Monday, January 28, 2008

Preaching the Cross

(A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18)

We preachers preach about all kinds of things. We preach about sin (we’re against it.) We preach about relationships (we’d like them to be more loving and fulfilling than they often are). We preach about all the things that the church needs to be doing that we’re not doing (we may dwell on that one too much). We preach about eternal life (we want everybody to have it). We preach about what the Bible says (we sometimes have the courage to mention the parts that we know you won’t like).

We preachers are at our best, though, when we preach Jesus. Indeed, Jesus should be both implicit and explicit in every sermon that we preach. And we may are at our absolute best when we preach Jesus Christ crucified.

The church is at its best when it preaches, teaches, and lives Jesus Christ crucified. Christians are at their best when they talk and live Jesus Christ crucified. The church and the Christians who make it up are considerably less than our best when we talk and live something less than Jesus Christ crucified.

We err in the church when we let anything other than the main thing become the main thing. And the main thing always has been, is now, and always will be Jesus Christ crucified.

Sometimes we, like the folks in the church at Corinth, let other things become the main thing. For example, sometimes we let who we know become the main thing for us. The Corinthians were all busted up over who they knew; they had divided themselves up into cliques that were based on certain personalities. Some claimed loyalty to Paul, some to the Alexandrian preacher Apollos, some to Simon Peter, and some to Christ.

Sometimes people develop an unhealthy loyalty to an individual leader. I once had someone say to me about her pastor, “I just can’t imagine going to a church where he was not the pastor.” Always remember: we go to church to worship God for what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. Now, it is well and good to have mentors and people whose insights give us good guidance. I am going to drive several hours today to hear and hopefully meet a man whose books I have been reading for many years and whose insights are always helpful to me. But he is helpful to me precisely because he points me to Jesus.

For most of us the larger temptation is to develop an unhealthy loyalty to a certain group. Now, having a small group or small groups within the fellowship of the church with whom we find camaraderie and support is a good thing. What we have to be careful about is coming to think that everybody in the church and in the world either does think or should think like our group thinks. We need to keep our eyes and minds open to the wider church and the wider world. Mainly, though, we need to keep our eyes and minds on the crucified Christ.

Or, sometimes we let what we know become the main thing for us. Some of the Christians at Corinth claimed to belong to Apollos, who was renowned for his wisdom and eloquence. Did those who claimed allegiance to Apollos think they knew more than everyone else? Some of the Corinthians claimed to belong to Christ. Now, all Christians would ultimately have to say they belong to Christ. Could it be that these particular people claimed to have a deeper relationship with Christ than everybody else? Could they have been claiming some special knowledge of Christ that belonged to them alone?

Now, we need to grow in our knowledge of the Lord. We need to study and to pray and to listen to good teachers so that we will come to know more and more. But we have to remember that the main thing is not what we know. The main thing is Christ crucified.

Or, sometimes we let what we are able to do become the main thing. The Corinthian Christians were a very gifted congregation. Giftedness can create pride and pride can lead to arrogance and to jealousy. Sometimes we become enamored of our gifts and abilities and forget from where such attributes come.

What we can do for the Lord with the help of the Lord is important. But it is not the main thing. The main thing is Christ crucified.

Division results when we get away from the main thing. We get divided in our own being when the cross is not at the center of our lives. The cross holds our lives together because the cross is the essence of the way of God. If we do not hold the cross at the center of our being, we get pulled apart by competing loyalties, which may be people, agendas, self, or any number of things. We get divided in the church when the cross is not at the center of the church’s life. If we do not hold the cross at the center of our church’s life, we get pulled in all kinds competing directions. That’s what happened at Corinth and that’s what often happens in these days. We forget the main thing. The main thing is Christ crucified.

And so Paul told the Corinthians, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power” (v. 17). He said that about baptism not because he thought baptism was unimportant—he himself had been baptized—but because he was glad that not many people could use their baptism by him as a point of loyalty. He said that about wisdom not because he was opposed to wisdom—especially the wisdom that comes from God (see 2:6ff)—but because he wanted it to be clear that the power of the cross was not in human rhetoric.

So what is this preaching of the cross? What is its message?

The message part one is: the cross is foolish. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” (v. 18a). That’s the way it was for us when we were perishing. That’s the way it is for those who are still perishing. And that’s a little bit of the way that it is for those of us who aren’t perishing but who are grasping so little of what life in Christ is really all about that we feel a good bit of the time like we’re choking, like we’re not coming up for air often enough. It’s foolish on the face of it: the powerful don’t intentionally become weak; those who have it all don’t on purpose give it all up for people who don’t even deserve it; gods don’t die; Messiahs aren’t crucified. It’s foolish.

But, you see, this foolishness is God’s foolishness, a foolishness that is intentionally chosen. When we’re foolish we are that way because we can’t help it or because we slipped up or because we weren’t paying attention. God intentionally chose the foolishness of the cross because he knew it was the only way to make salvation possible. It’s hard to get the truth that strength is seen in weakness and that wisdom is seen in foolishness, but that’s the way it is and God knows it. To receive it, we have to become fool enough to believe the cross and then fool enough to live the cross.

The message part two: the cross is powerful. “The message about the cross,” Paul said, “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” It is the power of God because it embodies the grace of God. It is the power of God because it embodies the way of God. Jesus shows us fully who God is and the cross of Jesus shows us that God is a God who dies for us and who dies with us. In that is grace and in that grace is power.

And so, you see, in the cross all the reasons for our divisions are swept away. God has done everything for our salvation. He has done in it ways that require downright foolishness, the kind that is seen in simple, child-like faith, to accept it. He has made it clear that no personal quality, whether ours or someone else’s, can save us. Thus, we lose all ground for selfishness, for pride, for boasting, and for division. It is the cross of Christ that saves us, that unites us, that binds us, and that will carry us through.

Paul said that he did not preach “with eloquent wisdom so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” Its power is seen in its simplicity, in its foolishness, and in its grace. So, here it is for all of us:

Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Jesus Christ embodied the grace and love of God.
Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins.
Jesus Christ will save you if you will just be foolish enough to believe.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Article from On the Jericho Road in the Augusta Chronicle

My post "The 2008 Presidential Election and Religion" appeared in the Augusta Chronicle on Sunday, January 27 under the title "Religion Becoming a Political Divide."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Frederick Buechner

I do not remember exactly when I first heard of Frederick Buechner. Somewhere along the line I picked up one of his books and before long he had become my favorite writer. How do I know that he is my favorite writer? I own 21 of his books, that’s how!

