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?