Shifting Perspective


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 98; 146, Exodus 19:1-16, Colossians 1:1-14, Matthew 3:7-12

Many Christian seminaries require students to write a thesis demonstrating they have developed a consistent view of the nature of God and religious belief (systematic theology). This is an important part of preparing students for ordained ministry. Not too many people want to approach their minister with a pressing issue, only to hear: “Well I’ve never really thought about it…” Given the challenges of reading the Bible as a unified and consistent text, developing such a statement is a tall order.

In today’s scriptures we read about multiple understandings of God. In Exodus, God gives the nation of Israel three days to purify themselves for His arrival on Mount Sinai. He descends in a thick cloud and, under pain of death, permits neither man nor beast to approach the mountain while he remains. This God shows power and authority to a nation who doubts.

In Matthew, John the Baptist preparing the way for the coming Messiah. He speaks to the descendant priests of that same nation and tells them they have become like trees bearing rotten fruit and Jesus is on the way with an ax. This God shows his disappointment in a nation where the powerful exploit the weak.

In Corinthians, Paul congratulates the church and encourages them to keep bearing good fruit of the Spirit by holding fast to Christ. This God showers blessing and encouragement on a community of believers.

If we conclude the nature of God changes across time, theology is useless – God could be totally different tomorrow! Better perhaps to think our understanding of and expressions about God change with our personal and community evolution. God is constantly liberating us, and constantly correcting us (whether through supernatural intervention or natural consequences) when we misuse that liberation.

The average age of seminarians is creeping into the 30s and early 40s, an age where certainties from our 20s mature into more questions than answers. Our relationship with God is one we build throughout our lifetime – and beyond. As our vision of God ebbs and flows, we eventually realize God isn’t moving – our perspective changes because we are.

Comfort: God is constant and present to us wherever we may go.

Challenge:  Draw yourself a timeline of your ups and downs, and keep it handy for future updates.

Prayer: Immortal God, thank you for being present to me at all times. Please give me wisdom when I cast my own doubts and limitations on you.  Amen.

Discussion: How has your understanding of God changed over time? When has that been joyful, and when has that been painful?

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Technical Difficulties


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window): 
Psalms 27; 147:12-20, Genesis 42:29-38, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Mark 4:21-34

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial.

Paul wrote these words to the Corinthian church because its members were twisting his message. They believed they were permitted to sin with abandon because Christ had paid the price to free them from the law, and Corinth was the place to sin big – think New Orleans during Mardi Gras, minus the restraint. Paul had painted himself into a bit of a theological corner; he couldn’t reprimand the people for breaking the law, but would be remiss to let them off on that technicality. So when the Corinthians claimed “all things are lawful” Paul countered with “not all things are beneficial.” If the driving force in our choices is not Christ, we are lost.

We face the same moral perils if we think of salvation in purely personal terms. Right belief does not excuse wrong behavior, even when that behavior is within the law. Throughout history, many legal but immoral things have been practiced by Christians: spousal abuse, genocide, child exploitation, Jim Crow, reparative therapy, etc. We may try to excuse terrible legalities by claiming they were a product of ignorance and era, but Christ’s teachings are timeless. For example, while neither Paul nor Jesus condemned slavery, both spoke against mistreating slaves, who were equally beloved children of God.

And there’s the key: salvation is not just about me, but about Christ’s love for everyone. I may be within my legal rights to exploit a vulnerable person or community. I may call it good business and pat myself on the back for my savvy. I may even sleep soundly in the blanket of my salvation … but have I served Christ as he has commanded me to? Have I willingly sacrificed my own wealth and comfort to serve those who have less than I do – even those I despise? Have I let civil law excuse vice and suppress virtue?

Christ did not have kind words for people who built their faith around legal technicalities. Let’s concentrate on what we can give, and not what we can get away with.

Comfort: Christ has freed us from the law so we can better love.

Challenge: The golden rule is “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” The platinum rule is “Do unto others as they’d have you do unto them.” Let’s follow the priceless rule: “Do unto others as Christ would have you do unto them.”

Prayers: God of grace, thank you for the priceless gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Make me strong enough to live beyond the law, and to love as you have asked me. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever gotten away with something on a technicality? How did it feel?

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Master Plan


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 27; 147:12-20, Exodus 1:6-22, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, Mark 8:27-9:1

The story of Joseph, his many brothers, and his father Jacob is very near its end with today’s reading. The journey to Egypt for Jacob (also called Israel) and his sons has been a long and twisted one.While Joseph and Pharaoh’s favor allowed the fledgling nation of Israel to settle freely in the Egyptian land of Goshen with all the food they needed, the other residents of Egypt were not so lucky during this seven years of famine. After giving Pharaoh all their money one year and their livestock the next, they had nothing left but their land and bodies. In exchange for food, they offered themselves up as Pharaoh’s slaves and had to pay a tribute of a fifth of all they harvested. Continue reading