Tag Archives: responsibility

Dangerous Wealth and Encouragement

The Kingdom of God will bring balance to the world. This is a story of both encouragement and caution. Encouragement that no matter the pain we suffer in the present, we are not forgotten by God. God cares for the poor and suffering. If we find ourselves in great wealth, we are to use that wealth for others. Wealth is responsibility.

Throughout the NT, we see images of how God’s order of the world is not the same as our order of the world. “God chose the foolishness of preaching to confound the wise…” “The first shall be last and the last shall be first…” “To be great in the Kingdom is to serve others…”

Here, God brings balance to the world. 

Luke 16:19-21 “There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man’s table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores.

22-24 “Then he died, this poor man, and was taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell and in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham in the distance and Lazarus in his lap. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, mercy! Have mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue. I’m in agony in this fire.’

25-26 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you got the good things and Lazarus the bad things. It’s not like that here. Here he’s consoled and you’re tormented. Besides, in all these matters there is a huge chasm set between us so that no one can go from us to you even if he wanted to, nor can anyone cross over from you to us.’

27-28 “The rich man said, ‘Then let me ask you, Father: Send him to the house of my father where I have five brothers, so he can tell them the score and warn them so they won’t end up here in this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham answered, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.’

30 “‘I know, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.’

31 “Abraham replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.’”

What did you see?

What did you experience and observe?

It is fascinating to me that Jesus mentions “Hades” in this passage. Hades is a Greek term. It refers to the god of the dead. It was used in the NT period to refer to some kind of place of suffering where those not fit for the “bosom of Abraham” would go. It was a place that brought balance to the world as a place where the evil suffered. Often the term “Sheol” would also be translated as “Hades.” It’s description is often like “Gehenna” which was a real place in Jewish antiquity. It’s thought to be the “valley of Hinnom” which would be located immediately southwest of Jerusalem. Here, it’s surmised that the worship of Molech took place by Israelite kings Ahaz and Manasseh. Here, a huge, hollow brass alter was erected and, according to some traditions, infants were placed in the arms of the idol to be burned to death. However terrible the means of execution, it is certain that the worship of Molech involved sacrificing children with fire. It was a time of grave sadness and pain. Gehenna, forever associated with this dark time in Israel is also associated with the great trash heap of Jerusalem where the garbage of the city would go to be burned. This term of pain and suffering became, over time, Hades. It is used in the NT to describe a place of great torment.

Recall who Jesus is talking to in this text. The Pharisees have come at Jesus and he is calling them out for their love of money. He is very much saying that they are like this rich man and deserve Gehenna, Hades, Sheol. The poor have been resigned to the trash heap in life and in death, God would bring the balance to this world. This is offensive Jesus. He’s not being nice. Everybody knows it and it’s not a friendly scene.

Hades is a place of torment and in Revelation, it is cast into hell. Forever.

It seems that God has no use for those that abuse the wealth to which they are entrusted.

Here’s the thing: In the ancient Mediterranean world, there is no concept of “coming out” of poverty. Jesus lives in a world where people believed that all the good in life (land, wealth, honor, blood etc) had already been distributed. It was limited in quantity. There was no more to be had. This is the opposite of the Western American viewpoint that hold that there is always more and it’s available to whoever works hard and has the pluck to go and get it. To “get ahead,” to improve one’s lot in life is really unthinkable. This is why it was so remarkable that Jesus chose who he did to serve him – the disciples are not leadership material – they are blue collar fishermen, necessary for life but no one is inviting them to any parties…

The rich man does not work. To be rich in this culture means that you were born into wealth and working was not in your lot. However, in Jewish culture, wealth came with the responsibility to care for others. This man clearly did not.

I wonder what the relationship was here. It is remarkable that the rich man knows the name of the destitute. He knows him. I wonder if Lazarus was the rich man’s servant at one time. This wealthy man had a servant who became injured which prevented him from doing his job. Now, he just sat at the gate of the house – not begging (an actual occupation) – eating table scraps. I wonder if this rich man prided himself on the fact that Lazarus was not just any poor man, he was his poor man. I wonder if he greeted him by name from time to time. I wonder if he tossed some scraps from time to time. I wonder if he came home from important meetings and gave some alms in front of his friends (remember Jesus is making a stinging relationship to the Pharisees here) to demonstrate that he practiced those ritual associated with caring for the poor.

But it was all for show.

I wonder if he ever said of this man, “Hello Laz, how is today? Good old Lazarus, you never see him down or depressed. I don’t know how he does it. He’s an inspiration to us all…” Then leaves him there, at the gate, this man entrusted to his care, suffering so that the dogs lick the puss out of his wounds.

We live in a world that has always been knit together in an intricate web of relationships where we respond to one another. We relate. It’s one of those things that make us human.

Response – ability.

Now, we leave that to someone else. We leave the response to suffering on the shoulders of governmental agencies. We pay others to keep those with whom we are uncomfortable away, far away from us. “Put them at the gate” we say. Let them work for their welfare check. Don’t let them abuse the $200 a month food stamp benefit. Let them pay for their own health care. If they  need so much, let them work for it. Put them at the gate. Don’t let them inside. I don’t want to be made unclean with their suffering…

This ritual continues day after day. Week after week. These two souls connected together. Then, death.

The ritual changes.

The scene opens with the rich man in torment. Suffering in the burning garbage heap. Across a great divide, he sees Abraham and Lazarus. Even in torment, he gives command. Even in torment, he is still entitled. Even in torment, he is proud. Even in suffering, he holds to a world that no longer exists.

“Father Abraham, Send Lazarus…”

But there is a problem. Abraham points it out. In life, you had it all and did not share. In death, the tables have turned. There does not seem to be vindictiveness in the voice, just an explanation of the facts. You experienced good in life and now, in death, Lazarus is being “comforted.”

This word translated comforted is “parakaleo” You can see how the translators got to comfort here. If this is a story about reversals, then the rich man’s enjoyment is turned to “torment” (a word originally contrived to describe the process where a coin was tested – scratched by a hard rock – to determine it’s genuineness) and Lazarus’ suffering was turned to _______. Comfort right? However, this word does not mean that. This word is put together words using words that mean something like, “call on.” If you check the lexicon for the meaning of that word, you’ll see a variety of words that flow in the channel of comfort, encourage, and exhort. If someone is worn out or weary, you might encourage or exhort that person. But think of what that might look like – we’re not talking about feather beds here – we’re talking about something much more active. What sort of thing requires this “call upon?” I think of runners who have hit the wall. Warriors that are weary from the fight, athletes with their hands on their knees wondering if they have it in them for “one more…”

I remember going out for soccer in college. I walked on the field that day during tryouts and coach Whitecar said, “Fisher, you want to play?” YES! I replied. He motioned to the waiting bus which took us to Mount Baldy. This was a sand dune on the shore of Lake Michigan. Up and down is one time. Do 25.

I didn’t need a lazy boy, I needed coach behind me yelling, “come on! You can do it! Make it happen! You want to play?? Get some!”

Call upon.

Deeper translations of the word can have the connotation, “I am called upon as a witness.” Perhaps Lazarus is called upon to witness that the world has been set right. Either way, what I love about this is that no matter if we are worn out in this life and seek comfort in the Kingdom to come or need the “kick in the pants” here on earth – encouragement from our God is in the form of service! We are always useful to God. We don’t retire to a life of leisure – we retire to be useful, purposeful, always in the fight! Whether our need is to be reminded that we are not forgotten in this world – no matter the suffering, no matter how much it feels like it’s over – we are not forgotten!! Keep going! Get some! You have a purpose! You have meaning! You matter to God!!

If it’s your time to enter rest, know that our rest is eternal worship of God. Forever. Worship. You can make it.

The rich man sees his situation in full focus. It’s ugly. Abraham was not mean. He even responds with “my child!” The rich man has, perhaps for the first time in his life, a thought of others. In a scene that Dickens ripped off for Jacob Marley, he cries out, asking that someone be sent back to warn his brothers. Someone needs to go! Surely, if they could see the pain! Surely, if they could smell the sulfur, feel the heat… they would repent! They would change.

Here, the passage is, I think, at it’s darkest. Abraham looks at the suffering man.

“They know.”

“Yes but…”

“They have Moses and the prophets – let them hear them. If they will not – they will not hear anyone.”

Abraham’s response to the rich man’s second request is that the brothers have Moses and the prophets. Did not Moses say, “Do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor” (Deut 15:7)? And are not the words of Isaiah clear enough?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isa 58:6-7)

I believe when Jesus finished this story, he ended by looking hard at the Pharisees that surrounded them. Silence. No one had anything whatsoever to say. Jesus literally says, referring to them, that if a rotting corpse should rise from the dead to tell them their future, they would not hear, they would not have ears to hear, they would not listen.

Saints, this passage is both a warning and an encouragement.

What do you need?

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Cracks ‘n guns

This morning I was listening to coverage of the tragedy at the DC Naval Yard. So sad.

Then I heard someone being interviewed say this, “We had a fellow who had some emotional issues. He fell between the cracks, but restricting people and what kind of firearm they can own and things like that, you start getting into a very slippery slope.”

Here’s the problem I have with that statement – it assumes that we have actual cracks in the system to fall through.

There are no cracks.

Because in this country, while you have to take a class and test to demonstrate competence to drive an automobile, nothing impedes a person from going into a gun store and buying a shotgun capable of killing as fast as the shooter can reload.

There is nothing between the gun and the deranged shooter. Nothing.

So, stop saying someone just “fell through the cracks” as though there are actual barriers between someone hearing voices in their heads, calling police about paranoia and a Remington 870.

There are no barriers. There are no cracks.

Maybe there should be.

Just sayin…

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Nicely played Steward. Nicely played…

Luke 16 

He was hired to manage people and property. That’s his job. Make money for his master, the landowner. Pause.

In the preindustrial world of Jesus, agriculture is the heartbeat of the economy. The chief issue at play in the economy was who controlled the land and who had the power to extract the surplus. In this case (Luke 16) the landowner had the power and the steward (manager) had the responsibility to manage the agricultural production on the property. In the case of this story, the debtors (who rented/worked the land) owe the master produce – olive oil and wheat. Money, in peasant economies, was neither the only nor the primary medium of exchange. The Steward will pay regardless if the peasants produce or not. Go.

But he was terrible at his job! He squandered his Master’s money. The property he was given to manage has produced and he has not managed it appropriately.  Now, he’s going to pay. Pause.

The verb translated “squandered” here is the same word that is used to describe what the Prodical Son did with his inheritance – wasted it. Threw it away. Took the blessing and responsibility from his father and spent it on worthless things. The passage does not say what the Steward did to squander the money, I suspect it does not matter, what DOES matter is that it’s time to pay up and there’s nothing to pay.

It’s worth noting that the Mishnah, postbiblical tradition in Jewish literature, identifies three kinds of renters: those who pay a percentage of the crop, those who pay a fixed amount of the crop, and those who pay in money. This passage speaks of the second kind. They need to pay regardless of what the ground produces. A risky business after all. If they do well, they will have a great year since it’s settled up front what they owe, if not, it’s coming out of their savings or debt. And it’s not a small amount. The amounts in question underscore the rich man’s wealth. The first debtor owes one hundred “baths” of oil. Since a bath is equivalent to nine gallons, this man owes nine hundred gallons of olive oil. The second debtor owes one hundred “kors” of grain. Estimates of the size of a kor vary from 6.5 to 10-12 bushels, and even Josephus gives inconsistent reports as to its meaning. Nevertheless, a hundred kors of grain would have been a large amount. The rich man and his debtors were dealing in large commercial interests therefore, and not in household quantities. Go.

The master returns angry. He calls the Steward to himself – you’re fired. You can’t produce. You are fired. The Master shows mercy to the manager. After all, he had the right to have him fined or imprisoned. He does neither, just lets him go. The steward’s reputation will proceed him and he’ll not find work anywhere else. The Steward is in chaos. What will he do? Where will he go? It’s not like he can go apply at the Synagogue for unemployment! He’s simply out of a job, out of a home, out of security, and out of time! He’s too old to dig (read: work) and too proud to beg! Desperation creeps into his thoughts.

Except… he’s not out of time. A plan forms in his mind. There is some hope here if he plays his cards right. Pause.

A Steward, or an Estate Manager, was entitled to a commission. He was entitled to a fee for each transaction, which itself was recorded, principle and interest, in a public contract. There is no way that he could extract a fee of 50% as peasants would immediately inform the Lord that of the extortion. If the Lord and the Steward were in cahoots, there would be revolt. What he does here is described as “shrewd” or brilliant, or terrible based on how you see it. Go.

The Steward realized that he had a window of opportunity to write new contracts with the peasants before they realized that he was no longer the Steward. He rushes out and speaks to the debtors. You owe the master 100 measures of oil? Make it 50. You owe the master 100 measures of wheat? Make it 80. The peasants love him! They begin to dance in the streets! They begin to praise the master’s generosity! What a great year it’s going to be!! The Steward has never been more popular. Pause.

Here’s the brilliance – by renegotiating the contracts, he has set the Master up. If the Lord rescinds the legally binding contracts because they are unlawful, he will alienate the renters AND the entire village who are out singing his praise. If he allows the contracts to stand, he will lose money but will gain honor. And in the ancient Mediterranean culture, honor is better than money. To some extent, it IS money. The good favor received from these transactions will carry him far in the economy of the time. That said, it’s still going to be a touch year. The Steward, though now unemployed, can turn to his former clients and make claims on them for favors as he needs them since everyone knows who “arranged” the deals. Nicely played Steward. Nicely played. Full Stop.

So. Now we ask the obvious question – why?

Three possibilities:

1. Steward is a worthless manager, also corrupt, so in response to getting fired, cheats the master out of the contracts. He sends a blanket email to everyone in the company and does not use BCC declaring that they are all… wait, I’m jumping ahead a few centuries…

2. Steward was acting righteously by excluding any interest figured into the debt.

3. Steward reduced the debt by his own commission – however, no steward gets half as we’ve already discussed.

Whatever the reason – it costs the landowner a significant amount of money. The mere fact that he does not have the faithless steward killed on site probably reveals a good deal about how wealthy this guy was. Seems like the owner looks at the big picture and decides that there are better things than money – honor being one of them. So he commends the steward… and then has him escorted off the property.

Jesus follows this up with what seems to be a sarcastic comment – make friends with unrighteous mammon and you’ll be welcome in that world but it’ll cost you. Is that the kind of person you are? Slave to money?

Faithfulness and honesty. These are bywords of the person who desires to live a “kingdom life.” They can be described as faithful and honest in all their dealings. You can live shrewdly but there is a reward for that – emptiness, separation from the service of the master. There are more important realities than things and money – there is faithfulness and honesty.

Notice the conclusion:

1. A slave cannot serve two masters.

2. If he does, he’ll hate one and love the other or despise one and love the other.

3. We cannot, as servants of God, serve God and wealth. The two do not go together. This is not to say that wealth is somehow bad or that Christians should immediately give everything they have away and move into socialist communes (although, to be fair, the early Christians did…) – it is to say that if wealth is driving you, God certainly is not.

It is reminiscent to me of Ephesians where Paul admonishes the Christian to be led by the spirit of God (rather than drunkenness).

One of the marks of a Christian is that they are faithful regardless of the size of their paycheck or responsibilities. Our faithfulness is not about a measurement, it is about our faithfulness.

This week, you may be called upon to “defend the faith” but probably not. It is more likely that you will be challenged – even today – to be faithful in what God has called you to be. Will you help another on the road of life? Will you offer a listening ear to someone suffering? Will you defend that person who is always getting picked on at work? Will you be patient with your children? Will you be honest in all you dealings? Often, we say we want to have God challenge us to greatness – I’m wondering if we’re actually ready for it.

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Living It

Living out your faith is going to cost you something; not likely the classic idea of the “lay your life on the line for Jesus”, but a more visceral laying down of pride, rights, justice, money, social status, family – for this new family and life in Christ.

The scene is the prison in Ephesus. It is a dark place but the Old Man is someone of some significance. His importance in the community gives him some creature comforts that other inmates might not have. He has a network of family that will bring him food and drink. He has a cot and a desk on which to write. He has influence in the prison. Guards and inmates alike seek him out for counseling and advice. It might be slightly more comfortable for this minimum inmate, but let there be no doubt, it is still a Roman prison in ancient Ephesus!

Narrator (italics): The Old Man graciously receives a cup of tea from his young associate. The steam rises from the cup and he smells the bittersweet aroma. The Young man is quiet. He has the takes the subservient position of the slave, head slightly bowed, hands folded, he pulls back to the corner.

“You should go back.” The Old Man finally says, after sipping the hot liquid.

The Young man knew this was coming. “My father, how can I? It is a return to slavery. He was not a nice man.”

“It is true.”

“And I am a Christian now, I am your follower, your disciple.”

“Also true.”

“I need to stay with you and learn more of Christ!” The Young Man’s eagerness betrayed his complicated motives.

The Old Man smiled sadly. “My son. It is the law. Roman law requires you to return to your master.”

“But we are subject to a higher law! We are subject to the law of Christ! You said so yourself, the Law of Love. Does not love dictate you keep me here with you?” Desperation crept into his voice. His confused affect betrays the growing anger rising in him. He had reached out to this prophet, this preacher, this teacher who had introduced him to a new faith. Surly, this faith would save him from returning to his master. Law! The law was not helpful! The law separated people into the haves and the have nots! The Law made classes of people. The Law made some rich and some poor. The Young Man’s simmering anger began to move towards rage. How could he just sit there! How could his mentor and leader just sit there, sipping tea, in this prison and speak of following Roman Law! He was here for disobeying Roman Law!!!

The Old Man sat watching the drama play out in the Young Man’s face. He watched the angry thoughts dart back and forth, fighting reason and emotion. His smile drifted away and was replaced by a pained look, he grieved for the Young Man. He knew his baggage. He had heard his story. The Young Man was a tradesman seeking to grow his business. He had a rough go of life. Coming from a distant Roman colony, his parents died early and he had been apprenticed at a spice seller’s shop. Selling spices on a far flung Roman outpost is an unpredictable trade at best. If a ship goes down in a spring storm and the tradesman has not prepared, they are destined for poverty. This was the Young Man’s story. He struck out on his own too soon. He was passionate, full of dreams and vision, he saw himself a wealthy man at a young age and did not adequately prepare for the reality of selling a luxury item in a poor place. Add a particularly vicious storm and soon, he was over his head in debt to creditors. In desperation, he entered the slave market, indenturing himself to a wealthy spice trader in Rome. Philemon paid Onesimus’ debts. In return, Onesimus was now a slave.

Onesimus tried another approach. “My father. When I was captured by the slave hunters and brought to this prison, I thought my life was over. I really believed that when I was sent back, Philemon would exercise his rights. He would have a limb removed or chain me in his kitchens, beat me, or even have me killed. I was so overwhelmed with this thought, I planned to end my life in this prison but then, I met you and…” his voice trailed off, breaking under the strain of his emotions.

Paul, the Old Apostle who had met so many in his journeys recognized that you cannot reason your way out of an emotional decision. He reflected Onesimus’ fears. “My son. Of course. Philemon still has those rights. He can still do all of those things to you. It would still be justice if he did yes?” Onesimus was sobbing by now and nodded. “You do not want to return because you fear that he will do those things to you?”

“Yes! Yes my father! I believe he will.”

“Oh, my son. There is something you do not know about your master. He is as you are. He too is a Christian and he is your brother. I have some sway with him. I will write a letter to take with you. He is my spiritual son as you are. I shall appeal to him on the basis of his obligation to honor the elderly and his obligation to kinship. I shall ask to pay whatever debts you owe. He shall put them on my account. We are all brothers. You, me, and even Philemon. I shall ask if he will take you back and not carry out retribution as is his right.”

“Thank you, oh thank you my father.”

“Onesimus. Hear this. You will still need to work. You will need to be faithful to your master, as a though you were faithful to Christ. Obey him with fear and trembling not only while being watched, in order to please him but, as a save to Christ, do the will of God from the heart. God would have you be a faithful servant. Whatever good you do, you will receive from the Lord, whether you are a slave or a free man.”

SCENE

Philemon is reminded by Paul that when he came to Jesus, he was choosing a life that was challenging. He was choosing a life that would challenge and change him. He chose a life that came with it, some responsibilities. Was he really ready to give something up for Christ?

Was he ready to give up his rights?

He had a right to justice. He had a right to retribution. He had a right to a world he made. Paul calls him to something else. He calls him to fully embrace another way of being – the way of grace. Let God handle the retribution, let God handle justice, let God handle his pride.

I wonder what it was like when Onesimus came back. I wonder what it was like when he walked in and handed Philemon that letter. Did he throw him in the dungeon to wait for justice? Did he stand there and read it while Onesimus knelt before him? At what point in the Onesimus/Philemon relationship did Philemon, the wealthy merchant with the right to kill Onesimus demonstrate that he was a different person? That he had changed? That he actually saw and experienced life differently? How would Onesimus know that Philemon had really, truly changed?

This takes us to Luke 14. From the New Interpreters

14:28-32. The twin parables that follow might aptly be entitled “Fools at Work and at War.” These parables have no parallel in the other Gospels. Jesus draws attention to a simple observation: A prudent person would not begin a project until being sure it can be finished. A man would not lay the foundation for a tower unless he was sure he could finish it. A king would not go to war unless he had enough soldiers to resist the opposing force. By the same token, God has not entered a redemptive process without being prepared to complete it, and Jesus did not set his face for Jerusalem without being prepared to face the sacrifice that would be required of him there. Thus no one should step forward as a disciple without being prepared to forsake everything for the sake of following Jesus.

The two parables move from the lesser to the greater consequence. In the first, the threat is merely that one may be embarrassed before one’s neighbors. In the second, the consequence may be defeat at the hands of an enemy. The parable does not advocate building stronger armies; it illustrates the folly of embarking on a venture without being sure one can see it through.

14:33. The parables lead to the third condition (v. 33); they demand that one be ready to give up everything to be a disciple. If you seek to follow Jesus, then understand first that what is required is all you have.

Applying this principle in the area of one’s material possessions, as Luke often does, v. 33 concludes with a return to the refrain found in vv. 26-27: “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” The verb translated “renounce” or “give up” (ajpota”ssomai apotassomai) literally means “to say farewell to” or “to take leave of.” The descriptions of the sharing of goods in the early church in Acts 2:44; 4:32 probably illustrate what Luke understood this demand to mean.

14:34-35. Sayings on salt also appear in Matt 5:13 and Mark 9:49-50. Although Luke uses these aphorisms as the conclusion to this section of warnings, the sayings actually make a different point from the preceding sayings, which were directed to the crowd of would-be disciples. The sayings on salt are more appropriate as warnings to those who are already disciples. The value of salt lies in its salinity. If it loses its saltiness, it cannot be restored. The point of the analogy is that the disciple is defined by his or her relationship to Jesus. If one gives up that relationship, one is like salt that has lost its saltiness.

Real salt cannot lose its flavor, but the complex minerals found around the Dead Sea were not pure salt and could, therefore, become tasteless. The taste, once lost, could not be restored. Jesus observed that this tasteless salt was not even good for fertilizing or killing weeds; “it is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile” (14:35). The point seems to be that salt that has lost its saltiness is not even good for menial, alternative uses.

The call for those who have ears to hear is a call to decision. The reversals of the coming kingdom have been dramatically illustrated, the conditions of discipleship have been set forth, and the consequences of rejecting the call to discipleship have been made clear. Now is the time for decision.

Some churches, preachers, and TV programs present the gospel as though they were selling a used car. They make it sound as easy as possible, as though no real commitment were required. Jesus’ call was far different. He was not looking for superficial commitment or a crowd of tagalongs. Instead, he required his followers to be totally committed if they were going to follow at all.

The language of cross bearing has been corrupted by overuse. Bearing a cross has nothing to do with chronic illness, painful physical conditions, or trying family relationships. It is instead what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ. Cross bearing requires deliberate sacrifice and exposure to risk and ridicule in order to follow Jesus. This commitment is not just to a way of life, however. It is a commitment to a person. A disciple follows another person and learns a new way of life.

In a sense, no one can know whether he or she will be able to fulfill a commitment to discipleship. Jesus was not asking for a guarantee of complete fidelity in advance, however. If he had, no one would qualify to be a disciple. Through these parables, Jesus was simply calling for each person who would be a disciple to consider in advance what that commitment requires.

Cultural accommodation of the Christian faith has progressed steadily in recent years. As a result, many see no tension between the teachings of Jesus and the common aspirations of middle-class Americans. On the contrary, a complete change of priorities, values, and pursuits is required. Paul wrote that in Christ we become not just nice people but new creations (see 2 Cor 5:17). When Jesus turned and saw the crowd following him, he was not impressed by his own success. He was not interested in the casual, easy acceptance the crowd offered.

The cost of discipleship is paid in many different kinds of currency. For some persons a redirection of time and energy is required, for others a change in personal relationships, a change in vocation, or a commitment of financial resources; but for each person the call to discipleship is all consuming. A complete change in priorities is required of all would-be disciples. No part-time disciples are needed. No partial commitments are accepted.

Are you ready?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is the MOST EXCITING blog post IN THE WORLD!!!

Really? Of all the blog posts in all of the world, this one is the most exciting?

Categorically false.

It’s a superlative. An adjective or an adverb that expresses the degree to which the word used is greater than any other comparison. And the inappropriate use of superlatives really gets to me. I seem to hear them being used more and more in common speech. I wonder, often out loud, if the person speaking has the vocabulary to properly describe what they are seeing/hearing/experiencing. I experience their use as unhelpful and often discrediting to the point that the speaker is trying to make. When I hear exclusive language (you do that all the time) or superlatives (you are the worst person in the world) I tend to just turn them off. If I do it…

In relationship counseling that I do, I try to help people appropriately describe themselves so that arguments are about what they need to be about rather than semantics. I can’t tell you how many times discussions are torpedoed because of the unhelpful and inappropriate use of superlatives.

Today I read this from a sitting US Congressman, “The US Government has come out in full force against you, the American people.”

Really? Full force? What I’m hearing him saying is that the Government of the United States, the organization that I personally work for and this man represents (his facebook lists him as a “government official”) is using everything at their disposal to come against all of us, the American people.

Really? Full force?

Categorically false.

Here’s what “full force” looks like – Syria. That’s full force.

I’m fairly certain that this young congressman has never actually seen what “full force” looks like. It’s ugly. I’m thinking genocide, starvation, bombs, hellfire missiles, armed Soldiers on street corners, restrictions on actual, tangible freedoms like the freedom of movement, checkpoints, slaughter. That’s full force. I’ve seen it. I’ve witnessed it and it is ugly and terrifying.

Really? Full force?

This is not a commentary on politics. As an officer in the United States Army, I am very aware of the power of words. They matter. I cannot just say anything I want. When a person is in a position of power, words matter. Context matters. In the course of my career, I’ve pulled leadership above my rank and below my rank aside to help them understand how their words are being perceived and encouraged them to think about the second and third order of effect their words might have.

At a memorial ceremony once, I heard an officer in the heat of emotion tell young privates to “give them hell” and “do what you gotta do” in reference to the enemy. Later, I spoke with the leader and gave him the feedback that when an officer says that sort of thing to a Soldier on the battlefield, it could be construed as an order or, in the least, confusing. Rules of engagement are hard enough without officers using language that seems to contradict those rules. In that context, words can be dangerous.

I would argue that this congressman’s words could be dangerous. He either actually believes this (when then makes me wonder how he would escalate his language if it got worse in his estimation) or he is trying to make a point and get attention. In that case, he needs to think about the second and third orders of effect those words might have. I wonder if a violent and unstable person might hear those words from a sitting congressman and this confirms that the paranoia in his head is real and demands violent action.

Words matter. Context matter. Opinion expressed matters. I would suggest that once you become a congressman, you should not say anything you want in any way you want to say it. It is decrediting to your education, your perspective, and does nothing to broaden support for your position.

When a person is in leadership, they must consider their words. Use some discipline for heaven’s sake!

UPDATE

Today I read this article about public shaming on social networks. It made this statement, “Increasingly, our failure to grasp our online power has become a liability — personally, professionally, and morally. We need to think twice before we unleash it.” Exactly.

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Why are we giving? Why do we argue about giving?

A thought on giving. In America, we are a very giving people when there is a natural disaster etc. I sometimes wonder why we seem to have an issue giving to systemic or ongoing problems. Sometimes, I experience people fighting about the cost of the gift, whether or not they should give, or if there is a better way to give. Perhaps these are good questions but then, at the end of the day, we need to give.

The question is, why do we give? In Buddhism, there is the idea that giving does us no good when we do so for the wrong reasons – being shamed or intimidated into giving; giving to receive a favor; giving to feel good about yourself – these are impure motives. The gift helps the other but does nothing for us. The purest motivation is that of giving with no thought of return. Giving just to help.

Giving is essential to Buddhism. Giving includes charity, or giving material help to people in want. It also includes giving spiritual guidance to those who seek it and loving kindness to all who need it. However, one’s motivation for giving to others is at least as important as what is given.

What is right or wrong motivation? The Anguttara Nikaya, a collection of texts in the Vinaya-pitaka section of the Pali Canon, lists a number of motivations for practicing charity. These include being shamed or intimidated into giving; giving to receive a favor; giving to feel good about yourself. These are impure motivations.

The Buddha taught that when we give to others, we give without expectation of reward. We give without attaching to either the gift or the recipient. We practice giving to release greed and self-clinging.

Some teachers propose that giving is good because it accrues merit and creates karma that will bring future happiness. Others say that even this is self-clinging and an expectation of reward. In Mahayana Buddhism in particular, any merit that might come with giving is to be dedicated to the liberation of others.

Paramitas

Giving with pure motivation is called dana paramita, or “perfection of giving.” It is first in a list of paramitas, or perfections, that are to be cultivated in Buddhist practice.

So, here is your thought for today, “A pessimist, they say, sees a glass half empty. An optimist, sees the glass half full. But a giver sees the glass of water and starts looking for a thirsty person to give them a drink.” Give just to give. Don’t argue or fret about it, just find a need and fill it.

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Gun Safety and Alchohol

Like most folks, I have my morning reading. I tried getting the paper for about six months but frankly all that accomplished was a great deal of recycling. I’m a product of my generation. Every morning, after my run/PT, I love to sit at the table sipping coffee and checking my morning websites.

I get the GunsAmerica blog notifications every few days and read those regularly. Like most gun websites there is the usual diatribes about the government taking all the guns and libs making life difficult for everybody. (Since I don’t vote necessarily liberal or conservative – depends on the issue – I love taking the middle road, moderate, also like my generation. We hate tags.)

This morning, I was looking through a post on Ruger’s new 1911 and some new idea for storing your handgun next to your bed when this thought occurred to me: the gun lobby needs to get out ahead of their image problem.

Currently, what I read on a regular basis (and this is skewed because I don’t spend much time doing so) seems to focus on the “threat to the second amendment” and “those crazy gun-hating, america-bashing, licentious liberals ruining our country as fast as they can” sort of stuff. Not helpful. Makes gun owners like me want to run away, fast.

I like to think I’m thoughtful. I like to think that I approach issues in a nuanced, reasonable way. I don’t really think it’s all that helpful to have massive rallys where everybody shows up armed to the teeth with their favorite automatic weapons. I mean, really, do you think that you are scaring the government? Really? The guys with Abrams tanks? The guys who can control a hellfire missile from around the globe? Do you think that the “evil government” is afraid of large groups of people with automatic weapons? Been there, done that. Not helpful. Makes you look crazy.

How about responsible gun owners take a page from the responsible drinkers book. Everyone knows that cool, responsible drinker who sips their slick Disaronno on the rocks is not making InBev a ton of money – the real money makers are the folks who unhealthily consume massive volumes of alcohol on a regular basis. The drunken orgies where people legally and illegally down thousands of dollars worth of fermented mash – not pretty places. Not something anyone wants to see in a sexy commercial. Just like the guy who smoked a few cigs a week after important events or to unwind from the day does not make tobacco companies any money – the real money maker is the guy who goes through three packs a day and had intense brand loyalty. That’s gold.

Everyone likes to see the moderate, cool consumer. I like to see the responsible gun owner. The videos I see about firearms usually resemble something like Boondock Saints meets the Matrix (“we need guns, lots of guns…”).

What if every gun company made a concerted effort to put the responsible gun owner out front. Try really hard to put out the message that the “right to gun ownership” comes with a huge responsibility to take public safety seriously. Messages like:

If you have a gun – lock it up. 

If mental health issues run in your family, ensure that who has access to weapons is able to responsibly use that weapon. 

If you are angry and depressed, get help, don’t purchase a weapon. 

Responsible gun owners take classes in firearm safety. 

Responsible parents teach firearm safety. 

Make sure when selling a gun, it’s to someone responsible. 

I’m sure there are more and better messages out there. I think that this approach would be a first step by gun owners to at least try to show they care about public safety rather than doubling down on “it’s our right to own whatever we want, shoot whatever we want, whenever we want.”

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Responsibility and Gun Control

I just bought a gun. Two actually.

I’ve been a gun owner for years and really enjoy shooting. I’ve owned about 20 different firearms since I became legally able to own them and currently own about a dozen. Like everything, its cyclical for me. I went through a “whatever I could afford phase” wherein I bought really, really, cheap guns; an “automatic weapons” (I refuse the title assault weapon – it’s pejorative and unhelpful) phase wherein I purchased multiple weapons that would deliver lots and lots of rounds downrange fast; a long hiatus wherein my “post deployment” blues caused me to put all my guns away and not shoot for years; and my current phase which is interested in hunting/historical replica shooting. I have a desire to own (a replica) of every gun the US Army has used in it’s history – kind of a bucket list sort of thing. Currently, I own two. I have a long way to go…

I say that to highlight that I care about owning firearms. I believe in owning firearms. I have a right to own firearms. I also recognize this:

Owning a firearm is a massive responsibility to myself and my community.

Simply put, owning any firearm means that I have at my disposal the means to kill very easily. The more rounds I can shoot, the faster I can shoot them, and the faster I can reload them simply adds to the severity of that responsibility. If I choose to purchase a a firearm, I am assuming the responsibility for how it is used.

Currently, the conversation that I have read/heard/witnessed seems to be stuck on bans/mental health/original intent/the AR15 is the new musket. All of which I believe frame the discussion in an unhelpful manner.

1. Bans generally do not accomplish what they set out to do and just create sub markets off the radar. Look at our bans in history: alcohol, prostitution, drugs, etc. Not particularly successful in stopping anything.

2. Do we really want to do down the road of mandating that a social worker report anyone who should not shoot a gun? Depressed? No shooting for you!

3. The AR 15 is nothing like a musket and who cares anyway. Going down the road of “original intent” is not usually helpful since we can say whatever we want about what they meant. Cause the Founding Fathers really cared about a woman’s/minorities right to own a firearm…

None of these conversations help us to get a reasonable place where there are some rules and expectations on those who desire to exercise their 2nd Amendment right!

I would compare this to the freedom of religion. The constitution guarantees the right to the free exercise of religion. However, one cannot just do anything they want to call it their faith. Churches have to obey zoning laws. Polygamy is illegal. One cannot just state that meth trips are a part of their faith and justify a church sanctioned meth lab. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of child abuse. Traditionally, a church’s advise to a parishioner is confidential and a conversation between a congregant and minister is held in the highest confidence. Not anymore. Pastor’s are mandated reporters in many states and here in Kansas City, a bishop was held responsible for suppressing the actions of a priest. One cannot just do whatever they want and cover it in religious freedom.

Or the 2nd Amendment.

“Shall not be infringed” That boat sailed the first time a town said that you couldn’t bring a loaded musket into church or the saloon. As America westernized (I’ll say that since there were certainly active, functioning civilizations long before the Pilgrims landed) and started to apply English common law on these shores, regulations around the use of firearms came with it. Certainly they would have been different than they are today but that goes with common sense. Their laws matched their tools and our laws ought to match ours.

It would be silly to apply the road rules of say, 1900, to the massive Petersen Truck that has the ability to pull tons or freight at high speeds. Laws need to match risk.

I know, I know. Criminals won’t obey the law. Got it. That’s why they are criminals and should be treated as such. If a criminal has a gun illegally or someone buys a gun for a criminal, they should be treated accordingly. Got it.

Here’s a common sense idea: treat a weapon with varying levels of regulations related to risk.

Clearly, my single shot .410 is a dangerous weapon. It can absolutely kill, maim, wound. However, there is much less risk associated with that firearm than, say, an AK47 variant which has the ability to lots of lead very quickly. They are different firearms with differing capabilities. They should be treated differently, that makes sense.

I believe that anyone who wants to own an AK47 should be able to. I also believe that there is a grave responsibility one should also have to assume when purchasing that firearm. One should be able to afford it, demonstrate that they are responsible, upstanding citizens, can care for it (i.e. keep it out of the hands of those who should not have access to it like children), and, above all, be able to deploy it effectively.

Not all of those things can be governed. However, some can. What if a person had to take a class (like is required to get a Concealed Carry Permit) in order to own/shoot a certain class of firearms (like we already do with fully automatic weapons)? The ability to fire a hundred rounds as fast as a person can squeeze a trigger is not something to be taken lightly!

What if a person was held accountable for distribution of a firearm? I.e. if I sell a firearm to someone else, I am responsible to report that sale otherwise I’m in trouble for trafficking a firearm to a criminal. Lets put the burden of responsibility on the person who owns the gun. Again, it’s the idea that owning a gun comes with the responsibility for safe use.

I recognize there are laws on the books for this – good – lets find a way to leverage technology in such a way that it makes the laws easier to enforce rather than harder.

There are lots of creative ways to mitigate risk while protecting rights. Many more than I could think of to be sure. That’s the conversation that needs to happen – not fruitless fighting over bans and original intent.

What if we framed the conversation – how do we mitigate risk effectively – how can people utilize their rights in a way that is safe for the community.

By the way, I’m all for a well-regulated militia. I’m all for people getting together, training, shooting, holding each other accountable.

Reasonable regulations are always appropriate when there is significant risk involved. We do this with cars, money, drugs etc.

I like shooting. I believe in the 2nd Amendment. I do not believe that I need to “demonstrate a need” in order to own a gun. I also believe that I should be held accountable if a gun that I own falls into the hands of an unstable person, minor, or criminal by my negligence.

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