Buechner is a Presbyterian minister who writes sermons, memoirs, stories, essays, and novels. His works have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and he has been honored by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. While I enjoy his fiction and learn much from his essays and am moved by his sermons, it is his autobiographical works that have made the greatest impression on me. Buechner produced a trilogy of such works that are entitled The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days, Now & Then: A Memoir of Vocation, and Telling Secrets. In those works Buechner paints wonderful pictures of the way in which the grace of God weaves its way through a human life.

To this day, I cry when I re-read one of those books. Being who I am, how can I not cry when I read words like these?

To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for the world’s sake—even when the world bores and sickens and scares you half to death—that little by little we start to come alive. It was not a conclusion that I came to in time. It was a conclusion from beyond time that came to me. God knows I have never been any good at following the road it pointed me to, but at least, by grace, I glimpsed the road and saw that it is the only one worth traveling. (The Sacred Journey, p. 107)

I can only wipe my eyes and say “Amen.”

Dr. Howard Giddens has for over thirty years now been my “face to face” and “deeply involved in my life” mentor. For some dozen years now Frederick Buechner has been my literary and in some ways my spiritual and vocational mentor. But I have never met him.

I missed one chance. A few years ago Buechner was scheduled to speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I signed up to go and in fact went. I had not been at The Hill long and I didn’t want to miss a Sunday, so I arranged for a Saturday evening flight home, figuring that since the conference lasted several days and ended on a Saturday night, what were the odds that he would be the very last speaker? They were pretty good, as it turned out, and I didn’t get to hear him. (I did get to hear Joyce Carol Oates, which was a treat in itself.)

Lord willing, though, I am about to meet Frederick Buechner.

King College in Bristol, Tennessee has established the Frederick Buechner Institute. The Institute “is devoted to exploring the intersections and collisions of faith and culture that define our times.” The inauguration of the Institute will occur on Monday, January 28. Buechner will be speaking at the event. Debra and I will be attending the inauguration. I am really looking forward to it.

We all need mentors. We all need people who offer us some guidance along the way as we try to fulfill our calling. I am grateful for this blessed opportunity to meet one of mine.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The 2008 Presidential Election and Religion

I am starting to get very concerned about the role that religion is playing in this presidential election. Specifically, I am becoming concerned about the emphasis that is being placed on the candidates’ religion.

Mitt Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Put more simply, he is a Mormon. It goes without saying that some folks will have reservations about putting a Mormon in the White House. On the other hand, the media reported that while Mormons make up around 7% of Nevada’s population, some 25% of the Republicans who participated in the Nevada caucuses were Mormon and about 94% of them voted for Romney. Are Mormons going to vote for Romney because he is a Mormon?

Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein. His father, after whom he was named, was a Kenyan Muslim who was divorced from Obama’s mother when the child was two years old. So far as I can ascertain, and despite what some groups are spreading on the internet, Obama himself has never been a practicing Muslim. For over twenty years he has been a member of the United Church of Christ and he describes himself as a Christian. Given the international situation with which we deal and given the events of 9/11, it is understandable that most Americans would be very hesitant to cast their vote for someone who had ever had a connection with radical Islam, but that does not characterize Obama. But what if he were a moderate practicing Muslim? Many folks would vote against him just because of that. As things are, many people will vote for Obama because he is a practicing Christian.

Mike Huckabee’s middle name must be “Evangelical,” because he is almost never mentioned by the media without that adjective being associated with him or with his supporters. To be fair, though, Huckabee seems to be going out of his way to court the evangelical bloc. Most polls indicate that Huckabee is getting large percentages of the evangelical vote in the Republican primaries and caucuses. Those same polls indicate that his support among non-evangelicals is much weaker. Therefore, it seems clear that evangelical Christians are voting for Huckabee because he is also an evangelical Christian and non-evangelicals are voting against him at least partly because is an evangelical.

During the November 28, 2007 YouTube/CNN Republican debate, some questions about religion were posed to the candidates. The one that got the most press was that posed by Joseph Dearing who held up a copy of the King James Version of the Bible and asked the candidates if they believed every worked of “this book.” A man named Jacob asked the candidates “If Jesus were alive today, would he be a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent?”

The next day on his MSNBC show Hardball, Chris Matthews said to John McCain,

But these questions are getting very liturgical. How literal do you take the Constitution [note: Matthews meant to say “Bible” here]? Where did Jesus stand on capital punishment? I mean, this is beginning to look like what the Constitution calls a religious test and proscribes, bans, really, in Article 6 of the Constitution. Why are candidates for the presidency being asked religious questions?

Here is what Article VI of the United States Constitution says:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

It would have been a good thing had one of the candidates in that debate really believed in the Constitution enough to have the courage to say, “I’m sorry, but that question gets awfully close to applying a religious test as a qualification for the office of President and I will not answer it.” Such an answer would have added a helpful element to the conversation.

Now, let’s be clear. The real meaning of Article VI is that no person is to be deemed unworthy in an official way to serve in the government because of her or his religion. No law is to be passed or no rule is to be adopted that would prohibit a Mormon, a Muslim, a liberal Christian, an evangelical Christian, a Druid, a Buddhist, or an atheist from holding office because of religious affiliation. Such a requirement would be a clear violation of the Constitution and a calamitous breach of the wall separating church and state.

It is impossible, though, to stop individual voters and blocs of voters from applying their own religious tests to candidates.

We need to be reminded that when a President is sworn in he makes this oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." The President pledges to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution”… not one religious text or another.

I confess that when I evaluate a candidate I consider the ways in which that candidate might be led by the great Judeo-Christian values of justice and mercy. But I also confess that I try not to be swayed by the religious label that a candidate bears. Sometime back a church member asked me, “If you have two candidates, one of whom is a Christian and one of whom is not, should not a Christian vote for the Christian candidate rather than the non-Christian candidate?” I answered, “I can envision scenarios in which the ‘non-Christian’ candidate might embody ‘Christian’ values in his or her governing more than the ‘Christian’ candidate would.”

