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August 30, 2017, 12:00 AM

The Eclipse, Jim Bakker, UMCOR, and Grace in the Storm


The recent eclipse was perhaps the most widely photographed and observed celestial phenomenon in human history.  Our area gained international attention because of the longevity of totality, and because we are literally at the crossroads for two total eclipses  The second one will be April 8, 2024.  We are able to predict when it will happen with exacting accuracy.

Both eclipses could have been predicted with the same accuracy 10,000 years ago, if we had known the math then.  It was going to happen no matter what might be transpiring on earth.  The same is true for the next eclipse and every one after it.  It’s like the changing of the seasons, or the phases of the moon.  More rare, and pretty spectacular, but not some kind of unique miracle…just nature being nature.

Even so, we heard some Christian celebrities claim that this event was a warning/judgment from God.  Among these sages was none other than Jim Bakker, who gained infamy for his financial and sexual scandals in the Nineties.  In what is a testament to the gullibility of a portion of the American public, he is back on TV.  Now he sells freeze dried survivalist food and other “end of the world” supplies while hawking a “gospel” filled with fear of the future.

Between sales pitches, Bakker stated, ““God came to me in a dream and said I should tell the world that I am plunging the world into darkness to remind people I’m still mad at the Obama years.  Obama legalized witchcraft, sexual deviants getting married and schools started teaching transgenderism.”

He also seems to think Donald Trump is God’s Anointed Leader, even though someone with a lot of time on their hands checked out the counties where the sun went totally dark, and discovered that the majority of them went for Trump in the election.  Using Bakker’s “logic” wouldn't that mean the Lord plunged them into darkness as a punishment/warning?

Or maybe, it was just nature being nature and not making a political statement, one way of the other.  (I vote for that)

And now, we have Hurricane Harvey which has unloaded over 27,000,000,000,000 gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana, causing catastrophic flooding and misery in states that never voted for Obama.  Bakker…and Bakker’s “God”…have been strangely silent about what he would surely claim was divine retribution if it had fallen on California or New York. 

UPDATE:  Hurricane Irma, the most violent storm in decades, is about to devastate Florida, another Bible Belt state that went for Trump.  And again, Bakker has declared this storm an expression of God's wrath.

Let’s look at what Jesus says… (God) causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t. (Matthew 5: 45)

I’m reminded of the time Pat Robertson claimed that the deadly earthquake in Haiti was a disaster caused by a deal the Haitians’ made with the Devil in order to gain their independence from the French.  Aside from being lousy theology, it was lousy history.  They never made any such deal.

Jesus didn’t go  into the life histories or theologies of the people whom he cured.  He simply stepped-up and dealt with their need and graciously eased their suffering.

We’re seeing all sorts of inspiring stories of people coming to the rescue and aid of the beleaguered people of Texas.  Mattress Mack, the mattress store owner who has provided beds and food in his stores for hundreds of refugees…The Cajun Navy, made up of scores of private boaters who have trolled the flooded neighborhoods of Houston, looking for stranded people…The churches, synagogues, and mosques that have opened their doors to shelter, feed, and comfort the displaced…Individuals ranging from wealthy, high-powered celebrities, to just “average” people who have already raised millions for the relief and rebuilding effort.

The stories of grace and courage are where you are to find God…not in inane and self-righteous claims of divine judgment on people you happen to dislike.

I am proud that the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is considered one of the foremost disaster relief organizations in the world.  I have personally worked with the in the aftermath of flooding, hurricanes, a tornado, and even a nuclear disaster (Chernobyl).  I have seen their integrity, efficiency, and ability.

They are not only among to first into a disaster scene, they are among the last out…and that is particularly important.  A catastrophe like the one unfolding in Texas will take years to fully repair.  UMCOR will be there, for years.

A friend of mine once participated in a joint UMCOR/Habitat project in Florida, a year or more  after Hurricane Andrew.  At one point, he was delegated to get lunch supplies and went to a 711 that had reopened nearby to get them.  As he plopped supplies to prepare lunch for a dozen or more people the clerk commented that he must be cooking for something special.

My friend explained that he was with a church group from West Virginia, working on building a house.  The clerk smiled and said, “You must be a Methodist. Because only the Methodists are still here.”

THAT, Mr. Bakker, is the work of God by the people of God.  Not testy judgments and selling crappy, freeze dried snacks for Aramgeddon.  It has nothing to do with who is or isn’t president.  It has everything to do with grace and courage in the face of nature which brings rain and sun without favor, as Jesus himself pointed out.

