Monthly Archives: August 2009

HOW do I persecute the Lord?

          If I’m serious about “conversing” with God (check back on the last several posts), I must take the questions and concerns He expresses seriously.
          Lately, I’ve been thinking about the question Saul of Tarsus was asked when he was relentlessly and mercilessly trying to stamp out the infant Christian faith. The point at which I had to do a “double take” was when I realized Saul didn’t seem to realize what he was doing constituted “persecuting” the Lord. In the best way he knew how, following the directions of the religious establishment. He thought he was right. He simply felt he was carrying out orders. After all, he was on a mission sanctioned (and perhaps financed) by the best that organized, institutionalized religion had to offer. So, can you understand a natural reaction he may have had:


                              “HOW AM I PERSECUTING YOU, LORD?”

 
           This kind of post isn’t easy for me. Writing seems to come easily and naturally to me at times. Thinking, though, is quite another matter. Especially when I try to be honest, and examine my own life under the microscope of truth I try to use.
          There’s a request in Scripture which forces honesty in the face of God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23~24.)

   
          I feel sure that was something Saul and the Lord addressed during those days in Damascus while he was recovering his sight, getting a new set of orders and a new name. The evidence is quite clear that he took decisive steps to correct his conduct. But my responsibility isn’t to deal with what Saul was doing to hurt the One whom he thought he was serving. It is not my responsibility to figure out what he was doing or to try to correct his errors. Instead, is IS MY RESPONSIBILITY to consider how I treat the One whom I claim to love and seek to serve.

            Do you understand why I struggle to address and answer the question? In the days since I first began to ponder this idea, I’ve attempted to look carefully at my own attitudes and actions. I know I want to be close to Christ as possible, and I also know there are areas of imperfection which He and I must address. Which we will need to continue addressing, if I know me at all. There are things I’ve done or said or thought which are disappointing to Him. And there are probably just as many things I’ve left unattended.

               In addition, we should also consider how our activity (or inactivity) affects others. And how that affects our Lord. Jesus expressed very clearly that when we hurt (or help) others, there is a real sense in which that affects Him:

                “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’            Matthew 25:44~45

          He hurts when we persecute (or ignore, or exploit, or injure) others in any way. The poet said: “In every pain that rends the heart, the Man of Sorrows has a part.”

    
              If that kind of thinking causes anything, it should encourage us to treat everyone right. It seems a pretty safe course of action to always treat others in the way we want to be treated.

              As I continued considering this probing, painful question, my thoughts were drawn once again to the first chapter of Isaiah. Among other things, I recalled that one of my seminary professors, Dr. Leo Greene, was also an outstanding preacher. In his treatment of the prophet Isaiah, in the class of young seminarians aspiring to be “great preachers,” he annually delivered an expository sermon which he entitled: “The Great Arraignment.”

  
              No one missed that lecture. Dr. Greene approached Isaiah’s message to a rebellious nation as if it were a trial. The Nation had committed offenses against a holy God. He had lodged a complaint against them invited to “reason together.” “You present your case, and I’ll present mine.”
              One of Jehovah’s greatest objections was the way His people treated Him, thinking vain, empty, repetitious rituals composed real worship. I remember Dr. Greene, with what looked like the piercing eyes of a prophet, declaring: “A SOULLESS WORSHIP IS A HOLLOW MOCKERY.” That was one of Jehovah’s principle objections.
              As I re-read that chapter in the prophet’s writing, it seemed to be clear to me that their offense caused great pain to the very One they professed to honor and serve. Does it rise to the level of persecution? It certainly seems to me to be one of the main grievances God has against His people. It certainly caused me new concern and reason to examine my motives for “worship.”

             If I think putting on “Sunday go to meetin’ clothes,” and a sanctimonious face are “worship,” it will come as a shocking revelation to read the first chapter of the prophet Isaiah’s book. He likens unthinking, unfeeling, uncaring “worshippers” to cattle mooing and milling about the court like it was a barnyard. In the presence of the Holy, and acting with indifference! Profaning the Sacred by their superficial, unthinking “trampling of His courts.” Lest you misunderstand, and I appear to be judgmental, perhaps you would like to read the message Isaiah delivered for yourself.

             Don’t do it, though, unless your courage, your heart and your brain are connected and functioning.

             Isaiah has God asking this question: “Who has required this of you?” Who ever made you think you could enter my presence with impunity, and treat the presence of God with such disrespect? Where could you possibly have come up with the idea that by doing this you were serving, or worshipping the God of the Universe? How did you ever conceive of such an absurd notion, that you could simply “flip at tip” at Jehovah and selfishly, merrily keep the rest of the resources He’s given you as though they were your own?

             The Israelites thought, at least on the surface, that they were worshipping. Serving. Impressing Him with their pious acts.  They were mistaken. Thoughtless, religious routines not only do not please God. They are, in fact, a source of such great displeasure it makes Him sick.  I’m not certain if that constitutes “persecution,” but it is obvious God is not impressed.

             Below is just a brief  sample of Isaiah’s indictment.  I warn you, he hits hard!  He pulls no punches.  He calls people (me, for example) to task for their failure to place proper value upon the great God of the Universe.  Next time I’m at worship, it might serve me well to understand where I am and in whose presence I stand.   Worship is not performed by idle chatter, or cutting business deals, or “styling” or socializing.

              I don’t make this stuff up, trust me.  When the writer said: “The Lord is in His holy temple.  Let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20) seems to suggest ser   And when He says: “Be still and know that I am God”       (Psalm 46:10).        .  
 

             “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me [unless they are the offering of the heart]? says the Lord. I have had enough of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts [without obedience]; and I do not delight in the blood of bulls or of lambs or of he-goats [without righteousness]. “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you that your [unholy feet] trample My courts? Bring no more offerings of vanity (emptiness, falsity, vainglory, and futility); [your hollow offering of] incense is an abomination to Me; the New Moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot endure–[it is] iniquity and profanation, even the solemn meeting.” Isaiah 1:11-13 

           Now, is that enough to make us stop and think?  Am I worshipping, or just ‘playing church?’

 

God’s Servant and son, your friend, brother, and fellow student   ~donkimrey

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SOMETIMES I DON’T KNOW WHY

    “But Saul, still breathing threats of slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, that if he found any men or women belonging to this Way (a word used for Christianity), he might bring them in bonds to Jerusalem. And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew near to Damascus, when suddenly a light from heaven shone round about him; and falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” And he said, “Who art thou Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom thou art persecuting.”                                      Acts 9:1-5, 

              So, here I am again. Still wondering what it might be like if God were to initiate a conversation with me like He used to with prophets. Still thinking, if He were ever to do such a thing, He might begin by asking a question. And waiting for my answer. And here is the troubling question I’ve imagined He might raise: “Why are you persecuting me?”
          Please don’t think I get bogged down and tend to run too long in one place (I never was a “speed merchant” and one of my old football buddies once told me that was my problem.). Try to look at it (this question) from another point of view: I suspect we’re more likely to run lightly over some really tough terrain. Rather than spending too much time, thinking too deeply about important issues, most of us glance across the surface. We rarely take time to think deeply, carefully about many things. That would require work, time and effort and sometimes causes discomfort.

              That is especially true of a question like the one Paul was forced to face.
              I’m pretty sure Saul didn’t have an answer ready immediately. It took him a while to recover from his blindness, and I’m sure while he was recovering in Damascus he gave careful thought. At any rate, when he re-emerged with a new name, he also had a new nature. Transformed from opponent to proponent, he became one of the most brilliant and effective theologian/evangelists in Church history. From misguided arrogant ignorance, he stands for all time as an example of humble, brilliant effectiveness in Christian thought and evangelism.
               Like Paul must have done, I struggle to find an answer. In an instance such as this, I also could not help recalling the day Jesus was crucified. As the storm clouds gathered, and a maddened crowd vomited venom and screamed obscenities and hurled epithets, at the vulnerable, defenseless victim of their collective insanity, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
               What!?  They don’t know what they’re doing?  It seems to me they know EXACTLY what they’re doing   It looks to me as if their eyes are wide open, their hearts full of hatred, and their minds working diabolically and  deliberately. With careful, methodical, ruthless cruelty it looked like a killing machine was working with the precision of consummate evil genius. And yet, Jesus told His Father: “They don’t have a clue. They don’t really understand what they’re doing, and to whom they’re doing it. They’re out of control. They don’t even know why they’re acting so irrationally. Please forgive them, Father. Please don’t lay this sin to their charge. Please don’t grant their request for my blood to be upon them. . . nor their children. Father, I ask you to forgive them.”

 
             You know, I’ve been thinking about this for some time. The things I’ve done or said. Or the things I’ve left undone and unsaid. For the pain I may have inadvertently inflicted upon Him who loves me most, I’ve found myself again at the throne of mercy, asking for grace and forgiveness. My only defense has been ignorance. My only hope is mercy, and I pray:

           “Father, forgive me, when I know not what I do.”

God’s son and servant, your friend and fellow student ~donkimrey

WHY ON EARTH WOULD I DO SUCH A THING?!

Acts 9:1-5, “But Saul, still breathing threats of slaughter against
the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for
letters to the synagogues at Damascus, that if he found any men or
women belonging to this Way (a word used for Christianity), he might
bring them in bonds to Jerusalem. And as he went on his journey, it
came to pass that he drew near to Damascus, when suddenly a light from
heaven shone round about him; and falling to the ground, he heard a
voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” And he
said, “Who art thou Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom thou art
persecuting.”

          On a lazy afternoon this past week-end, I went exploring the internet
looking for ideas about how to improve the format and content of my
blog. And, hopefully, to increase traffic and draw some kind of
response online from those who do happen to visit. I really want to
make this a site where thoughtful people can come, be caused to think
a bit more seriously about their faith, and come to a better
understanding of Scripture. Beyond that, both for myself and any who
care to join the quest, I want to be able to make practical
application of the results of such a study.

          One successful blogger gave ten reasons why, in her opinion, people
didn’t post any comments when they do drop in. I learned some
lessons, I hope. One of the reasons given was that we (the writers of
the blogs) sometimes ask questions which are too large. Too large?
After I thought of it, the idea made sense. I realize that the
question I’m asking right now is one of those questions:

          Why are you persecuting me? Indeed! That was the question God
raised for Paul to consider, and that’s the question I’ve been
wrestling with lately. It is not a question which can be dismissed
lightly. A superficial answer simply won’t work.

          In a sense, I reckon it’s my own fault. The idea of having a
conversation with God (with Him speaking. Out loud. To me.) led me to
think: If He were to do such a thing, wouldn’t it be logical to assume
He might do so by simply asking a question and then waiting for my
response? Following that line of thought, I began to remember and
discover where He had done precisely that and had asked questions of
others in distant places and times.

         That’s what brought me to this place. And the question which has made
me a bit uncomfortable for several days. I couldn’t imagine that I’d
deliberately persecute, or hurt God. Of all people! Why would I do
such a thing?! How could I possibly do such a thing?

          Trying to be as careful and thorough as possible, I pondered the
meaning of “persecution.” I looked at definitions in several places,
including a couple of Bible dictionaries. A thesaurus offers synonyms
(words which mean essentially the same thing.), which vary in some
ways and run the gamut from “aggravation” to harsh and savagely cruel
treatment of another person. There are degrees of severity, but it
boils down to hurtful action against the person who’s being targeted
for persecution.

          On the road to Damascus, on a mission to flush out and capture any
“Christians” he could find, Paul got stopped dead in his tracks and
heard that question.

          The thing that struck me so forcefully is that Paul had no idea he
was doing such a thing. Quite the contrary, he (or someone) had
psyched him into actually believing he was doing the will of God by
stamping out the impudent, Christian faith which was still in its
infancy. I do not doubt that he was convinced he was doing the right
thing. He was sincere. But he was sincerely wrong.

          Can you imagine what a blow that must have been to the man’s pride?
A devout, well-trained, highly educated person, on the fast track to
stardom among his fellow religionists. And, suddenly, he is
confronted with the question which shakes him to his foundation.
Gracious! That’s enough to make any person stop and take inventory
about their conduct, their objectives, their motives, and their
methods!

          Whatever I do, I don’t want to be found going against the Lord God of
the Universe. This is some serious stuff! If I hadn’t taken the time
before, I’ve been carefully considering this question lately.

          Is it possible to be completely dedicated, completely convinced, and
completely wrong? Could I mistakenly be caught up in fervent,
religious activity, which actually turns out to be persecution of God?

          Do you understand now why I’ve been taking so long to ponder?  This really is a “BIG” QUESTION!

 

file:///Users/donkimrey/Desktop/Photo%2049.jpg    GOD’S son and servant, your friend and fellow student

DESIGNATED HITTER

           ( BLOGGER’S NOTE:  My current effort has me thinking about what it might be like if God were to actually speak to us.  Not just in the way we’ve come to understand, i.e., through Nature, through the prophets, or through His written or Living Word, but out loud.  Face to face.  Just a sort of  ‘casual conversation’ like Moses and Adam and others had.  It’s a stretch, probably, but it has me thinking more carefully about some ideas than I’ve done in quite some time.  Feeling that, if He were to engage us in such conversation, He might begin by asking a question just as He’s done with others in the past.  Then waiting and giving us time to think it over and then reply.  And perhaps not proceeding until we did answer.  I also wondered ~if He knows everything~why He’d ever ask us for any information of any sort!      

            To be quite candid with you, this has made me think more carefully and at greater length than I’d imagined when I began.  In pursuing this project, I got to the place in Scripture where God confronted Saul of Tarsus and interrupted his “Capture and Kill Christians Campaign,” and asked: “Why are you persecuting me?”  That question has forced me to look carefully at it.  I wondered, for example, what God’s definition of “persecution” might be.  And is it possible for someone to be doing what he supposed was a legitimate duty and be utterly mistaken.  Saul was, you remember, on an official mission under the authority of the best religious leadership available at the time.  I ‘ve been wondering about the things I do routinely, almost on automatic pilot, religious things you know…Is it possible that my view of  my activity may actually be hurting God!  Persecuting Him!  Wow!  Try that thought on for size!!  

          Wanting to let you know I take this effort seriously as well as  joyously, and wanting a bit more time to digest and phrase my own thoughts, I asked a bright young fellow blogger for permission to share some of  his recent work.  Pinch hit for me, please?  Be my ‘back up’ while I sort out my answer to that penetrating question.   The friend is a Christian businessman and executive who takes his faith right into the marketplace.  He takes his commitment seriously.  He thinks deeply and writes well.  He isn’t prissy and pulls no punches.  I hope you enjoy his thoughts and that you’ll visit his site.   I’ve admired his writing on his blog which is entitled Shrinkingthecamel.wordpress.com ~you can figure that out, and it will be worth your effort. 

          Bradley Moore is my ‘pinch hitter!   Batter up…     ~donkimrey)

 

Do Not Worry (Oh, Really? That Might Be Easy for You to Say…

August 2, 2009 by shrinkingthecamel
          These are worrisome times we are living in. There is an unprecedented global financial crisis, economic recession, threats of terrorism, more and more layoffs, and a growing government deficit. It’s just bad news all the way around. Add this pile of stink to the routine madness that you and I deal with daily, as a matter of course. Like trying to raise decent kids, and maintaining a good marriage, and paying all the bills, and the house is always a mess, the career pressures, friends dying of cancer, too many church committee obligations, every organization is asking you for money all the time, and what is that red spot on my shoulder? Was that there before? 

          It seems as if the sheer weight of responsibility that goes with being an adult in the modern 21st century can just about break us sometimes.

          So, I’m in somewhat of a gloomy mood as I sit down to read my daily dose of scripture this morning, and I bet you are now too, if you weren’t before. In keeping with His extraordinary sense of humor and good timing, God has lined up for me today a very propitious passage. As I open my bible to the book-marked page at Luke 12:22-33, my eyes are immediately drawn to a bold heading above the verses I’m about to read. It says, in a very objective and authoritative, yet casual, italicized font:

          “Do not worry.”

          “Funny,” I think, with a nod to God. I read the passage with great concentration and an earnest desire for tranquility. Jesus is encouraging the crowds with words of comfort and reassurance about how God will take care of them. Don’t have an anxious mind, He says, because God knows about everything you need. Seek first His kingdom.

          It isn’t sinking in.

          I read it again, slowly, trying to soak my brain in it. But the grumpy mood is still hovering all around me, distracting me, making faces and kicking me under the table. I remember how our youth director at church, Melissa, gets the kids to visualize bible passages because it helps them concentrate on the message. She has them read a passage and then close their eyes and imagine the scene in vivid detail. It creates more impact, she says. Although some folks at church are suspicious of any bible study tool that involves using one’s imagination, especially a teen-ager’s. I decide to give it a try, to visualize the passage. I take a very deep breath and blow it all out very slowly and close my eyes.

          Lilies of the field. Treasure in heaven.

          I see Jesus standing on the rugged mount. It’s a sunny middle-eastern afternoon, the wind is gusting through his shoulder-length and surprisingly well-conditioned brown hair, and billowing around his super-white 100% organic cotton robe. The disciples are all sitting around his feet in their raggedy, itchy, burlap robes, listening attentively and in eager expectation. I listen to the voice of Jesus on the mount, and I let my thoughts float along on the Jerusalem winds.

Do not worry. Do not be anxious.
Put your treasure in heaven.
Treasure in heaven. Treasure.
Treasure. Money.
Tuition payment. No, two tuition payments

Recession. No bonus this year.

Crap!

Should have saved more.
Idiot stupid idiot
Bad steward
Idiot stupid.
          I try to take in the comfort of this wonderful passage from Luke, but my worried mind is going elsewhere, and I find that I am becoming alarmingly cynical towards that sweet bible passage. This happens to me every now and then – I’m trying to get comfy with Jesus, but this harsh, skeptical, cynical voice butts in and ruins everything. And I feel compelled to see where it’s going to take me.

          So here’s what that cynical voice in my head is saying about the “Do not worry” passage in Luke 12:23-33: Sure, it’s easy for Jesus to tell these people not to worry. He didn’t have the financial responsibilities of a family to worry about! Neither did Peter, or Paul, for that matter. None of them schlocks had wives or kids to take care of! (Apparently bible scholars still debate if Peter or Paul were married, but the fact that this even is a debatable question shows the lack of priority the women and children must have had in the scheme of things.) Those disciples and apostles didn’t have a mortgage payment, or car repairs, or the care and well-being of their wives to think of, or college tuition payments to worry about so that their kids could get a decent start in life and avoid spending the next ten years paying off college loans the way their parents did.

          The great founding fathers of our faith have very little to say about the sticky little pressures of modern family life. Couldn’t Jesus and the other guys who wrote the gospels and the epistles have given us parents and spouses a little more credit? Instead we hear them encouraging men to stay single, don’t get married unless your loins are burning up. It’s like Jesus called on these random guys to be his disciples, and bam! Just like that they leave their jobs, families and homes. Goodbye responsibility, hello Jesus!

          It would have give me great comfort if, just once, Jesus told someone that the kingdom of God would be better served if he stayed at home, kept his job and took good care of his family rather than abandoning it all for the gospel.

          “Jesus approached a young man named Bartolomes at his place of work and said, “Follow me.”  Bartolomes immediately dropped his spreadsheet tablets (for lo, he was an accountant) and got up to follow Jesus. His wife and six children however, chased after him frantically, crying out desperately for him to remain with them and help pay the bills so they could eat three squares a day and have a decent roof over their heads.”

          Jesus, aware of the potential family meltdown, turned to Bartolomes and said, “No, I did not mean for you to follow me, literally. Dost thou not have a brain in thine head to think with? I meant follow me in your heart. You will do more good for the Kingdom of God by faithfully loving and caring for your family as if you were loving and caring for me, than you ever would by gallivanting across the land.”  

          Wouldn’t that be great?

          I wish that the bible had something more uplifting to say for those of us who gave up all of our youthful ignorance, idealism and self-centeredness of single living in exchange for becoming productive and responsible citizens, devoted and loving parents and spouses. It’s fulfilling, certainly, but at times it’s also difficult and stressful and expensive and time consuming.

          There’s plenty of stuff to worry about.      (To be Continued)