Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Advent equals Anticipation

When I hear the word "Anticipation" all I can hear is Carley Simon's voice singing her song and an enormous catchup bottle slowly pouring out its deep red contents. We live in a time when anticipation is not a happy word. Everything about American culture is instant. We need instant gratification, fast food, fast service, we are fast talkers, fast walkers and live for the day. Anticipation would suggest a delay in all of that. Anticipation would suggest putting my gratification aside for a while so that something even better might happen.

Here is where Ancient Christian tradition can help us. In the ancient Christian tradition, Christmas begins on Christmas Eve and goes for 12 days to the day of Epiphany (January 6). The season before that is not the "Christmas Season" nor even the "Holiday Season". Instead, the early Church developed a season they called Advent (Advent means coming or arrival and is used in reference to the coming of God's Son, Jesus at Christmas). Advent is the four Sunday's before Christmas day (beginning on November 30 this year). Advent was designed as a time to prepare for the great celebration on December 25. Christian homes were decorated slowly over time, the advent calendar was opened on a daily basis -- with a little sweet in anticipation of the great day coming. Advent wreaths were displayed and lit (this was a family event rather than a Christian worship event). We remembered the reasons for Jesus birth, he is our Hope, he brings Joy, he is the Prince of Peace and is the full expression of God's Love.

With all the hustle and bustle and the month (2 month?) long party that the "Holiday Season" has devolved into, why not go retro this year? Stop the madness, sit quietly at home with your family. Create and light an Advent wreath on the Sundays leading up to Christmas. Read the story of Jesus birth. On Christmas Eve (In the older tradition the day began on sunset not at sun rise), and throughout Christmas Day celebrate the greatest gift of all -- the birth of Jesus. But take your time getting there, walk through the month, and enjoy the full flavor of anticipation.

Dr. BJ

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Imitation: Not flattery anymore

I came across 1 Corinthians 11:1 in my Life Journal reading this morning. It is a curious and challenging little sentence. St. Paul has just finished a long dissertation to the Corinthian Christians about the importance of watching out for others and keeping a faithful witness. He has just finished saying that he strives to put aside his preferences, needs and desires so that he might communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone. After all of that comes this phrase "imitate me as I imitate Christ."

My initial reaction is one of astonishment! What an outrageous thing to say! It borders on the arrogant. Paul seems to be suggesting that he is setting such an extraordinary example to the Corinthians of a faithful Christian life that they can copy his example. I find this stunning. However, when I give it some deeper thought I realize that what Paul says is what every Christian ought to be able to say. The bold truth is that people watch what we say and do every single day. They watch our language, our behaviors, our values, our honesty and our ability to follow through on the very principles we espouse. On further review, this is not some bold, wild statement from Paul of Tarsus it is essentially the call for every Christian.

As a pastor I am often uncomfortable about living in a fish bowl. I am aware, like it or not, that my life is measured, my life is evaluated, my behavior is closely monitored by those who are under my spiritual leadership. I could resent this but the truth is the moment I stepped into a pulpit and dared to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ my life became the tablet upon which my speaking would be displayed. Even though I am fully aware of my own brokenness and my own inability to be all that I pray I can be, I must strive to live this life with integrity.

Paul's was a life of integrity. It is in the context of his "walking his talk" or, to put it another way, "practicing what he preached" that he can say "Imitate me as I imitate Christ."

That is not so outrageous, after all. In a world and society that craves and profoundly lacks integrity. This simple statement is the essential minimum standard expected of Christian leaders.

Dr. BJ

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Crazy Season is Coming

The volume increases following Halloween. The trappings were up, the drum beat had already begun but the volume increased following Halloween. The drum beat is the enticement to enter into the secular, commercial observance of an event corporately known as “the Holidays”. The “Holidays” extend from Thanksgiving through the observance of the change of calendar we call “New Years!” They now include Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice and an event called by many names (Yuletide, X-Mas) but is usually known as Christmas.

It is chic and popular to decry the “Commercialization of Christmas”. But I have come to observe that most of us give our annual lip service to how commercial Christmas has become; we wag our heads we make those tsk tsk noises, we even vow to not “get sucked in"; but, in truth, very few of us do anything about it. Knowing there is a problem and doing nothing about it is to choose to simply be a part what we hate. In the Celebration of Discipline study group we have just studied the discipline of “simplicity”. In the interest of “simplicity” here are some “do’s” and “don’ts” I would suggest to help us reframe the “Holidays”.

1. Unplug: The Holiday drum beat pounds us down. Radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, Internet, stores, malls and cities and towns are all blaring out the same commercial message. BUY, BUY, BUY!!! Your children will be miserable if you don’t give them the biggest, latest and best. You won’t LOVE your family unless you buy, buy, buy! UNPLUG the noise making machine. Give you family a Media respite. Take an evening and play some board games together, spend a day at home without the noise. Unplug.

2. Set Limits: Do this now before the noise gets too loud. Set a reasonable limit on what you will spend for gifts – better yet make some space and time and create something unique and give them as gifts. Set a reasonable limit on the time you will spend at parties, gatherings, extra outings, shopping, etc. Set a reasonable limit on the extra activity. Christ Community will have ONE Sunday School program (on December 14). We will offer a variety of Christmas Eve celebrations to fit your schedule (December 21; December 24 at 5, 7, and 11).

3. Refocus: Here’s how:
A. Choose to have fun. Rather than the miserable, worn out, I hate the holiday’s attitude that many of us adopt, why not choose to have fun. Celebrate the sparkle, revel in the differences, and be playful and creative. Let your inner child out to play!
B. Choose to focus on relationships. Instead of form letters make a phone call. Instead of formal greetings meet a friend for coffee. Instead of material things give the gift of time, of fellowship, of relationships.
C. Choose worship. I could expound on the reason for the season and all the other trivial and common expressions that are popular this time of year but the truth is the celebration of Jesus birth is all intermixed with all the gift giving, party making, and overindulging that make up the holidays. What matters is what will I choose? Will I make it all about the material, the funny foods, and the external trappings of the season? Or, will I make it all about remembering that the savior of the world has arrived, born in Bethlehem to a young mother named Mary. Adeste Fideles (O Come all ye Faithful) has my favorite refrain of all the Christmas songs. It puts it best:
Venite adoremus
Venite Adoremus
Venite Adoremus, dominum
O Come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Back from Africa

Hi everyone:

Sorry I haven't written in a few weeks. I've spent the past 17 days travelling to/from and being in the East African country of Uganda. I am working with a training program called Nexus Seminary Uganda that was the brain storm of Ugandan Rev. Davis Matovu and is being supported by my good friend Rev. Alan Howe.

In the past two weeks we have journeyed into the rural areas of Uganda, we led seminars in places like Kayebe and Kikyusa and participated in the graduations of students in Gombe, Kayeba and Luzinga. The goal is to train 2000 rural Ugandan pastors. We have about 1930 to go. We also launched a new training site in a place called Caini.

These journeys are life changing and world altering. I am amazed and occasionally overwhelmed by the hospitality, deep desire for learning, and passionate love of Jesus Christ that my friends in Uganda have. These good people have little or no material belongings but what they do have is a commitment to relationships and to the Lord Jesus Christ that has twice now restructured my heart and renewed my faith.

It was great to go, it is good to be home.

Dr. BJ.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On a Mission for God

Hi everyone, sorry I haven't written in several days. Life has a way of getting overwhelming and it has been all of that since my last post. I am now amid preparations for a return trip to Uganda. Alan, Wayne, Ray and I leave from JFK this Sunday evening. We will be working with the Nexus Seminary Uganda as we continue to provide training and teaching for rural Ugandan pastors. Most of these pastors cannot get into seminary for a variety of reasons (some economic, some linguistic) so we are taking seminary training out to them.

There are many interesting aspects of this kind of mission. The one I found the most intriguing is that most of the pastors we were privileged to work with were first generation Christians. That is they have no family history of being Christ followers. Some of them were Muslims but most of them came from the more traditional animistic religions of the region. I have never encountered first generation Christians before. Nearly everyone I knew growing up, going to school and my other journeys had parents, grand parents etc. who, even if they were only nominally connected to the church would readily and easily identify themselves as "Christian."

The experience was world view shaking and, to a large degree, life altering. I found a passion for Jesus Christ and a willingness to do "whatever it takes" on a level that I had never encountered in the United States. I remember when I was a young Christian, fresh off the passion and fire of a radically transforming conversion in my own life, that I was fearless about Jesus. I was willing to talk to anyone anywhere at any time about my love for the Lord Jesus Christ and how turning your life over to Him could and would change your life too! Somehow through schooling, serving an institutional church and just life in general I lost this fearlessness and forgot what it was like to be head over heels in love with the Lord. My trip to Uganda reconnected me to this personal history and reminded me that I am not my own.

So, I go merrily along on a mission for God. I travel to Uganda because I know in my heart and mind that God has called me to do so. I do not know what awaits me on this return journey but I know I have a divine appointment. God has prepared my life for (to quote Ester) "such a time as this." Pray for me as I will be off line and out of touch into early November. I'll write about what happened when I return.

God's peace be with you all,

Dr. BJ

Thursday, October 2, 2008

It takes a village . . .

I've been preaching this fall on the Christian Home. In the past three weeks I have talked about the importance of Sunday School -- and especially how important it is for Sunday School lessons to be reinforced at home. I've talked about Youth ministry and how important it is for churches to encourage youth to get hands on involved in ministry and mission. Last week I talked about how important it is in the Christian Home for parents to be vital, growing, maturing Christians themselves.