And I recommend for your support, the heroic and capable United Methodist Committee on Relief.  Every cent you donate will go directly toward the Hurricane Harvey relief effort.  The low administrative costs of the organization are already covered.  Thanks to unselfish professionals and a lot of caring volunteers, UMCOR does the job with effectiveness and efficiency.  And their only question to the stricken will be, “How can we help you?”  Believers and non-believers, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, people of every creed and color will receive help in the name of Jesus Christ.  Because that’s how he did it.

For people seeking grace in the storm, Jesus is present in people who show his love in practical, powerful, and courageous ways.  UMCOR is doing that, and I invite you to support them by going to their website and making a donation.  You will make a difference.

 

 




July 17, 2017, 2:39 PM

Check out our Vacation Bible School!


We invite all children between the ages of 4-12 to learn about God’s love for them and all Creation!
 
Friday, July 21 5:30-8 Part One starts with a free dinner for the entire family
 
Saturday, July 22 10:00-12:00 This session  concludes with lunch for the entire family.
 
Friday, July 28 5:30-8 Part Two starts with  a free dinner for the entire family.
 
Saturday, July 22 10:00-12:00 Final session.
 
Join in the learning, play, and fun, as we  grow in Christ and care for Creation!



June 5, 2017, 12:00 AM

Weather and Repentance


I recently read about Congressman Tim Walberg who is skeptical that humans are contributing in any significant way to climate change and pretty much opposes any legislation aimed toward curbing carbon emissions, which the overwhelming majority of climate scientists declare are altering the planet’s weather.

But, Walberg hedges his bets, by saying that IF global warming is real and being driven by human activity,  he is confident that God will just fix it and we don’t have to worry about it.  His actual words were… “Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, He can take care of it.”

His remark reminded me of a notorious interview with a senatorial candidate in Missouri who said that in cases of rape, a woman’s body had some sort of defense mechanism that would prevent her from getting pregnant, as a result.  It was a ludicrous statement based in magical thinking rather than fact or science, and it cost the man the election.

Walberg essentially holds that if humans are being irresponsible about the world which God has given them, God will simply fix it.  The implication is that this “fix” will be basically miraculous and painless.  It certainly won’t require us to alter our lifestyles in any significant way.  We will be able to keep on doing what we have been doing and God will just clean up after us.

As the Church Lady used the say on Saturday Night Live..."Well, isn;t that conveeeenient?"

As a Christian, Rep. Walberg should be familiar with the concept of repentance.

To repent is not just to express regret for prior misdeeds.  It is to change your ways.  The Greek word in the New Testament for repentance was “metanoia” and it meant to change one’s mind in a way that changes your actions.

Walberg may be correct that the ecosystems of our planet have a powerful self-correcting mode.  But the odds are that if it kicks in, it won’t be at all pleasant.

When you knock nature out of balance, the process of getting it back there is inevitably messy and often cruel. And, it is always the poor and weak who are hardest hit.  The sort of people for whom Jesus was most concerned.

And sometimes, there is no fix.

There is an old joke about a lumberjack who is applying for a job.  His would-be employer asks, “How good are you at cutting down trees?”

“There’s no one better,” responds the lumberjack.

“Okay,” says the skeptical hiring manager, “Where have you worked in the past?”

“The Sahara Forest!” the lumberjack proudly responds.

“Ha!  The Sahara is a desert!” retorted the manager.

“It is now!” answered the lumberjack.

That’s a joke…but not as big a one as you think.  Back during the days of the Roman Empire, much of what is now the Sahara (Arabic for “desert”) was forest.  But it was cut down to build cities and ships for the empire.  The resulting deforestation created the desert we see today and which has existed for millennia.  It still isn't fixed.

The same mechanism threatened to turn vast parts of the Unted States into wasteland in the 1920s, until the government stepped in and instituted polices and offered programs which effectively put an end to the Dust Bowl.  I like to think God fixed the problem by providing wise people who realized that common practices had to change or the country would starve.  But it required hard work and massive change in both thinking and behavior.

The planetary ecosystem is responding to our activities with increasingly deadly heat waves that have killed thousands and rendered large agricultural areas desolate in places like India and the Middle East.  We saw something similar in California for several years.  Storm systems are growing stronger, and a whole range of natural systems are being altered in ways that has even the Pentagon says that climate change is going to cause global political destabilization and war.

The Pentagon isn’t known for its hippy tree-huggers.

But, so long as we continue our addiction to fossil fuels and wasteful living, the situation will worsen.  The result could be war and famine…which might radically reduce the population and thus “fix” the problem, but not in a way that most of us would desire.  Especially if our children and grandchildren are the ones who get “fixed.”  I wonder if Congressman Walberg would find that acceptable?

