The Lord won’t always reject us 32 He causes a lot of suffering, but he also has pity because of his great love. 33 The Lord doesn’t enjoy sending grief or pain. (Lamentations 3:31-33, Contemporary English Version)
I am once again in a book of the Bible I have never preached from or really studied. There should little wonder about why, Lamentations is one of only a few books in the Bible. Lamentations is a book that is a downer. It is even in the name. Lamentations, meaning, it is a book of laments. A few months back, when we were working through the first part of Psalms, we talked about there being more psalms of lament than any other type. Here we have an entire book devoted to complaining to God about the way the world is treating the writer.
When I went through deacon (20 years ago United Methodist pastors were first ordained deacons and a few years later were ordained elders) ordination interviews I was asked a “what would you do if…” question. The question was this (I can remember just about the exact wording), you have been out all day doing the various things pastors do. When you returned home you found that there was a message on your answering machine that said one of the boys in your church was out riding his bicycle, was hit by a car, and killed. Being the good pastor you are, you immediately leave and drive to the family’s home.
When you get there, a neighbor is there and you hear them say, “You just have to accept this. It is the will of God. God needed your son and called him home.”
Before telling you my answer, I cringe at the thought of such statements. That being said, the writer of Lamentations understands the neighbor’s sentiment. Biblical writers from the Old Testament portray God differently than the writers of the New Testament. I think the writer of Lamentations would probably agree with the neighbor’s statement to the family in the question. I think other Old Testament writers might say the same thing.
As for New Testament writers, if they were to say this was the will of God, their understanding of God’s will would likely be different.
In his classic book, The Will of God, Leslie Weatherhead divides God’s will up into three categories. The intention wil of God, how God intended for the world to function. The circumstantial will of God. Because God allows us free will, the decisions and action we make can cause trouble and because of the gift of free will, what we do can clash with God’s intentional will. God’s will still ultimately will prevail through The Ultimate will of God which is a peaceful world of love and compassion.
Weatherhead would say it was not God’s will for this boy to die. To say that would make God out to be a killer. Circumstances in the situation interfered with God’s intentional will.
So, back to the question in my interview, I said this setting was not the place for theological debate or argument. I would first, work on getting the neighbor whose good intentions are doing more harm than good. Then I would sit down and tell them, this was not God’s will for their son. God gives us all free will. The decisions we make can and do impact the lives of those around us. Because you are hurting, God hurts with you. God grieves with you because of the love God has for both you and your son. And ultimately, God’s will, a world of love and compassion will win the day.
I am not sure that the writer of Lamentations would get that. He talks about God causing a lot of suffering and grief and pain. While God does have that ability, we cause enough of that. God doesn’t need to cause us grief and pain. Thankfully, God doesn’t love us that way. Yes, God can cause grief and pain but when we are talking about God’s children, Why would God want to do that?
I am thankful for the relationship we have or can have with God who wants to fill us with love that we might go into the world to share love and compassion.
I think we reach for the excuse, “It’s the will of God” sounds good. It sounds to our ear to be comforting. We mean well but what that person all too often hears, “It’s God’s Fault.” Such words can hurt their relationship with God at the time they need God most. We need to be careful because when all is said and done, we can’t fix this. We can’t heal a broken heart but God can do all of that and more.
Some of you have heard me talk about it before. Cindy has worked on staff for a few different churches in her working life. At one of them, on the back of her office door was a sign that had a picture of Patrick Stewart decked out in his Star Trek uniform. He has a finger pointing up. Under that picture there was another piece of paper with a letter “R” on it. In much smaller print it said, “It’s all about relationships.” Under Patrick Stewart was the word, “Engage.” In other words, Go build relationships.” We need to be at work building relationships with God and neighbor.
Seeking the Genuine, Keith
Copyright 2020, J Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.
