Monday, October 31, 2011

Excommunicated OR Dismissed People (Luke 4:18-19, John 16:2-4)

If you watch closely, you can observe an alarming thing about human nature. The thing to notice is how readily and easily people dismiss other people. We overlook them, look beyond them, look around them, and refuse to look at them as they are, or just never see them. Or, seeing them, we dismiss or excommunicated them as non-essential or unnecessary.

Those of us who seek to follow the way of Jesus Christ, have much to learn about ourselves in regard to dismissed (excommunicated) people. Have we stopped to consider how deeply dismissing people affects us all? Have we taken into full account the response and call of Jesus Christ to dismissed persons? Could it be that our salvation, both here and hereafter is wrapped up in how we respond to the strangers, the outcasts, the foreigners – any of “those” people who invade our private spaces, interrupt our personal agendas, and un-settle our comfort zones?

I don’t like to think of myself as a dismissing person, as a discriminating person. Nor do I like to think of my friends, or country, or fellow humanity as dismissers of people; nor of the Church in which I serve. However, I am convinced we all, on a day-to-day basis, engage in acts of dismissal and prejudging.

Recently, I asked a friend about her nephew, an artist, a man I knew to be emotionally fragile and a concern of my friend’s family for several years. I simply asked, “How is he doing?” I was not at all prepared for what I heard. “Sam is so messed up,” she said. “He is a basket case. He can’t even hold a job. You should see his paintings! They’re so out of it. It’s like his insides exploded on the canvas. What a waste of talent!”
It’s astonishing that we dismiss people so easily. As if, with a wave of a hand, a person could be swept away. As if to say, “You don’t matter.”

If people fall into one of our stereotyped categories, they are subject to being dismissed – old, poor, dumb, homeless, mentally ill, AIDS-infected, yuppie, middle class. A past president of the United States unfairly dismissed everyone receiving welfare assistance as “a faceless mass waiting for a handout.”

We can be subtle and “socially acceptable” in dismissal. Consider a flashing glance, an avoiding turn of the head, silent aggression.

Surely, we ourselves feel dismissed in one way or another, at one time or another. We bear the heavy weight of dismissal of our person, our ideas, our efforts, or our concerns. The basic human need for significance and belonging is denied. In a competitive world looking for finished and marketable products sometimes our good ideas or significant thoughts seen to be swept aside, insignificant, dismissed.   
Why are people dismissed or excommunicated? The following are some reasons –

3.1.  People are bound to be dismissed because, in a consumer economy, people are valued for their purchasing power. Those who have little money or who don’t matter to a particular industry are considered “marginal” or unrelated and irrelevant.

3.2.  People are dismissed because we don’t think they can be fixed. If we don’t think deeply seated personal and social issues can be effectively addressed, then we dismiss – wholesale – entire segments of our local and world populations.

3.3.   We dismiss people when we mis-define them. The only way we can dismiss people is by mis-defining them. As long as Christians simply go along with a primarily economic or humanistic assessment of human life, we will dismiss people.

4.1.  Jesus recognized that many people had been mis-defined and dismissed and excommunicated, and Jesus wants us to know that, He gave His life in ministry to dismissed and outcaste people.
4.2.  Jesus will call His followers to account for how they responded to dismissal persons. According to Matthew 25:31-46, the son of Man’s last public statement will call all people to account for identity with the response to the dismissed and excommunicated, in which Jesus Christ identifies himself, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (v.40).

5.1.  Jesus seemed to be making the point that needs to be made today – while it is a common to dismiss people, people cannot be dismissed. Not for their sake, nor for our sake. The number of homeless, mentally ill, illiterate, crime-recorded children living in poverty in the world is staggering. But they are not going away because we get tired of hearing about them on the six o’clock news.

 Dismissal seems to be an attempt to deny the sins and injustices that pervade our world; an attempt to sweep under the carpet the glaring needs that we feel over-whelm us. Dismissed people are symptomatic of a death-driven society.