There is a myth in American culture that a "nuclear" family -- mom, dad, kids in isolation -- is somehow healthy and/or the proper way to raise children. I remember hearing the old African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" and was interested when I read Senator Clinton's book by that same title. But the truth, for Christians, has to run much deeper. Any village won't do. In fact, I would suggest a rewrite of the proverb that says "it takes a COMMUNITY to raise a child."

The Church is one of the very few organizations (organisms) on the planet that is intentionally and essentially a multi generational gathering. It takes a healthy community to help parents raise their children. This healthy community would include healthy growing adults (of all ages), engaged and involved teens and growing maturing children. I asked one of our young mothers, as she came out of worship a few weeks ago, how she was doing. She replied, "my son has a few new grandparents and aunts and uncles after this morning." I thought to myself, that is exactly what we, as a church, are supposed to be. It takes a community, intentional, focused, committed, growing community to raise a child.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An image of determination

In Luke 9:51 we run across one of the more powerful images of determination I've ever seen or read. It says "Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem." Jesus has already told his followers, at least twice, that they are going to Jerusalem where he will be betrayed, crucified and in three days rise. I've always wandered at what point did Jesus know this information? Was he fully aware of his divinity as a baby? Did he know he was the Son of God as a toddler? We know from Luke 2 that he knew he "must be about his father's business" when he was 12, but at what point did all of this become clear to him? At what point did Jesus know?

Regardless of when he knew it, by Luke 9:51 he is fully aware of what awaits in Jerusalem and yet he has set his face to go there. I am overwhelmed by his inner strength and challenged by Jesus faithfulness. How often do I turn away from conflict even though to face the conflict is the most faithful thing I can do? How often do I flee from uncomfortable responsibility because to do the right thing or the faithful thing might prove to be inconvenient? Jesus "set his face" to go to Jerusalem.

Do you have an unpleasant task ahead of you? Do you have something you know you need to do, know it will be uncomfortable to do so, but to be faithful you have to follow it through? Use Jesus as your example, be resolute, set your face toward the task and do what you need to do.

Dr. BJ

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A word of hope

In my reading early this morning I came to Zechariah chapters 1-3. These chapters give a word of hope to the post exilic leaders trying to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. God speaks through the prophet to tell the governor and especially the high priest, that if they are faithful and true to their calling (keep the law and God's commandments) they will be successful. There are enemies all around and the devastation of the previous 70 years is hard to ignore and yet the word from God is a word of hope.

I have come to believe that a word from God is always a word of hope. Even when the word contains censure or rebuke or correction, the word from God is a word of hope because it always calls us to a hopeful and better way of thinking -- a better place. Jesus is the word of hope to a lost and broken world, the Bible tells a hopeful story of God's amazing love for humanity and the world he created. A word of hope.

I my day to day life I find a lot of people trying to live without hope. I am reminded of the character Red in Shawshank Redemption who tells Andy "hope is a dangerous thing, hope can kill a man in here!" (In here was the Shawshank prison). I'd like to suggest that hope is an amazingly powerful weapon. Hope gets us out of bed in the morning, hope helps us hang on just a little longer, hope sends us (where angels fear to tread) into places and situations that are bleak and desperately hopeless. Hope is what motivates us to change, to grow, to embrace new things, to learn and study, to engage in new ventures, and, most of all, to surrender our lives to our creator in hope of redemption and new life.


Dr. bj

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blessings and Cursings

Twice in 24 hours I have encountered different Bible passages that talk of blessings and cursings -- can't be a coincidence so I've been thinking about it.

The first passage is Luke 6, Luke's version of the Beatitudes. In the more familiar arrangement of the Beatitudes (from Matthew 5) we find a series of "Blessed are the" and the list includes peacemakers, poor in heart, etc. As I understand the culture of Jesus time the polar opposite is assumed. Therefore, blessed be the peacemaker it is assumed that the warmonger would be not blessed but cursed. In Luke 6, we get the parallels spelled out. Blessed are the poor -- cursed are you rich; Blessed are you who mourn -- cursed are you who rejoice; and so forth. The life of faith is a life of judgement. We have to make choices. We can either choose to live a blessed life or we can choose to live a cursed life.

The second passage is in James 3. This came up in my Monday night Bible study last night. James tells us, in a passage about learning to control our tongues, that blessings and cursings should not proceed from the same mouth. And, yet, how often is this case. How amazingly easy it is to say "God bless you" walk out the door, get in our cars and pronounce hell fire and damnation on all the other drivers on the road (or at least one or two in particular). How can the same source, our very lips and tongue, produce what uplifts and what drags down? How can the same organ, the mighty little tongue, be a source of hurt and healing almost simultaneously? James says, a fountain cannot produce clean and brackish water at the same time.

Once again, as my life is transformed, I get to choose. Will I be a blessed person and live a lifestyle conducive to that blessing? Will I be a blessing to others or a curse on the lives of others?

Be a Blessing,

Dr. BJ

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Spiritual Growth

In a series of messages on The Christian Home, I am speaking about Christian growth for adults. We talked about children and the importance of Sunday school being a "discussion primer" for parents. We talked about youth ministry and the importance of helping youth discover and utilize their gifts in ministry. How do we help adults become "spiritual self feeders" and help them move to maturity.

There are four "B"s to remember:

1. Be a worshipper. The first key to Christian spiritual growth is to learn to give time and attention to the private and public worship of God. Daily prayer and meditation fuels the power of weekly (or more often) community celebrations of God's grace and mercy. Worship is "loving the LORD our God with all our heart, soul and strength."

2. Be a member of the family. Contrary to some contemporary American understandings, Christianity is a group and community experience. In order to grow I have to learn to live my life in community and in convenantal relationships. I have my covenant group of others pastors (see their blogs listed above); I have a covenantal relationship with my prayer partners; I am in covenant with the other United Methodist clergy in my Annual Conference and so on. Being a member of the family means I will participate in large and small group events with other Christians.

3. Be a student of the faith. Jesus says to go and baptize . . . teaching them. . . Learning the words and way of God is vital to spiritual growth. Learning how to connect and stay connected with the holy, learning how to recognize the voice of God in the din and confusion of the modern world, learning of the experiences of God recorded in the past -- these are all ways we are students of the faith. Read the Bible, study the text and learn with others.

4. Be a servant. Every Christ follower is called, gifted and sent into Christian ministry. EVERY Christ follower! I grow spiritually when I learn to give back, to "get in the game", to get my hands dirty trying to make a difference in the lives of others. Ministry is what Christians do for each other in community. Mission is what we do in the name of Jesus for others.

Being trumps doing. I believe too many of us try to "do" before we have attended to our "being". If we will be worshippers, members, students, and servants -- we will "do" God's will.

Be a blessing


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tears in Heaven?

I was reading in Revelation 21:1-4 this morning as part of the my daily "Life Journal" reading and came across this odd little passage. It says that there is a new heaven and a new earth (that's good the old earth is not working out so well). It says that the dwelling of God will be with people. I like this thought and, as a Christian, I already believe the dwelling of God the Holy Spirit is within the hearts and lives of every believer. It says "and God will wipe every tear from their eyes." I read that and all I can hear is Tom Hanks character in "A League of Their Own" complaining to the umpire "there's no crying in Baseball!" Wait, there's no crying in heaven! How can there be tears in heaven?

Most of us think of heaven as a place of complete and absolute bliss and most of us also tend to see tears as a sign of sorrow and/or mourning. I see something else here that moves me. I have seen in my 52 years and in my 35 + years of walking with Jesus that joy, unmitigated, unimagined, unexpected joy often leaks out of my eyeballs. Could it be that God is not wiping tears of sorrow and grief but tears of joy? Could it be that this is one last unthinkable expression of how gracious, forgiving, loving and awesome the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ really is?

C.S. Lewis' titled his autobiography Surprised by Joy. What a great title! I think I will title mine Overwhelmed by Joy. I am always open to and looking for surprises but when I find myself in the loving, forgiving, presence of the living God I am undone, overwhelmed, and totally surprised by the impact of being surrounded by joy. I have a long way to go and am still quite the miserable sinner but I am learning to live into Joy, even when it leaks out my eyeballs.


Dr. BJ

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I just finished reading Ezekiel 37. This chapter is one of the more well known passages in Ezekiel, it has been preached about, taught, pondered and even sung about ("dem bones, dem bones"). The story is of Ezekiel being shown a valley filled with dried up bones. He is told to prophecy to the bones, to preach new life into them and to preach to the wind, the breath, and the spirit to return to these bones that have dried out and give them life again. As he preaches, the bones come together, flesh is restored, sinews reappear and finally the breath returns and what was hopeless lives again.

Someone once said that we can live for 3 weeks without food, three days without water, 3 minutes without air . . . but we won't last 3 seconds without hope. Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning tells of concentration camps survivors and how they survived. All of them had a story of hope -- they could see themselves beyond the horrors of the present moment. Hope had given them a vision, a picture of a preferred future. This hope allowed them to live through today to get to tomorrow. Frankl's own story of hope was to see himself delivering a lecture on concentration camp survivors and he writes he could see himself standing in a famous lecture hall in Berlin delivering the lecture and his findings. This picture kept him going.

And I stand with Ezekiel looking at seemingly hopeless things, like valleys of dry bones, and I too wonder, "can these bones live." I work in a denomination that is aging, shrinking and slowly dieing and I find myself powerless and occasionally apathetic to do anything about it. Can these bones live? I see many lives on a daily basis -- kids getting lost in drugs, families being torn apart, friends making one really bad relationship decision after another, people struggling with life threatening and life debilitating illnesses; I read e-mails from friends in Zimbabwe and have conversation with Pastor Joseph of the Karin tribe in Burma as he tells of persecution and violence against his people; and I hear the question: "Can these bones live?" I look at a world bent on violence and its people, oppressors and oppressed alike, searching for some ray, some glimmer, some fragment to hold on to.

