Paying Taxes

Which is harder? Giving to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, or giving to God the things that belong to God? Until recently, I thought it easy to list the things that belong to Caesar, or in my case, the United States. They are things like paying taxes and… Wait a minute. We now have a president who has taken pride in the fact that he has avoided paying taxes. In Jesus’ day, the tax structure was even more whimsical and unfair than our current one. Rich people paid bribes to avoid higher taxes. This was considered smart, but Jesus was blunt. Simply give to the government your taxes. Being fixated on lowering your tax rate or what deductions you can claim should never distract you from your real debt, which is to God.

Pentecost 24
Sunday, October 22, 2017

Character Matters

I like to be the critic. People from time to time will give a list. They will say, “here are the three things you need to know before you set up a blog,” or, “here are ten things I hate about the Patriots.” Paul gives us that kind of list in Philippians 4:8. Being the critic, I ask, is he choosing the right things when he says, “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Here is the top 8 things you should think about: 1) truth 2) honor 3) justice 4) purity 5) being pleasing to God 6) earning the respect of others (commendable) 7) exampling excellence 8) being worshipful (my translation)
Pentecost 19
Sunday, October 15, 2017

Take Two Tablets

Whenever I think about the ten commandments, I always picture Moses with two stone tablets in his hands. Traditionally, commandments are shown with numbers one through four on the first tablet, six through ten fit on page two. Newspaper people speak of putting some articles above the fold, and others below it. The above fold commandments deal with how Jewish, Christian, and Moslem people show respect to the God of Moses. The people whose faith harkens back to Mount Sinai (Moslem, Christian, or Jew), honor our God by: 1) Having only one God (Exodus 20:3 - Monotheism) 2) Not worshiping idols (Exodus 20:4) 3) Not using the name of God as a magic spell, or as a way of claiming that we are telling the truth (Exodus 20:7 swearing in God’s Name)
Pentecost 22
Sunday, October 8, 2017

Question Authority?

We all have complicated a relationship with those who have authority over us. Some of us immediately comply to whatever our boss orders. Others of us have learned to walk the fine line between healthy insubordination and being fired. Some of us take whatever medicine we are prescribed, without question, because we assume physicians to be authorities on our medical conditions. Others of us, double-check every pill on the web. Some people believe whatever their pastor says about the Bible, others have their own interpretation. Jesus gets asked the authority question. In Matthew 21:21, the temple authorities ask him how he came to be an authority on religious practice.

Pentecost 21
Sunday, October 1, 2017

Will Work for Love

We have a family member who inserts into every conversation some reference as to how hard she’s working, how under appreciated she is, and/or how much she is doing for the family. We call her the martyr. In this world, her clones are legion. Jesus tells a story that is incomprehensible to anyone afflicted with her condition (Matthew 20:1-16). It deals with a vineyard owner who hires five groups of day-laborers throughout a one hot September day. The first group worked from 7 am to 7 pm, the second from 9 am to 7 pm, the third slept in that morning but got hired to work noon to 7. Needing to get his harvest in, he hired a few more layabouts to join the crew at 3 pm and a final group of workers at 5 pm. This last group of workers only put in two hours in the cool of the evening.

Pentecost 20
Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Careful who you call 'Stupid'

There is one thing that I am slow to forgive in this world, that is stupidity. The other day, I’m doing fifty on a crowded, known to be dangerous, stretch of Pittsburgh highway, when a motorcyclist flies by my right side, driving in the breakdown lane. I lay on my horn and call him an idiot. Then it hit me. I have done stupider things. Further, my anger was probably not related to my concern for his safety, but the competitive spirit that fuels road rage.

Pentecost 19
Sunday, September 17, 2017

Passover in September?

Because it follows the Exodus story, the Lectionary tells us about Passover just after Labor Day. This seems strange, because this Jewish feast always falls in early spring, often near our Easter. What God tells Moses to do here is a ritual. Many of us flee from ritual. When people do a passover meal, they sometimes call it a “Seder,” which means an order of service or a ritual. God speaks through Moses, saying, do this and you shall live. God is serious about this and Moses must have been persuasive. How else would he get people to splash blood upon the door posts of their house?
Pentecost 18
Sunday, September 10, 2017

Moses and the Second Midlife

Have you ever noticed that Moses’ life was divided into equal thirds — each lasting 40 years. In the first third he was the adopted child of the Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt. We can imagine Moses growing up in the competitive world of the palace. If you asked him what he wanted, more than anything else, I bet Moses would say that he wished to be successful. Many young adults today are driven by the need to be successful. They want to succeed at work, marry the best spouse, and achieve great things before they are 40.

