Follow me”(Matthew 4:19).  Not a book.  Him.  

“All authority has been given to me,”  Jesus says as an introduction to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  Did we catch that?  Jesus did not say all authority was given to a book that some guys were going to write.  All authority is given to Him.    

At the close of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged the hearers not with “The one who hears the words of Moses, or Isaiah and acts on them is like the wise man, but “The one who hears and acts on (does them, practices them) my words is like the wise man” (Matthew 7:24).

I want to wake up each morning with the thought – “Jesus, let me see all things, all people, through your eyes. Give me your worldview.”

I’m teaching a series called “What Would Jesus Say About…”.  We’re diving headfirst into a deep pool.  One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the discussion about these issues from Christians sound similar to the discussions about these issues from people who don’t claim to follow Jesus. We tend to repeat the views and even prejudices of whatever news source we listen to or group we hang out with.  

I’m inviting people to join me in discovering a Jesus perspective of what is going on today. 

I’m asking myself, and encourage others to ask as well:  

“If following Jesus does not influence or transform the way I see and talk about the issues of our day, I wonder what good religion is?” 

The Teeter-Totter Connection

Teeter Totter

Have you seen or read about the “Teeter-Totter Wall.”  You had to look fast because it was only up for 30 minutes.  

 

In contrast to the tensions that we feel surrounding what’s happening at the wall, seeing a teeter-totter through the wall with kids of all ages cooperating and connecting, made me smile.  And that can’t be a bad thing.  

 

The teeter-totter was designed 10 years ago – yes, you read that right – 2009 – by Ronald Rael, an architecture professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Virginia San  Fratello, an associate professor of design at San Jose State University. It was installed July 29, 2019.

 

Not everyone liked the teeter-totters.  Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council and a border control agent gave this commentary: “Stunts like this do nothing but try to paint a narrative that frankly is false and try to get the public sentiment on their side.  They don’t work in the real world and don’t know how the real world goes – frankly, they shoudn’t be doing this.”  

 

I get what he’s thinking and saying.  But his statement makes me consider the question, “What is really real and what is false?”

 

Maybe he’s wrong and Carole King was right when she sang “Only Love is Real”.  “Everything else illusion,” she wrote.  Maybe all this hate, violence, racism, fear, economic deprivation, is not who we are.  Maybe they are imposters who have stolen our true identity.  

 

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), was a Doctor of the Church – not the M.D. kind, more like the PhD kind.  The Catholic Church gave the title of “Doctor” to those who made a “significant contribution to theology or doctrine though their research, study, or writing.”

 

Check out this “contribution” from Doctor Thomas: 

 

“All things love God.  All things are united according 

to friendship to each other and to God.”  

 

“Come on Dr. Aquinas.  Get real. Don’t be so naive.  That’s not how the real world is or how the real world works,” some may think.    Well, maybe the premodern saint and sage is on to something. Maybe the mystic recognized what science tells us today:  “There is an interconnection of all things.”  And, if all things are interconnected, isn’t there wisdom in seeing all things as friends?  We have science and spirituality teaching us, drawing us to look beyond the surface to the core.  At that core we find connection.  

 

Sesame Street gave us “The Rainbow Connection.”  

Why not a Teeter-Totter connection?  

 

Look again at the above picture and let it remind us that we are all connected.