I hear Ezekiel's solution. "Hear the word of the Lord!" A fresh word from God is always a word of hope. It is a word of hope for restoration, a word of hope for renewal, and it is a word that allows us to see a fresh picture of a preferred future. Denominations, congregations, kids, friends, and families alike "Hear the Word of the Lord!" What was believed to be lost beyond hope is never lost. As a Christian, I am a person of the resurrection. I believe the dead will rise again, I believe all is never lost. I can believe this because I am part of something that was here before I was born and will be here when I return to dust -- I belong to God. I hear the word of the Lord, and that fills me with hope.

Find hope, live into hope and be hopeful,

Dr. BJ

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Life of Productivity

I ran across a disturbing bit of research a few months ago. According to the research the two likeliest groups in our society to commit suicide are: 1) Men over 65, and, 2) teens. It is an odd statistic that makes me ponder "why these two groups?" Here's what I think. American culture values productivity above all else. This is seen in our status symbols of what money buys -- big house, big car, lots of toys, freedom to travel, etc. But for some odd reason men over 65 are told they cannot be productive anymore (we call this retirement -- taking their leisure, etc) and teenagers are not yet allowed to be productive according to the standards of our culture. Now, I understand the importance of child labor laws and all of that and, frankly, think "making money" is a pathetic lowering of what productivity could be -- perhaps we need a better definition of productivity.

Look at the Bible. Abraham was 75 when he was called. Moses was 80 when he was sent back to Egypt. Jesus was roughly 30 when he started his public ministry and there are stories of men and women making a difference and answering the call of God well into their so called golden years. But take it the other way: Jeremiah was called in his early teens. Timothy was a young man (so young that Paul has to remind him not to allow others to despise him because of his youth). Mary, Jesus mother, was likely a young teen when found out she was chosen to bear the Son of God. The Bible gives no such age boundaries for service and ministry.

I have often argued, usually to no avail, that there is no such thing as retirement from the faith. When we get older there may be different forms of ministry and mission our work might take but the truth is if we have moved to the sidelines, spiritual and missionally, in our retirement years we have moved into unfaithfulness. The other extreme is equally important. The Church needs to recognize and call forth the gifts of our youth and encourage, allow and deploy them in their service to God.

There is no too young and no too old to follow Jesus or to make a difference in this world for Jesus sake.

Dr. BJ

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Life in Exile

I am reading the prophet Ezekiel in the Life Journal this week. One thing that struck me, and I had never seen before, is the timing of Ezekiel's writing and prophetic work. He is writing from Babylon between the sieges of Jerusalem. In 597 BC, Jerusalem is laid siege by the king of Babylon and Judea becomes a vassal of the Babylonian kingdom. Ezekiel must have been carried off to Babylon at this time because he writes of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem and her final punishment. Babylon lays siege to Jerusalem again in 587 BC and this time destroys the city, tears down the walls and carries off who ever is left into exile.

What was life like in exile? What were the spiritual conditions of this pause in the destruction of Jerusalem? How was Ezekiel's message of doom, death and destruction received by this in exile? by those who may have heard it back in Jerusalem? And, what, if any, relationship did the prophet Ezekiel have with the prophet Jeremiah who also lived through this 10 year gap in time? Life in exile. Away from the things that nurtured and among people who don't understand the traditions, life must have been difficult. This is the environment that produces Psalm 137 "By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept . . . . how could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?" One of the saddest images in all of the Old Testament.

Exile. Here's an odd thought. If heaven is my true home. If, when I became a Christ follower I joined a rebel force that is not of this world am I not also in exile -- even if it is a self imposed one? Yet, unlike Psalm 137, I am commanded to sing the Lord's song in my time imposed exile. Somehow I am living into eternity while still stuck moving moment to moment through time.

Fellow exiles for Christ we need each other for encouragement, for help, for hope, for life itself.


Dr. BJ

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

September (Birthday) Musings

The first week of September always seems to mark a time of renewal, re commitment and reconnection for me. The first marking is the back to school thing. From the age of 4 (turned 5 the next day) through 17 I was back to school -- John M. Barnes Elementary, St. Mary's, back to John M. Barnes, Evergreen Elementary, Simpson Junior High and good old Flat Rock High School -- every September for 13 years. There was new clothing, new classes, new teachers, new books, and all the excitement of beginning something new and different. But the four years after High School were no different -- the week of Labor Day marked back to College. And, as if not to be outdone, the next three years after college saw me marking Labor Day as the time I began and continued through my Seminary training. So, from my 5th Birthday through my 24th Birthday, every single September was a "back to school event." Needless to say, that gets ingrained in the soul. I want to go out and buy new shoes (I did last week), I want to buy new books (again, last week), and I want to start some new classes, new educational experiences -- I'm working on it.

The first week of September also marks my Birthday (Friday this year, September 5 every year). When I was in Elementary School this always bummed me out because the "birthday party tradition" usually wasn't established in the class room yet and my birthday was usually glossed over (or was the day school started or the day before or after). I have a long standing tradition of reviewing my journal the week of my birthday. I am not sure if this is wise because it always reminds me of how far I still have to go spiritually. I read through my struggles and failures and occasional successes and victories, and I am reminded of my humanity, my brokenness and how far I have to grow to be the kind of person I think I am and to become the kind of person God is calling me to be.

So, here I am, in the midst of new beginnings (can I get a compass and protractor?), while taking time to reflect on the year now past (how long will I struggle with SOSM (the same old stupid mistake?)? I will be 52 this year (or 48 since when I hit 50 I decided to start moving backwards). All in all it was a good year. I traveled to Africa with my 3 very best friends. I finished my Doctor of Ministry (graduated in December). I visited Israel/Palestine (again). I have seen the church I pastor move deeper in its mission connection. I am part of a new call "to Radical Christianity" that is getting some traction.

I am making plans for how to invest the next year of my life (got tired of "just spending time"). How will I stay connected with God? How will I be a better husband? How will I keep growing and learning? How will I be a better Pastor and leader? What is the next stage on the journey?

I don't have those answers yet. All I know for sure is that I need to make each day matter and live each moment as if it were my last.

Happy Birthday to me.

Dr. BJ

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Musical Revelation

I am currently reading Ezekiel and Revelation (with an occasional Psalm) in the Life Journal. This morning as I read chapter six of Revelation I was struck, once again, by the background music of this extraordinary book. Revelation, an apocalyptic work written by John of Patmos toward the end of the first Christian century, was written to bring comfort and hope to people who were enduring devastating persecution because they were Christ followers. Most of us get hung up on trying to figure out what Revelation predicts and in so doing we miss the spiritual significance of taking the book at face value.

The music is amazing! There is a chorus of singers chanting and calling out "Holy, Holy, Holy" the place were the traditional hymn by that name gets its primary text. There is another huge group of singers singing out "He is worthy to receive glory, honor and praise." Not to be outdone we find another group singing "For he alone is worthy" and on and on it goes. I have been told by my teachers that a lot of the work of eternity is worship. As I read the Bible I see that a significant part of this worship is music.

What is interesting to my somewhat scattered mind is that each of these passages seems to have a different musical beat in my heart. One is pounding rock and roll, in another I hear the mathematical precision of Bach, and in a third the beat is distinctly salsa in feel. When I read Revelation my heart hears music and my soul wants to dance. Who cares what seven headed ten horned beasts means? I want to get up and move. I want to join the worship, sing my heart out, throw my crown, fall on my face . . .

In Africa, a few years ago, I learned an African proverb that said if you can talk you can sing and if you can walk you can dance. In the book of Revelation the music makes us all want to call and move.

Revelation 22 promises a blessing to all who read this book. I am convinced part of that blessing is in the rhythm of the beat. Are you in the dance of worship?

Dr. BJ

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Is Ezekiel on Drugs?

Every time I read the first few chapters of the book of Ezekiel I am reminded of stories from my druggie friends back in high school. They would often regale us of drug induced visions of wild tambourines and elephants and musical creatures. They would often tell of visions of fire and ice and, on a bad trip, the occasional demon and monster. When I read of the four creatures of Ezekiel and the wheels within the wheels way up in the middle of the sky . . . I often pause and wonder: is he on drugs?

But there is more here than "better living through chemistry." Ezekiel is living in exile. He has been forcibly evicted from his home in Jerusalem and is now living by the waters of Babylon. He is living among a defeated, deflated, and, no doubt, despairing people who cannot see a future, cannot see any hope whatsoever and believe that God the LORD has abandoned them. Moreover, the place where they live is Babylonian, run by a totalitarian government were it is punishable by death if you speak against the King or the country.

How would you convey a message of hope and possibilities in this situation? You have been given a word from God. It is a word of repentance and a word of hope. It is a word that calls the people back to the LORD in a foreign land while, at the same time, not speaking ill of the government around them. This kind of literature is called "Apocalyptic" by biblical scholars and is frequently filled with pictures and visions that border on the fantastic. As I understand it, the imagery used would have been understood by the original listeners -- it was a kind of code -- but the "powers that be" would have a harder time understanding it.

Who are these creatures? What are these wheels? Why eat a scroll? These are interesting questions that in the final analysis do not matter. What matters is that God has not abandoned his people, that God is working out a plan and a destiny for his people, and that there is reason to have hope even in the most hope drained of situations.