Pentecost 17
Labor Day Weekend
Sunday, September 3, 2017

It's not What you know, but Who you know

Most of us have experienced about 1% of Exodus 1:8. We go to work and the person who supervises us changes. Suddenly we have a new boss who doesn’t know how loyal, trustworthy, and super we’ve been. They patronize us. They fail us. They give the good tasks to their friends and don’t give us the review that we need to be promoted. A bad boss is a pain. Some of you have lost a good neighbor and had the house next door bought by people who live like animals. A bad neighbor is a hassle. A bad king or pharaoh or president, however, is a humanitarian disaster. Think of the Hindenburg Zeppelin — “Oh, the humanity!”

Read Exodus 1:8, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”

Pentecost 16
Sunday, August 27, 2017

Justice in a Post-Charlottesville World

I don’t make this stuff up! The Common Lectionary - a decades old scripture chooser used by many pastors to keep them preaching the whole gospel - has four scriptures and a Psalm for August 20th; every one of these speak of God’s commitment to provide justice and mercy for all people. In Genesis 45, we read of a man who was once a slave and a prisoner becoming the hope and savior of people who once did him wrong. In Psalm 67, we read of how God judges all the people of the world with equity; his love is for every nation. In Romans 11, Paul explains that when God extends his grace to outsiders or a foreign people, he doesn’t diminish he love for those who knew him first.

Pentecost 15
Sunday, August 20, 2017

Holy Immigrants

The story of Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt begins by telling us that his father, Jacob, had just brought the family back into the southern region of what is today Israel. Geography is important, here. We have this typical family: father, two wives, two concubines, twelve sons, a couple of daughters, including Dinah who is in the kitchen with somebody, and a mess of sheep. Everybody crosses the Jordan River at night. They come across the border illegally, or at least in fear for their lives, because Uncle Esau plans to do them harm. Jordan at this point looks remarkably similar to the Rio Grande at El Paso.

Pentecost 14
Sunday, August 13, 2017

Coward!

I can still remember my shock when my Old Testament professor called Jacob a coward. “Look at what he does,” Dr. Szikszai said. “He sends his wives and children across the river, giving them as slaves, to save his own miserable skin. He waits in the dark, trying to find a way to sneak away.” This is how one of my favorite Bible Stories begins. Jacob, like us, doesn’t have the courage to live the life he is called to live. God has to wrestle with him. God has to bring pain into his life, putting his hip out of joint. God has to leave him limping with broken-ness. Out of broken-ness comes transformation. A new name. Israel.

Pentecost 13
Sunday, August 6, 2017
Lately I have been struggling to understand the negative emotion, “aversion.” It is never helpful or right to react with our gut to the appearance or behavior of another person. Their choices may be wrong and their use of power unjust. But we must seek first to understand. We must mitigate evil when we can, but not to descend to name calling or shaming. Some of my Facebook friends express an aversion to Democrats, others towards leaders in the Republican party. The partisan affliction that divides our nation has taken up residence in our guts.
Aversion Therapy in Clockwork Orange

R U Happy 2 Day?

I have been thinking a lot about inner peace and happiness lately. Psalm 128 says that everyone who “fears the Lord” will be happy. In the context of the rest of the passage, I think the Hebrew word Shalom is more helpful here. It’s more permanent than happiness. It means real peace, as well as some other aspects of true happiness that we should focus on. But first, what about fearing God?

Pentecost 12
Sunday, July 30, 2017

God's calling - My path

Life is, in its simplest telling, a journey story. This is why our hearts are drawn to stories like the Hobbit, the Exodus, and Homer’s Odyssey. Psalm 139 tells us that the journey has purpose. It assures me that [God has] searched out my path and my lying down, and is acquainted with all my ways. Such knowledge is overwhelming.

Pentecost 11
Sunday, July 23, 2017

Funny Kind of Farming

Imagine if I were to walk down the aisle of your church with a bag of M and Ms. Or if you prefer, Raisinets. Just like the sower in Jesus’ story, I throw the chocolate pellets out into the congregation. Some people would receive the treat eagerly. Others will let the candy just bounce right off of them.

Back in Bible times, farmers used to waste a lot of seed. It was called broadcast farming. Seed thrown everywhere, like M&Ms from a crazy preacher. I can’t begin to explain why they did it that way. I guess there are things that we do today that are just as crazy. Why do we watch hundreds of hours of TV for just a few moments of enjoyment? Why do we post hundreds of things to Facebook or Snap Chat or maintain a Twitter feed? It all seems pretty wasteful.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Importance of Rules (and breaking them)

Jesus breaks the rules. He comes from God like John the Baptist does, but he doesn't sit out in the wilderness eating locust and wearing wild animal skins. He is in the tradition of Isaiah and Moses, yet he doesn’t write long books or tote stone tablets with rules to learn. There are three rules that I have learned from watching Jesus:
1) Always be compassionate.
2) Awareness beats ignorance
3) The ends never justify the means (or always trust the process).