The idea that God will simply swoop in and painlessly relieve the consequences of our selfishness and failure to be proper stewards of the wondrous world we have been given hardly comports with any biblical teaching I know.  After all, the Apostle Paul warned, “The wages of sin is death.”  Which is a long way from, “Don’t worry, God will just fix it.  No need to change your ways.”

Instead, God calls us to repentance and always to responsibility and humility.  We cannot just burn up the world because we find it inconvenient and costly not to do so.  We cannot ignore the command to love our neighbors (which means not poisoning and polluting the world we share) and assume God will just let us act like spoiled, selfish vandals without facing the consequences of our actions.

I can’t see anything in Jesus’ teachings which allow for such behavior, even if the Congressman and others do.

There are some Christians who like to say, “The Earth is not my home!” as though that grants them license to treat it as their garbage dump, instead.  But, Jesus made it pretty clear that we will be held to accounts over the way we treated one another, and blithely trashing the glorious creation God has given us, does not strike me as any kind of virtue for which we will gain eternal approval.

Being proper stewards of creation requires responsibility and a measure of sacrifice for the sake of others, including those who are yet unborn.  I am frankly mystified by those who claim to care so much for the unborn when they’re still in utero, but are unwilling to expend the same passion for insuring those children and their children  have a safe and livable environment once the hit the atmosphere.

For millennia, much of the human race has acted as though the Earth is an inexhaustible resource.  But it is finite, like we who draw our life from it.  It is time we repent of that attitude.  It is time to realize we love one another by protecting and preserving the world we all share.  This is love of neighbor.  And if that doesn’t move you…it is also love of self.  It is also respect for the One who created the world.

If we refuse to do that out of greed, laziness, and lack of vision, then it’s hard to see why God would offer us an easy fix for our self-inflicted crisis, because we will have failed to take the first step toward salvation…Repentance.




April 5, 2017, 8:16 PM

Dark Energy and the Risen Lord


I recently watched a television documentary which focused on the events leading up to the death of Jesus.  It offered some interesting theories and a radically altered timeline, which posited the idea that he was actually in Jerusalem for up to six months between his entry into the city, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday, and his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

It’s an interesting theory, though I don’t think it affects the story that much.

The documentary ends with Jesus’ death and states that his followers continued to share his message “in his memory.”  They don’t even mention the fantastic claim his disciples made about Jesus being raised from death at the end of their narrative.

They offer no explanation as to why the disciples would make such an outlandish proclamation.

Yet, saying Jesus had been raised was a mortally dangerous enterprise.  To claim that God had raised a man whom Rome had put to death for political subversion, and whom the religious establishment of Israel had condemned as a blasphemer, was profoundly hazardous.  Whereas, if they had simply said, “Jesus’  teachings and example are so powerful that it is like he is still alive” they would saved themselves  enormous  danger, difficulty…and some pretty gruesome deaths.

Still, they persisted in making this wild and dangerous claim about a man whom the religious and political establishments and popular opinion had utterly and bloodily rejected.  There is quite literally no other person in history whose career ended so disastrously and who has ended up being worshipped by billions.  How do you explain that?

It’s worth noting that there really was no expectation that the Messiah would be put to death in an ignominious way, or that he would be resurrected.  In fact, a significant segment of the Jewish population, the Sadduccees,  denied that resurrection would happen for anybody.  So it wasn’t like Jesus’ followers simply latched on to some already existing popular notion of how the Messiah was supposed to work and grafted Jesus into.  He was waaaaay outside of the box.  He simply wasn’t what anybody was expecting.  So his followers really had to swim against the tide to convince people that Jesus was the Risen Christ.

But, still they persisted and insisted that was what had happened, in spite of widespread skepticism and lethal hostility.

No other person who claimed to be the Messiah, or whose followers made such a claim, ever got any traction.  In this, Jesus is utterly unique in the history of the human race.

Despite what seemed to be total rejection and catastrophic defeat, he alone is still proclaimed as God’s Anointed…the Living Son of the Living God.

The documentary I saw had a lot of excellent historical detail and background in it, and worked hard to explain the events leading up to Jesus’ death. While I am not sure I buy all their premises,  I think they are worthy of consideration.  But, in the end, the producers found themselves confronting a mystery for which they had no easy explanation…so they basically ignored it.

Why do we remember this guy?

