Friday, January 26, 2018

Take The Risk, Take The Responsibility, Follow Jesus

The kind and well-meaning nurse sighed and folded his arms.  He looked my mother in the eye and said, “you know it’s probably a good idea not to look on the internet.”  
Recently my stepfather Tom fainted and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.  It was the third time in a month that it had happened and my mother, understandably, was worried.  Of course her daughters, my sister and I sprang into action.  My sister drove to the hospital to be with my mom and stepfather, while I, living out of state, searched for information online.  There was certainly a lot to research, but  we are curious people in my family and we all wanted to know as much as possible.  So my mother would call me with a question and I would quickly google, and then read the various published papers and give her what I had.  My sister and mother were then armed with questions for the hospital staff.  These questions were, how shall we put this? —Not welcome.   As the granddaughter of two doctors and schooled by friends who are doctors and scientists, I think I understand the point of view of the medical community.  Patients researching their own conditions signal that they don’t trust the staff.  Patients and their families, googling online, seeking to diagnose their own condition can muck everything up.  They can harm themselves. The professionals are the ones in the know.  According to their lights, they and only they are qualified, and thus the nurse whom we admired and liked so much delivered his rebuke to my mother. But the real reason for his remark goes much deeper.  Before the Bible was translated into the various languages and then as those translations began to appear and be distributed, the priests grew increasingly alarmed and then began to actively inveigh against the people reading the Bible on their own.  It would, according to the Church, cause too much confusion, cause the people to distrust the religious authorities and even harm themselves.   Sound familiar?  And of course the priests were, in their way, quite correct.  Think of the destruction that has come from the heresies that have sprung up over the years! And yet, we know now that not only was it necessary, it is necessary for the people to read the Bible on their own, to be a check on the professionals, the people in the pews ever vigilant, weighing and criticizing the view from the pulpit.  As the prophet Jeremiah tells us, it is no longer the time for an authority figure to explain the Bible, the time of the new covenant is the time when the empowered people explain to one another (Jeremiah 31:34).  I stand in the pulpit and preach each Sunday but as my teachers in seminary taught me, it’s my goal was to work myself out of a job; to empower the people themselves to be the preachers.  This is not only the goal in our various congregations, this is our goal in a democracy, and yes, this should be our goal as patients too, but the remark of Tom’s nurse shows us the obvious: we have lost sight of this goal, lost the vision.  We are content to let others do the hard work for us. Content to “leave it to the professionals.” But this is not the way, instead God teaches us not to be afraid, to risk confusion and disaster and to be the adults, that through the Lord Jesus, He is giving us to be.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Implant a Microchip; Bury Freedom

Scrolling through the news recently a headline caught my eye: “River Falls company to embed RFID chips in fifty of its employees.”  Like most people my first reaction was horror. My dismay has only deepened as the days pass.  The Bible tells us that “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.”  Implanted RFID chips destroy freedom. First, let’s not make a mistake about something basic: The RFID chip was no “option” offered by the company.  When the boss offers you something, and you decline, you may find that your next performance review doesn’t go so well.  “Offering” to implant a chip in your employees ought to be illegal. Moreover, consider what happens when a small group of people acquiesce to tyranny; it’s a threat to everyone’s liberty. There’s a reason that the law prohibits slavery for instance, without such a law, a few people would inevitably sell themselves into slavery, perhaps to pay off a loan, perhaps for other reasons, and soon slavery would be mandated rather than voluntary. But third, and most importantly, many people say, “I carry a smartphone, that’s way more intrusive than a chip.”  A smartphone is indeed intrusive, it can be used against you as a recorder and as tracker; it can be turned on without your knowledge, it can be and is used in a variety of nefarious ways, but a smartphone is not implanted in the body. We think of our bodies as a husk or a shell.  That’s a lie.  Jesus died for us body and soul together.  The Bible tells us that what we do to our bodies we do to our spirit, “Do you not know that your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God with your body.” (I Corinthians 6:19) Some counter: “We replace knees and hips and even ankles, why not implant a chip the size of a grain of rice?”  It is one thing for a doctor to ease our pain by replacing a worn out knee joint, but it is quite another to become a walking debit card.  This is not the vision of humanity that the Bible teaches.  This is not the humanity that the righteousness of God has brought about and is bringing about through the Lord Jesus. God frees us, God heals us, God gives us dignity and honor, he gives us the gift of love and mercy.  In the Lord Jesus we can indeed, “guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride,” just as the song says. And 32Market can do the right thing too.  They can require their employees to remove the RFID chip. In so doing, they would truly be visionary, because they would be falling in line with God’s vision of and future for humanity.  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

No One Ever Changes

A few days ago I got the chance to visit with my best friend Katy in Chicago and she and I happened to meet an old acquaintance.  I had not seen him in thirty years.  It was great to share a meal with him and chat a bit.  But I realized a curious thing after we had parted.  The conversation over our meal had been, at least in its themes, a repeat of the last conversation I had had with him over thirty years before.  But as if this were not extraordinary enough I realized in a flash of insight something even more important although outwardly unrelated to our pleasant mealtime conversation: I had not changed in thirty years; I was still the same destructive, self-destructive, arrogant and cold-hearted sinner that I had always been. Just in case the reader think that I am being too hard on myself, consider that the apostle Paul says as much; he refers to himself in the present as a sinner. (I Tim. 1:13)  But here’s the rub, or more precisely the beautiful dialogue into which the Bible leads us, we are also completely changed, “therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, look, the new has come”  (2 Cor. 5:17) Paul expands on this good news in another place “ I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, the life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”  In other words, we have died and the life we now lead is entirely by the faith, the establishment, the “amen power” that raised Jesus from the dead. As Mahalia Jackson sings “I woke this morning!” How? by that faith, a power completely outside ourselves that comes straight from heaven and goes directly into our hearts.  Truly, we walk by faith and not by sight. Do we understand the indescribably good gift that God has given to us? * So you see, we are changed; we are the first fruits of the change, of the immortality that is to come (I Cor. 15), but lest we get on our high horse and ride off into the sunset of delusion, the Bible and life itself reminds us from time to time of what is also the truth; one that is less weighty but revelatory and saving: that we are still what we ever were, as Paul puts it, “Oh wretched man that I am” (note the present tense).  No need to worry about getting a swelled head, our loving Father keeps us from that and all evils. 

*Actually, we can't understand this, if we think we live by our own faith, if we do, the life in Christ becomes not an indescribably great and gracious gift but rather some kind of dubious exchange with God.  But if faith is something quite different, if it is the power with which the Messiah is girded and strengthened, if it is what the King James Bible translates as establishment in reference to Samuel then we learn what gratitude really is, then we learn how boasting is totally excluded.