It is simply asking too much to ask a great number of Americans to take religion out of the equation when they are pondering how they will cast their vote. But it is not asking too much to suggest that we should all look more at the candidates’ stands on the issues that confront our nation and at the ways in which their pursuit of their policies would impact the lives of all Americans—and, as a Christian, I must add to that “especially the poor, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised.” I can’t help it—I have read the Prophets and the Gospels.

I was five years old in November 1963 but I remember very clearly the day when President Kennedy was killed. I grew up idolizing the martyred President. Sometime during my adolescence, I asked my father, a high school-educated textile-mill working Southern Baptist member of the Greatest Generation, for whom he had voted in the 1960 presidential election. “I voted for Nixon,” he said, “and I’m not ashamed of that. But I am ashamed of my reason.” “What reason?” I asked. “I voted against Kennedy because he was a Roman Catholic and I was afraid if he got elected the Pope would run the country.” I’m proud that my father grew enough to understand the error of his thinking.

As I said, I’m worried. I’m worried that the religious pluralism that has developed from our cherished freedom of (and from) religion is becoming a source of division. I’m worried that too many of us will vote for or against this or that presidential candidate mainly because of his or her religious affiliation. I’m worried that too many candidates are playing to this or that religious constituency in order to get elected.

And I’m worried that we’ll forget that whoever is elected has to be the President of all Americans.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Roe v. Wade at 35

Today is the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that, as it is usually put, “legalized abortion.” If you would like to spend the entire day reading the actual decision, you can find it here. I find this section of the Supreme Court’s finding especially interesting:

1. A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a lifesaving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician.
(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.
(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.

If I understand this correctly, the Court held that the State could restrict abortion more as pregnancies advanced toward viability of the fetus. The justices held that only abortions in the first trimester were beyond the reach of State regulation. They went on to say,

The decision leaves the State free to place increasing restrictions on abortion as the period of pregnancy lengthens, so long as those restrictions are tailored to the recognized state interests. The decision vindicates the right of the physician to administer medical treatment according to his professional judgment up to the points where important state interests provide compelling justifications for intervention. Up to those points, the abortion decision in all its aspects is inherently, and primarily, a medical decision, and basic responsibility for it must rest with the physician. If an individual practitioner abuses the privilege of exercising proper medical judgment, the usual remedies, judicial and intra-professional, are available.

So, unless I am missing something (and I confess my ignorance of subsequent legal decisions in the matter), the commonly heard assertion that Roe v. Wade legalized “abortion on demand” is incorrect. The decision apparently held that decisions about abortions in the first trimester were to be left strictly to the woman and her physician. That does seem to approach “abortion on demand” in the first trimester.

The issue of abortion tears at me when I think about it. Folks involved with the Right to Life organization seem to have as their goal the outlawing of all abortions. At least, that is my understanding of the motive behind the proposed Human Life amendment to the Georgia constitution. The proposed amendment states,

Paramount right to life. (a) The rights of every person shall be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. The right to life is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person.
(b) With respect to the fundamental and inalienable rights of all persons guaranteed in this Constitution, the word 'person' applies to all human beings, irrespective of age, race, sex, health, function, or condition of dependency, including unborn children at every state of their biological development, including fertilization.

If it could be legally established that personhood extends to “unborn children at every state of their biological development, including fertilization,” then obviously the due process clauses of the 14th Amendment (“nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”) would apply to unborn children at every stage of development, from the very moment of conception.

It seems to me that as things now stand, the due process to which the mother is entitled trumps whatever “rights” the unborn child, at least in the first trimester, might have. Were the Human Life amendment to pass, then due process would become a right of a fertilized ovum and that would trump the due process rights accorded to the mother.

Given that the mother is a human being whose life is to be valued, I simply cannot support the outlawing of all abortions. Respect for the mother’s life and for the lives that would be impacted by her death make it necessary for abortion to be available for medical reasons.

That is one reason that I don’t march or otherwise get directly involved in most “pro-life” activities. I can’t support the agenda of outlawing all abortions.

On the other hand, there is absolutely no doubt that we have arrived at a place in our national consciousness in which the lives of the unborn are treated not as lives at all but rather as impediments to be removed.

I was struck by this as I read a Washington Post article on this Roe v. Wade anniversary about the increasing use of the “abortion pill” RU-486. Author Rob Stein talked about and quoted some women who had used the pill. One, a 41-year-old nurse, said that she and her husband decided to use the pill to end her pregnancy. The circumstances? They had a three-year-old son and she was about to start a new job. It was her second abortion.

Another was a 25-year-old office administrator who used RU-486 when she became pregnant and she and her fiancé decided that they were not ready to become parents.

Yet another was a 24-year-old who became pregnant as she was preparing to graduate from college. She and her boyfriend decided to terminate the pregnancy because they were not able financially to support a child.

God knows that I am in no position to stand in judgment of these or any other people. But it troubles me that people would decide to have an abortion for such reasons.

I know how old-fashioned this will sound, but it is nonetheless the truth: if we would follow the teachings of the Bible and not engage in premarital sex, then the risk of having a child out of wedlock would be reduced to zero. I fully support the promotion of abstinence as the best form of birth control outside of marriage.

But…people are going to have sex before marriage. They always have and they always will. Therefore, we need to promote responsibility alongside the promotion of abstinence. Young people should be taught about effective methods of birth control that will protect against pregnancy as well as against sexually transmitted diseases. Ideally, parents should be the ones to do the teaching. But, they often will not. Therefore, it unfortunately often falls to the schools. Might the church be a better venue? That’s a scary but necessary thought.

So much of this question boils down to the issue of when life begins. I’ll say this much: when a fetus become viable it is a life and before it becomes viable it is at least a potential life.

Perhaps I should be ashamed that I don’t march against abortion. Perhaps more legislative remedies to the solution should be sought.

But the issue might be better addressed by helping families develop the skills to teach their children what they need to know about sex, by trying to create a culture that puts the needs of others—even those of the unborn—before the needs of self, and by moving toward valuing the lives of those that have already been born by advocating for economic and health care policies that will do the most good for the most people.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I Need to Testify

(A Communion Meditation based on Psalm 40:1-11)

When I was a boy, I worshipped in a context in which personal testimony was very important. Each Wednesday night, we had a personal testimony segment in our prayer service. Person after person would stand up and tell of what the Lord had done for them. Some of the testimonies were moving. Some were frankly a little silly. Some were standardized—the same person said the same thing week after week. But it struck me as impressive and vital: these people were willing to stand up in front of the congregation and tell what the Lord had done for them.