Dr. BJ

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jeremiah's lament

In the "Life Journal" reading this morning I read Jeremiah 50 and 51. These are two rather lengthy oracles Jeremiah speaks against the Babylonians. The context is important. The armies of Babylon have laid siege to Jerusalem. Jeremiah has already told the King and the residents of Jerusalem that this army is the judgement of God against then, that the city will fall, and that the leaders and the people will be carried off into exile for 70 years. The armies of Babylon are clearly identified as sent from God to punish the people for their disobedience. Jeremiah tells them it will be ugly, brutal, and only a few of them are going to survive (only a remnant will remain).

We turn the page and come to 50 and 51. In the Prophet Jeremiah's writings this is apparently the last contribution he makes before the city of Jerusalem falls. 50 and 51 are written on a scroll and the bearer is told to read it to the exiles after the fall of the city. 50 and 51 is a judgement against Babylon -- even though they are carrying out the discipline God has meted out they are still guilty of attacking and destroying God's people in Judah. 50 and 51 tell of the destruction of Babylon, literally their obliteration. It reports that the city of Babylon, once destroyed, will never be rebuilt.

I remember seeing photographs and reading news articles when the US invaded Iraq and the soldiers passed by the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon. It is a place in the desert, it is a place where wild animals roam (and not a few archaeologists) but it is not a place of human habitation.
History shows that Jeremiah's invaders from the north, were initially Persians (who let the Israelites return and rebuild Jerusalem), later Greeks under Alexander and finally the Romans. The city never regained its former glory and today is little more than an archaeological site. Lesson?

Dr. BJ

Monday, August 25, 2008

How to Change the World

There is little doubt that the world needs to be changed. Politics, economic upheaval and disparity, war, disease, all the "isms" that should have been "wasims" long ago -- all point to a world that is in deep trouble. It is also true that any study of human history will quickly reveal that the world we live in deals with the same problems the world has always dealt with. Humans have a propensity for violence and greed and self destruction as well as some interesting combinations. It is inherent to our fallen nature. To quote Toby Chief from Joe versus the Volcano: "We are children of children and we live as we are shown." The troubles of the world of 2008 may be different in terms of substance and even magnitude but the essential nature of our difficulties are no different than any other era of human history. As Walt Kelly's Pogo put it many decades ago: "we have met the enemy and he is us."

How do we change the world? The Biblical answer is pretty simple. We begin by changing ourselves. Changed people change the world. When my brokenness has been healed; when my guilt and sin has been cleansed; and when my propensity to violence and greed has been broken, then, and only then, will I see the world through new eyes and work for change.

Christ Community begins an eleven day call to pray and fasting today (August 25). It will end of September 4. I have encouraged our community of Christians to pray for the following: 1) Personal renewal (cannot change the world until we are changed): 2) family renewal and transformation (pray for our homes and our families); 3) church renewal (our community needs to more effectively reflect we who claim to be); 4) the world.

Could it be possible that while running around trying to change everyone and everything else we have missed the essential first step? I think it is.

My prayer for these 11 days: Lord Jesus, change me. Transform me, remake and remold me into the kind of human being you created and redeemed me to be. Change my heart, change my thinking, help me change my behaviors and let me to see the world and its people through your eyes.

Join me in this renewal of the world, one person at a time.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Idols of our Culture

I have been teaching/preaching this late Summer on the seven deadly sins. Last week and this week as I preach about the deadly sin of lust and the deadly sin of avarice (Greed), I am deeply aware that lust and greed are two of the more deeply ingrained idols of our modern American culture. We are a sex saturated society. Parents struggle with raising PG kids in an R rated and often X rated world. We are inundated with the pop culture idea that love equals sex and our youth are expected to mature and become sexually active at a younger and younger age. Apart from the biblical expectations it is reasonable to ask: "how is this working out for us?" There are over 200 sexually transmitted diseases, rising teen pregnancy, an escalating abortion rate, and increasingly ruined lives would suggest to me that it is not working out very well at all. A reconsideration of our society's expectations might be in order.

This week I am looking at the deadly sin of Avarice (greed). I remember the Michael Douglas character in Wall Street declaring that "greed is good." We are a culture that wants more and more and bigger and better. We seem to believe that we are entitled to consume all we want whenever we want. Commercials prompt us to buy, buy, buy, and consumer debt continues to climb. Greed is a desire to possess, amass and keep for ourselves. Greed plays out in our material things, our homes, what we drive and, even our spirituality. Greed gets mixed with soft soap Christianity to produce an interesting hybrid called "The prosperity gospel." This teaching suggests that "God wants you to be rich!" There are many biblical verses and passages that are drawn on to support this position. Fortunately (for our soul's sake) there are at least as many to suggest otherwise.

The Biblical solution for greed is faithful stewardship. But I think the deepest cure is generosity. Learning to live life with open hands and giving generously out of what we have is the fastest cure to being controlled by our stuff. The truth is clear in a society driven by greed the best way to break the pattern is to learn to give it away. Many of our societies richest people (from the old days of Andrew Carnegie to the modern Bill Gates) have taken what avarice has amassed and given most of it away. For us who may be on the middle to lower end of the economic strata we also must learn to live life with open hands.

How to be generous? First, get your financial house in order. Clear your debts, stop overspending, learn to give stuff away. Jesus put it rather succinctly: "For whoever wants to save his life will loose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it (Matthew 16:25)."

Learning to overcome these things that can hold us down is one of the critical keys to freedom!

Brother BJ

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Festivals and Music

I spent last week (August 3-7) with our Senior High Youth Group at a Christian Music event called "Kingdom Bound 2008". This event has happened in Western New York for over 20 straight years. It features Christian bands, workshops, dynamic worship with a major theme park in the middle. Our youth attend every year, have a great time, build community and reconnect with God.

I have my favorites and then try to listen to what the kids are listening to. My favorites, Robin Mark, Paul Baloche, Big Daddy Weave and others were all there either on the main stage or leading worship in the worship tent. They were up to billing. Down on the park stage (where the head bangers and heavier music prevails) I allowed myself some time to listen to a group called "Skillet" who did some serious head banging in the name of Jesus. They were a favorite of the majority of our youth group and, frankly, I found them to be quite good musically. Of course, being an "old guy" I listened from a hill side about 1/4 mile away and they sounded great from there. I suspect my ears would still be ringing (a week later) if I had dared to approach the stage. (It is tough to get old but I refuse to turn into my father's generation who constantly complained that the music was "too loud!")

What matters here is that our youth got to hear a style of music they like by Christian musicians who were telling, singing and drawing attention to Jesus. For some of us, the focus on Jesus was immediate and obvious, for others it may have taken a while to settle in but it was there nonetheless.

Look for me at Kingdom Bound 09. : )

dr. bj

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Needing Rest

In my reading in the Life Journal this morning, I was taken to John 4. John 4 is the story of the Samaritan Woman, also called "the woman at the well." John 4 is a terrific passage of life transformation and stands in wonderful contrast to John 3. Everything in John 3 finds its opposite in John 4. In John 3 we have a man, a religious and secular leader, a Jew, he comes in secret and at night and leaves confused. In John 4 we have a woman, an outcast, a nobody, a Samaritan, she sees Jesus at noon and leaves transformed by the encounter. A wonderful juxtaposition of events in the life of Jesus.

At the beginning of the story in John 4 we find Jesus leaving Judea and heading to Galilee and on the way he stops at the village of Sychar in Samaria. John tells us that he sits down at the well "because he is tired from the journey" and then the encounter begins. One of the interesting theological balances in Christianity is the balance of Jesus humanity with his divinity. Jesus is, according to orthodox Christian theologians, at the same time divine and human. He is, in the old language of the church, the God/Man. That is the point of the incarnation, God became human and lived among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

God in human form needs to rest after a long journey. He needs to cool his tongue from the dry desert air. He needs to have nourishment. In other words he needs to do bodily maintenance just like the rest of us. I find this very encouraging. The truth is, I also need all of these things. I have a responsibility to get proper rest, to take care of this body God has given me and to make sure it is properly tuned and fueled.

Is this another argument for Sabbath? Or is it more a suggestion that we take the time we need to rest, recover, recoup? In a few weeks I am taking two days to retreat (advance) with my covenant group. We plan to come away from our normal routines, to rest, rediscover and grow together. What are you doing to get enough rest for your journey?



Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Deadly Sins -- Living Life

At Christ Community UMC, where I am Senior Pastor, I have been preaching a series of sermons this Summer on the Seven Deadly Sins and the Christian Cure. It is kind of a light hearted Summer series (grin). The 7 Deadly Sins: Pride, Anger, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Avarice and Sloth were identified in the early days of Christianity as attitudes and foci that keep us from enjoying healthy fellowship with God. Pride was the first sin and is rebellion against God -- Milton's Paradise Lost attributes to Lucifer the quote "better to reign in hell than serve in heaven" -- and is the best description of the sin of Pride.

Anger is often at the root of rage and violence and since human beings appear to be incurably violent creatures getting at the root cause might be a good idea. Envy is what the 10th commandment (thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's anything) is about but seems to be a driving force in American culture (be unhappy with what you have and spend money on something you don't really need because it might just make you happy). Keeping up with the Jones -- envy. Gluttony is conspicuous consumption. Mae West said "too much of a good thing is wonderful" and and another writer wrote "anything worth doing is worth doing to excess!" As a society we seem to be really good at Gluttony.

Lust permeates our society. Sex sells and it drives our lust filled behaviors and attitudes. Avarice or Greed is summed up in the famous quote from the movie Wall Street "Greed is Good!" and Sloth -- curiously sloth is not about laziness in the sense of choosing not to do anything. Sloth (the Latin is acedia) is closer to inaction because of despair.

The Christian cure for any and all? Walk humbly with God.