5.2.  The economic and social cost of dismissing people comes high. Incarceration and so-called rehabilitation runs 20-1 over preventive costs. Yet there is little funding for preventive care, the money is used to build bigger prisons. Dismiss a person today, and you will deal with her or him again at a deeper, more troublesome level.
5.3.  The Spiritual and personal cost of dismissing people comes high. Aside from national and economic costs of dismissing people, there is a personal cost. In dismissing people, we dismiss a part of ourselves. When we turn away from a person, we turn away from ourselves. When we alienate a person, we become alienated from ourselves to a greater degree.

Sociologist Parker Palmer, to whom I am indebted for this insight, makes the following observation (The Company of Strangers, p.66):-  
 By turning away from ‘the least of these’ we re-inforce our fear that someday we will find ourselves in their place, and that others will turn away from us…we reatreat from the stranger because we want to avoid that awfil knowledge of our world, and of our place in it. And as we do so, we create another self-fulfilling prophecy, as we avoid the stranger to avoidbeing reminded of our own isolation, we create a world in which our isolation deepens”

6.1.  Dismissed persons have a saving role in our lives. The Old Testaments are rich with imagery of the saving role of the stranger for the people of God. The writer of Hebrews counseled, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (13:2).
6.2.  There is a surprise gift when we respond to the dismissed persons. Here is the surprise gift of compassion – when we withhold judgment and respond with our heart to the stranger, we receive infinitely more that we can give. Persons we would otherwise dismiss bear keys to opening up and recovering our fearful, hidden self.
6.3.  The point of addressing dismissed persons is the point of identity. We must remember that Jesus did not merely point to or stoop to relieve the dismissed, but identified himself with the sick, the prisoners, the strangers, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt.25:40).
Michael Card, a contemporary Christian musician with a graduate degree in biblical literature, submits his lyrics to the scrutiny of the religion faculty of Vanderbilt University. He tells in his concerts how he wrote the song, “In His Distressing Disguise.” Washing dishes at an inner-city mission in Nashville, Card looked out from the kitchen into the dining area and saw a momentary vision. A mission volunteer and a homeless man were talking to each other. To Card’s eyes, just for a moment, it appeared as if the mission worker became Jesus Christ to the homeless man. At the same time, it appeared as if the homeless man became Jesus to the mission volunteer. That is the solidarity, that is the identity Jesus invites us to embody.    

The Excommunication of President Noynoy Aquino by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is note-worthy (See Excommunication? READ 188 The News Around Eastern Visayas. Leyte Samar Daily Express, Tel.321-4833,,

“Excommunication refers to the exclusion of a person from the community of the church for misconduct. It is the most severe penalty that the Catholic-Church may inflict to an erring member. The consequences that follow if a faithful is excommunicated include that of denying him/her participation in the Holy Mass; deprived of the benefits of the Holy Eucharist and not included anymore in the prayers of the entire Catholic Community during masses and the liturgy.  

It is heartwarming to note that a day after the possible excommunication of the President that hugged the headlines last Friday on the family planning issues aired by a Bishop the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) made a statement that there will be no such threat on President Noynoy Aquino being excommunicated. The CBCP probably realized that it will create more problems among the faithful and for themselves if they do it. One is, if they do that to the President alone they will come out as very selective handing down verdicts.
They know pretty well that many Catholics Christian believers have committed misconduct one way or the other way as members of the church. There are even priests who have sired children a violation of their sacred vows of chastity but continue to serve as pastors of the church. No excommunication proceedings have been initiated. And if the Roman Catholics hierarchy is serious in their delisting of followers because of misconduct as members, the churches will be transformed into ghost houses.”

As I wake up to the fact of the many dismissed people who surround me, and to the wholesale dismissal that runs literally unchecked at every level of society, I am stunned; stunned, but not paralyzed.

Because of the grace of God, there is a way to respond. Here is the place I begin, and this is the place I challenge you to begin, with repentance. Repentance for dismissing people! Repentance for overlooking and closing our eyes in dismissal! Repentance for silently going along with a society that, in its sickness, expends people like junk cars!