And so it came to pass that one Wednesday night, with great fear and trembling and with much knocking of knees, I stood up and said in a quavering voice, “I’d like to say that I love the Lord. Pray for me and my family” and sat down. I felt that I had gone through a rite of passage. I felt that I had done something that I had to do. I had testified.

We all need to testify; we all need to tell of what the Lord has done and particularly of what the Lord has done for us. What else can we say about such testimony?

First, we testify because the Lord has saved us. Like the Psalmist, we can testify to the fact that God has heard our cry, that he has pulled us out of the pit, and that he has set our feet on a rock. Each one of us can name a time—and probably time after time—that the Lord has delivered us. The main event that we would all name, though, is our salvation from our sin. Through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, God has saved us and given us eternal life. How can we help but tell? “He put a new song in my mouth,” the Psalmist proclaims (v. 4). We burst with joy over what God has done in our lives! Whether we sing or whether we talk or whether we do both, we testify because the Lord has saved us.

Second, we testify by doing the will of God. Many of us think that going to church and giving our money and doing such church stuff is adequate thanks to God for what he has done. But look at what this Psalm says: “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear…. Then I said, ‘Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (vv. 6-8). Now, that is not to say that we shouldn’t go to church and give our offerings. But it is to say that we offer adequate testimony of what God has done when we are obedient to God. He will open our ears and open our hearts to know his will and he will then open our lives to do his will. We preach the gospel to those around us as we are obedient to that gospel.

Third, we testify so that others may come to trust in the Lord. The Psalm states, “Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD” (v. 3b). The Lord has delivered and saved us. As we celebrate that fact through our words and through our actions, it may be that others will come to trust the Lord. That gives us even more to praise about, for such a great blessing is too much to be kept to ourselves.

Fourth, we testify because we need the Lord’s help again. With v. 11 the tone of the Psalm changes: “Do not, O LORD, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.” This one who has been praising God and singing a new song and testifying gladly and displaying obedience now is in trouble again. He needs the Lord’s help again. We always need the Lord’s help. It never ends. Life is a cycle of good and bad, happy and glad, and we need to keep celebrating and telling of what the Lord has done for us so we will be confident in looking for his help again. The same Lord who has delivered us will deliver us.

As we approach the table of the Lord, I ask you to remember three truths.

First, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to take away the sin of the world, died on the cross that we might be saved. We remember that death today and we praise God for the salvation secured for us through that death.

Second, the same Lord who has saved us continues to save us and will save us in the end. We continue to need his saving presence in our lives until our lives come to an end.

Third, the Lord’s Supper is itself an act of testimony. As Paul said, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” So let us proclaim his death and our salvation. Let us keep proclaiming the good news when we leave this place.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Holy Highway, Batman!

The TV news folks have demonstrated some fascination lately with some people who are praying for God to turn Interstate 35 into a “holy highway.” You may have seen some of the reports. The one I saw showed some very fervent young people, most of whom were wearing Heartland School of Ministry t-shirts, praying aloud beside I-35 for God to change the areas along the highway.

That those young folks were wearing those t-shirts is not surprising, given that the movement comes out of the Heartland World Ministries Church in Irving, Texas, which is led by its founder Steve Hill. Hill was formerly the evangelist at the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida, which hosted a famous revival that began in 1995 and lasted for several years (the church still hosts Friday night services associated with the revival).

The official name for the I-35 project is “Light the Highway.” The people behind the movement believe that they are in some way pointed toward this intercession by the fact that Isaiah 35 mentions a holy highway (get it?…Isaiah 35…I-35): "And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." (Isaiah 35:8)

Now, as a trained biblical scholar, I know that this interpretation is silly. The proper way to study and apply the Bible is to do the hard work of exegesis; we should strive to understand the historical, literary, and theological context of a passage of Scripture and then make an informed application to our time.

As a believing and practicing Christian, I still know that this interpretive move is silly. I believe and know that the Spirit of God does guide us in our understanding of Holy Scripture. But the Spirit will cause us to interpret according to the heart and life of Jesus and will lead us to live the clear and plain teachings of the Bible. It is simply not valid by any legitimate interpretative measure to say that we should focus our prayers on I-35 because Isaiah 35 happens to mention a holy highway.

It’s very tempting to have some fun with this. For example, I could point out that Isaiah 20 says,

In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it-at that time the LORD spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, "Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet." And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.

Then the LORD said, "Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt's shame. Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be afraid and put to shame. In that day the people who live on this coast will say, 'See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?' "

Then, since I-20 runs through our city, I could start a movement called “Flash the Highway” which I would kick off by going stripped and barefoot along the highway and leading the people to do the same. We could call ourselves the Bared Buttocks Brigade.

To be fair, though, we should note what the Light the Highway website says about their view of their movement’s connection with the Isaiah prophecy:

Many scholars believe this spoke of the path back to Jerusalem for God's people. Other scholars believe that Isaiah was referring to the way to heaven through the Messiah.

Now, fast-forward 2500 years. All we want to see is a move of God in this incredible nation. Yes, there have been many prophecies over the last several years referring to this scripture text. What an awesome idea for God to begin moving up and down an Interstate that cuts America in half (from Laredo to Duluth).
We do not believe that Isaiah actually saw this Interstate, nor do we believe that I-35 is spoken of literally in this scripture, but we do believe that we can use this text in a symbolic way as a catalyst to begin praying, just like those who live on Interstate 40 can use Isaiah 40:3,
"The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God",
and those on Interstate 10 could use John 10:10,
"The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come
that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Besides, what’s wrong with praying that the Lord would cleanse and transform the cities and towns along I-35? What’s wrong with praying that the people who live along that highway or any other highway will come to know the Lord? What’s wrong with seeking a revival in our land?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that: absolutely nothing.

I wish those folks wouldn’t hang their movement on such a tenuous connection with a Bible verse.

I may even wish they wouldn’t pray in ways that make them look like overly fervent zealots because I’m always too worried about non-Christians thinking that’s the way that all of us Christians are.