27 But if you eat the bread and drink the wine in a way that isn’t worthy of the Lord, you sin against his body and blood. 28 That’s why you must examine the way you eat and drink. 29 If you fail to understand that you are the body of the Lord, you will condemn yourselves by the way you eat and drink. 30 That’s why many of you are sick and weak and why a lot of others have died. 31 If we carefully judge ourselves, we won’t be punished. 32 But when the Lord judges and punishes us, he does it to keep us from being condemned with the rest of the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32, Contemporary English Version)
Back in the mid-1990’s there was a commercial for Boston Market I loved. I looked around the internet trying unsuccessfully to find the commercial. So please, allow me to describe the scene to you. Perhaps you will remember the commercial too.
My favorite one from the campaign had a woman who Boston Market had to have cast as the perfect stay-at-home wife/mother. It is dinner time and the door bell rings. There is a trap door on the front porch. The salesman who rang the bell, of course was standing right on top of the trap door. When she answers she flips the lever on the trap door and the salesman falls through, finding himself nose-to-nose with a full-grown tiger. The camera flashes back to mom who, in a very sinister sounding voice says, “Don’t mess with dinner.”
I found one I liked from the same campaign. Let’s take a look.
It has always bothered me how many people mess with dinner and I am not talking about the evening meal for the family. I am talking about messing with the Lord’s Supper. That is the ultimate in messing with dinner.
How do they mess with it? Probably not in how you think.
The woman in the van with her young daughter wants everyone home for dinner so she sends the band director on a rocket ride so will see things her way. Her point is, if you aren’t there, or if you keep her kids late so they can’t sit together as a family, you are messing with dinner.
When we skip communion, we mess with dinner. Did you know that in some congregations communion Sunday is the lowest attendance Sunday of the month. When we aren’t there, we mess with the family dinner. We mess with family dinner because all the family members weren’t there.
“Well preacher, that scripture you put up there says, ‘But if you eat the bread and drink the wine in a way that isn’t worthy of the Lord, you sin against his body and blood. ‘”
That scripture is more than just telling you that if you are unworthy don’t eat. Yes, that is what it says. But if you heart isn’t right with God and neighbor you shouldn’t take the meal. By the nature of the examination, it means that, after your self-examination and you find yourself coming up short, you need to go out and get things right with God.
God is good, all the time. God is waiting to forgive. Get your heart right then come to the table and DON’T MESS WITH DINNER.
Seeking the Genuine, Keith
Copyright 2020, J Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable:
11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32, New Revised Standard Version)
When our oldest son Wayne was living at home, we experienced the problems parents of teenagers often face, while the child is growing up. Before we parents are ready, many times before the child finished high school, often before the law says they are an adult, they decide they are grown and as such we should allow them to make their own rules and decisions. Living by mom and dad’s rules isn’t important. Because it isn’t important to them, it shouldn’t be important to us either.
On the other hand, parents recognize the need to maintain order and control. Sometimes there is another child at home who thinks what is good for older sibling is OK for them too. There are also legal issues and we are probably not interested in running afoul with the law.
Now we have a formula almost always guaranteeing conflict. It happened in our house shortly before Wayne’s 17th birthday and continued for some time.
The first rule of the Broyles house was honesty. This wasn’t a problem with Wayne. He is honest to a fault. If you ask him, he will tell the truth. If you fear what the truth might be, never, ever ask Wayne the question.
Where we had problems involving the rules with curfew, being home on time, and if he was going to be late, calling and letting us know. None of these bothered Wayne. All were important to me. I wanted him home on time because others in the house had to work the next day. No one came into the house, except for Cindy, without canine doorbell going off, me included. When Wayne came in at three in the morning, I always knew the Sheltie we had at the time would let me know. Cindy might sleep through it, not me. Neither would the neighbors three houses down. Glory the four-legged creature at our house would let me know when all was not well in his opinion.
Being on time, I thought came from military service. It was a big deal there. As a result, I always thought late means late means late. If I had it to do over again, I probably wouldn’t be that strict but at the time, yeah, I was.
Wayne didn’t see any importance in any of this. He always thought he should be able to keep his own schedule and make up his own rules.
