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Recently a group of clergy in North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the Governor of North Carolina and his Stay At Home Order for the good of public health. The ministers, along with several other groups connected by stated religious principles, said the reason for their lawsuit was to protect their religious freedoms and that the governor’s order violated freedom of religious as a protected constitutional right.
Religion as an expression of Christian witness is never about individual rights but a call to community responsibility where we demonstrate our concern about God’s creation. Christian religion is a justice issue that calls upon believers to make sacrifices, to submit to authority, and even at times to suffer in order to do good. It is always an indication of the enemy at work whenever we are urged to places our rights over responsibility. The brother of Jesus makes this point in his brief epistle. James 1:27 tells us pure and undefiled religion before God is this--to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Christian faith calls us to act. Act not for ourselves but to act for others and especially those who have no one to act on their behalf. The current pandemic has revealed just how divided our nation is but also just how so many in our nation suffer because of a lack of resources whether those resources are access to quality health care or internet services for children who are compelled to be educated through virtual learning. The summer slide that educators often speak about may be replaced by a technology gap that locks many students out of learning opportunities.
James would have us to place our efforts not in lawsuits about religious rights but in advocacy and service that ensures that the least are not always left out. Because they too are God’s children deserving all that God’s world can provide for them when the church does not see mission as something we do somewhere else in the world and never in our back yard. Let’s decide to be God’s agency for the change that is on God’s heart--the widows and the orphans and all of those who are marginalized. For this is pure religion.
Published on Saturday, May 23, 2020 @ 8:28 AM EDT
When the church was filled with the power that Jesus promised, they immediately encountered opposition from religious authorities. The claims of the church about Jesus and the resurrection ran counter to the position held by those in power. Those in power were willing to do whatever they needed to do to remain in power, including jailing disciples and threating disciples with violence.
Those in power always think that intimidation is a reliable tool and that is why they are so quick to use it. However the religious leaders quickly learned that the disciples would not be intimidated. The disciples would not remain silent about what they know to be true.
They knew that Jesus was killed because the religious leaders plotted against him and turned him over to Pilate. The disciples knew that Jesus had risen from the grave conquering death and its power over humanity. The disciples knew that Jesus has given them the responsibility to tell the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. So once released from prison, the disciples went and told the young church about their experience and then they did what the church has done since its inception--they prayed together.
The cooperate prayer of the church is most insightful because it revealed what was on their heart. And what was on their heart was not safety from persecution but courage to be bold in the face of opposition.
There may be no challenge for the church greater than the challenge to be bold and show courage when safety might seem to be the logical choice. It requires boldness for the invisible institution to find its place in the brushes and back woods where blacks told Jesus their whole hearts. It took courage for the church to participate in the Underground Railroad, the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter. It will require courage for the church to lead the community out of the pandemic and into a world that will be vastly different than the one we knew. Courage and resurrections go hand and hand, so let’s be courageous so we can live again.
Published on Monday, May 11, 2020 @ 8:23 PM EDT
This passage in Acts is the first miracle performed by the apostles after Pentecost. Jesus had promised his followers they would receive power from on high and the question waiting to be answered is what would they do with the power? Would they use the power for their own personal benefit or confine the witness of the power to their group alone? Or would they use the power to make a difference in the lives of others in the name of Jesus Christ?
The church is always confronted with how it would use the power that God has given us. For the church is never without power. It may not be all the power that the church wants, it may not be the kind of power the church wants, but the church always has power. What the apostle shows us is that the power of the church works best when it is used to meet human needs, particularly when those needs cannot be met anywhere else or when those needs have to settled for something less than the real need.
The current pandemic has brought the church an opportunity to meet needs. Those needs may be meals, may be a place to come get tested, may be a call or card to someone living under quarantine or may be a financial gift to help someone out of work. Peter and John did not cure everyone who was sick and neither did Jesus. But the healing they did do spoke to what was possible and there was something that could be done to meet human needs if we are willing to use the power God has given us.
The lame man that had spent his life begging outside the temple had his life changed because he was not ignored and found out God has more in store for us than simply surviving off the sympathy of others. God wants to use others to change our lives forever through the power He has given them to make a difference.
Let’s decide to be difference makers in the pandemic because we have the power, the power that God has given us to be light, hope and help in his name for his glory.
Published on Monday, May 11, 2020 @ 8:16 PM EDT
The words of the psalmist speak to us in a time of questions, challenge and difficulty. The human side of us wants to believe that we are capable of creating our destiny. Rugged American individualism is what made this nation the envy of the world because of what we created with our hands. From the Washington Memorial to Mount Rushmore, these are signs of American power and what we can do when we set our minds to do something.
Ideas about the power that humanity has to harness the environment and change it to our own will are not new as seen in the Egyptian Pyramids and the Great Wall of China. Now that is a wall. Yet the psalmist brings us back to reality and reminds us just how limited our power truly is. There are things that are beyond our control. Sometimes it is oppressors that are stronger than us. Sometimes it is natural disasters that catch us unaware. Sometimes it is the invisible that wreaks havoc by way of germs that invade our bodies and make us weak and vulnerable.
The point the psalmist is making is that there is always something. Our lives are never lived in an utopia. In those moments the psalmist offers sound advice, he tells his community to trust, to delight, to commit, to be silent and to wait. All of these things go against our natural inclination to take matters into our own hands.
Yet the psalmist sees a different path that is possible, one that brings us to a deeper abiding relationship with the Almighty. The psalmist sees how the difficulties of life may become the pressure that the Almighty uses to remold us and make us better. Better to ourselves, better to our families and community and better to God. What makes us better is we have unmasked the deceit of human ability and recognized our deep need of God. The God we are called to trust, the God we called to delight in, to commit, to be silent before and the God we are to wait upon.
Because what we truly learn about God is not in what we do but in what we see God do for us. While we were weak and without help, Christ died for us. In his death and resurrection that we celebrate each Sunday we affirm our need of God and wait upon God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. So while waiting, make sure you trust, delight, commit, be silent and see the salvation of God.
Published on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 @ 8:23 PM EDT
The book of Acts has only one post-resurrection appearance by Jesus and it occurs just prior to his ascension back to heaven. Even at the end of Jesus’ time with the disciples, they still struggle to focus upon the things that matter most. Their concerns reflected their personal desires more than the aims of God so they ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Their eyes and hearts are still blind to the idea of power being determined by where someone sits as opposed to what someone does.
Jesus informs the disciples their focus is in the wrong area because it is impossible to know the time that God will choose to change the power arrangements of foreign rulers. Jesus tells them rather than being concerned about what cannot be known, to wait in the city until they are endowed with power from on high. “When the Holy Spirit comes you will have power, power to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Real power is not defined by where you sit but by what you do. When you receive the power of the Holy Spirit, go and be my witnesses. The word and work of the Lord is dependent upon witnesses who will spread the news. The news is not just the possession of Jerusalem but it is to make its way to city after city until the whole world knows the good news that sin has been defeated and that death has been robbed of its victory.
The power of the Holy Spirit comes to a group of believers who are shut in by a stay-at-home order not from Rome but from heaven. So, in an upper room they wait. While waiting they pray, they encourage one another, they renew the bonds of fellowship and commitment to a cause greater than themselves.
May we learn from their witness as we too are shut in, seeing the shut in not as inconvenience but an opportunity to receive new power from on high. The prophet did say, “They that wait on the Lord will renew their strength.”
Published on Saturday, April 25, 2020 @ 8:24 PM EDT