But I’m starting to get concerned that our concern about zealots translates into an unwillingness to be zealous ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not about to bare my buttocks along I-10 or even pray real loud alongside the street on which I live.

I do think, though, that I may start praying for this nation and for this world a little more seriously.

Did it really take something like the Light the Highway movement to make me think more about that?

Holy Highway, Batman!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Erick Turner of the Oregon Health and Science University and his research team have published a report in the January 17, 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that should give us all pause.

Turner’s team found that almost a third of the clinical studies done on anti-depressant medications are never published. 74 studies of such medications were begun between 1987 and 2004. Of those, 38 produced positive results and of those 38, all but one were published. On the other hand, of the 36 studies that produced negative or questionable results, only three were published while 11 were reworked to make it appear that the drug had worked.

Such practices are serious. The public may not be getting all the information we need about the medicines that so many of us take. Our health may be at risk.

The Turner team’s findings reveal some serious ethical issues. The team reports that they are unable to determine whether the fault lies with the researchers and their sponsors or with the editors and reviewers associated with the journals. Regardless of where the bias lies, it seems clear that other interests are being put ahead of the health interests of the public.

That is wrong. I hope that this report leads to some serious investigation of the practices of researchers and the journals that publish or don’t publish their reports. When it comes to medications or to other matters related to our health, we need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We need it for our own good.

We need the whole truth in other areas of our lives, too, and all too often we don’t seek it or don’t face it.

For example, too many—maybe all—of us Christians don’t want to face the whole truth that is contained in our Scriptures. We tend to be very selective when it comes to deciding which passages to take seriously. It is almost too obvious to bother saying that we are selective in which parts of the Bible we choose to take literally. Such discernment is necessary, though—some parts of the Bible are to be taken literally and some parts are not. To cite a way too overused example, Jesus said he was a door—but he’s not made of wood and he doesn’t have a knob and hinges.

But all the books and all the passages and all the verses—I would go so far as to say that all the words and all the letters—in the Bible are to be taken seriously. If the entire Bible is the record of God’s revelation to us, then we need to take it all seriously.

We don’t do that, though. Some of us emphasize that part of the Bible but never look at those parts; others of us emphasize those parts of the Bible but never look at that part. All of us read right past passages in the Bible that make us uncomfortable or that we don’t understand or that we deem irrelevant or that run counter to our theology. Brothers and sisters, this ought not be!

That is not to say that all the words in the Bible are to be given the same weight, even by Christian readers who look to the Bible as Scripture that guides their spiritual formation and that helps make them into mature citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Some dietary law in Leviticus does not carry the same weight as the Sermon on the Mount, for instance. I am not saying that such discernment is unnecessary; I am simply saying that for our overall spiritual health and in the interest of becoming God’s people, we need to take his entire Book seriously. We still have the hard work of study and interpretation to do, but we should be willing to engage all of Scripture as we journey along.

We need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of the Bible because we need to come to terms with the whole truth about ourselves and about our relationship with God and with other people. We need all the evidence that Scripture offers about us; we need to shy away from none of it.

We don’t have the liberty, as was done with those negative drug research reports, of just not letting those parts of the Bible that trouble us because they don’t fit with our pre-conceived picture of who we are or of what we should be see the light of day. We don’t have the liberty of re-writing them in order to make them more palatable to our prejudices or biases. We have to deal with them as they are and figure out what, in light of the overall biblical witness and especially in light of the ultimate revelation of God in his Son, the living and eternal Word, they mean for us in the here and now.

So let’s avoid none of it. Let’s read it, struggle with it, and study and interpret it. But, with the help of the Spirit and with the lens of Christ Jesus, let’s live it.

We have a much better chance of living whole lives if we let ourselves be confronted by the whole truth of the Bible.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Josh Ruffin on The Mayhem String Band

Go to the Metro Spirit website to read Josh's article about The Mayhem String Band.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Listen to the Voice of God

(A sermon based on Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17)

Let’s face it—even we Christian folks who believe in God with all our hearts will, if we hear someone claim to have heard God speaking to them, inwardly flinch and start wondering if we’re dealing with someone who has some serious issues. Such a reaction is understandable, given that so many of the folks who make headlines say such audacious things, ranging from predictions of the future by certain televangelists to declarations by some serial killers that “God told them to do it.”

The obviousness of the truth that such pronouncements do not come from God should not cause us to conclude, however, that the voice of God cannot be heard. The witness of the Bible is that it was heard in those times. I want us to know that the voice of God can be heard in these times as well.

The Psalm reminds us that the voice of God is heard in nature. It pictures a powerful thunderstorm evoking the voice of God. We know what that’s like. We see the lightning and we hear the thunder and we think of the majesty of God. When I look into the night sky I am overwhelmed by what I can see. But think about what I cannot see! Scientists estimate that there are some one sextillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars in the universe; I have read that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches in the world! We hear the voice of God in the world and in the universe that he has created. In some mysterious way that we feel at a very primal level, God’s voice speaks to us in the phenomena of nature.

The mighty creator God is an awe-inspiring God. How much more awe-inspiring is it that this mighty creator God is up to something in relation to us human beings? He is up to something in regard to the entire universe that he has created, to be sure—it will all be redeemed. But he intends for we who are his human creation to be caught up in what he is up to. That mighty God acts to save us. That mighty God acts to be with us. As an old song says,
I’ve seen it in the lightning,
Heard it in the thunder,
And felt it in the rain;
My God is near me all the time.

We stand in awe of the mighty creator God, but how much more in awe do we stand of the mighty creator God who cares enough to come to us in Christ and to be with us through the Holy Spirit?

Matthew tells us that when Jesus was baptized by John, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (3:17). The voice that was heard at Jesus’ baptism was an affirming voice; it affirmed Jesus as God’s Son and it affirmed him as he embarked on his mission of salvation.
It’s interesting that the voice of God spoke thus of Jesus after he was baptized. Jesus had come to be baptized by John but John’s baptism was one “for the forgiveness of sins.” John very understandably said that the roles were being reversed; he needed to be baptized by Jesus. John understood that Jesus was the lamb who had come to take away the sin of the world and that he, John, was the sinner in need of forgiveness and of baptism. Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”

In other words, Jesus was saying, it was necessary that he submit himself to what God was up to and to God’s way of accomplishing what God was up to. What did that way involve?