I am not asking you to choose sides. It wouldn’t matter. I think you can see; conflict was inevitable. It happened regularly. Wayne was determined to make his own rules. He joined the Marines. We’ve had a few laughs about that.
It is a matter of respect. Rules are part of life. We may not like the rules we may find them hard or difficult, but we stay at someone’s house, we by their rules. If we receive a paycheck, we work by the boss’s rules. We play the game; we go by the rules. We live in or visit a country; we go by the rules.
Wayne saw himself as an adult. He felt we should respect him, allowing him to make his rules. He didn’t understand, respect works both ways. It came down to, “my house, my rules,” and the Marines.
Life has rules. We learn that as kids. We may not agree with or like the rules, we may not think them fair or see them as contradictory, but we learn to live with those rules.
“Well Keith, what about criminals? They ignore the rules.” I don’t agree. In their social structure there are rules, written or unwritten, that define the group. Also, if you ignore the rules of society long enough you pay the consequences.
I wonder if this age-old conflict between parent and child might have prompted the departure of the younger son in our lesson. As Jesus tells the story we see the son’s departure. We are not told why. That makes the story more universal, after all, the story isn’t told as a real, true story. It’s a parable, true in application, not details. Something did prompt him to leave his father’s house. As I’ve thought about this parable, I see a young man who believes he can’t live with the rules of house. The story leads us to think the father is in charge, so his rules too much for the younger son. He thought he had to be on his own.
The younger son decides to make his way in the world, make his own rules and set his schedule. He didn’t want to farm the ground or keep after the stupid sheep and cows. He wanted to be on his own and accountable to no one.
He does something that to most of us is unthinkable. I’m not sure it would have been much different then. He goes to his father and says, “Give me my part of the inheritance now.” Some commentators say was like saying, “Hey dad, I wish you were dead.” I think it’s even stronger. I think it means, “Hey dad, you are dead to me. Give me my money.” Those are some strong words.
For all the problems Wayne and I had, I give him credit, he said nothing like that. Think it, perhaps but he never said it. He was tired of “My house, My rules.” I guess the younger son was too.
Despite the son’s meaning, the father did as his son asked, and the son took off.
It wasn’t long before the son was out of money and luck. The real world crashed on top of his head. He made a monumental mistake. Thinking on his situation, he realized his father’s employees were better off than he. Maybe it was time to head home and see if he could get part of his old life back. Maybe, his father would hire him to work on the farm. Even that would be better than the life he was living. So, he headed for home.
He gets home and starts apologizing for all he did. It was a touching scene. He says, “Dad, I have sinned against you.” and I think the father hears the words many parents of prodigals here. “Dad, I should have listened to you.” The son went on, “I no longer deserve to be called your son, make me one of your hired hands.”
The father would have none of it. He turned to a servant and said, “Go get a robe and ring and give it to him. Let’s have a barbecue. My son is home.”
That is grace. Grace can overcome the deep hurts and wounds to say, “I love you and I forgive you.” It is a love that most parents have for their child. It is a picture of unconditional love. Even if that child says, “You are dead to me,” this love responds, “Yes, you may think that, but I love you anyway.”
That’s the love God has for us. These two tell us what the story is about. The son sins and the father forgives. That is the point. We sin and God forgives. The grace of the father in the story is the grace God gives us. No matter our sins, God loves us and will forgive us. God pours grace on us. We may turn away, but God waits for us and loves us.
God expects us to share forgiveness and love with each other. Whether with a member of our family, our neighbor, someone in our church, someone across town, or the other side of the world, God calls us to love and forgive. It isn’t always easy, but it is part of our call, love God and love neighbor.
Not everyone understands that. When the older son comes home, hearing the barbeque, refuses to go. His father comes to encourage him. Still he refuses. He is unable to forgive. Grace is not present for his brother.
Just as we don’t know what caused the younger brother to leave, we also don’t know if the older brother ever came around. It’s probably safe to assume life at this home returned to some semblance of normal in a fairly short period of time.
