Embarrasing Texts, Careless Speech

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. – Ephesians 4:29

This Sunday I am continuing a sermon series on peacemaking. Intentional or not, many conflicts begin with words. We have to be attentive to our words, including our texts. I’ve had some awkward moments with texting.

Claude-Guy Halle, “The Deliverance of St. Paul and St. Barnabas”

One reason we now call cell phones smart phones must be how they help us text. The auto complete feature spares us the cumbersome task of typing entire words and sentences. Instead, it finishes them for us. Auto text suggests one or two word replies to an incoming text. Auto correct is handy when we don’t use proper spelling or grammar. 

These are helpful features, but they can create problems. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t keep a watchful eye on my phone, I risk sending humorous, ridiculous or embarrassing messages:

A few years ago my mother in law’s dog unexpectedly died while she was visiting. I texted a trustee asking if it was okay to bury my mother in law in the back yard. Fortunately the intended message was clear.

A parishioner invited me to lunch one day. I responded to his text by explaining that I couldn’t because I was imbalanced. I meant to say I was unavailable. A friend texted that he was at his mother’s funeral. Because of auto text, I inappropriately replied “That’s great!”

These are examples of what can happen when we don’t pay careful attention to what we are communicating. Perhaps they also teach a broader lesson: We must be very attentive to the words we say (or text) and how they are received. Regardless of our intentions, words can have a lingering affect: We can build someone up with our words just as easily as we can tear them down. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us not to underestimate the power of our words:

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Vincent van Gogh, Joseph and Living in Contrast

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Isaiah 40:26

People have experienced Van Gogh’s Starry Night in different ways, so it has been interpreted in different ways. One interpretation suggests that the painting is related to Joseph’s (in the Old Testament) description of his dream that he shares with his jealous brothers: 

“Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” Genesis 37:9

There are eleven stars in the painting, so maybe Van Gogh was thinking of Joseph’s 11 brothers as he painted. To his brothers, Joseph was a dreamer and an outcast and spent several years in prison. Van Gogh considered himself an outcast and dreamer in the world of art, and painted Starry Night from an asylum. Maybe he could relate to Joseph. 

Whether or not Starry Night is a direct reference to Joseph’s story, we can see contrast in both. The stars contrast with a gloomy village, the light contrasts with darkness, and hope contrasts with despair. Joseph provides an example of living in bright contrast during dark and difficult experiences. 

The church is a contrast society.  As individuals we can live in contrast to people who lack hope, understanding and joy. We can be that light on a stand (Matthew 5:13). As a church, we can live in contrast to the division, anger and isolation that are prevalent in the world. We can be that “town built on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do Pets Go to Heaven?

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them (Isaiah 11:6).

Arthur Poulin’s “New Jerusalem (daytime)”

This may not be the most essential question, but it is a tough one. Pets are a part of the family, so losing one can be painful. If someone hopes to see their beloved pet again in heaven, I don’t want to squash their hope. Here are some thoughts from Scripture:

When God created the world, the creation of humans was unique from that of the animals. We are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27). Humanity has a unique destiny. Jesus entered history as a human being, God’s message of salvation and eternal life is given to humans. At death, we reach complete holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1) and await the restoration of our bodies at the day of the Lord. When that day comes, we will reflect the image of our God with perfection. Animals are not described in the Bible as having unique thinking abilities that allow them have a personal relationship with God. Consider Psalm 32:9: “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.” Still, I believe there will be animals will be in heaven:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9.

It would be strange to use animals to illustrate future peace, even though animals will not be around in the end. It looks to me like animals are going to be around.

What about pets in heaven? We can only speculate. Heaven is a place where God intends for humanity to be fully happy: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4). If a pet is essential for humanity’s happiness, I suspect pets will be there. That’s what I might say to a child who is devastated over their dog being hit by a car. Here’s a question worth asking, that isn’t just about pets in heaven: Does anything have such an important place in our hearts that we can’t be eternally happy without it?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Where did the first sin come from?

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1).

The Bible doesn’t begin with the beginning of evil, but its existence. Humanity is created innocent, creation is good and the deceitful serpent is already there.

How did the serpent become deceitful and humans become susceptible to temptation? I don’t know. I believe that angels and humans were created with free will, but that doesn’t explain why good creatures with good hearts experience the imperfect impulse to rebel. Free will is an accurate description of the first created beings, but not a full explanation of why they sinned. Free will is a name for a mystery. 

