Sunday, September 28, 2014

This week's lesson (September 27 - October 3): James, the Lord's Brother

Call him "Stretch."

All through his life, you see, James got pushed outside his comfort zone.
  • As a devout Jew, he found it difficult to believe Jesus was the Messiah (cf. Mark 3:32-35).
  • Having accepted Jesus as the Messiah, it would seem that he and his followers found it difficult to believe Gentiles could do the same (cf. Galatians 2:12).
  • And even after James brokered the compromise that let Gentile be Christians (cf. Acts 15:13-29), he still felt pressure from Jewish Christians -- Jewish Christians who followed the Law, and thought Paul should do so too (cf. Acts 21:17-25).
As a leader, in other words, James faced pressure from both sides: Jewish and Gentile, conservative and liberal . . . 
And as a leader, James did his best to bring together both sides. 
Compare the Epistle of James with his speech to the Council in Jerusalem, for instance. Both take place at roughly the same time -- and in both, James emphasizes the need for love and unity in the church.
Not an easy task, then or now.
But then as now, we need people who are willing to make the effort.
Even if it's a stretch. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

This week's lesson (September 20-26): The second coming of Jesus

Someday, I'm going to clean out that closet.

And you know the closet I'm talking about -- everybody has one. It's the closet where you put all the stuff that doesn't really belong anyplace else . . .

The hockey sticks and the umbrella stroller.

The mousetraps and the extension cords.

Your mother's wedding dress, and that giant tub of laundry-detergent you bought at Costco.

Yes, it's all been jammed in there (along with an ever-multiplying number of coat-hangers) -- and someday, you will open the door to that closet, find out what's in there, toss what need's to be tossed, and find a proper home for the rest.

Someday.

But not today.

No, it's easier to keep the door shut -- to keep it shut, and get on with the rest of your life.

In much the same way, I suppose it would be easy enough for God to treat this world like that closet. Yes, He could shut the door. Lock it. Hang a large "Keep Out" sign on it. And let the rest of Creation get on with its life.

But God is not content until every closet door has been opened. Every captive has been freed. And everything that is good and holy and "right" has been put in its proper place.

And if God will do all that at the Second Coming . . .

Then what should we be doing today?

Monday, September 01, 2014

This week's lesson (September 13-19): death and resurrection

The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me -- Galatians 2,:20, NIV.
Life?

Or death?

That was the choice given Janusz Korczak (pronounced "YA-nish KOR-chok").  A famous pediatrician and children's author, he was also the director of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw.

When the Nazis invaded Poland, both he and the children in his orphanage were moved to the Warsaw ghetto.

But when the children were moved to the extermination camp at Treblinka, then Korczak didn't need to go. No, the Resistance gave him a chance to escape -- in fact, it repeatedly gave him the chance to live . . .  

But it couldn't do the same for all the children -- no, some would need to be left behind.

So what would you do -- would you choose life for yourself . . . or would you share the fate of those you love?

Jesus gave his answer at Gethsemane.

And Korczak gave his answer on August 5, 1942 -- for when the soldiers came, and the children were marched to the train station . . . 

Janusz Korczak marched with them.

This week's lesson (September 6-12): the Sabbath

On Sabbath, we dress up.

And no, I'm not talking about the fact that I wear a tie at church.

But just like any good costume party, the Sabbath is a day we pretend to be something else -- or rather, the day we pretend to be somewhere else.
  • Not the Old West of cowboys and cavalry officers.
  • Not the Merry Old England of knights in shining armor.
  • Not even New Jersey with its . . . okay, definitely not New Jersey.
Instead, we spend the day acting as though we are in Heaven -- as though we lived in a place where we are all God's children. That's why:
  • On Sabbath, we pretend everyone is welcome.
  • On Sabbath, we pretend that everyone is important.
  • On Sabbath, we pretend all the things that divide us -- all the differences of race, income, education, and age -- don't matter.
Like children at Halloween, in other words, we can pretend that we are the people we want to be -- that we are people God wants us to be.
And someday, by God's grace, none of this will be just make-believe.
That's why we dress up on Sabbath.
You see, it's not just a day to dress up.

It's also a dress rehearsal.