It was a traditional festival day in Jerusalem, the Feast of Weeks, a thanksgving for the wheat harvest, as well as the anniversary of Moses' receiving the Law on Mt Sinai. In Greek, it is called Pentecost, because it is fifty days after Passover. The streets were crowded with pilgrims from many places where Jews had spread. Some of them may have been there for Passover, and made it long holiday, possibly visiting family and friends in Judea. Suddenly, there was a sound like a wind coming from a house in the city, and voices, speaking a variety of languages, with one message. One man raised his voice above the others, with an amazing message. His name was Simon, knows as Cephas, or Peter. The message was the most important one in the world.
This was the first public explanation of something that many people in the crowd had probably seen or heard parts of, but didn't know its importance. They may have seen or heard of a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who said and done astonishing things, claiming to have been sent by God Himself. Some of them may have been in the crowds that had seen Him enter Jerusalem on a donkey just a few weeks earlier; or the crowd that had demanded His death. Some of them might have heard rumors that something odd had happened just a few days after His death. Peter's message was that Jesus, the man that had lived among them, was the promised descendant of David, sent by God, showed the power of God, was sacrificed and resurrected, and is now at the right hand of God.
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Our very first experience of love (or not-love) is our parents. At best, we are surrounded by family that shows us a love that gives us a healthy basis for understanding the love of God and an ability to love others. At worst, we do not have loving people in our lives, which makes it very hard for us to give and take love. Our most basic ideas of what it means to love come not only from the love we receive but the love we observe in those around us. If our parents respect each other, get along well and happily, and obviously care deeply for each other, we have a good starting point to loving relationships in our own lives, as well as well as responding easily to God's love.
Being human, life is not always like that. Even starting out in a loving family does not guarantee successful relationships. I was blessed to grow up with parents who were not "perfect", but who loved God and each other, and wanted the best for me. It hadn't always been like that for my dad, who had a broken marriage in his past. In a way, having had Godly, loving parents had made it look too easy. My mother passed away when I was 17, and shortly after that I met dad's first wife (my brothers’ mother) at a family wedding. We saw her on and off after that, at my brother's family events. Dad began talking to me about that part of his life, not wanting, he said, for me to make the same mistakes. He once said that his first mistake was to think that all married women were like his mother--and that he should have looked at her mother, and how sorry he felt for her dad. One of dad's sisters told me that she was afraid of my brothers' other grandmother. One of my brothers, and my sisters-in-law, also told me about the boys' mom; how things had to be her way despite what anyone else was doing or wanted to do. One of the sisters-in-law went to visit her own folks any time her mother-in-law came to visit saying there wasn't room in one house for both of them. Dad and the boys learned from the whole experience, and my folks, as well as all three brothers and I, had successful, life-long marriages.
My inlaws were another story. Both parents grew up in churches, and normally went to church regularly, but they had very different backgrounds and very different values. Even Middle Eastern Christians are affected by the Arab culture, which does not forget and does not forgive. I learned to recognize recriminations (in Arabic) that were told over and over again, and it became obvious that they did better not living together. Their kids' marriages tended to be rockier as well; there were several divorces, and several that held more or less together out of pure stubbornness. One thing I have noticed in my kids' cousins is that some of them are imitating or tolerating things that were major problems for their parents, seeing love as a package.
It is a challenge to learn the right things from our families. Both our own personal lives, as well as our familyEven the best families aren't perfect--there are things that I appreciate about how my mom raised me, and things that I don't feel were good for me that I avoided doing with my own kids. I appreciate having extended families that are, for the most part, good, God-fearing folks, but still have to make prayerful judgments of what I can forgive and tolerate, and what I should stay out of. We also need to realize that what we do with our lives affects layers of family around us; that families are both the easiest people to love, and the hardest people to love. God gave us families to love, respect, and take care of each other; the ability to do it right if we ask; and at its best, an example of how He loves us and we can love Him.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
Yes, the Bible contains violence and bad behavior, starting from the beginning with the story of Cain (Genesis 3). It is important to note, however, that Scripture is honest; it tells it like it is. It tells both that people have done bad and even violent things, and that these things are judged as sin, and potential death. The good news is that God is merciful, willing to forgive. What is required is recognition of sin, God's right to judge--and His ability to change us.
God is Love, and we are enabled to love because of His love for us. "Love" is not automatic--not even between brothers ! Note that when John (I John 3:12) he goes back to the beginning of God's dealings with us to repeat his teaching about love, he uses Cain as a negative illustration. This one is pretty obvious--but we have many ways of thinking of Love, some better than others. Ask three people, you'll get five definitions.
St Paul, in his beautiful, poetic description of love, also includes more negative illustrations than positive. Looking at them, there is one that is a key to all the others: self-centeredness. One of the traps we can fall into is thinking that one manifestation of love is jealousy--which like most of these, has its focus on our own feelings and what we see as our "rights". The sad thing is that our demanding, envious and suspicious attitude destroys relationships. Being snobby, rude, stuck-up, thinking too much of yourself makes for skewed relationships. Not anything people want to be around.
Anger, holding grudges, gloating over others' misfortunes and misdeeds, and being amused by pushing the envelope of decency and ethics are often compartmentalized in minds of people who see themselves as good friends and family people, can be often very charming when it suits them. Our own self-image gets in the way of loving the way we need to.
The positives are easy to recognize: kindness, truthfulness, patience, hope; but not always easy to practice. We need to remember what C.S. Lewis once wrote: "The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us."
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Many of us like to think of ourselves as "nonconformist", but usually that means conforming to an alternate subculture, other than the larger one that we live in. One example is dress: even if we're "out of fashion" in clothes there is usually some fashion that we are following. I recall going to a baby shower for a niece a few years ago, and noticed that most of the women my daughters' age were wearing some kind of jeans, and most of the older women (many of them Middle Eastern) were wearing black skirts or dresses.
Religious communities have fashions as well; they can range from very old-fashioned and conservative to very casual. In some cases, they are "uniforms"; burkas and kefiyas to shaven heads to pigtails to headdresses and robes of specific types. They are also usually associated with behaviors and values, based on a founder or leader of the tradition. We see this in the early church as well; it would not be surprising to see St Paul becoming not just a mentor but a pattern for the early Church. The problem, however, with other human beings as your pattern is that just that-they are human. Paul was very aware of his shortcomings as a man, so this is how he put it to the Corinthian church: “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (1) Or “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” He was aware that he could not be a good model unless he was following the Best.
John put it like this: “Any who did accept Him, he empowered to become children of God. “(2)What does this mean? “My dear people we are already the children of God. but what we are to be in the future is has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed, we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as he really is. (3)
How does this happen? “Let this mind be in you that is in Christ Jesus. (4) “Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution, so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God's way, in the goodness and holiness of the Truth.” (5) “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed, by the renewing of your mind.; that you may know the will of God, what s good, what is it that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.(6)” Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things on the earth, because you have died , and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed--and He is your life--you too will be revealed in all your glory with Him.” (7)
This is very challenging! We need to remember that we cannot get to this place on our own, or through anything or anyone on earth, no matter how impressive or attractive, however powerful they may seem. This power comes from Jesus the Christ, who came that we may have Life in Him!
(1)I Corinthians 11:1 (2) John 1:12 (3) I John 3:2 (4) Philippians 2:5
(5)Ephesians 4:23 (6) Romans 12:2 (7)Colossians 3:2-4