At least some of the people who produced the documentary  were clearly not Christians.  Yet, they put a lot of labor and thought into this production, and not just to  debunk the story.  But why bother with it at all, unless even nonbelievers, skeptics, and agnostics must acknowledge that this mysterious character has an effect on all of us, even twenty centuries later?

Something happened that pivoted history, and Jesus was at the center of it.

Try as we might to explain him away, and tame him to conform to our social, cultural, and ideological biases, the man just won’t be contained or easily defined.  He defies us all.

Those who claim to be his friends and those who declare themselves his foes have done their damnedest  to discredit and dismiss this Galilean hillbilly carpenter who was raised in a jerkwater little burg in an obscure part of an empire that didn’t even break a sweat when it crushed him.

But he simply would not stay crushed.  And, people dangerously proclaimed that he was…and is….much more than a sainted memory.

I am a space geek and fascinated by astrophysics and cosmology (the study of the nature and origin of the universe).  A couple decades ago, many scientists thought they had a pretty good bead on a thorough understanding of the workings of the universe.  Just a few questions remained and confidence was high that we would soon answer them.

 But then, that confidence was shattered with the discovery of “dark matter” and “dark energy.”  We call them “dark” because we honest-to-God don’t know what they are made of.  We don’t so much see this matter and energy as we see their effects.  We know (at least we think we know) they are out there, but we don’t know what they are.  It’s  like seeing the effects of wind, without being able to see the air.  In fact, it now seems likely that over 95% of the universe is made this dark stuff!

Astrophysics and cosmology have had to go back to the drawing board in a significant way.  The very fabric of reality has become enmeshed in deep mystery, just as we thought we had it all figured out.

Scholars, skeptics, and believers all have unanswered questions about Jesus.  And like the universe which seems to refuse being figured out, Jesus is bigger than our ideas about him…elusive, powerful, compelling…alive.

If you ask me what I believe happened that Sunday morning after the crucifixion and gory death of Jesus, I will readily confess that I cannot know for certain.  But, as perplexing and implausible as his walking out of that tomb may seem, the other “explanations” for his lasting power and presence don’t really work any better.

I believe he rose.  What I know is that the grave could not and does not contain him.  He still challenges and comforts us in astonishing ways.  That makes him alive enough for me to say, “Christ IS Risen!”




January 26, 2017, 11:45 AM

Worship That Respects People With Autism


Jesus was all about including the excluded.

That is also supposed to be the work of the church. 

We are called to love and care for people who are often considered “high maintenance” by most of society.  People who are too often excluded because they are different and sometimes difficult.

In the last church I served, there was a wonderful young family that faced the challenges of raising two boys with autism.  One was pretty high functioning, the other was less so.

Their mother would bring the son who was more comfortable among people to a small service we held on Saturdays which was much more intimate and informal.  I put him to work operating the computer for our video presentations, and he loved feeling useful.

But, the other son, would still have had difficulty in either that service or the more conventional one we had on Sunday morning.  So, his father stayed home with him.

It always frustrated me that the family had to split up for worship, and that we didn’t have a good way to get through to that boy, who still needed to know that he was loved and valuable.  We weren’t intentionally excluding him.  There was certainly no one who wished to reject him.  But, neither we nor his parents, knew of a good way to include him.

Recently, a friend told me about a program called “Rhythms of Grace” which was developed in the Episcopal Church.  There are not a lot of churches that use this curriculum, and none are listed in Illinois.  But, I am in touch with a church in Houston that has been using the material for over a year, nd they are happy to help us with advice born of practical experience.

Now, the question is…Are there people in our area who would avail themselves of a monthly worship service specifically designed for people with autism?

Because of confidentiality rules, and church and state standards, we cannot go to the schools and ask for lists of children with autism and their families, nor can we advertise in them.

Fortunately, The Autism Program (TAP) at SIU serves many families with autistic members and they have agreed to post some information letting clients know that our church may create a special worship for people with autism, if they will contact us and let us know they are interested.

While there would be few people in the immediate Tri-C area who would need such services, there may be several within a few minutes’ drive of Carterville who would appreciate a chance to nourish themselves spiritually and be part of a fellowship which cares about them and their children.

We will see.

If you know anyone who might desire this service, please have them contact the church.  They can e-mail us at cartervillefirtumc@frontier.com

Jesus welcomes and embraced people whom most folks in his time ignored or outright rejected.  He refused to write anyone off as too imperfect, too damaged, too faulty to be loved.  As people who seek to follow him, we need to make a point of not simply passively “welcoming” such people, but actively seeking them out, to let them know they are among the beloved.

To do so is not just good for their souls.  It’s good for ours!


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