First, it involved submission. Jesus was called to submit himself to the will and way of his Father and he in fact submitted himself to that will and way. Such a way was going to be hard and the temptation to abandon it for an easier way was going to be strong. Indeed, immediately following his baptism, Jesus was driven by the Spirit—the same Spirit that had come down to him at his baptism in that wonderful act of affirmation—into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. Those temptations went right to the heart of who Jesus was and what kind of Messiah he was to be. He was tempted to take the path of power and privilege rather than the way of submission and sacrifice. But he would not.

Second, it involved humility. While Jesus was without sin, he voluntarily and humbly identified himself with sinful humanity by submitting to John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” “He who knew no sin became sin for us,” we read elsewhere. That identification with sinful humanity would continue throughout his ministry. It would culminate in his death on the cross, where he took our sin on himself and died for us. His humility was key to his saving act.

Third, it involved sacrifice. We can only try to imagine what Jesus’ submission to his Father’s will and his humble identification with sinful humanity cost him. We can imagine giving something up for someone, but can we imagine the Son of God giving up his home with the Father in order to become human? We can even imagine giving our lives up for someone that we love or for someone that is innocent, but can we imagine the sinless Son of God giving his life up for all of sinful humanity? We can imagine dying, but can we imagine dying with all the sin and all the death of all people in all times bearing down on us?

When Jesus heard the voice of God affirming him, it was the way of submission, humility, and sacrifice that was being affirmed. The voice of God that is heard in the thunder was also heard in the affirmation of Jesus as he stood in the waters of the Jordan that day. The voice of God was most clearly heard in the humble, submissive, and sacrificial life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came “not to serve but to be served and to give his life a ransom for many.” As the author of Hebrews put it, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The Son who was involved in creation is also the Son who, in his crucifixion and resurrection, played the central role in what God is up to.

Is the voice of God still heard? Certainly, and it is heard in many ways. While this is not what I am talking about today, I would encourage you to listen for the still, small voice of God that comes to you in your Bible study and in your communion with God through prayer. The Holy Spirit is with us and God does speak to us in our innermost being.

When I ask “Is the voice of God still heard?” what I have in mind is this: is it still heard by those who don’t know him and who thus desperately need to hear it? One of the ways that it is heard is in our sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ.

That good news is well summarized in the sermon delivered by Simon Peter in our Acts passage. At the beginning of that sermon, Peter affirmed that the good news was for everyone, that God accepts anybody who fears him. He then went on to proclaim the submissive, humble, and sacrificial way in which Jesus lived out his mission as the Messiah. It started, Peter said, after the baptism of Jesus. Then the ministry of Jesus spread as he went about doing good and healing folks. Finally he was crucified and raised from the dead. That’s what Jesus did, Peter said. But then Peter added that Jesus gave his followers the commission to preach and to testify that Jesus was in fact the Savior and the Messiah. That is still the message that we preach and to which we testify; the old, old story is still the much needed story.

Surely, though, if we are going to preach such a message we are also called to live such a message. Will people who need the Lord hear the voice of God through us? They will if our lives bear witness to the kind of Lord and Savior that we serve. They will if we are also submissive to God’s will, if we are also humble in our relations with other people, and if we are sacrificial in our approach to life and ministry.

People do still hear the voice of God. But God desires that they hear it through our words and through our actions. Can they?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fun with Obadiah

When I was a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the early 1980s, Dale Moody was my Systematic Theology professor. Moody would rail against what he termed our “kangaroo” approach to Bible study; he said that the Sunday School literature that our churches used hopped around from passage to passage too much.

It is a fact that large sections of the Bible are characteristically omitted from the canon of most churches and I dare say of most Christians. I say that if we’re going to be people of the Book then we ought to pay attention to the Book in its entirety. So, occasionally I afflict my parishioners with a study of one of the obscure books in the Bible.

We’re about to embark on a Sunday evening look at the book of the prophet Obadiah.

It should be fun.

With that in mind, here are some fun facts about Obadiah.

First, there are two significant men in the pages of the Hebrew Bible named Obadiah. One is a government official in the administration of King Ahab of Israel who pops up in the course of Ahab’s dealings with the prophet Elijah. Since that Obadiah lived in the ninth century B.C.E. and since the book of Obadiah dates from sometime well after 587 B.C.E., Ahab’s Obadiah is not the one who produced the book.

Second, the book of Obadiah is made up of one chapter containing only twenty-one verses. It is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible.

Third, I have never, so far as I can remember, preached a sermon based on the book of Obadiah. It may be the only book out of which I have never preached. Wait—I may have never preached out of Nahum, either. I’m ashamed.

Fourth—and this is the most interesting fact of all—Obadiah is basically a prophecy of vengeance against the Edomites, a long-time enemy of the Israelites. Now, the prophet had his reasons. The feud between the Israelites and Edomites went way back; it is symbolized and immortalized in the stories about the rivalry between their respective forebears, the brothers Jacob and Esau. Also, when Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E., the Edomites—kin people of the people of Judah, remember—had participated in the sack of the city. Of course, conflicts flow both ways, and Israel had inflicted its fair share of misery on Edom as well.

Still, here is a book in our Bibles that says this: “The house of Jacob shall be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau; for the LORD has spoken” (v. 18). That’s one of those verses and this is one of those books that makes you think, “Now, should that be in the Bible?”

It is not our place, of course, to try to reason something out of the Bible; it is our place to come to terms with what is there. So what do we make of such a book?

First, it is an honest book; it expresses openly and honestly the desire for vengeance that people—even godly people—can sense.

Second, it makes us ponder the judgment and justice of God.

Third, it should make us understand that a “flat Bible” approach is inappropriate. There are far loftier hopes for the role of “foreigners” in God’s future in other Old Testament books. And, as a Christian who must read everything, including Scripture, in light of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, I have to acknowledge that such a desire for vengeance is never appropriate in my life. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If I am his follower, how can I say instead, “I hope they burn”?

I’m looking forward to having fun with Obadiah over the next few weeks!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Interesting and Helpful Thoughts on Being "Pro-Life"

They are penned by Drew Smith of Henderson State University and are found at

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Betting on the Presidential Race

As we approached the New Hampshire presidential primaries on Tuesday, the pollsters, pundits, and other experts assured us that we should expect a clear victory by Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Indeed, they assured us that Obama would likely win by double digits.

