Feb 25, 2011

When Bad Things Happen

The question concerning why bad things happen to us Rabbi Harold Kushner addresses in his 1981 book that stroked a receptive spot in our culture’s collective mind. Kushner titled his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Many people in our culture today do not turn to religion for answers to questions such as this—rather they turn to reason and logic for answers. Yet in my judgment, when a person ponders the imponderable, then reason and logic by definition will not because they cannot provide answers. For answers, we must turn elsewhere.

One of our biggest problems as a modern person is the idea that misfortune or hardship should never come our way because we are nice people and don’t deserve life’s tribulations. Perhaps it is our romantic notion of what life ought to be that offers no consideration to adversity being a customary part of life. And yet the book of Job reminds us that “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes” (Job 3:26).

Trouble is part of the bundle we call human existence. Nothing in human experience or in our religious understanding of life’s authentic truth promises us a trouble-free life. As I know all too well some troubles we bring upon ourselves, and some troubles happen beyond our control. As my friend Tommy Lane says: “Our margin of control in both cases is in what we do with what happens to us.”

The philosopher from South Alabama also quotes Lillian Smith, in Now Is the Time, who reminds us that “Every good thing the human race has experienced was trouble for somebody. Our birth was trouble for our mothers. To support us was trouble for our fathers. Books, paintings, music, great buildings, good food, ideas, and the nameless joys and excitements which add up to what we call ‘a good life’ came out of the travail of countless hearts and minds.”

During the coming season of Lent (which begins on Ash Wednesday: 9 March 2011) we will explore this and other questions which bedevil the human spirit and mind. Stay tuned.


Feb 7, 2011

Dare to Share

Recently one of our newer members asked me why we are doing the “Dare to Share” program in our church. This query from someone who is a direct beneficiary of another’s evangelistic effort. But as I reflect on this circumstance, I quickly realized that some of the best gifts I ever received were gifts I failed to appreciate at the time. I also neglected to note the depth of the other’s giving too—and was therefore not yet ready to be grateful!

“Dare to Share” tries to answer a question such as: “How can ordinary Christians talk about God and faith when we are not in church?” The answer will be provided in part by Thomas Q. Robbins over the next several weeks. He will remind us among other things that we all have a story to tell. We each have good news to share. It is good news that gives all people hope and joy and purpose. But why would we as individual believers want to do such a thing? Because we have pledged allegiance to God’s Kingdom, ushered in by Jesus.

We are to spread Jesus’ fame. Yet, even these nineteen or twenty centuries later, we too are puzzled about who Jesus is. But whether or not we understand Jesus, we have nonetheless pledged to live under his authority. The authority of Jesus’ extends to every aspect of his original disciple’s life and, therefore, to our lives. It is our task to help establish and extend that authority by all the means at our disposal. More than any other task, ours is a teaching task: to help the world learn, see, and understand the authority of Jesus. If we are able to do this, even in part, then we will have done our faithful part in spreading Jesus’ fame, and it is to be hoped, for the salvation of the world.

Gerald Bonner (The Library of History and Doctrine, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1963) alludes to the teaching life of St. Augustine:
Less than nine months after his [Augustine’s] death, Pope Celestine admirably expressed the view of Western Christians in a solemn tribute to his memory. ‘The life and merits of Augustine, that man of holy memory, always kept him in Our communion, nor was he ever assailed by so much as a suspicion of evil. We remember him as a man of such great wisdom that he was always reckoned by Our predecessors among the greatest teachers.’ This verdict would have been enthusiastically endorsed by Augustine's flock at Hippo (p. 149).

Perhaps, as we receive the body and blood of Christ in our day as an act of worship in Christ’s church, we too, can teach about the one who has taught us with authority. By the quality of our life together, perhaps, those in our community can see the authority of Christ for their lives and for our world. This is what I have been thinking about when I think about “Dare to Share.”

Feb 5, 2011

Super Soul Series

As part of Arlington, Texas’ First United Methodist Church’s worship series for Epiphany 2011, we are taking a look at some of the texts that Paul has written as part of his collection of letters to the church at Corinth. Elements of faith and discipleship that Paul mentions in these letters comprise a part of what makes a “Super Soul.” Paul writes about these elements he hopes are in the soul (or whatever) of the Corinthians. These elements are: gratitude, unity, humility, receptivity, maturity, responsibility, and dependability. By these seven ingredients Paul guides the church at Corinth to become as individuals better disciples and as an assembly—a true faith community.

In studying the Bible, sometimes it is difficult to ferret out the context of some of scripture’s most important passages. In most of Paul’s letters, for instance, we can only assume the questions that the churches ask from the reply that Paul gives. Here in Corinth we have the group called “Chloe’s people” who have “ratted out” the rest of the Corinthian congregation for “conduct unbecoming” or “Christians behaving badly.” Thus Paul writes to fix the wrongs in the church.

Many people love this letter because it gets down to cases. Not too much high flying theology—No!!! Here rather Paul castigates those who deserve it—always someone who is not us. Yet in all humility are we always in the right? As we find in Job: “Do you think this to be just? You say, ‘I am in the right before God’ ” (Job 35:2).

I continue to appreciate the many persons in our congregation who struggle to find meaning in life, in worship, in study, and in the fellowship of the church. For as the author of Ephesians reminds us: “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

It is a struggle, but only in struggle do we find best and most faithful selves.

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