Friday, March 24, 2017

Daily Lesson for March 24, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from John chapter 8 verses 33 through 37:

33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you."

John chapters 8 and 9 have Jesus speaking about blindness and enslavement.  The blindness of the sighted and the enslavement of the free are his primary points -- points hostilely received by those who were absolutely certain that they could see and were free.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once famously said, " . . .there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns."

No truer statement has ever been uttered.

It is what we do not know that we do not know which makes us blind. It is what we are certain of is the sin in others which is often so deeply the occasion of sin in ourselves.  It is the certitude that we are free even Biblically justified to behave as we wish that ends in our own enslavement to sin.

We can think here of those who owned slaves in antebellum America or those who have used the Bible as a weapon against the LGBT community. I am a descendant of these enslaved slave masters and I was at one time actively complicit in creating a culture that was homophobic and anti-gay. And like my forebears before me I did so not out of a sense of unrighteousness but righteousness.

This is a cause for deep humility. As Jesus said, "Because you say that you see your sin remains."  The moment we think we see and know is the moment we are often most misguided. It is the unknown unknowns that get us.

Harriet Tubman is purported to have said, "I freed a thousand slaves; I would have freed a thousand more if they had known they were slaves."

I wonder which slaves she was talking about -- the chattel or the so-called free?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Daily Lesson for March 23, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Romans chapter 5 verses 18 and 19:

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

There is a fairly new genetic field called epigenetics, where scientists have discovered how certain events in the life of one generation can affect the genetic coding of generations to follow. For example, a traumatic event like a famine in one generation can actually cause genetic alterations in the bloodstream of not only the generation which endured the famine, but also the bloodstream of their unborn children and their children's children. This is the reason scientists speculate certain traumatic events in one generation can have lasting consequences such as the development of psychological disorders like schizophrenia in not only the generation which endured the trauma but also generations to come. 

When Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of the Garden it was a traumatic event of universal significance. Every generation has since been affected by the tragic decisions of the couple and the resulting consequences. This primordial event literally altered life for all generations to come. This is the concept now of original sin -- no one of us is born now without the genetic memory of what it meant to sin and know that we are naked and ashamed. One generation's decision has affected all other generations to follow -- even down into our genes. 

And yet, while this logic of solidarity is true from generation to generation, it is not always tragic or even altogether negative. We are not only trapped by the loved which befell other generations. We can also be freed by them as well. One generation's adaptation or ability to overcome can also affect generations to follow. Just as the genetic bloodstream can be negatively altered so also is their a possibility for positive alteration as well. For example, one generation's ability to overcome certain traumas and tragedies and provide stability can in fact not only change the environment their children will be raised in, but even effect their genetic makeup.  For example, a person suffering with PTSD who gets help early and stabilizes may be less likely to have children who suffer from psychological disorders as well. 

In other words, in Biblical language, there is hope; and we have the power to overturn generational curses. 

"For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous," Paul writes. This is the heart of his idea of how we -- all humanity -- were first cursed but then atoned for.  One generation may have indeed cursed us -- even in our blood; but another had the power to bless and redeem. 

This is the good news of salvation. We are not altogether imprisoned by the sins of our fathers. For we have also been set free my the righteousness of our brother.

Thanks be to God. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Daily Lesson for March 22, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Romans chapter 5 verses 3 and 4:

3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

We usually think of hope as what we start with that gets us through whatever struggles and trials we go through. But in actuality hope is what we are left with after having gone through the struggle. We don't start out with hope; we end up with it.

Paul, who knew a thing or two about struggle and trial tells us where our hope comes from.  "Suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character" and then he said, finally, "character produces hope."  This is why the most hopeful people we know are people who have struggled and endured and whose character has been shaped by the pain of life's trials. They are the hopeful ones; they are the ones who give us hope.