Pentecost 9
Sunday, July 9, 2017

What do I do to please God?

Abraham, being an exemplar of faith, is quick to obey when he hears God calling him to sacrifice his son on a distant mountain (Genesis 22:1-19). This involves having the kid carry wood up to the summit, so that the old man can build an altar. The boy must then stand still, while ancient Abraham binds him to that altar. Then the boy will die and Abraham will go home to face Sarah. That is the plan. There isn’t a social service agency in the country that wouldn’t convict Abraham of child abuse for even considering it.

Pentecost 8
Sunday, July 2, 2017

I want to thank the many Facebook friends who commented and shared by recent Facebook posts on why I, a conservative christian writer, am standing with PP against Trump-care. One of friends pushed back with a link to an organization that claims PP’s statistics are inflated and that they are only interested in providing more abortions. This bit of fake news was rebutted by the many women who shared personal stories of how they had been helped by Planned Parenthood, and even given the medical care that they needed to successfully become parents. It hit me as I scrolled through these comments that acts of genuine kindness are rarely reported because of privacy concerns. Stories need to be shared. Hope triumphs over hate.

Sen Toomey locking 20K constituents out of his office

Trust the Process

The salvation of our souls is a process. Paul describes it this way, “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). There is a death process, where we release our hold on the things of this world. There is also a mysterious life process, or resurrection. We have to trust that these two processes are linked. If we let go, we also take on. The dying can be an old selfish way of seeing the world. I might have been raised with racial stereotypes or with a competitive attitude about life. If I can let go, God has a process that will fill me with love for others.

Pentecost 7
Sunday, June 25, 2017

We simply want healthcare that is:

Universal — this means that every resident of the United States should be covered to a basic standard without exception.
Equitable — this means that coverage should extend equally to all medical conditions. The cost of a preexisting conditions should not be born by the victim. The reproductive process should be insured irregardless of gender, personal choices about sexuality, or the religious beliefs of others.
Affordable — the final cost of healthcare to the individual should be based on income. It shouldn’t be dependent upon where one lives or the type of work one does.

Healthcare isn’t that hard, but the politics of it is a bear.

For the Next Generation

You are never too old to be mindful of the next generation. When the Bible tells us an incredible story of this elderly couple, leaving their home and immigrating to a new land at eighty, and then becoming parents at a hundred, and then learning how to use Pinterest and Snap Chat at a 120… the point is not how old Abraham and Sarah are. The point is that the next generation always matters.

Angels come to visit Abraham and Sarah. Their message, “God is not done with you yet.” I don’t think God is ever done with anyone of us. The move that Abraham and Sarah make to Palestine, and the birth of Isaac and Ishmael to this retired couple, are not things God did to make them happy. He brought about these miracles so that future generations might have a home and a place to prosper.

Pentecost 6
Father's Day
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Three things about Creation

As I begin the summer, with all of its activities, I always refresh my commitment to spend some of it simply enjoying creation. This year I hope to continue my pursuit of elusive butterflies and their caterpillars, which I photograph and post to my Facebook page. Learning which caterpillar becomes which butterfly has helped me to appreciate the complexity of God’s creation. Where before I saw woods and meadow, now I see habitat, biodiversity, and adaptation. This is a spiritual maturation that Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 encourage. What lays ahead of us should be a season of wonder.

Trinity Sunday
Pentecost 2
Sunday, June 11, 2017

Try not to fall for Dumb Idols

Idolatry is a big thing today. I visited Edmonton, Canada a few years back. They have this big silver thing in the middle of town. It’s a reproduction of the Stanley Cup that their hockey team has won a few times. Pittsburgh gets one of them things every once and a while. We try not to make an idol of it. How are we doing?

Ever since Mohamed Ali people have been saying, “I’m the greatest.” Most have been less deserving than Mr. Ali. You may have someone over you at your workplace who thinks that they are the greatest — it has a way of making them a lousy boss. Many people today work for a business that wants them to idolize the company — that is — to sacrifice your thoughts and your family time for its ends. No job should do that.

Pentecost 1
Day of Pentecost
Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Where is the Soul of the Church?

Just before he was betrayed, captured, and crucified, Jesus warned his disciples that he would be leaving them. In his extended prayer (John 17) Jesus reveals a key concept: just as God was present in the world through Jesus, so also, Jesus will continue to be present in the world through his Church. In John 17:13-17, Jesus says that his Church will be in the world, but not of it. How do we understand Jesus? Simply, he was a man who was in the world, but not of it. He was fully human, but also fully divine. He was a citizen of heaven, yet also a resident of first century Palestine.
Eastertide 7
Ascension Sunday
Sunday, May 28, 2017

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