When the dust had cleared on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton had won a narrow victory over Obama. So far as I know, every group of experts got it wrong.

Every group except one, that is. As was pointed out on MSNBC on Wednesday morning, the Las Vegas odds-makers got it right. They had posted Clinton as the favorite going into the primary. When one of those Vegas bookmakers was asked how they got it right when everybody else got it wrong, he said that getting such things right was how odds-makers make their living. Money is made or lost depending on how well they do their job.

I do not, of course, recommend that we follow the bookmakers’ guidance in deciding for whom we are going to vote. I also do not recommend taking our hard-earned money and placing bets on political or any other kinds of races.

Many people who don’t place wagers in Las Vegas nonetheless place bets on the presidential race. I suspect that many of us would be amazed at the amount of money, time, and energy that is expended by people on the candidate of their choice. Those who make such investments are hoping to parlay their investment into something that they regard as profitable.

Some folks are true believers. They hope that their expenditures will help their candidate get elected and that the candidate will then steer the country in a direction that they believe will be better. So, someone who believes that we need to do more to enhance national security might invest in one candidate while someone who believes that our health care system needs overhauling might invest in another candidate while someone who believes that a conservative social agenda is important might invest in yet another candidate.

Some folks are angle players. Their agenda is personal or corporate benefit and their motive is enhancing their bottom line. So, a person or group that is involved in this industry might support this candidate while a person or group that is involved in that business might support that candidate. Sometimes such folks will even contribute to more than one campaign and sometimes even to candidates in different parties, hoping to have some influence regardless of who gets elected.

Most of us, though, are the rank and file voters who listen to the candidates, who try to sift out the fluff from the facts in media reports, who might make a small donation to the candidate that strikes us as the best choice, and who go into the voting booth and pull the lever, hoping and praying that the process works well enough that we will have a decent leader for the next four years who really believes in government of the people, for the people, and by the people, who understands that he or she is the president of all Americans, and who takes with utmost seriousness his or her pledge to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

In a way, we’re all gambling to some extent when we support and vote for a particular candidate. We’re betting—or at least hoping—that our vote will count and that our wager will pay off in having a leader who will leave our country better off than he or she found it.

As for me, I invest more of my time and energy in prayer than in anything that I might do to help someone get elected. I pray that the good Lord will show favor to us and give us a leader who will understand the principles of freedom and justice that have made and will continue to make America great. I pray that God will grant us mercy and give us a leader who will understand that the world is changing and that the United States must change in our approaches to international relations while holding true to our principles.

Besides, I’m betting that the Old Testament prophets are right in their repeated insistence that God’s people not put their ultimate trust in princes—and these days they would add princesses to that admonition, I’m sure.

I confess that I get pretty cynical about the process sometimes, even to the point of feeling sorry for folks who are so convinced that one particular person is going to make all that much of a difference if he or she is elected President of the United States.

But I never stop believing in the basic greatness of this nation or in the basic goodness of its people.

And what I really never stop believing in is the grace and providence of God.

When all is said and done, God will work his purposes out.

Not that you can and not that you should, but…you can bet on that.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Doing Jesus Things in the Jesus Way

(A sermon based on Matthew 22:34-46; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8)

A few years ago I heard an award-winning writer and director talking about how he had become successful. He told us about the first play he ever wrote. He said that he wanted to write a play but he didn’t know how. So he found a play he liked and studied it very carefully. He copied that playwright’s style and mimicked it as closely as he could. The play he wrote won an award and the rest, as they say, is history. So how did he approach reaching his goal? He wanted to write a play. He found someone who wrote like he wanted to write. He copied that writer’s style. And he wrote a successful play.

What do we want? If we are Christians, we want to do what Jesus would do. We want to do Jesus things. But the only way to do Jesus things is to do them in the Jesus way. Why should we be so interested in doing Jesus things in the Jesus way? To answer that question we have to answer the question of who Jesus is, anyway.

Jesus asked the Pharisees to tell him whose son the Messiah was. They answered, and it was an answer based on Scripture, that the Messiah was the son of David. Jesus’ reply to their reply was not meant to deny that the Messiah was the son of David but was rather to imply that the Messiah was more than that. The implication is that the Messiah was the Son of God [cf. Dale C. Allison, “Gospel Lesson: Matthew 22:34-46,” in The Lectionary Commentary, ed. Roger E. Van Harn (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), pp. 135-136].

Have we really come to grips with that great truth? Jesus Christ was a great leader, but he was not just a great leader. Jesus Christ was a great teacher, but he was not just a great teacher. As C. S. Lewis put it, “The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man” [C. S. Lewis, “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 158].

If we’ve put our faith in him to save us from our sins and to give us eternal life, then clearly we’ve concluded that he’s not a lunatic. We have concluded, therefore, that he is the Son of God. And if he’s the Son of God who came to take away the sin of the world, who was God in the flesh, who was resurrected on the third day, then he deserves, demands, and has every right to expect our faithfulness and our allegiance. To do things in our own way is our predisposed behavior; we need to learn to do things in Jesus’ way.

So our stance toward Jesus’ example and teachings should be one of willing obedience. We want what mattered the most to him to matter the most to us. What mattered the most to him? I think that we can safely say that his answer to the question about the greatest commandment tells us what mattered the most to him. What mattered the most to him was loving God with all his heart, soul, and mind and loving his neighbor as himself. Therefore, what should matter the most to us is loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

So to do Jesus things in the Jesus way means to love God with all we are, with all our being. Our great love for God is awakened by God’s amazing grace for us. If you are like I am, there is somebody out there to whom you owe an awful lot. If your heart is right, you would do anything you could for that person who did so much for you. Well, God saved you from your sin. He gave you eternal life. He loved you so much that he gave his Son for you. How can we help but want to do whatever we can for him in response to all that he has done for us? This is so basic but it is so very important. Do we love God like we ought to?

Our love for God is to be characterized by submission. This is not a relationship between equals. God is God and we are his human creation. We know that he loves us and wants want is best for us. Because we love him we gladly submit to his lordship. We come to God by faith through his Son Jesus Christ. To be a Christian is to confess that Jesus is Lord. Therefore we show our love for God by submitting to his will and way as they are seen in his Son Jesus. Most of us have work to do in this area. Most of us have a lot of work to do in bringing our will under the control of God’s will. But that is what loving him with our entire beings requires.