Optimism is what we start out with in the morning, when the sun is rising, the dew fresh, and what the day will bring is yet unknown. Hope, on the the other hand, is what we're left with when the sun is setting and the day has been long and full of toil and the prospect for tomorrow being any easier is very, very dim. Conceived in struggle and born of survival, that's when hope arrives to keep us from despair -- right when we need it most.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Daily Lesson for March 21, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from John chapter 7 verses 45 through 52:

45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring [Jesus]?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

To listen to ones own voice of conscience,
To listen and not be silenced by fear or intimidation,
To open the throat and let your truth march out on a brave steed
Or hobble out on a donkey, or the foal of a donkey,
To stand up and go on record,
"This is not acceptable.
He deserves a hearing.
We do not try and convict without evidence or hearing.
A man is innocent until proven guilty.
This is above the Law.
This is wrong."

Thank you Nicodemus; you tried.
You tried.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Daily Lesson for March 20, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Jeremiah chapter 7 verses 1 through 7:

7:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever."

God will not be flattered by a people who take His name in vain. A people who call themselves a Godly nation and who build temples and churches in the name of the LORD, yet who have no regard for justice for the vulnerable and oppressed is a Godly nation in name only. It shall not endure the fire of God's judgment.

God does not abide a people who are cruel to the sojourner, or do harm to those being raised without fathers, or take from widows, or is lethal force without cause, or worship mammon. It is very clear from today's passage that these are serious sins. God is not flattered by a nation which has taken on His name but not His justice.

Writing in 1941, amidst Nazi Germany's so-called 'Christian' ascendancy, the great Lutheran theologian Reinhold Niebuhr spoke warningly against Germany's hubris. “No nation is free of the sin of pride,” Niebuhr said, “just as no individual is free of it. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that there are ‘Christian’ nations, who prove themselves so because they are still receptive to prophetic words of judgment spoken against the nation."

A nation truly under God is not only under God's name but even more importantly under God's will. A truly "Christian" or "Godly" nation is the nation that has heard the prophetic words and, having listened, truly then repents in both heart and also action.

 ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord," the people of ancient Israel said. And it was.

But it would not always be.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Daily Lesson for March 17, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Psalm 95 verses 1 through 5:

95:1 Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

Today is a day worth rejoicing over. It is a day to sing on and be glad about. Today is a day to make a joyful noise!

For today wasn't promised. We weren't guaranteed it. By sheer grace the LORD woke us up this morning and we ought to praise GOD for it.

Yes; today may not be perfect. Today may have its bad news -- even its struggles. Today we may be dry as a bone and low as a slug. Yet still, all these things are His. God created heights and the depths, the sea and the desert. What comes my way today is still His. And I am still alive and kicking and I can still kick pretty good -- for my age!

Sometimes I go to black churches. Invariably, the preacher gets up, "Somebody ought to praise God. Somebody ought to give praise God."  The people stand and begin to clap and say, "Yes."  The preacher speaks again.  "Ya'll ought to praise the LORD. Ya'll ought to get up and give him some glory. For the LORD woke you up this morning. And you ought to make a joyful noise unto Him today."

That's a tradition that really has something to say to us today.

Make a joyful noise!  Make a joyful noise to the Rock of our Salvation!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Daily Lesson for March 16, 2017

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Romans chapter 2 verses 17 through 24:

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

A study released a couple of years ago by the Barna Research Group found that much of the church's troubles with connecting with Millennials has to with negative perceptions that generations has about church people. Our reputation is bad, the research said, and in my opinion we've mostly done it to ourselves.

More than one-third of Millennials say moral failures in church leadership have undermined the church's credibility. Hands down, the vast majority of Millennials who don’t go to church view Christians as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), anti-gay (91%) and insensitive to others (70%).

Not good. We've got a major PR problem and we've done it to ourselves. In my experience, it's not Jesus Millennials have a problem with; it's us. In the words of Bon Jovi, we've given love a bad name.

We can do better; we need to do better. For the name of God we need to do better.