In his book Accountable Discipleship: Living in God’s Household, Steven W Manskar plays a little with the story. He asks the question, “What if Jesus had not stopped here?” He proposes an alternate ending saying, What if Jesus were to add another chapter called, ‘The Morning After?’ The chapter would begin the morning after the celebration of the younger brother’s return.
It’s five o’clock in the morning and it’s still dark outside. The younger brother is sound asleep in his bed after a long night of eating and drinking. There was a loud knock on his bedroom door. No answer. Another know, louder this time. Now he stumbled out of bed and opened the door. He is greeted by his older brother, the guy who was so angry with him that he wouldn’t join the party the night before. This time the older brother grins as he tells his little brother, “It’s after five in the morning! It’s time to get to work, dad and I have been carrying your load around here while you were off having a good time. Now it’s time you started carrying your own weight. There’s plenty of work to do. Let’s get at it! Oh, and by the way, welcome home, little brother!”
Manskar continues: The younger brother, while happy to be home, forgot the responsibilities that go along with life in the father’s house. There was work to be done every day and everyone had a job to do. It was time for him to get to work, to pick up where he had left off when he had departed. His brother was only too happy to remind him that living in their father’s house meant living by the household rules.
My friends, we live in the father’s house. We need to live by the Father’s
In Search of the Genuine, Keith
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
6 He replied, “Isaiah really knew what he was talking about when he prophesied about you hypocrites. He wrote,
This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me. 7 Their worship of me is empty since they teach instructions that are human words.
8 You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.” (Mark 7:6-8, Common English Bible)
A few weeks ago I happened onto a website I had not known before. Medium.com claims itself as a publishing platform that features articles from writers from various perspectives in theology, politics, and more. I have opinions about its various perspectives but that is not what this post is about.
Yesterday I read an article that has given me cause for thought and concern. The article’s title is, “Let’s Stop Pretending Christianity Is Even ‘Christian’ Anymore.” The author’s name is (and beyond this article I know noting of him) Benjamin Sledge. The title got my attention.
In the article Sledge says Western Christianity has become a modern deism. He calls it, “The Cult of Feel Good Deism.” He argues that modern, western Christian beliefs have become “whatever makes you feel good or makes you happy.”
I haven’t really looked at deism since graduating from seminary 20 plus years ago. And considering most of my books that would be useful on this subject are at the church and I am not, I have tried to use the internet to be a quick refresher course. I was looking for a dictionary definition but before I found that, I found the following definition on the deism.com website (something else I learned today, I had no idea such a site existed).
Deism is the recognition of a universal creative force greater than that demonstrated by mankind, supported by personal observation of laws and designs in nature and the universe, perpetuated and validated by the innate ability of human reason coupled with the rejection of claims made by individuals and organized religions of having received special divine revelation (https://www.deism.com/deism_defined.htm) (Italics mine)
There was a great deal I found on the website that I find troubling but I will save that for another time. I did find a dictionary definition.
So, we have a deity who went to the trouble to create the world but has since taken a hands-off approach to everything that happens here? Deism claims to have its basis in pure reason, but that does not seem reasonable to me at all.
Back to Sledge’s post. Sledge references the writings of Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton after interviews with 3,000 teenagers. They found that when it comes to views on religion and Christianity the following four criteria seem to be present in their core beliefs.
God wants people to be nice and fair to one another.
The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
God doesn’t need to be involved in your life, unless something is going wrong and you need it resolved
Good people go to heaven when they die
The article has a great deal more in it, but this is more than enough for this post.
“God wants people to be nice and fair to one another.”
OK, this first one I won’t argue with, except that it doesn’t go far enough. If we love our neighbor, I would say that being nice and fair to each other is probably a minimum requirement. But really, I can be pleasant to people I don’t care for. I can avoid business transactions with people I don’t like or even to say, that I don’t love. If I avoid certain people it becomes easy to not be mean to people and not treat them unfairly. Love is more than that. Love says I am not just going to be nice. Love says I am not just going to be fair. Love says I am going to place myself and and what is good for me behind what is best for you. That is more than being nice and it is more than being fair.