Here is what I can say: God is sovereign. Nothing happens apart from God’s plan. God causes some things directly and permits others indirectly. The serpent’s desire to deceive the first humans into rebelling against God, and humanity’s succumbing to temptation were all a part of God’s plan of salvation.  Sovereignty is an accurate description of God, but not a full explanation of why the rebellion was a part of God’s plan. It’s the name of a mystery. 

I end where I began: how the very first sin in the universe came about is a mystery to me. I do know that God demonstrates both sovereignty and holiness again and again in the Bible. God is sovereign over all things, including sin, and God is never a sinner.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

God-like Anger

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions (Galatians 5:19-20)…

Anger is everywhere: We watch it on television, read it in the news, hear it in political commentary, experience it in our minds and our emotions and it comes out in our speech. When the apostle Paul lists sins, he especially identifies out-of-control desires that include anger.

Anger is destructive: It separates friends, breaks marriage covenants and crushes our children. It can take different forms: murderous rages, grumbling and complaining (Numbers 14:2, 11), and in a cold shoulder or silence. At some point, it can poison us all.

Moses Throwing Down the Tablets by Simon Gaon

Anger is blinding: We can’t always see our own anger and its impact on others. Our anger feels like, “I am right” or “I am above you.” Some words of wisdom: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Angry people can be the last to know that they are sinfully angry.

God does get angry (more than three hundred times in the Old Testament), but his anger is not his final word:

“His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (Micah 7:18)

“For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off” (Isaiah 48:9).

One way to fight anger is to first ask how our anger reflects God.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Debates, Factions and the Gospel

John 7:43 (NIV): Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.

I am very interested in politics, and I enjoy political discussions. Sometimes good faith disagreements exist, but I do step on the occasional land mine. Political allegiances are rooted in deeply held convictions and feelings, so sturdy debate can offend sensibilities or even trigger wounds. The power of words are easily misused, especially when it comes to political disagreements.

In John 7:40-42 there was a fierce debate over Jesus.  Some saw him as the Prophet and others saw Jesus as the Messiah. Others rejected both viewpoints, because Jesus came from Galilee and not Bethlehem. These were not good faith differences in theology. Factions had formed, each group deeply suspicious of the other. 

The Pharisees Question Jesus – James Tissot

Political allegiances create division today. Political parties have different ways of seeing the world: one group believes they produce good, while the other side produces evil. When these viewpoints are irreconcilable, the result is usually demagoguery and hostility. In such a climate, debate is unavoidable and fruitless.

John 7:33 (NIV): “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me.

In John 7 Jesus stands apart from a divisive debate, but not because the subject wasn’t important (it was about Him!).  Jesus was not one to shy away from debate. In his earthly ministry he publicly confronted error with truth, and hypocrisy with righteousness. In this instance Jesus resists identifying with a particular group, but instead chooses to talk about his relationship to his Father in terms of his mission.  Perhaps he did not want a label or a fruitless debate to distract from the Gospel.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Our’s and God’s Suffering on Good Friday

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4).

Good Friday is good, but it isn’t pretty, Jesus, who was innocent of any crime, was executed in a horrific manner that left him mutilated and disgraced. It’s an image that makes us uncomfortable. Good Friday and the image of Jesus suffering on the cross is also a consolation: a reminder that God didn’t just suffer for us, he suffered with us. 

A crucifix at St. Benedict the African Church

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18). 

God knows the grief of being betrayed, the injustice of an innocent person being found guilty, the pain of betrayal, the loneliness of suffering alone, being abandoned by everyone. God profoundly knows our pain, because God suffered it in the person of Jesus Christ. 

He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)

This is not empathy. The Cross of Christ is an image of the eternal God, who grieves with the grieving and suffers with the suffering until the day when every tear is wiped from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). Good Friday is a God given opportunity, however uncomfortable, to seek God’s face in our suffering.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Palm Sunday and a Disappointing God

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 21:9).

The Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem, by James Tissot

Jesus did something strange on Palm Sunday.  He rode a donkey into a city that kills prophets and executes trouble makers. When the residents of Jerusalem saw Jesus approaching, they took off their coats, cut off branches and spread them across Jesus’ path.

The palm branches symbolized high expectations: God had saved his people from foreign enemies many times before, so when this miracle worker and prophet arrived, they expected God to do it again. God will work another miracle, drive away the Roman occupiers and restore God’s holy city of Jerusalem.

The Palm Sunday story goes from expectation to disappointment, from a celebration in Jesus’ honor to his trial and execution. As soon as Jesus turns out to be something other than the savior they expect, their celebration becomes calls for his death.  An expected glorious victory on the battlefield becomes a humiliating death on a cursed cross. God has disillusioned them.

That sounds like a terrible thing for God to do, but what is disillusionment but a removal of an illusion? Wrong expectations about God are replaced with the truth. God does not intend to meet our expectations. God meets our needs. Palm Sunday is not about victory.  It’s a reminder that placing expectations on God based on our wants can lead to disappointment and resentment.

Rather than expect God to heal every pain, God teaches us to grow as we experience it. Rather than find our self worth in accomplishment and applause, we find it in Christ’s sacrificial death. Rather than pour our personal resources into our satisfaction, we imitate Christ’s sacrificial death through sacrificial service.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Destructive Fear and Anger

“In this world you will have trouble…” John 16:33

These are emotions we experience when we witness a violent event. In far too many places in the world, violence is a constant threat and a daily occurrence. Yesterday, it was on the steps of the nation’s Capitol.  

So what is our reaction to Wednesday’s violence?

Agony in the Garden, El Greco

Fear? Fear of the possibility of violence. Fear that grows into a suspicion of anyone who is different from us. Fear, if left to its own imagination, can distort the way we see others. We can be tempted to avoid engaging with people who are different from us, but instead build walls to protect against anyone that seems to be a danger to us.

Anger? Angry about a mob breaching the Capitol building. Angry towards those who incited violence, or did nothing to prevent it. Such anger can grow in us, and can be turned on anyone who appears like an enemy. And it’s easy to add people to this frightening list. Anger can cause us to create evil caricatures out of people who look or think differently.

Fear and anger, if left unchecked, keep us from loving people. 

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18). Christ experienced fear and hatred, and yet he tells his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Later in John’s Gospel he says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The dark reality we’re witnessing will tempt us to fear and hate. So when we are tempted to fear, remember to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Let’s not allow fear to control our lives! When we are tempted to hate, remember Christ’s radical command to love our enemies.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can We Trust Politicians?

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.  When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.  Psalm 146:3–5

Throughout Scripture we are reminded that God is sovereign over all things, including  political affairs (Daniel 2:21, Romans 13:1-7); not just domestic but international (Acts 17:26-27). God raises up leaders and takes them down. In other words, whatever the election results, God is in control. 

Psalm 146 is especially relevant as the political fervor increases after another election.

Just as the people of Israel were tempted to put their trust in the king’s sons, the next generation of leaders – the “princes” – so we are tempted to place too much hope in presidents, senators and congressional leaders. We are reminded by these verses, however, that human beings by themselves cannot save.  

Throughout history there have been a wide array of political and social leaders in this country and planet. History tells us that politicians can provide leadership that helps ease pain for the suffering, improve order in chaos, bring justice to the marginalized and provide security for the vulnerable. 

Eugène Siberdt – The Prophet Nathan rebukes King David

But even when our politicians walk in integrity, they likely cannot live up to all of our expectations. They do not possess all wisdom, power, and benevolence. Our political leaders will make mistakes, their plans will be frustrated by political opposition, as well as the changing tide of popular opinion. Their hearts will be tempted by pride and the power entrusted to them. Thus the caution in Psalm 146:3: Do not put your trust in princes, but rather, hope in the Lord.”  

God is the “maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them, who remains faithful forever…upholds the cause of the oppressed…gives food to the hungry… sets prisoners free … gives sight to the blind … lifts up those who are bowed down … loves the righteous … watches over the foreigner … sustains the fatherless and the widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked” (Psalm 146:6-9). 

Centuries before November 3 God established an eternal ruler in the person of Jesus Christ. In Isaiah’s words:

“He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Stay engaged with politics and be aware of political developments. Be informed with facts, not just political opinion. Pray daily for our elected officials, as they are incurably human. Hold them accountable, as they are charged with great responsibility. But do not be lured into placing too much hope in a political system, by embracing a political agenda that eclipses the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment