Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jesus Chooses [His First Round Draft Pick]

Eeeny-meeny-miney-MO.... ;) On Tuesday night we returned to the Gospel of Luke and, since we go section by section straight through, I was a bit stymied for discussion since all this passage said was Jesus went up a mountain, prayed, came down and chose his twelve disciples [out of the 70+ who were there]; we are then given their names, most of whom we NEVER hear from again.

Not very exciting, is it?

Then I began thinking about it. Then I saw what was going on in basketball this same week. So I wrote the following lesson.

It ended up being VERY encouraging to our group, especially the benediction in the end.

I've linked that so you can see what we saw. As the apostle Paul wrote later on, "God chooses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise."

And we are foolish, kids. Good thing God does not ask for competent men and women, but rather seeks to be glorified [i.e. 'made famous'] by grabbing up the most foolish of all!

Here's the lesson:

Jesus Names His First Round Draft Pick
It's basketball season and everyone is watching to see what fine player will go where, play on what team, and for how much.

I used to sneer at such pomp, but now I see it contains excitement and value to the fans. These players will, very likely, make the team they are on succeed or fail. They, as a unit, are going to change the face of the game for the next season. Their competitive abilities will make or break a franchise. And it is not just how well they can play but also how well they can work with the other team members. Personalities are involved, not just performance.

Before men chose their teams, God chose His, says Ephesians chapter one.

And also here, we are told, that Jesus chose His team – to preach and teach, to share the Good News and bring life to the dying; to cast out demons and set captives free.

The Twelve. What an awesome pick they were – because, as we learn, they were NOT awesome in and of themselves, but became so, because they were used by God.

Amen.

Read in the round

Luke 6:12-16
12 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night
praying to God.
13 When morning came, He called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom He also designated apostles:
14 Simon (whom He named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew,
15 Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot,
16 Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.


1) What action did Jesus take before choosing His crew? Where did He do this? What does it remind you of?

2) Is the number of men He chose symbolic in some way? [Read Genesis 49:28, Exodus 24:4, Exodus 39:14, Joshua 3:12, 1 Kings 18:31] What is the difference between a disciple and an apostle, if any?

3) How many times are there two disciples with the same basic name? Can THAT teach us anything meaningful about God? Why are their names listed, do you think?

Benediction
Deuteronomy 7:6-9

Additional Notes:

Various Thinkers and Leaders on Encountering God

    C. S. Lewis, hopefully not thinking about the internet....
  • An "impersonal God"– well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads – better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap – best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps, approaching at infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband – that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion ("Man's search for God!") suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us? –C. S. Lewis
  • God is not who you think He is; He is who He says He is. –Clarice Fluitt
  • Since God created man in His own image how often has man endeavored to render a similar service to God? –Voltaire
  • You must not lose confidence in God because you lost confidence in your pastor. If our confidence in God had to depend upon our confidence in any human person, we would be on shifting sand. –Francis Schaeffer
  • God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners. –Kierkegaard
  • I am so tried by the things said about God. I understand God's patience with the wicked, but I do wonder how he can be so patient with the pious! –George MacDonald
  • God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. –Voltaire


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I hope this lesson helps you to see your value to God comes from His love for you, not your performance or abilities.

Amen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dwayne McDuffie, Justice League Writer/Producer Dies Unexpectedly

I was just informed that Dwayne McDuffie, the premiere writer for the animated series Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, has unexpectedly passed away following complications after surgery. It must have been something very routine, for he was scheduled the day after to appear for a book signing.

I cannot tell you how much this man meant to me. I would have an awful day - or just one full of challenges - and sit down, put a DVD in of the Justice League and find myself in moments enraptured in a classic, well-written good vs. evil story. The writer more often than not? Dwayne McDuffie.

Dwayne knew personalities too, and he was known for bringing real personalities from the Black community to life in the superhero genre. He pointed out that when you only have ONE black superhero in a group, that person is somehow representative for the whole community - and that not only limits the stories you tell, it gives a false picture of the community. He wanted to bring more diverse characters to life and put them up on stage for us all to see.

He did it so well, he won awards, esp. for 'Static Shock' [formerly the character of Black Lightning, for you old-schoolers][ EDIT: Mea Culpa. They have similar powers and I thought SS was a revised/updated form of Black Lightning. Not true. There have been nods to BL though, in one episode, SS tries on a costume similar to BL's... Sorry to misinform.]

But it was the Justice League, with John Stewart as the Green Lantern and a romance with Hawkgirl that made him a fan-favorite. [Sure, citation needed, but you know its true.] He grabbed our iconic characters and did NOT deconstruct them but DID show their weaknesses - and you knew them BETTER than before.

His portrayal of Superman as a good man who's getting too close to the edge of taking control 'for the good of the world' and of Batman as a lonely man who chooses to shut off his emotions to wage war? It was never seen on TV before. Or Wonder Woman who begins as a princess wanting to help and ends up an Amazon warrior who never quits? Wow. I can watch his portrayals 7 days a week and not get bored.

My biggest praise for Dwayne was the last Justice League movie he wrote: Crisis on Two Earths.

Dwayne knew how to write heroes. He knew how to skirt the edge but not cross it. He knew how to surprise you without cheating. He knew what made a great villain. He knew his community and he loved his people, and he made us older, cynical, worn-out geeks all sit down and become children again.

I will miss him. I never met the man, but I will miss him dearly.

May God comfort all his children in the McDuffie family for their loss today.

Amen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Perception Is Reality, Pt. 4

This is Black History month, and since I was born during the Civil Rights movement in Memphis, TN - I was 3 years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot - I thought I should share what I could about my family's personal reaction to the racism of the old South.

My father was a gunsmith, and, the day after MLK was shot, everyone wanted a gun, afraid a riot would ensue. It did not, and my dad decided then and there to only use his license privately for personal use. He did not want to fuel the hysteria.

My mother was so adamantly anti-racist that she left the denomination they grew up in due to the bigotry of her pastor. While we ended up going to an all-white church, not once did I ever hear any negative or derogatory comment about blacks there. [I'm old school, BTW - and so is the black pastor who ordained me - we say 'black' and 'white', knowing that in our generation, black was beautiful, black was a symbol of luxury, etc. I hope no one is offended.]

Since my mother grew up in the time of Jim Crow laws, after her 'full conversion' and dedication to Christ, she wrote a poem about her experience under them. She was a school girl.

Bus Ride ‘46

My thoughts had been on other things as
I hurriedly caught the late bus…
Quietly taking a seat, I saw
A lot more of them than of us.

Tired, discouraged, listless and dull
Why do they sway to and fro?
The straps at the top of the bus that they held
Were frayed from being used so….

I realized then that because of me
They couldn’t let go and sit down
I moved to the front as fast as I could
And was greeted up there with a frown.

The bus driver glared at his one white charge
The one white charge took the same tack…
Jim Crow appeased, the people sat down
And Satan laughed from the back.


by N. J. Carmon (c)2011


That was then. "Tired, discouraged, listless and dull.." wrote my mother.
"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn." Proverbs 29:2

What does it mean NOW for black men and women to have a black President? Or when Condoleezza Rice was Secretary of State? When most of the top athletes in the world are black?

It means hope. It means a lot of perception was changed in 50 years. Say what you will about the distance to go, but a lot HAS changed, thank God.

We tend to become the people we are expected to become.
I'm sure there are a LOT of factors, but the way we perceive ourselves and how we are treated manifests in our motivations - or lack of - to succeed, to try to do well.
"When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" Psalm 11:3

I believe that they way you treat a child and the expectations you have of him or her do a VAST deal of molding and crafting in their hearts and minds of what their actual potential IS. So many studies have been done on this and the results are stupefying. People can be 'brainwashed' using peer pressure and other familial/social factors to think of themselves as dumb, lazy, incompetent, smart, entitled, superior, etc.

I had my eyes opened to a very unusual Biblical passage because of this.

When God told the Israelites, who had JUST been freed from the oppressive regime of Egypt, that He would take them to the Promised Land and they would take it over because the former inhabitants had been incredibly wicked, you would have thought they would go "COOL! THAT'S what I'M talking about!!"

But even though they had SEEN God wipe out the Egyptian army, they balked when they heard how BIG the inhabitants were.

They considered themselves FAR too inferior to take such a land. "We seemed like grasshoppers to them - and in our own eyes!"

They had been brainwashed by abuse. It would take ANOTHER generation to rise up to their level of true ability.

Here's the relevant passage:
Numbers 13:26-33
26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Numbers 14
The People Rebel
1 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”


Did you see that the Israelites would RATHER have gone back to SLAVERY [their 'comfort zone'] than be free? They saw themselves as INSECTS?

They are not. They are people chosen by God. But on that day they failed to believe in their worth before Him.

I think we are now getting the TRUE messages and RIGHT messages to the Black community. (While I could not vote for President Obama due to his stance on certain issues, I am VERY glad to have a black President. Heck, if Condoleezza Rice ever runs for President, I'm voting for HER!)

But it took time. Sadly, the past does not disappear overnight.

And, like all injustices we have enabled in our country, let us not forget THIS time of American history, lest we repeat it.

Amen.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Perception is Reality, Pt. 3

Yesterday I spoke on how we perceived God's love for us - and touched on how easy it is to get the wrong message.

A few weeks ago I taught our Tuesday night group on how Jesus was permitting the disciples to pick some grains and eat them on the Sabbath - which every Jew knew was forbidden - you are to REST and not work on the Sabbath. [Even today in Israel, Orthodox Jews are so meticulous in observing this command that elevators are set to AUTOMATICALLY stop on each floor in a hotel, lest by pushing a button - and creating a spark of electricity - you'd violate God's command to not start a fire on the Sabbath. [Exodus 35:1-3]

When we hear this kind of hyper-precision, we may laugh, but we have to admit that these Jews feared God enough to obey Him, and treat His commands as sacred.

Score one for them.

But, truth be told, they overdid it. And in Jesus' day, He showed them they were in the wrong.

My opinion is that God gave such strict commands in the Law to correct and guide a people who had NO country, nor culture, nor standards. They were ex-slaves out of Egypt WHEN they got the 10 Commandments. They did not know HOW to live, WHEN to stop, etc.

And so, God said "Don't!" Don't murder, don't steal, don't lie and for My sake, don't work 7 days a week. Take a break and recover - I stopped to enjoy My own creation after six days - you can too!

But it went from a sweet grace of enforced rest to a binding law that stopped anyone from doing even necessary kindnesses.

Their perception was that these disciples were BAD for 'working' on the Sabbath, when in fact, they are merely grabbing a little snack as they walk by.

And Jesus uses what would be an obscure anecdote to prove his point - that God understands 'exceptions' to a rule, especially when a man honors God and has ALREADY put Him first in his heart - like David did.

Their perception was wrong. They wanted rules and more rules to prove they were right, but God wanted our trust and companionship. When He is getting those - as our Lord Christ IS from His disciples - the rules fade into the background.
___________________________________________________

Jesus Teaches a Better Way to Honor God

The problem with good rules is that they can be perverted into bad rules or so re-interpreted that the reason for the rules has been totally obscured.

A legalist, a perfectionist and a compliant child all have this in common: they are under a great deal of compulsion to PERFORM without question, without understanding the merit of what is commanded.

Daily they pass the tests of life by knowing the answers, but are miserable because they never were told WHY the answers were good in the first place. They know the words to the song but not the tune; they exist without living, fearful of error – and angry when others ‘break the rules.’

We have to agree that we are not immune from Phariseeism simply because we have a better moral behavior: much of our obedience is still out of fear, not love.
And fear tends to generate anger, once it gets past its initial shock. Fear you have been duped – that all your ‘hard work’ is going to be overlooked.

Well, it should be overlooked –our righteousness comes from Christ. We are not God; we are not even Lords. We are disciples – and that means we are learning – and we are never ‘soft on sin’ because of grace for we know what sin does to destroy human souls. Rather we try not to manage the world’s sins, but find those we can heal and release from Satan – any and every day of the week.

Amen.

Luke 6:1-11
1 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2 Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

3 Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 5 Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

6 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 8 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.

9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

10 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

1) What bothered the Pharisees about the disciples getting a little snack?

2) What did Jesus use as His reply? In what context did David commit his deed? Who does Jesus think He is?

3) What method does Jesus use to challenge the Phariseeic interpretation of the Sabbath? How did they react to Jesus healing a man on this day?


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Rules are for children. Relationships are for adults.

When you know Christ personally, you understand the difference.

Amen.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day, with the Father's Love Letter

Valentine's Day was originally a holiday based on St. Valentine [c. 3rd century] but did not become 'romantic' until Chaucer got a hold of it in the Middle Ages I am told.

I think we celebrate it because we all need love. Not just desire it: NEED it. To live, to learn, to grow as human beings.

One of the biggest falling-outs in my life was when a friend took my anger at the mistreatment of a child as a lack of compassion to the incompetent mother. He misunderstood my fury. What I was angered at was how LITTLE the mother LOVED her child - a precious girl who had become a non-functional mute at the age of 8 from her mother's abuse [she had been kept locked up in closet and was found wearing in dirty diapers when child services intervened.] It was horrible.

Child abuse and parental neglect are common evils, I am afraid. So common, that many of us unwittingly ascribe these traits to God. When you hear the question "If God is so good, why is there so much evil in the world?" they do not want the answer: "Because we told Him to leave us alone."

If God seems angry in the Old Testament, you MUST realize the occasions are based on EVIL behavior by His people. They are to lead the world to Him - not lead them to false idols that cannot help.

God says "Do not murder" -and we murder; we also do it with gossip. We can even bully electronically now - "cyber-bullying" - and bring such pressure that a child wants to commit suicide. Will commit suicide.

Children are so easily victims. They do not automatically know how to chose right from wrong: they only know what feels good, feels bad. They have to be taught wisdom and discernment. They accept all messages even if the bearer is false.

We call addicts 'adult children' because of their 'do what feels good' behavior and lack of judgment skills. We know the source of their pain is often in their childhood, and a lack of loving discipline and false messages. We know God can heal that entire arena, but it has to be a 'trust event' - they have to believe God is Good and God Wants to Help.

Do I have research to back this up? I have only my personal experience - and the experience of about 10 million others.

And of course, holy scripture.

LOL -It IS how Jesus makes us feel - SPECIAL!!
[ LOL! This IS how He makes us ALL feel! :) ]

So, if you are hurting this Valentine's Day - or just need a reminder - please watch "The Father's Love Letter" on YouTube.

And for those believers who grew up in rather strict Christian traditions [you know who you are] you may have gotten an overdose of your responsibilities to God, not His response or love to YOU -His amazing grace to YOU.

Please watch and be assured: God loves you. [YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKmdIdQg3Ks ]



Happy Valentines Day, children of God.

Amen.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Perception Is Reality, Pt. 2

First, congrats to the Green Bay Packers, Super Bowl Champions! To follow up my last blog, it means to me that the Chicago Bears were beaten ONLY by the Best of the Best. Frankly, I think its crazy that the Packers won - they lost two MORE men to injury in the Super Bowl - and props to the Steelers - just like their showdown with the Bears, you were watching till the last minute. Again, a failed pass ended the hopes of the underdog.

This was the Packers year, no doubt about it. They lost star players left and right and still won the Super Bowl. Vince Lombardi has come home. Never was it more deserved.

And here in Chicagoland we are still looking out our windows at over 20 inches of snow sitting in piles and berms and double sentries at the ends of our driveways. After all that shoveling, I sat and watched Groundhog Day for the umpteenth time.

It was good again. And what made me cry all over again is how, after Phil's heart has changed, he tries to save an old bum from dying and he can't.

He has opportunity after opportunity to help this man - remember the premise? He's TRAPPED in this day and cannot get out - but it is the completing cycle of his "death to self" or "grieving process." He's gone through Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression, and on his upward turn towards Acceptance, he decides if he cannot live, perhaps he can help others. He can give life to a dying man.

He cannot. He does everything, but he cannot.

He's not in control. He can predict everything that will happen this day, for he's experienced it thousands of times but he cannot change the end results. He cannot change people. He can learn everything about them but he cannot do more with them than they are willing to accept from him [his failed attempt at romancing Rita, for instance].

I think all humans have a bit of this false perception: that somehow, with enough knowledge and wisdom, we can make anything we want to happen. That is the hidden agenda in much government and in our social circles.

This week I watched and heard how many people thought they would NOT be stopped by the blizzard we were certain to have.

Like Phil, they ended up stuck in places they did not want to even be in.

And like Phil, they will repeat that error ad infinitum until God releases them by revelation.

Pray to see, dear readers.

And to learn as quickly as possible.

I am.

Amen.

Frankly, his perception of us, as much as we may disagree, is accurate.