Then, to quote John the Baptist, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Begin to name people and know their stories. Though they may not be numbered in statistics of governments or churches, in Christ they have a name and are beloved to us.

Begin to offer hospitality, which is making room for the stranger in our midst. Allow Jesus to be the Bridge between us as mutual strangers. In His love become friends. Begin to make your personal and spiritual resources, whatever they may be available in redeeming embrace of the dismissed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Our Victory in Christ Jesus (Rom.8:14-34)

The Lord made you, the Lord loves you, do not be afraid,
the waters will not overflow you, the fire will not scorch you!”


Every Christian has received a measure of Resurrection power. God intends for this power and purity, through the intervention of the Holy Spirit, to provide a balanced life of victory and blessing. A vital Christian utilizes this power from God to control the negative things in his life and to increase spiritual things, so that spiritual growth takes place through both avenues – putting away evil and living in the positive. On this special day, remember that God has Victory for You.


2.1.   We Have Been Adopted: This is the victory of belonging to the family of God. We are all happy for the privilege. Because we have been adopted, we have been given position and possession, prestige and blessing. We have become heirs of all that God has. Adoption is a unique thing. One family with two adopted children told their children that God chose them specially. The daughter, in grade school, used to tell everybody, “You folks had to take what they got, but my folks looked around and got the best.”
2.2.    We are led by the Spirit of God in His family (v.14).
2.3.    We have received an inner witness of belonging to God’s family (v.16).
2.4.   We receive a powerful inheritance because we are adopted into the family of God (v.17). We belong to God as His dear children. There is sonship, fellowship, and heirship in this wonderful family involvement.


3.1.   Christians are caught between two worlds. We live in this world and the world to come, the world where our hearts have already been adopted. There is a terrible tension between the world that we live in and the world that we have already made a commitment to in love. Because we are in God’s family, we don’t belong to this present world. We don’t belong to its values. Its habits, its practices, its attitudes, or its feelings! We are caught in a stretching, tension-filled situation. We literally groan within to be set free from the bondage that this world imposes on those who know Jesus and who are new creations in Him (v.23).
3.2.   In this tension and this groaning we have a hope (v.24).  We are part of God’s process of bringing the new world to pass and making it happen.
3.3.   We have a victory. Suffering is the inevitable experience of belonging to God. A faithful life brings trial, suffering, hardship, persecution. As we look around us, in the world of politics, the world of economics, the world of moral ethics, the world of poverty, the world of pollution, there are so many things that we groan about. We care, we concerned, we feel helpless sometimes to do anything. There is this inward groaning. If we could only live in a positive world.
3.4.   We have a glory (v.18). God reveals His radiance in us. That radiance is comprised of hope, faith, personal belonging, and the gradually increasing likeness to Christ Himself.