The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
First, let me get this out of the way. There is nothing wrong with being happy in life. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with feeling good about oneself. Now that I have that out of the way, what is wrong with that statement of words two and three, “central goal.” When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment he said:
28 One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
29 Jesus replied, “The most important one is Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord,30 and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.31 The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.”
32 The legal expert said to him, “Well said, Teacher. You have truthfully said that God is one and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of entirely burned offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered with wisdom, he said to him, “You aren’t far from God’s kingdom.” After that, no one dared to ask him any more questions (Mark 12:28-34, Common English Bible).
The only statement Jesus makes about how we should feel about ourselves is in how we love our neighbor. We should love our neighbor as ourselves. In the story of “The Rich Young Man,” an argument can be made that Jesus was saying the opposite to this young man:
16 A man approached him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?”
17 Jesus said, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There’s only one who is good. If you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.”
18 The man said, “Which ones?”
Then Jesus said, “Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony.19 Honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
20 The young man replied, “I’ve kept all these. What am I still missing?”
21 Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.”
22 But when the young man heard this, he went away saddened, because he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22, Common English Bible)
Sell whatever you own, and give the money to the poor vs. be happy and feel good about yourself??
Well, I will say that when we serve others we do feel good about ourselves and it is in doing what Jesus says that we find joy, but I don’t really think that is what the deists mean.
God doesn’t need to be involved in your life, unless something is going wrong and you need it resolved.
Wait a minute. On the one hand, God created the world and has since taken an hands-off approach. On the other hand, God doesn’t need to be consulted unless you are in a bind and then you can ask God to intervene. I know we all have holes in our theology but I can’t help but think, some folks just walked off into a gigantic hole.
On the other hand, too many of us, who claim to have a faith rooted on orthodox Christian understandings, are much the same way. We pray. We tell God all the things we want God to do for us, but too much of the time we don’t stop and listen to what God may want us to do.
Good people go to heaven when they die.
“I am a good person, I just don’t believe all that stuff about Jesus. But, I am a good person. I am kind to people. I don’t cheat people. I don’t cheat on my taxes. I don’t… I don’t… I don’t… I am a good person. God won’t keep me from heaven.”
That is part of a discussion I had many years ago with a co-worker shortly before entering ministry. As we talked further, it became clear there were many things missing.
Number four on Sledge’s list shouldn’t surprise me but it does. When Jesus had his encounter by night with Nicodemus, Jesus did not say, “Nick, you’re a good guy. You don’t need to worry about such things. Just keep being a good guy, have yourself some fun, be nice to people and it will all be OK.” If Jesus would have said something like that he probably wouldn’t have said anything about passing through the eye of a needle. What Jesus said was:
16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son (John 3:16-18, Common English Bible).
14 “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. 2 My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? 3 When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. 4 You know the way to the place I’m going.”
5 Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.” (John 14:1-7).
In both these passages, Jesus tells us it isn’t about being a nice person. If that was the case, it would be about us. What it is about is, God wants a relationship with us. To have that relationship isn’t something we can beg, borrow, steal, buy, or whatever other verb you want to place on it. Grace is a free gift from God and to get that grace means we accept Jesus Christ.
Before I bring this to a close, Benjamin Sledge’s point in his post was not to speak in favor of deism. He simply believes that Christianity in an orthodox understanding is, if not dead, at least on life support. Is he right? I would like to think not but there is plenty of evidence to say such ideas are at least nearer than many of us have thought.
In his 1987 book, To Spread the Power: Church Growth in the Wesleyan Spirit, George G. Hunter says (and I am paraphrasing as my copy of the book is at the church), people have come to church seeking their booster shot of faith and it has served to leave them immune from a full dose. Could this new deism be the result of the insight Hunter gives in this book?
It is a deep subject for this Friday but I also believe it to be an important understanding for our consideration.
What should the traditional Church have to say to this new deism?
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
In search of the genuine, Keith
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved