[Beyond Sunday] What’s Up With Perfection

God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

-1 John 5: 16b-21

As Methodist, we talk about the life of discipleship as going on to perfection.  But does that mean that every mistake we make is a failure?  If God is love, is it possible that we are called into a perfection that is not a burden, but a graceful reflection of the love that is in us?  [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • When have you felt pressure to be perfect?
  • Was the pressure for perfection internal or external?
  • How does the idea of perfect in love change your perception of perfection?

Do and share:

  • Step out of your comfort zone and try something new or do something you don’t feel you are very good at.  Record how it makes you feel and what you do with those feelings.
  • Take a picture of a random act of kindness this week.  Share in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc) and include how it expresses perfect love.

 

[Beyond Sunday] What’s Up With Simplicity

Then the ruler said, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

When Jesus heard this, he said, “There’s one more thing. Sell everything you own and distribute the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” When he heard these words, the man became sad because he was extremely rich.

When Jesus saw this, he said, “It’s very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

-Luke 8:20-23

Do we own our stuff or does it own us?  While Jesus never passes judgment on either wealth or poverty, he does point out that the accumulation of things usually indicates attachment to things.  And we are not meant to carry things with us into the kingdom of God.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • When have you let possessions define who you are to yourself or to others?
  • How many things in your house have not been used in the last 6 months?  The last year?
  • How does your relationship with stuff affect your relationships with others?

Do and share:

  • Take a less stuff challenge:  Try to go 1 week without buying anything other than food.  Keep track of the things you think you need and how you got around buying something. #lessstuff
  • Choose an area of life you need to simplify.  Give away unused clothes, Stop eating out,  Give up coffee shop coffee.  Share your story in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc). #lessstuff

 

[Beyond Sunday] What’s Up With Politics

2 Keep the king’s command because of your sacred oath. 3 Do not be terrified; go from his presence, do not delay when the matter is unpleasant, for he does whatever he pleases. 4 For the word of the king is powerful, and who can say to him, “What are you doing?” 5 Whoever obeys a command will meet no harm, and the wise mind will know the time and way. 6 For every matter has its time and way, although the troubles of mortals lie heavy upon them. 7 Indeed, they do not know what is to be, for who can tell them how it will be? 8 No one has power over the wind to restrain the wind, or power over the day of death; there is no discharge from the battle, nor does wickedness deliver those who practice it. 9 All this I observed, applying my mind to all that is done under the sun, while one person exercises authority over another to the other’s hurt.

-Ecclesiastes 8:2-9

Where there are people, there will be politics.  How do we as the people of faith navigate our relationship to the state and to each other.  [hear sermon audio]

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • How does your faith inform your politics?
  • Do you find your politics informing your faith?
  • Do you ever see us as a people trying to “restrain the wind”?

Do and share:

  • Listen to 30 minutes of a quality news source different from your typical leaning.  Note the feelings that come up in you.
  • Find a story of faith positively impacting politics.  Share it in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] What’s Up with Judgment

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s[a] eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor,[b] ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s[c] eye.

-Matthew 7:1-6

A person who makes no judgments in a day would be like a body without a skeleton.  We have to judge, but Christ calls us to judge ourselves first and to view others without contempt or condemnation. [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Think of a time in the last week when you found yourself judging someone’s behavior.
  • How did you measure what was “right”?  Was the standard your own behavior or something else?
  • Search scripture, are there words from Jesus that apply?  Do they speak to you or the other person?

Do and share:

  • Journal about a judgment you passed this weak.  What in you felt threatened?  Did your attitude help the other person?
  • Share a story of overcoming judgement in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] Reaching Out

Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians,[l] no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter[m] said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

49 While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.” 50 When Jesus heard this, he replied, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.”

-Luke 8: 40-50

We heard from Rev. Jim Bankston about what it takes to reach out to our neighbors.  This is part of our church’s 2 year Vibrant Church Initiative [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • How many of your neighbors are like you? (age, race, income etc)
  • How often do you come into contact with people who are unlike you?
  • The woman who was healed had suffered long with a bleeding, odorous illness.  When you come into contact with people like that, how do you respond?

Do and share:

  • Journal each night about every person you talked to that day.  Note how they were like you and how they were unlike you.  Based on your notes, how well do you deal with those outside your comfort zone?
  • Visit a sick friend or elder this week and share a story or picture in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] It is Well With My Soul

38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

-Luke 10: 38-42

Everything about our culture encourages us to side with Martha.  We are told that if we work hard we will succeed.  We are told everyone should do their fair share.  We are told that if you don’t have something it is because you didn’t work for it.  Yet God’s favor cannot be earned by our work.  Grace is given and calls us to rest at the feet of the Lord.  Our lives should balance both activity and contemplation in their turn. [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • Describe a struggle you encountered that you could not work yourself through.
  • How do you spend time resting with God?
  • What happens to your soul if you do not rest?

Do and share:

  • Set aside a whole 24 hours for rest this week.  Document how keeping a Sabbath changes your week.
  • Find a video of your favorite praise music and share in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

In the Promise Land Justice is Extended to All [Immigration in Scripture 2]

I started this series to briefly look at six ways scripture talks about immigrants and immigration.  The treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in the US, especially along the southern border, is a daily conversation in the media and among friends.  Several excellent books have covered these topics more extensively than I can here; a few recommendations are listed at the end.

Theme 2: There Shall Be for Both a Single Statute

Migration has been a part of human life since before recorded history.  We move around.  We get pushed out by drought or famine; we flee war; we trade goods; we seek better weather; we get curious about what’s on the other side of the mountain/river/canyon/forest.  As we discussed last time, the ancestors and people of Israel were themselves, migrants.

It is while living as aliens in Egypt that Israel grew from a clan to a nation, a people.  When that people was oppressed, God led them out of Egypt and back to the land that was promised to their ancestor Abraham.  It is during the sojourn in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, that the Law of the Israelites began to take shape.  Many Christians will recognize Exodus 20: 1-17 as the Ten Commandments.  These are the gateway into the law that would form the basis of the Mosaic covenant. (so called because it is made under Moses).  The entire section is comprised of chapters 20-23 and sets the conditions by which Israel will be the people of God.  In Exodus 23:9 the law gets around to the question of how immigrants and strangers should be treated.

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  In the promise land justice is to extend to all.

In the promise land justice is to extend to all.  That theme of equality under the law continues through Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers.  As the law is retold, expounded and interpreted, the status of immigrants to the land remains the same.  Leviticus 19 lays out what it means to be ritually and morally holy.   According to verses 33 and 34, to be holy means to treat the stranger and the alien the same way you would treat a citizen of the land.  That command is echoed again in Numbers 15 and Deuteronomy 1.

An alien who lives with you, or who takes up permanent residence among you, and wishes to offer an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord, shall do as you do. As for the assembly, there shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance.
– Numbers 15:14-16

Distinctions between citizens and aliens would develop over time (more on that next time) but the intent of the law seems to be that Israel’s special status as a chosen people did not entitle them to a higher class of rights, but rather placed on them the burden to treat all people as creations of God.

It is interesting to see how the New Testament writers sometimes picked up the metaphor of strangers in a land.  The idea of being a resident alien came to describe how the Church–whose home was the kingdom of God– operated in the world.   For instance Ephesians 2:12-13 reads:

remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

This metaphor serves the dual purpose of strengthening the Church against outside pressure and uniting formally distinct people into a single Body of Christ.  The identity of “Christian” comes to trump nationality or ethnicity especially in regards to how we treat a brother or sister in Christ.   We are no longer strangers or aliens to one another but citizens of the Kingdom of God and members of Christ’s family.  This does not erase whether one was born Jew or Greek, but eliminates the notion of privilege status for either.  In an extension of the Law, we treat all our brothers and sisters as creations of God, redeemed by Christ and therefore entitled to our love.

What It Means Today:

All due respect to Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Paine, but the truth is a stateless person is a rights-less person.  Without a government, an individual’s rights exist only as far as their fellow humans are willing to recognize an obligation towards them.  This theme of scripture argues that because the people of God (first Israel and now the Church) know what it is to be foreign and alien, we must honor–and even fight for– the basic dignity of every person regardless of race, nationality, or immigration status.  The issues surrounding immigration and the law may be more complicated, but that does not change the Biblical assertion that all people are created by God and should be treated with a measure of equality.

There are people who will argue that if someone crosses the border illegally, that to be arrested and separated from your children is equal to the treatment a citizen would receive if they broke a law.  This is less than have true.  Yes, if I as an American citizen broke a law, I could be arrested, imprisoned and, if I had children, they would not be imprisoned with me.  However, the conditions under which migrants are detained at our Southern border, the way that children are treated and the lack of a coherent system for tracking and returning children who are separated makes this a false equivalency.

While the treatment of children with incarcerated parents is far from perfect, the first attempt is often to place them with family as soon as possible.  In the event they do enter the foster care system, records are kept.  Their location is known and (at least in theory) their welfare is monitored.  They are not housed in tents or overcrowded barracks.  They are not frequently taken across state lines without a parent’s knowledge.  When parents leave prison, there is a process by which the can locate and be reunited with their child.  The fact that our Department of Justice and HHA have no records connected children to parents and attempted to require parents to pay for DNA testing to recover children the DOJ stripped from them and lost in the system speaks volumes about how unequally we view migrants and citizens.

The central question Christians should be wrestling with is not, “What did they do?” but “Who are we?”.  Are we a people who enshrine inalienable rights as an endowment by our Creator; or do we hold rights humans rights to be a part of the rule-of-law contract and thereby forfeit if a law is transgressed?

For Reflection:

  1. Take a look at news stories about immigration from the past two months.  Where do you see scripture or faith invoked?  Is it used to argue for equality or distinction?
  2. In the letter to the Colossians, Paul writes:  

But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive[d] language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

What bearing might those words have on our present struggles?

3.  Are there recent immigrants in your family?  What was the experience of their first few months in America like?

For a more in-depth look at migration in general, check out Global Migration: What’s Happening, Why and a Just Response by Elizabeth Collier and Charles Strain.  For reflections on immigration to America specifically, pick up Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R. or Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang.

 

[Beyond Sunday] He Still Does (Miracles)

They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?”  And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.”  Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.  Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

-Mark 8:22-26

The ways in which God works can be strange.  Sometimes, they are all but invisible.  Maybe the reason we don’t often experience miracles isn’t that God is absent or silent, but that we are blind to see what’s going on around us. [hear sermon audio] 

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • What is something you thought you knew, but later learned you were wrong about?
  • How did learning you were wrong change your view of the world?
  • What might make it difficult for the Disciples to see Jesus as he truly is?
    • What about the crowds who followed?
    • The Pharisees?

 

Do and share:

  • Be the miracle: This week keep your eyes open for someone who might need assistance or kindness.  Let God use you to be the blessing they need.
  • Share the story of a miracle God has done in your life in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

[Beyond Sunday] How Great Thou Art

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

-Psalm 29

In the midst of life’s storms, it’s easy to lose sight of how God is working in our lives.  We focus instead on the winds of worry and the waves of emotion.  But God is Lord of all.  And if we truly believe that is true, then nothing else can be lord of our life, not even our own fear. [hear sermon audio]

 

This week, take some time to go deeper.  Use these scriptures and questions to reflect in your devotion time.

Texts to read:

Questions to ponder:

  • What storms are you facing today?
  • When caught in the storm’s onslaught
    • What do you fear?
    • What do you give power?
    • Where do you see God at work?

 

Do and share:

  • Draw or paint a picture of your storm and share it on our Facebook Group.
  • Find a video of your favorite praise music and share in our Facebook group or on Twitter (@dpumc).

 

For You Were Strangers [Immigration in Scripture 1]

The treatment of migrants asylum seekers and families crossing the border illegally has become a national conversation of late.  Christian scriptures have been invoked by politicians and protestors to justify a variety of positions.  As people of faith, we should try to understand America’s immigration policies and call for appropriate action to fix broken systems.  But, to define “appropriate” we need a working knowledge of what the Scriptures say about immigrants and strangers.

This series of posts is a VERY brief primer on six themes.  Several excellent books have been written on immigration through the lens of Scripture. For a more in-depth look at migration in general, check out Global Migration: What’s Happening, Why and a Just Response by Elizabeth Collier and Charles Strain.  For reflections on immigration to America specifically, pick up Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R. or Welcoming the Stranger by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang.

Theme 1: You were once aliens

Deuteronomy 10:19 says “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”.  Any discussion of immigration and scriptures has to wrestle with the fact that the people of God were, more than once, aliens in a foreign land.

Deuteronomy is framed as a retelling of the sacred Law before the people of Israel enter into the promised land.  The promise of that land was first given to Abram (later called Abraham).

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

-Genesis 12:1-2

Abram leaves Ur, his homeland, and comes to reside in Canaan.  God’s promise that this will be the land of his descendants is reiterated, but for three generations the family lives like perpetual migrants.  They reside in tents, they move from place to place with their flocks.  They leave and go to Egypt when there is a famine.  Isaac and Jacob, Abraham’s descendants, each return to Ur for a time.  Even when Sarah, Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother, dies and Abraham must secure a place to bury her, he speaks of himself as an alien in the land.

 “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” The Hittites answered Abraham, “Hear us, my lord; you are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold from you any burial ground for burying your dead.”

-Genesis 23: 4-6

For the first five books of our scriptures, God’s promise of the land is stable, but the people’s residency is fluid.  Through the end of Genesis, the migrant experience is primarily a positive one*.  But then there comes another famine, and Isreal (Jacob) once again takes his family to Egypt because his son Joseph has become a court official.  That whole generation resides in Egypt until their deaths.  The Israelite community grows.  And then Exodus makes this ominous transition:

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.

-Exodus 1:8

The Egyptians come to fear the Israelites living among them.  Out of that fear, they become ruthless and cruel.  The lives of the Israelites become so bitter and oppressive that they cry out to God for salvation.  God raises up Moses, does miracles and signs, and finally leads the Israelites out of Eygpt.  But God does not want the people to forget what it was like to be aliens in Egypt.

Deuteronomy chapter 10 recounts Moses receiving the (second) tablets of the Law and God summarizing their essence.  Core to what it means to be Israel is this understanding: that God is just, that God provides for the widow, the orphan and the stranger, and that, having been strangers yourself, you should reflect God’s love for strangers among you.

The call back to the Hebrew’s time as residents and then slaves in Egypt will show up time and again across the scriptures of the Old Testament.  Generations later, when David recaptures the Ark of the Covenant (with the tablets of the Law) from the Philistines, the people sing a song recounting the great deeds of God, including how God protected the people when they were immigrants:

When they were few in number,
    of little account, and strangers in it,
wandering from nation to nation,
    from one kingdom to another people,
he allowed no one to oppress them;
    he rebuked kings on their account,
saying, “Do not touch my anointed ones;
    do my prophets no harm.”
-Psalm 105: 13-15

As we’ll see later, the people do forget.  Later prophets will cite the treatment of strangers and immigrants as one of the reasons for the downfalls of Israel and Judah.  When the people forget what it was to be alien and oppressed, they are cast into exile.  They become immigrants in a strange land once again.

What It Means Today:

It is both presumptuous and risky to rob a Biblical narrative of its context and conflate it with the modern day.  However, these stories have been told for millennia because they contain important lessons.  America has often described itself as a nation of immigrants.  98% of us have at least one ancestor who arrived in the territory in the last 500 years.  The stories of those ancestors are varied.  Some fled persecution, others were destitute and seeking a better life, some came for higher education, some brought desirable skills, some were criminals, some did not come here by choice.

We, like Israel, have to wrestle with our own history of being aliens and strangers.  That does not mean open borders and unrestricted immigration.  In the next two posts, we’ll look at how the law of Israel set boundaries and privileges for immigrants in their midst. However, if we are taking the Biblical witness seriously, our history should instill in us a desire to act justly and with mercy towards present immigrants and asylum seekers.

Yesterday, the Administration missed a deadline to return very young children to their parents.  They have laid out no clear plan for how families will be reunited.  They changed the policy for dealing with asylum seekers and migrants without a way to humanly hold people in detention.  They are turning their backs on immigrants who willingly offered their lives in the service of this countryThey are delaying or denying asylum seekers due process and creating an environment of uncertainty and fear even for those who have abided by the law.  There is no mercy in these acts. Is there even justice?

When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God…
-Deuteronomy 8:12-13 

For Reflection:

  1. Where does immigration play a role in your family’s history?
    • How did your ancestors come to the country?
    • How where they received when they arrived?
    • How has their experience shaped your story?
  2. Read the first chapter of Exodus and imagine you are an average Egyptian.
    • As the Pharoh’s attitude toward the Israelites changes, what language is used to describe Israelites?
    • How is the treatment of the Israelites justified?
    • Do you agree with their treatment?  Why or Why not?

Feature Image by Joel Tanis and available for sale online.

*Arguably the experience worked better for Abraham than Sarah and it was not without its compromises.  Read the whole story in Genesis 20.