Our love for God is to be characterized by devotion. That devotion is always to be becoming more and more complete. We are always to be moving into greater and greater devotion. By devotion I mean that our desire to want what God wants leads us to do what God wants us to do. To love God with everything that we are means that we will live lives that reflect his way of doing things. And his way is seen in Jesus. It is seen in the way of radical obedience. It is seen in the way of reckless faith. It is seen in the way of overflowing compassion.

So to do Jesus things in the Jesus way means to be radically devoted to God and utterly submissive to his will. There’s no doubt that Jesus lived that way; if we are his disciples, we are called to live that way, too. When you get right down to it, though, how do we show our devotion and submission to God? I believe that Jesus’ pairing of the second commandment with the greatest commandment tells us the main way: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Total submission and devotion to God are best shown in radical love for those around us. And here’s the thing: it’s not an option for a disciple of Christ. It’s a requirement. I would go so far as to say that the most tangible way to show your love for God is by showing it for other people.

Let’s be careful not to trivialize this. Love for our neighbors means far more than being nice and friendly to them. Love for our neighbors means far more than not causing trouble for them. Love for our neighbors means far more than not hurting them. No, love for our neighbors goes far beyond what we don’t do to them. It goes all the way to what we do for them. How do we do that?

For the answer we look to Jesus. Can we possibly improve on Jesus’ formula? Matthew tells us earlier in his gospel, in his description of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, that Jesus went about “teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease among the people” (Matthew 4:23). So, if we are going to do Jesus things in the Jesus way, if we are going to love God by loving others, we will do it by sharing our words with them. We will tell them of the good news of salvation that we have experienced in Jesus Christ. We will tell them of the good news of God’s word as we teach and preach the message of the Bible.

But we will do more than that. I am haunted by the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” If we are going to do Jesus things in the Jesus way, if we are going to love God by loving others, we will also work to heal them. We will work to heal them of their hurts, whether those hurts are physical, emotional, social, or spiritual. We will take action to do whatever we can to share the love of God with those who so desperately need it. We will feed the hungry, we will help the poor, we will shelter the homeless, we will take in the outcast—we will radically love our neighbor.

How can we do any other? Paul, writing to the Thessalonians about the way in which he and his missionaries had ministered in their city, said, “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us” (2:8). Isn’t that beautiful? And isn’t that the way it has to be? To share the good news of God we also have to share ourselves. To give the good news of salvation we also have to give ourselves. That’s our calling. How can we do other? How can we do less?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

On the Jericho Road in 2008

On the Jericho Road hit the blogosphere on January 2, 2007. I started the blog because I wanted to have an outlet for my thoughts and because I wanted to enter into conversation on matters that matter with folks whom I know and with folks whom I have never met.

It’s been fun. I have enjoyed hearing from people and I’ve enjoyed developing the discipline that regular writing requires.

I thought it important to post regularly so that I could build readership. I have tried to post a new article every day except Saturday and have been pretty consistent about that. The effort has been successful; while I don’t have the gaudy numbers of some bloggers, On the Jericho Road does average 1000 visitors per month.

I hope to maintain the daily writing discipline that the blog has engendered. However, I need to channel those writing energies in some other directions.

Therefore, in 2008 I plan to reduce my blogging output. But, in order that my readers will know when to visit in order to find new material, I want to announce my publication schedule.

So, here it is.

On Mondays, I will post my sermon from the preceding Sunday.

On Thursdays, I will post my “heavy” article for the week in which I will try to deal with substantial issues facing us.

On Saturdays, I will post my “light” article for the week, which will include my reflections on personal or funny or absurd matters.

I will post on other days when something comes up that I just can’t resist addressing.

I want to offer my sincere thanks to you who walk regularly with me On the Jericho Road. I hope you will continue to come by.


Mike Ruffin

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Georgia 41, Hawaii 10

As my regular readers know, I am a Georgia Bulldog football fan. So, I was pulling for the Bulldogs 100% as they played the Hawaii Warriors in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's night.

Still, I regretted that Hawaii was not playing someone else because I would have been rooting for them against any other opponent. They provided a good story. They went 12-0 during the regular season and were thus the only undefeated major college team. They were led by the most prolific passer in the country, Colt Brennan, who according to media reports has turned his life around after some difficult times. They are coached by June Jones, whom I remember fondly as a backup quarterback and later head coach of the Atlanta Falcons.

Besides, the Warriors should have been playing someone else in the Sugar Bowl because the Dawgs should have been playing elsewhere. With due respect to the teams that are playing in the BCS Championship Game, when the dust settles, it is going to be hard to deny that the two best teams in the county at the end of the year were Southern Cal and Georgia with Oklahoma perhaps coming in right behind them. It is a shame that UGA and USC aren't playing for the national title. Failing that, it is a shame that they did not play in the Rose Bowl. That would have been best post-season matchup of all, I suspect.

But, the system is what the system is and when you get right down to it, Georgia has no one to blame but themselves. If they had beaten either South Carolina or Tennessee, they would have played in the SEC Championship Game and had they won that game they would have played in the national title game.

What matters today is that Georgia got the job done in outstanding fashion in the Sugar Bowl. Their balanced offense scored the most points ever scored by a Georgia team in a bowl game. The real story, though, was their defensive dominance. They sacked Brennan eight times, intercepted him three times, caused him to fumble twice, and harassed him all night long. And nine of the eleven defensive starters will be back next year. All in all, it was a find performance by the Bulldogs.

I do regret that the UGA fans chanted "Overrated" at the Hawaii team. The Warriors deserve a lot of respect for their accomplishments this year. Georgia fans should have enough class to be grateful for the effort put forth by their own team without attempting to degrade the opponent.

Now, I had predicted that SEC teams would go 9-0 in bowl games. It's not going to happen as their record is now 6-2 with LSU's likely win over Ohio State still to come. Florida lost a close one to Michigan which sent Lloyd Carr out on a winning note. Arkansas did not show up against Missouri.

Georgia's season is now over and the expecations for 2008 are already sky-high. It should be interesting.