More later,

Dr. BJ

Monday, July 28, 2008

Despised and Rejected

Today, as I read from Isaiah 53 I have a Robin Mark song floating in my head. From his East of the River CD, the song is titled "Highly Exalted". Robin, the poet and song writer, takes his text from Isaiah 53 "You were despised, You were rejected Lord" and from the crucifixion "those who passed by even averted their gaze from the sight" and from the theological conclusion "such was the suffering you bore for us." In Verse two the pattern continues from Isaiah 53 "led like a lamb, a lamb to the slaughter you spoke not a word, but chose to be silent" and the theological conclusion "though you did not wrong nor was deceitfulness found in you."

Isaiah's image of the suffering servant is such an extraordinary parallel to the pictures we have from the gospels of Jesus death by crucifixion. Jesus did not defend himself (he remained silent) he was beaten, wounded, killed. Isaiah tells us that on him (the servant) was laid the transgressions of us all. That is, the Sin of the entire world was laid on Jesus as he went to the cross.

Despised by those who would not hear his word of hope and healing. Rejected by the very people he came to redeem. Curiously, this seems to be how Jesus is viewed by most in the world today. He is despised (or at least his church and followers appear to be) he is rejected (generally out of hand). Yet, for those who choose to embrace his suffering and follow in his footsteps, there is life and hope and joy unspeakable.

Someone once wrote (and for the life of me I cannot remember who) that Jesus only promised three things to his followers. 1. That they would be in constant trouble. 2. That they would be absolutely fearless. and, 3. That they would be ridiculously happy. I suppose I can handle a little despite and rejection if it is the price to live in unspeakable joy.



Sunday, July 27, 2008

Everything we need

I remember a local bank advertising that they were "all the bank you'll ever need." It sounds kind of catchy and it seems like a useful thing to have -- all the anything I'll ever need. 2 Peter 1: 3 tells us that "His (Christ's) divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, . . ." I like the sound of that as well, everything I need to have life and to live a godly life has already been provided for me (us) through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I love the Bible because it says what it means -- if it meant most or some it would have said so, instead it says EVERYTHING needed for life and godliness has been provided by Jesus.

How often do we behave as if everything depended on our effort and our effort alone? We translate our responsibilities in the work place and other environments into our spiritual lives and believe that we have to "save ourselves" or transform ourselves. I am coming to realize that the truth is much more interesting and much more bizarre. What I need to become a better Christian is not more straining and effort, what I need is more Jesus. What I need to become more like Jesus (the goal of the Christian life) is not more rules, regulations and rituals, what I need is to make sure I am keeping myself in the full exposure of the Son.

Many years ago I read a theologian who said that we were to be like apples. An apple does not ripen through effort, it doesn't hold its breath, grit its teeth and force itself to grow and ripen. Instead what it does is stay attached to the source of its life (the tree) and it hangs out in the glow of the sun. What a terrific image. I do not become a better Christian by forcing myself to grow and mature, I become a better image of Jesus by "abiding in Christ" (staying attached) and by hanging out in the glow of the Son.

He is all the life you'll ever need.

Dr. Bj.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Sin of Hezekiah

In 2 Kings 20 and Isaiah 39 we read the curious story of Hezekiah's illness and recovery and then his receiving the envoys from Babylon. When the envoys arrive Hezekiah decides to show off and reveals to the envoys all of the treasures of the kingdom. This boasting prompts the Lord to speak through the prophet Isaiah "that the kingdom will be taken from your ancestors, your descendants will be taken in captivity and will serve as eunuchs in the court of the king of Babylon." What follows is the most human and astonishing thing I have read in some time. Isaiah and 2 Kings record Hezekiah's response: "The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good." (GOOD? The nation is going down! How can this be good?) For he thought "There will be peace and security in my days." (Isaiah 39:8) In other words, Hezekiah rejoices because the bad stuff won't happen until after he dies.

In declining churches and declining "Old Line" denominations I have long suspected that there a lot of people who have fallen into the sin of Hezekiah. They can see that the demise of their church is inevitable (or at least likely without significant change) but rather than make the drastic changes and refocus necessary to reclaim our vision and purpose they choose to just hang on hoping that the doors will be open long enough to give them a good funeral and to take care of them before they die. Thus, denominations effect mergers which prolong the institution but do little if anything to reclaim the mission. Thus, congregational leaders hold tightly to the reigns of control, slowly spend down capital resources, and rejoice that the church was around long enough to take care of them.

The Christian Church in the west is going out with a whimper rather than a bang. Much like the church in Europe we have stayed in our enclaves and our bless me clubs until we have reached a time where the church is an anachronism, or has become so marginalized as to be irrelevant in the thoughts and hearts of people or has moved to the place of nostalgia where the church is remembered (if at all) for its place in the halcyon days of yore -- much like holly and ivy and mistletoe.

When Hezekiah was ill he repented and God healed him. When he is told of the demise of his kingdom he rejoices because he will die before it happens. What if Hezekiah, when he heard this word from the Lord, responded as he did when he was ill and plead with the Lord while repenting in sack cloth and ashes? I believe the merciful Lord would have worked out a different future.

I believe the merciful Lord has a very different future in mind for churches in decline. But we need to repent of our indifference, or lack of vision, our boasting in what we have, and our pride. We need to put on the sack cloth and ashes and seek the face of God and ask: how do we become what you called us to be.

What say you?

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What if . . .

In reading Hebrews 13 this morning, that excellent passage about being "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race that is set before us", I was struck by the uncomfortable idea that I might be running the wrong race. Lily Tomlin was once quoted as saying that "the problem with the rat race is that if you win you are still a rat." What race am I running? The race Hebrews 13 tells me I am supposed to be running is a race to perfection -- that is a race to becoming as much like Jesus Christ as possible. This race requires that I walk as close to God as is possible.

John Eldridge's book "Walking with God" tells about this journey. His assumption is that what our progenitors, Adam and Eve, had -- walking with God in the coolness of the evening breeze -- is what we are supposed to have. Learning to walk with God (let alone run the race) is the goal and meaning of life. Learning is the key, like anything else worth having and doing we have to practice (practice the presence of God, Brother Lawrence used to call it) and we need to be coached, encouraged and we need to persevere.

Which brings me back to "what race am I running?" Well, I want to succeed. But whose definition of success will I follow? Will I take the US corporate model -- bigger is better and its all about the numbers? In the case of the church this would be buildings, dollars and people in the pews. Will I take the typical human prideful competitive model which says that so long as I am ahead of you I am being successful? Will I take the therapeutic model that says that so long as I am comfortable and adjusted to where I am I will succeed? Whose model? What would a biblical model of success look like? What would a successful church look like?

I am becoming increasing convinced that success for the church cannot be measured by normal human measurements. Yes, growth will be a normal byproduct of a healthy church -- but it needs to be healthy -- cancer also grows. But the church was not created to count noses it was created to make disciples. The church did not begin with the mission of making everyone feel better, the church began with the mission of transforming the world. I believe that mission of transformation happens one person at a time.

So, the bigger question for me is how do I run this race with faithfulness? How do I live my life walking with God and in integrity? How do I lose the trappings of corporate America and lead a church into being an authentic community of Christ followers?

pray, grow, and walk with God


Monday, July 14, 2008

Walking in Faith

I've just returned from two weeks of vacation. My wife and I spent 12 lovely days in Northern California. We walked among the giant red woods, we walked along the beautiful coastline, we walked all over the city of San Francisco and I spent quite a bit of time considering my walk with God.

As a professional religious person (Christian Pastor) it is easy to treat my walk with God as part of my "job". It is easy to read the Bible not for a fresh word from God but for "preaching fodder". It is difficult to separate the day to day struggles and the things that have to be done from the fundamental truth that my primary purpose is not different than anyone else's. My purpose is to learn to walk with God. Pastoring is what I do, child of God is who I am.

So, we did a lot of walking. I did a lot of unfocused thinking, just letting my mind gather the flotsam and jetsam of my life. I realize that there are a lot of things I am engaged in, a lot of attention for my time, a lot of good stuff I could (should, must?) be doing. But what matters most is that I keep my heart pure and focused on God.

I read this morning in Hebrews 11 -- the "Faith Hall of Fame". Most of us like to hear about Moses and Abraham and David and the heroes of the past. I am really touched when the author of Hebrews reminds us that those who suffered, died and struggled in the faith were faithful and also were counted as members of the Faith HOF.

more later


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Stir up the gifts

Twice in the letters to Timothy, Timothy is told to utilize the spiritual gifts he has been given. In 1 Timothy 4:14 he is told: "Do not neglect the gift that is in you which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice . . ." And in 2 Timothy 1:6 we read, "For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline." This becomes a double reminder to me that my choices and my will greatly impact my ability as a Christian leader.

First, I must not neglect the gift that is within me. There are over 25 different spiritual gifts in the New Testament and we do not all have the same package, the same function or the same calling. This is one of the things that makes Christian ministry so very interesting. Some of these gifts are up front and obvious (music, exhortation, teaching, prophecy, and the like would be on this list). Some of these gifts are in the background and less obvious (helps, administration, mercy, come to mind). Regardless of how God has gifted us we must not neglect using what God has put in us for the body of Christ. It is an act of will to stay engaged in what God has called me to do.

Second comes the issue of rekindling. If I have neglected the gift that is within me it is also likely that this particular gift needs to be awakened, re lit, reignited, or stirred up. Sometimes these spiritual gifts are latent within us and, frankly, sometimes they have gone cold from lack of use. It becomes an act of will for me to choose to reengage in the work God has called me to do and to rekindle or stir up the gifts, abilities and talents placed within me.

What are you doing to rekindle? I am committed to spending a half an hour a day, one day a month and one week a year alone and/or with my covenant group keeping the fire lit, and keeping me healthy and engaged. What are you doing to rekindle? I am also taking some "me" time to disengage and go and look at something else for a few weeks. All of these things can help us to not neglect what God has placed inside of us and to "rekindle" it when necessary.

Come Holy Spirit and kindle in me the fire of you love . . .

Dr. BJ

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The big ask

I was reading in 2 Kings 2 this morning and was reminded of the importance of asking. When we want something accomplished we ask, when we need help we ask others to help, when we are dreaming great dreams for God we need to ask for God's help, guidance, influence, favor, etc. We have to ask. The epistle of James says "we have not because we ask not". Jesus says, "ask and you shall receive . . .". Many times in Jesus ministry people with real and obvious needs come up to him and he consistently asks them "what do you want me to do for you?"

In 2 Kings 2 Elijah is about to be taken up into heaven. His anointed successor, Elisha, has been serving him, following him and being mentored by him for several years. Elijah knows his time has come near and tells Elisha to wait for him but Elisha refuses to leave his side. A little while later Elijah tells Elisha to wait in a place while he goes on further but Elisha refuses to leave his side. After the third time this exchange happens Elijah says to Elisha "what do you me to do for you?" And Elisha makes the big ask "I want a double portion of your spirit."

I don't believe Elisha is asking for double as in twice as much what he is asking is "can I have as much spirit as you have?" A "duplicate" portion might be more accurate. Even so this is an amazing thing to ask for. Elisha, has been named Elijah's successor and in this one question he asks for the power, authority and spirit to actually live out that succession. The reason he asks for this is simple, he needs the fullness of the power and presence of God to do what he will need to do -- he will need a double portion to live out the dream and to be faithful.

The big ask can only come when there is a big dream. There is no point to Elisha asking for a double portion if his dream is to sit by the road side or watch the world go by drinking mint juleps on his veranda. But if Elisha's dream, the vision God has placed within him, is to do great and might things for the LORD then he is going to need a full measure of God's spirit and a full replacement value anointing to get it done.

I have not because I ask not. I do not ask because I may not be dreaming big enough dreams.

What do you want?

Dr. BJ

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Self Denial is the Key to Self Fulfillment

Philippians Chapter 2 is often referred to by Bible scholars as the "kenosis" passage. Kenosis is the Greek word meaning to empty and is drawn from Philippians 2 where it says that "Jesus emptied himself, talking the form of a servant . . .". In order for Jesus to be what he was called and sent to be he had to put his privileges aside ("though in the form of God did not count equality with God as something to hold on to"). Jesus set aside the rights and privileges of being the Son of God in order that he might become mortal like us and offer his life for ours.

I wonder how often my sense of rights and entitlements get in the way of living out God's call and claim on my life. I find myself, on occasion, looking at a particular task or encounter with the preservation of my "dignity" or "the dignity of my office" as a primary consideration. In this way of thinking, where I am the center and focus and end product of my own personal universe, I will never submit, never step aside and never "empty myself" and therefore never become the servant leader Jesus calls me to be.

Someone once said that a person can accomplish a lot if they don't care who gets the credit. The Bible reminds us that "Kingdom" values are radically different from the "World's" values. The world values things like power, money, and control. The Kingdom of God values service, stewardship, and surrendering control to God. In the Bible's way of thinking surrender is the key to spiritual victory.

My prayer for the day: Lord, help me be empty of Me and filled with your Holy Spirit. Free me from the tyranny of my own ego and my own sense of importance and help me be free to serve. Amen.

Dr. BJ

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Call to Repentance

I have been pondering the importance of the Biblical practice of repentance over the past week or so. "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand" was the first message from Jesus. Repent and be baptized all of you was the end of the first Christian Sermon (see Acts 2). In our permissive and tolerant society (not all bad, by the way) we have lost sight of the critical spiritual practice of repentance.

Repentance assumes that we have done something wrong. Is it too much to say that there are some things about which we should be ashamed? Is it too much to say that all of us have done things we should not have done and have avoided doing things we should do? Often the result of doing or not doing is guilt, remorse, sorrow. This guilt, remorse or sorrow needs to be dealt with and the spiritual cure is repentance.

Repentance begins by admitting the sin (mistake, error, whatever). The second step of repentance is to choose to turn away from the behavior. I have been in weight watchers for the past 17 months (and have lost nearly 90 pounds) and periodically I have to turn away from old behaviors (the ones that helped me get fat). I have to admit that it is not good for me, it is not right for me and I have to turn away from it. The third step of repentance is to turn toward the better option. Spiritually, this means to turn away from sin and turn toward God.

I am struck with the need for individuals, small groups, ministry teams, churches, denominations and entire peoples periodically need to work through times of repentance. We forget who we are, we forget what we are called to do and we forget where we are going. Repentance is a way God has provided for us to come back to who we are supposed to be.

I invite you, all of you, to make space to admit, turn away, turn toward and begin anew.

God's peace,

Dr. bj

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Life In Christ: Romans 8

St. Paul continues his explanation of the Christian movement in Romans 8. Earlier in this letter he shows how the world has fallen into depravity and that human beings are fallen and broken creatures. He continues the discussion by showing that God provided a way for our redemption through having faith in Jesus Christ. He has gone to great pains to demonstrate that legalism and attempting to "be good enough" or to "do enough" cannot earn our salvation. Only when we have faith in Jesus Christ can we have "peace with God" (see Romans 5). Yesterday we saw how in Romans 7 Paul describes in inner conflict and the struggle to do the right thing.

Here in Chapter 8, the discussion shifts to why winning the inner battle is so very important. Following the way of my old broken inner self leads to death but following the way of God's Holy Spirit leads to life. In some way every choice, every decision, every movement in our lives leads us deeper into the way of our broken nature or deeper into the healing presence and power of the Holy Spirit. C.S. Lewis argues that every choice we make is making us into a more heavenly creature -- destined for eternity in heaven -- or a more hellish creature -- destined for a whole different kind of eternity. Every step toward heaven makes it easier to move toward heaven, every step toward hell makes it easier to move toward hell.

Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we find making better decisions and choices easier. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we live into the process of transformation. There are two other things that help us. First, Romans 8:28 reminds us that God is working a plan in and through us and will use every experience to move his plan of salvation forward. Second, in Romans 8:1 we are reminded that we no longer live our lives under condemnation. When we sin we have access to forgiveness. When we fail we have a God who picks us up. When we rebel, because we are adopted sons and daughters of God we cannot be disowned and are drawn back by love and grace to where we belong.

This is the essence of a new life in Christ. We are free from the guilt of sin, we are free to choose to become the kind of people God originally created us to become.

Dr. BJ

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Inner Struggle: Romans 7

Romans 7 stands, for me, as a reminder that with all of the spiritual transformation at work in the life of the Christian there is still a profound struggle deep within. This struggle is so pervasive in our lives that it requires divine intervention to get us through it. Paul, in his own inimical style, put it this way "the good I wish to do I cannot do and the evil I wish to avoid is the very thing that I do." How many times in your journey of faith have you found yourself doing the very thing you abhor? How many times in your journey of faith have you found yourself balking at doing the right thing?

We do not come to our spiritual rebirth in Jesus Christ as completed products. When I chose to become a Christ follower that was the beginning of my spiritual journey and transformation not the end. I suspect I will not see the end of this journey and struggle until I see Jesus face to face. From the moment of my conversion (March 8, 1973) I began a journey of transformation that will take my entire life time. On that journey I have grown, failed, battled and lost, battled and won, and have made progress and experienced victory over the things that once held me back.

The goal of this journey is for all of us to become like Jesus Christ. I have a long way to go. However, I share in St. Paul's understanding and recognize, as he did, in the painful question at the end of Chapter 7 of Romans "who will rescue me from this body of sin and death?" And the answer: "thanks be to God for Jesus Christ who gives us the victory."

I'm going on to a transformed life. Here's to the inner struggle that shows I am making progress!

Dr. BJ

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Where God dwells

Hi everyone: I've been off line for a while due to leading a retreat and other matters. Life. : )

I continue to read through the Life Journal and have been thinking today about God's promise to David in 2 Samuel 7. David decides to "build a house for God" because the Ark of the Covenant is in a tent made from animals skins and hair and David is living in a palace "made of Ceder". David's intention is good, he wants to honor God and to do something that will further glorify God's name. The prophet Nathan tells David it is good, follow your heart, that kind of thing.

Then God speaks to Nathan in a dream and tells him that David is NOT to build this temple. That will be for others to do. What God will do is establish David's lineage for all time. David becomes the once and future king -- the king through whom all others will come and by whom all others will be measured. When David learns of this he speaks this wonderfully humble and grateful prayer (2 Samuel 7:18ff).

The tabernacle (the tent where the Ark of the Covenant resided) was supposed to move with the people on their journeys. A Temple (permanent location) will be built by David's son and successor Solomon, destroyed, built, destroyed, built again and finally (AD 70) destroyed and not yet rebuilt. I find it interesting, historically, that the temple is destroyed just before God's people are on the move again. In a sense the permanent home is removed because a movable home becomes necessary once again.

I wonder, in our highly mobile society, if our church buildings, our shrines and permanent structures are more in the way and a hindrance to our worship then they are a help? When I was in Uganda last October I saw on many occasions that church buildings in the jungle were semi-permanent structures and were more functional than stationary. If the church needed to move it could move, if the church needed to relocate it could relocate, if it was time to plant a new church deeper in the jungle then a new tent was built and the congregation was planted.

How does the church of AD 2008 reclaim its mobile status?


Dr. B J

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The process of change is often difficult. We can see this in the Old Testament story of David and Saul (see 1 Samuel 16-31). God has already anointed David king of Israel but Saul is still the King. Saul, being the jealous type, attempts to track David and his men down and kill them. This was common practice in ancient times -- it was an efficient, if not brutal, way to keep dissent and rivals out of the way.

The kicker here is that even though David has Saul in his power on two occasions, once in a cave and the other time in a tent late at night, and could easily have killed him -- and would have been expected and even encouraged to do so by his followers -- on both occasions David refuses to take his throne by killing its current occupant. This behavior was exceptionally unusual for this time and place but David is an extraordinary individual. He won't do it because he "won't touch the Lord's anointed." This decision helps to establish David's reign and kingdom in his later years.

David is trying to live into change in a healthy way. He is working a healthy process that delays his own ascension to the throne by several years but minimizes the transition when his time fully comes.

I wonder how this applies to the American political scene? How might it apply to the Church in its institutional form? How might it apply to your life.

"There may be change without growth but there is no growth without change."

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vanquishing the Giants

1 Samuel 17 gives us one of the great stories of the Old Testament's history section. It is the story of young David (15?16?) against the very large (9 feet?); very experienced; and very confident Philistine giant named Goliath. This is the metaphorical image we call on whenever the small school is going up against one of the big boys; or when the small company takes on a Fortune 500; it shows up whenever the odds are stacked against the little guy and somehow the little guy manages to come out on top. This is a story that begs to be preached, discussed and taught.

Simply put, the army of Israel is camped on one hill and the army of the Philistines is camped on the other with a valley between them. The Philistine champion, Goliath, stomps into the valley and challenges King Saul or his chosen champion to one on one combat, winner take all. If Saul's champion wins the Philistines become slaves if Goliath wins the Israel army become slaves. Goliath is described in archetypal terms. He is 9 feet tall, his armor weighs over 100 pounds the head of his spear weighs 15 pounds. He is nasty taunting the Israeli's as the cower on their hill top. He is offensive. He appears unbeatable. No one will go except the youthful shepherd named David son of Jesse. David, using a sling and a small smooth stone, kills Goliath and the victory is won. The Philistines flee, the Israelis pursue and David's reputation is established.

Every time I read the story of David and Goliath I am struck by the lack of faith of the majority of people in the story. Too often we think that the opposite of faith is doubt. But some doubt makes every faith healthy (it keeps us exploring, asking, seeking). The opposite of faith is fear. The Army of Israel is afraid (after all by the biblical account Goliath is over 9 feet tall and a famous warrior). The King of Israel, Saul, is afraid to take on the Philistine champion. How many times do we stop trying, quite, give up, withdraw because some seemingly giant of a problem is across the valley taunting us and laughing at us? How many times do we focus on the big ugly giant and cower in fear? That giant could be our health situation, our marriage, fear that we might lose our jobs or have them suddenly change, fear that we would be able to perform, to act, to do what needs to be done to care for those we love. That giant could be anything. David, like many before him and after him, chooses to face his fear in the name of Almighty God. He chooses not to be afraid and to take by faith that God will see him through. He chooses not to focus on how big and ugly the giant is. He chooses to focus on how big God is. The God who saw me defeat the bear and the lion will surely see me through this battle as well (1 Samuel 17:37). One central message of the scriptures is "do not be afraid!" Jesus said "Do not be afraid I have overcome the world! (John 16:33)"

Dr. BJ

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Forshadowing of trouble

In 1 Samuel 8 -10 we read about Israel's first King. Saul son of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin is the one chosen. The situation is a common one. The people want someone to lead them and fight their battles for them. They want a "king to govern us, like other nations.(1 Samuel 8:5)" On the surface, this does not seem to be too ominous. Who, after all, doesn't want to fit in, to feel like they are normal and part of the "in" group? Unfortunately this choice is a rejection of God. The design of ancient Israel was that God would be their only King and ruler. Samuel explains to the people what a king will do and the burden a royal family will be on the people but the elders and the people insist they want to be like everyone else. Even though it is a rejection of God as their ruler the people persist in their request and God gives them what they want.

Saul is anointed by the prophet Samuel and, when it is time to introduce Saul (1 Samuel 10:17 and following) the tribes and clans are paraded past Samuel until he picks Benjamin, then the family of Kish and finally Saul (1 Samuel 10:17-21). The problem is that when they announce Saul is the chosen one to be king he is no where to be found. When they inquire of God if they have made a mistake God says "he is hiding among the baggage. (1 Samuel 10:22)" This should have been a "heads up" to the people of Israel that Saul might be something of an unstable leader -- reason for caution and second thoughts -- who wants a leader who is hiding among the luggage. But when Saul is dragged out he looks handsome, he is a head taller than everyone else -- in other words he looks the part. At the sight of him the people rejoice and he is declared king.

How many times to we fall for what "looks good" instead of looking deeper and exploring the kind of issues that God explores? We are told in the Bible that though human beings look at the outward appearance "God looks at the heart". God is looking for those of us who are right on the inside regardless of what the outside looks like. The foreshadowing of this story proves true in later chapters (as we shall see) as Saul is not a stable leader or ruler.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Why times are tough

In my journey through the Bible this week I came across two interlinking principles. The first is the last verse of the book of Judges: "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes. (Judges 21:25)" The issue here is not the monarchy but a lack of leadership. In Judges we read that leaders were raised up to meet a specific crisis (foreign invasion or other difficulty) but otherwise people pretty much went their own way and did their own thing. I'm all for a little non damaging anarchy from time to time but for a people (whether a nation, a community, a church, a family) no leadership leads to chaos and a diminished hope for the future.

The second passage comes up in 1 Samuel 3 where Samuel receives his "call" from God. In 1 Samuel 3:1 we read "the word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread." I believe this passage is interconnected with the Judges passage. Here's how: Leaders are bearers of the vision, they are gathers of resources, people, ideas, possibilities, and they live out their lives projecting and promoting a different future. Leaders are agents of change and new possibilities. Because there is no king (read: leader) there is also no bearer of new possibilities (read: vision).

Leadership is the critical component of moving to a new future. Leadership is the bed rock foundation of new possibilities. When I look at the church in the world, and the floundering "Old Line" denominations, I see an organization lacking in leadership. We have no king (queen, even a crowned prince or princess might help); we have no vision for a better future; therefore we are floundering.

Back in the 1960's it was common to refer to governmental and other institutional leadership by the old parable of the emperors new suit of clothing. The tag line was that no one had the nerve to tell the emperor that he was naked. The line: the emperor has no clothes. Unfortunately, in our time, and, apparently, in ancient Israel, the phrase might need to be reversed. It appears that often the clothes have no emperor. We have people in positions of leadership who are not leading and have no compelling vision or plan for the future.

Everything rises and falls on leadership. Lord, send us leaders.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Cycle of the Spiritual life

I've been reading in the book of Judges this week as part of the Life Journal readings. One of the things that Judges makes clear is the cycle of faith, fear and reconnect that seems to be the normal pattern of any life in faith.

The cycle in Judges is this 1. God sends a deliverer to the people who rescues them from oppression of some sort (the Edomites, the Philistines, whoever). 2. God, through this mighty hero rescues the people and there is peace and prosperity. 3. In the prosperity the people turn away from their commitments to the Lord. 4. God permits some foreign people to attack and oppress the people. 5. The people cry out to the Lord for help. Repeat as needed.

It occurs to me that I live this same cycle, with some variation. I find that when I get in too deep and often way over my head, those are the times I turn to God and pray hard, and seek redress and help. Those are the times I realize I need a deliverer. God always comes through, lifts me up, gets me the help I need and I am again on the road to peace and hope. Then, when things are going well, and life is smooth I begin to think I can take care of myself, I can handle this deal on my own, all of that kind of thinking comes to the forefront and more often than not, I wander off or get ensnared in some other thing that is not good for me. I am in too deep and I cry to God for help. Repeat ad infinitum.

How is the cycle of your spiritual life? What can we do to stay true?

Dr. BJ

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Making Sense

I am back to blogging from my Life Journal this week after taking some time off for Holy Week.

I was reading this morning in 1 Corinthians 14 and was struck by how important St. Paul believed that the language we used in worship needed to be understandable to the seekers among us. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is primarily speaking about the use of the spiritual gift of tongues. He is making a contrast between prophecy (which is in the language of the speaker and the hearers) and speaking in tongues (the meaning of which is unknown even to the speaker). But in this discussion he lays down some principles to which Christ Followers should pay attention.

He says, in verse 11, "If I do not know the speaker's language, his words will be gibberish to me, and mine to him." In verse 19, "but in the congregation I would rather speak five intelligible words, for the benefit of others as well as myself, than thousands of words in the language of ecstasy."

Apart from the conversation regarding spiritual gifts, the principle of being intelligible in worship to the outsider is very clear here. Every group of people develops its own language, code words and insider understandings. In the church we have things like Hymns and Carols; we have funky words like Narthex and Sanctuary; in a lot of places we have doxologies and Gloria Patris; all good and historic language of Christian worship and worship space but not immediately understandable to the seekers among us. Paul is suggesting that what we do in public needs to be understood by the broader public.

Or, and here I tweak my own nose, how about preacher talk. We get caught up in theological language and understandings. A good sermon on "sanctification" or "justification" or even "stewardship" is routine for many of us. But, for someone who does not know our insider language, these words are barriers to their understanding.

How do we make sure that we are being open to the seekers among us, not only in being warm, friendly and hospitable, but also in what we say, how we say it, and in what language?


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Resurrection Day is Here

March 23 is Easter Sunday this year. It is the earliest Easter in my lifetime and is early because Easter is set on a lunar calender (rather than the solar one we usually use). Easter is the first Sunday following the first full moon that follows the first day of Spring. By various celestial coincidences Thursday was the first day of Spring, Friday was the full moon and so Sunday is Easter. (That's probably TMI but there you go.)

At my church we have taken a lot of time and energy this past week to live through and remember the last week of Jesus earthly life. We celebrated with the crowds on Palm Sunday, we felt the pain of betrayal on Wednesday, we gathered and recalled the Last Supper on Thursday and through walking the Stations of the Cross, Tennebrae and a service of Reconciliation we remembered the events of Jesus crucifixion, death and burial on Good Friday.

All of those events are preliminaries. Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday would be meaningless without Easter. In fact, without Resurrection Day, we would not remember the events of those other days. Palm Sunday would be just another "false deliverer" event. Holy Thursday just another bad night for a group of friends. Good Friday would have been just another Roman execution. Life was cheap and in those days the Romans crucified hundreds if not thousands of people.

I am convinced that without the resurrection we would never have heard of nor never known about Jesus. But something happened that turned a band of broken, disheartened and despairing group of Jesus followers into a group of heroic and courageous leaders. Something happened that left these men and women so convinced that Jesus was alive that most of them, but reliable historical accounts, were martyred rather than deny that Jesus was their Lord. That something was Easter. That something was the dead and buried Jesus rising from the dead!

There is one more thing, it is a bit personal but here goes. I believe the resurrection is the central historical FACT of Jesus life because I have met Jesus. I know him as I might know any other living being. It is not that I know about him, like I might know about Helen of Troy or Francis of Assisi, but that we actually have a relationship. This relationship is dynamic, growing, and life changing. I believe in the resurrection because Jesus is alive and strong and seeks to bring life, healing and hope to any and all who will call upon him.

Have a most blessed Resurrection Day. Those of us who know Jesus rejoice in remembering that he was dead and is now alive. Those of us who do not know Jesus, Easter is a great day to begin!

Be blessed,

Dr. BJ

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Thursday

Thursday of Holy Week is usually called "Holy Thursday" and sometimes called "Maundy Thursday". Maundy comes from the Latin for for mandate and is used to recall the mandate Jesus gives his followers at the Last Supper to "do this in remembrance of me." Personally, I don't like the mandate language and, since there was much more to Thursday of Holy Week than the Last Supper I prefer to older "Holy Thursday" title.

Holy Thursday is a busy day. It begins with Jesus sending two of his followers into Jerusalem to make preparations for the Seder (the Jewish ceremonial Passover meal). The Seder recalls and remembers the Exodus experience of the children of Israel as they are delivered from Pharaoh by the plagues that culminate in the angel of death. This angel "passes over" the Israelites (hence the title Passover).

It is at this meal that Jesus takes the the broken unleavened bread and says "this is my body broken for you". It is at this meal that Jesus takes the cup of blessing and offers it to his friends and says "this is my blood poured out for you."

But here is so much more going on. The betrayer is at table with Jesus. There is conversation about "who's the greatest?" there is conversation about everyone denying Jesus when times get tough.

Then there is the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prays for help, but submits to his Father's will. Then comes Judas and the soldiers and Jesus is arrested and taken to the religious authorities for trial. They determine that Jesus should die and that he should die at the hands of the Romans (by crucifixion rather than stoning). Peter denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows. This is all part of a long dark night leading into Good Friday.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spy Wednesday

In many Christian circles today, Wednesday of Holy Week, is known as "Spy Wednesday". It gets its name because many believe that today is the day that Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests in Jerusalem and asked "what will you give me to betray him to you." They gave him thirty (30) pieces of silver. The Bible tells us "from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him (Matthew 26:16)." Hence, he began to "spy" out ways to turn Jesus over to the religions and secular authorities in Jerusalem.

It is a matter of great debate and conjecture as to why Judas did what he did. Some point to information that suggests that he was a thief and simply did it for the money. Others point to Judas response to Jesus being condemned to death (he tried to return the money and "buy Jesus back") and suggest that he had something else in mind. Some have suggested that Judas believed in a political messiah and betrayed Jesus to force his hand. He may have believed that when the soldiers came to arrest him, Jesus would take up the call to arms and run the Romans out. It is an interesting debate with no clear answers.

What intrigues me is the whole matter of betrayal. When I read the story I am reminded (these are much easier to call to mind) of the times in my life I have been betrayed by others, especially by those I trusted. It has happened, my guess is it has happened to all of us at some time or another. This allows me to think I am a little like Jesus and allow the righteous indignation to rise within me -- that sense of overwhelming "I'm right to feel hurt". What comes to me a little slower are the memories of all the times I played the Judas role. Those times when I betrayed a friend, those times when I betrayed Jesus.

Spy Wednesday is not a comfortable day. I find myself asking the profoundly uncomfortable question "how many times and for how much have I sold out my Lord Jesus." Then I am reminded of a quote from the distant past (where does it come from?) that says for 30 pieces of silver Judas sold not just his Lord but his self. What is my price? What is yours?


Monday, March 17, 2008

Palm Sunday and into Holy Week

The eight days from Palm Sunday through Easter tell the story and recount the events that are the core of the Christian Faith. It is important for the deepening of our faith to make the effort to walk with Jesus through this week. When we take this walk we are reminded every year that the story of Jesus, his betrayal, crucifixion, death and resurrection did not happen in the imagination of the distant past, nor was it conceived in the realm of myth and legend. When we walk with Jesus this week we are reminded that these events happened in a real place, to real people in real time.

Palm Sunday begins the week. Jesus, the King of Kings, rides a donkey into Jerusalem. He does not ride the horse of a conquering warrior, rather, he rides the donkey of a King come in peace. An oppressed populace welcomes him shouting "Hosanna -- Save Us" waving the palm branch substitute flag of an occupied people. This is the beginning and it is also the end.

The uproar not only angers the religious leaders in Jerusalem (some of them tell Jesus to make his followers stop) it also gets the attention of the Roman Governor (Pontius Pilate). The religious leaders are protecting their Tradition and traditions. The Romans hated riots and civil unrest over anything else. The religious leaders sought to discredit this upstart Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth so the people would not chase after him to do this they chose to question and debate with him and seek someone who would betray him quietly. The Romans would choose to treat him as a usurper, an insurrectionist and would choose to crucify him.

Curiously, from the uproar and tumult of Palm Sunday it takes 3 days for anything else to happen. Jesus calmly walks from Bethany to Jerusalem on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and well into Thursday before there is trouble. Three days of plotting, planning by the opposition. Three more days of Jesus sitting on the teacher's steps and telling the people of Jerusalem about God's unconditional, unimaginable and undeniable love.

Religious people never seem to get this. People in power who are primarily concerned with maintaining control cannot get this.

Walk with Jesus this week . . . and, just maybe, you'll get it.

Dr. BJ

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Letter of Freedom

The spirit of Religion is an enemy of the Spirit of Jesus. Religion is all about my comfort, my needs, me, me, me! Religion is about doing what I need to do to appease or even control the the good will and favor of God. We don't go to religion serve but to be served. We do good and avoid bad because there is punishment or some other disfavor attached. We go through the rituals and the rites because, somewhere deep in side of us, we believe that we are earning brownie points and God's favor. Most of the spirit of religion is expressed in rules, laws, etc.

Christianity, the religion that developed, around the life, death and teachings of Jesus easily falls into this same trap. As a follower of Jesus, I need to be reminded that there is nothing I can do to make me more acceptable to God; there is nothing I can do to make God love me more. Following Jesus is not about what I have to do to appease God or to make myself acceptable to God -- following Jesus is about living into what God has already done for me. Jesus paid the price for salvation, Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead to make a way for all of us to be able to live life in a love relationship with our creator. That's pretty cool.

In Galatians, St. Paul is doing his best to convey this message to the early Christians. They are struggling because most of them have come out of an environment where the spirit of religion prevails. This is true, whether they came out of the religious culture of the ancient Hebrews or whether they came out of the polytheistic cultures of ancient Greece, Babylon or Rome.

The core truth of Galatians, for me, is in Chapter 3:19b-20 "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Because Jesus Christ gave his life for the Sin of world and because I have surrendered my life to him, I am now free to live a life free of sin and a life that makes a difference in this world for his sake.

Free thoughts worth thinking.
Dr. BJ

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Deuteronomic ramblings

Hi everyone:

In our Life Journal for the past week we have been reading in the last of the books of Moses (also called the Torah and the Pentateuch) called Deuteronomy. This book reads a lot like Moses last will and testament. One of my friends refered to it as the longest sermon she had ever read. It is preachy and legalistic and is loaded with regulations and reminders on the regulations -- it even repeats the 10 commandments that were given back in Exodus 20). But there are some things to which we ought to pay attention. Here are a few:
Following the admonition to provide appropriate treatment for "strangers and foreigners living among you" is a recurring phrase: "remember you were once foreigners in Egypt. I keep thinking about the immigration debate within the United States and I wonder . . . hey, unless I'm a Native American (and even they came here from somewhere else at some point in the distant past) we are all immigrants. Maybe we should think differently about those who are trying to make a start in this land knowing that our own forebearers made similar starts. I am also interested in the Deuteronomic understanding of one law for everyone. This is especially clear when the Judges are told to not be partial to anyone -- not to the rich nor to the poor. They are even told, rather pointedly not to take bribes and not to feel sorry for the poor. The judges are to be unbiased and impartial in their dealings. Sounds like a pretty good idea -- Dr. BJ