       Romans 8 has some very powerful and unique things to say about prayer.
4.1.   We are weak in prayer. That’s one of the places we are powerless.
4.2.   The Spirit helps our weakness (v.26). We have to overcome that weakness of actually getting started and doing something about praying. The Holy Spirit prompts and goads and reminds us. One deeply committed Christian brother shared that the Holy Spirit will not let him read the morning paper until he has read his Bible. The Spirit will not let him talk to someone else until he has talked to God.
This simple priority is a part of the Holy Spirit helping in weakness. This counter-acts the tendency to jump up and jump into the day; to jump into your job and jump into the list that you have made the day before of all the things you are going to get done that day.
There is also the weakness of inadequate words. We don’t know what to say. We have jumbled thoughts. So the Holy Spirit “intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words” (v.26, NASB). When we have a burden for prayer but cannot put it into words, we may be praying more deeply and more effectively that at any other time in our spiritual experience. When your mind is crowded with cares and concerns, prayer may seem like a futile endeavor. That’s when you need to turn to your “Prayer Prompter” whom God has provided to help you pray when words won’t come.
The other day, a friend of mine went to prayer semi-depressed and fatigued but brought his prayer list and a blank which to write prayers and answers.  He got his Bible, knelt at the altar, and said. “Lord, I need a boost; I need a little help; I need a new word from You.” The Lord directed him to the Come Ye Apart magazine devotional for the day. The powerful promises of Isaiah 43 became new and true all over again: “The Lord made you, the Lord loves you, do not be afraid, the waters will not overflow you, the fire will not scorch you!” The Spirit was helping his weakness. The Spirit was leading him to the place in God’s Word where new faith and new hope were available.
4.3.   The Spirit searches our hearts (v.27).  The Holy Spirit knows what’s in there. He looks for it and brings it to our remembrance.
4.4.   The Spirit works mightily in everything (v.28).  There are two conditions for fulfilling this powerful promise. God is able to make all things work together for good to those who love Him and those who are obedient to His call. It does not say that everything turns out for our best, it says that “God makes everything come out for the good.”  Sometimes God considers “the good” a little differently than we do. It is not just physical health, material wealth. Or emotional wholeness that God sees as good. For God, “the good” is being made conformed to the image of His Son (v.29). That’s good! That’s what God is at work trying to do within us.
4.5.   The Spirit brings out the best.  The Holy Spirit is shaping Christ’s image in us (v.29).
4.6.   The Spirit will glorify us, and we will glorify Him (v.30). Our ultimate duty is, to glorify the Triune God.

5.1.   If God is for us, then it doesn’t matter who is against us. It can’t matter because no one can beat the Almighty God (v.31).
5.2.   God spares nothing for us (v.32).  God the Father has not spared His own Son, and He is not going to start now putting us on a pinch-penny program of grace.  He will give us all that we need in order to make us all that He wants us to be.
5.3.   God answers all charges against us (v.32).  Let me bring out the heart-touching testimony of a missionary’s wife. When she was in school, facing economic pressure, instead of trusting God, she had gone the route of selfishness, self-seeking, and solving her own problems. She had taken hundreds of dollars from her employer for her salary, even as she skipped for several months. Then she told how God’s Holy Spirit dealt with her. She went back to her employer and told him exactly what had happened and why, and the exact amount she had taken for her salary, she signed a contract to pay it all back. God began to use a talent she had for art.
God began to pour His Holy Spirit through those pictures that she drew, and they became saleable items. She earned back the money that she needed. After the service someone came up to her and said, “You are a missionary’s wife. You are telling us that you used to be a thief and a cheater. How can you do that?” The missionary’s wife replied, “All is forgiven, and there is no longer anything to hide. If there is nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear.”

At the moment that we are honest before God, we receive His blessings and His power. He answers all charges against us.
5.4.   Christ died for us, and He was raised; He ever lives, and He intercedes for us (v.34).  What do you need to pray in order to have victory? If you knelt at the altar to pray, and you felt that Jesus had come and knelt beside you, and He began to pray for you, what would you overhear Jesus saying to the Father that He wanted to happen in your life? It may be that on this special day you are ready to invite the Holy Spirit to fill your heart!
When John Hyde boarded the ship to go from England to India for his missionary tour, he was handed a telegram. He opened it hurriedly on the desk of the ship. The only words in the telegram were, “John Hyde, are you filled with the Spirit of God?”  The note aroused Hyde’s anger. He crumpled the paper, put it into his pocket, and went to bed.

Unable to sleep, he tossed and turned all night. He arose from bed in the early morning hours, took the piece of paper out of his pocket, and read it again. He thought, “The audacity of somebody to ask me that question, ‘Am I filled with the Holy Spirit?’ Here I am a missionary, sincere, dedicated, leaving my home and going to another country. How dare someone ask me if I am filled with the Spirit.”  

Suddenly, Hyde’s spirit was touched by the challenge of the note. He fell to his knee before the Father. “O God” he cried out, “the audacity of me to think that I could pray or preach or witness or live or serve or do anything in my own strength. Fill me with Your power.”

John Hyde became one of the great missionary states men of all time (Brian L. Harbour, Living Expectantly. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1990).

       Whatever you are praying for this morning, imagine that Jesus is right there beside you. Ask Him to lead you in your prayer. Listen to what Jesus asks the Father for you for He intercedes for us! God has victory in Christ for us! When we hear what Jesus wants for us, and we realize that He has already bought all that is necessary for those prayers to be answered by His own grace and power, something happens in us. We have the victory of divine authority. God’s intervening and interceding begins to make an impact on us for His glory and for our good.  

      Pray with me,
 Merciful and gracious loving Father, thank you that, even when confusion reigns and words won’t come, Your Holy Spirit is there, communicating my human hurts. Though I cannot always speak my mind, thank you that you always hear my heart. That’s part of the joy of being your child. Amen.”


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

If You Are Hated, You Might Be On The Right Track (Luke 6:17-26)

A few years back, I watched several minutes of a televised interview with politicians, all of the United States. They were asked tough, pointed questions that could have easily been answered with a yes or no. not one of them offered an easy, understandable response. Skillfully they answered “hot button” questions that they hadn’t been asked, avoiding the simple queries.

One politician was asked, “Is it true that you had an affair?” The candidate fussed with semantics, suggested that the past was past and that he enjoyed the support of his wife, and told that America needed to lower taxes, help the poor, and implement medical coverage for everyone. Did he or didn’t he?

Why didn’t they answer the questions yes or no? One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to answer that. They wanted to address the kinds of topics the public wanted to hear. They only do that by controlling the interview.

The following morning, the city paper gave the interview as little attention as a recycling program. No one expected them to answer the questions. The candidates’ primary aim was to please the audience in hopes that that would translate into votes.

How odd of Jesus, advancing a new kingdom, to say what He said. He didn’t throw out crowd-pleasing tidbits. He talked in puzzling, upsetting, nonsensical ways about pertinent matters. The text, Luke 6:17-26 covers what some call the “Sermon on the Plain.” It has considerable differences with Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Volumes have been written on these passages given to disciples in the hearing of a larger crowd. Luke 6:22-23 and 26 will serve as a typical example of Jesus’ teaching.

Blessed” refers to the deep, religious joy that is the consequence of one’s participation in the kingdom of God. One doubts the disciples could have imagined the things Jesus said would produce such an experience. Friends of ours who recently returned from a mini-vacation called to say, “Hello!” the first thing out of their mouths was, “You want to know where to go for a great time?” I bit, “Where?” “Sanibell Island” they replied. I expected them to say Hawaii, the Caribbean, or some such exotic place. On the other hand, I would have been floored if they had said, “Go do hard labor in a prison camp. It’s great.”

Jesus was saying things that made no sense. Jesus said one will have joy when one is hated. I wonder how many heard the rest of the story. I can’t think of a soul who enjoys being hated. I can think of a whole flock who would do anything to be loved! I drove past a high school the other morning about 8:30 A.M. as I pulled up to a traffic, I noticed a hew high school students standing in front of the school. One girl has on what appeared to be a cross between a David Bowie suit and a Madonna hairstyle. She looked pitiful and lonely. I wondered if she was saying, “All right, gang, will you love me now?” One will experience joy in the face of overwhelming odds if one is hated for the sake of the Son of Man.

Jesus said one will have joy when, as a result of being hated, one is ostracized. Jewish converts to Christianity had been excommunicated from synagogues and banned by their own blood relatives. Merely confessing Jesus to be Messiah was grounds for ouster (John 9:22). I met a deeply devoted woman who had been a regular church goer for over 20 years in the same church in which she was raised. In her late teen years, she married her childhood sweetheart. They eventually had two children. For reasons I will never know, her spouse abused her, and she finally left him in fear of her life. The church, as she reported it, benched her from ministry since she didn’t have “biblical grounds” for leaving him. She wept openly and told me how she felt, being ostracized from her church family. After some time, she dropped out. Ostracism wasn’t an occasion for joy.

Jesus said one would experience joy when insulted. The crowd must have questioned His sanity! “You will experience joy when you are hissed off the stage and your reputation mocked.” A television program attempted to launch persons into stardom. Serious contenders sang or performed in front of a live audience who had the prerogative to hiss and boo if they didn’t like what they saw or heard. It must be devastating to be mocked and ridiculed right off the stage.

When one is hated, ostracized, insulted, and one’s reputation ruined, take heart if it is for the sake of the Son of Man. If the Son of Man was rejected, those who follow Him can expect the same kind of reception. It did happen (John 16:2), and it will happen again, remember this words,

          They shall ex-communicate you from the church (put you out of the synagogues); yea, the time  cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.” (John 16:2-4).

Jesus Christ does not give mere lip service to keeping one’s chin up in tough times. He does not stop with positive attitude or a “can do” spirit talk. He says that when folks are persecuted for His name’s sake, they can leap for joy. A commercial jingle went something like this, “I love what you do for me, Toyota!” in the background, a variety of folks were jumping up in the air, kicking their heals.

Even from the lips of Jesus Christ, it is so difficult to understand joy in the face of rejection and abusive treatment. Jesus Christ offered 2 reasons that we could leap:-

2.2.1. Leap because you have a heavenly reward in store:- Jesus was saying, “Discipleship is not one grand picnic, but when times are tough, know that there is a final chapter about which your persecutors do not know.” Talk of immorality was not household conversation. Many of the crowd did not believe in the resurrection. So His talk of heaven was one more confusing part.

2.2.2. Leap because you are being linked with the prophets who were mistreated and persecuted too:- The messengers were hated because of the message.

Who does not want to have a good reputation? Who does not give himself diligently to shaping and managing perceptions to insure that a reputation gained is a reputation kept? Jesus Christ was quick to say, though, that Joe Public spoke well of false prophets. If you want to be like the truth-telling prophets and the Son of Man, expect to be hated. Since one may compare with a false prophet, it helps to know if that is a compliment or an insult. The scene of the false prophets or false believers :-

3.1. They were a problem in Jesus’ day (Matt.7:15-23).
3.2. They were a problem in Paul’s ministry (Acts 13:6), but frequently had amazing popularity with the masses.
3.3. They had a string of undesirable predecessors who drew crowds by hitting the buttons and telling the crowds what they wanted to hear-
       (1). “Speak to us pleasant words, prophecy illusions” (Isaiah 30:10).
       (2). “The prophets prophecy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority, and My people love it so!” (Jeremiah 5:31).
3.4. False prophets or false believers still abound.
I heard a TV evangelist preaching that God wants His children to be affluent. He pitched Scripture out of context. In so doing, he set the stage for those who believe and will send a promise (offering) to mark their commitment to trusting Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ’s message is sobering. The media says of a well-known pastor, “He is thought highly of and is well respected throughout the world as a religious leader.” I wonder if that is a compliment or an insult. I wonder about pastors who grave unanimously votes of confidence from the congregations they serve. Is not there something about the nature of the gospel that invites crucifixion? What does the message say of any who follow Jesus? Those who live a truly holy life will conflict with the values of the ungodly and the would be godly who want a modified Gospel?

Jesus Christ forces His hearers to think. This Kingdom of which He talked was not a mildly different political agenda that would please the ears of the undecided. No. On the contrary. If the agenda is preached and heard and lived, one might be hated. To the extent that you are hated for His name’s sake, be glad and leap for joy!


“May, O God, Your Spirit bear witness with our spirit, that we are indeed Your children. May we reflect the joy of knowing that we are Yours, creatures, servants, sons and daughters.

For things carelessly said and things thoughtlessly done, for things that should have been carefully said, and things that should have been carefully done, for labour and leisure that was to be done as unto You.

For witness and service poorly done, grant us forgiveness. For unkindnesses and meanness of spirit, grant us forgiveness and grace that we might be forgiving and gracious.

For mercy, grace, and forgiveness received, we give hearty thanks.

May we sing and pray, hear and heed as children of the Most High. Your blessing we need and seek, for it we ask in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.”


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