Friday, January 23, 2015

A few thoughts on the Teachings of Marcus Borg

A friend posted on the death of Marcus Borg yesterday. She called him an inspirational and thinking theologian. Here are some of my thoughts regarding the theological thoughts of Marcus Borg.
I really have issues with his take on the events surrounding the birth of Christ. When speaking of the miracles concerning the birth of Christ Borg wrote:
"To be candid, I do not think that any of this happened. Of course, there is some historical memory in the stories. Jesus was born. He really lived. He was Jewish. His parents’ names were Mary and Joseph. They lived in Nazareth, a very small peasant village, perhaps as small as a few hundred. But I do not think that there was an annunciation by an angel to Mary, or a virginal conception, or a special star, or wisemen from the East visiting the infant Jesus, or angels filling the night with glory as they sang to shepherds.
Yet I am not a “debunker” of these stories. I do not dismiss them as “fables” or “fabrications” or “falsehoods.” Many in the modern world do see the two options as “it happened this way” or “it didn’t” – and if it didn’t, then we are dealing with delusions and deceptions. A few years ago, a television special on these stories posed the question that way: are they “fact or fable”?
There is a third option. Namely, the Christmas stories with their miraculous elements were not intended to be “factual” in the sense of reporting what actually happened. Rather, they are early Christian testimony, written roughly a hundred years after Jesus’s birth. They testify to the significance that Jesus had come to have in their lives and experience and thought. The stories are parabolic, metaphorical narratives that can be true without being factual" (From Dr. Borg’s blog on Patheos:
Seems like many brilliant people cannot believe in the miraculous. They want to explain it away but still call themselves Christian theologians. Yet, the very creation of the earth was a miracle. Scientist cannot explain it. They try and they fail. A finite being cannot create something out of nothing. If you prefer to think it all began with a Big Bang, a lingering and sobering question still remains. Where did the elements come from that produced the bang? The cosmos had to have a beginning and the beginner of it (the creator), had to be one of superior intellect and with the ability to create out of nothing, which seems to suggest that the miraculous was involved.
Borg and others in his camp want to take this amazing fact away from God - God can do anything He desires to do. Man cannot begin to understand the mind or the workings of the Father. Yes, I have many questions. I want to know how God operates in the miraculous. But, for now I have to trust and wait.
1 Corinthians 13:12 sums up my attitude on many issues.
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known" (NASB).

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Look of Success

When the men came to Him (Jesus), they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’ ” (Luke 7: 20, NASB).

The Look of Success

Success when doing the kingdom's work does not always appear as success with mortal finite eyes. A popular false doctrine proclaims that when we are following God's direction, His blessings will be evident. However, that is not often the case with the one who has sacrificed his or her life to seeking and doing the will of the Father.

John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of Christ and yet, his earthly reward was prison and beheading. The world would not proclaim execution as success. In fact, many of our current popular Bible teachers and pastors would probably be telling John that he missed the mark. "John, if you were following God's direction and listening to His spirit, you would not find yourself in such a mess. Obviously, you went off on your own because God would have blessed you and your efforts."

However, the purpose of John's life was not to promote himself to a larger ministry, a bigger house and a newer car. His purpose was to point folks to Jesus. His question was not based on John's believing that he had missed the mark, but was an inquiry, "Are you Jesus, my cousin, the one?"

This question was not for John's ease of mind. John wanted to tell his followers either, "Yes, Jesus is the one." Or, "No, look for another." His concern was for his followers.

What great joy must have enveloped his heart and soul when the response from Christ  was, "Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Luke 7: 22, NASB).

John died knowing that the Messiah, of whom He taught, had arrived in the flesh. John never assumed that he was commissioned to elevate himself. His life was to help prepare hearts to receive Christ as Lord and Savior.

Dear servants of God, your success is not based on worldly wealth or fame. It is based on one simple truth. Have you fulfilled the mission of pointing others to the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus? Sometimes, there will be material success involved but other times success is not evident in that way. Your purpose is to promote Jesus not self. Sometimes, success in the kingdom will cost you all you hold dear even to the point of your life.

Be Blessed,

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Today's thoughts...

Jeremiah 39:18 (ESV):

"For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the Lord.”

Despite the brevity of this verse,  it holds some significant meaning for us. First, Jeremiah said these words to  Ebed-melech the Ethiopian because this man trusted in the words of the prophet. God's chosen people and their kings had rejected the message. Unfortunately for them, they would surely suffer the consequence of abandoning God and his instructions. Yet, an Ethiopian's faith and trust in the man sent from God would save him. Most of us, like the Ethiopian are adopted into the family of God.

Secondly, this message should help define our behavior today. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle. Despite the injustice and the immoral behavior that is rampant in our nation, we are called to speak the truth of the scripture and to trust Christ. A watered down message has no power to overcome sin.

This may mean that we get dropped into a cistern and sink deep into the mud. But, we are called to passionately maintain and keep our faith. We are still called to speak the truth of God's words.

Remember, the truth is not only for you but for those who hear and heed it. An important point to notice here, Jeremiah, who was imprisoned and punished, kept saying the truth of the message. We want this short verse to be his reward; yet, this word was for an Ethiopian who had heard the message and trusted God.

Be of good cheer, you may be ridiculed and feel stuck in deep mud, but you are called to speak the truth of scripture. The calling to do this task not to simply save and bless yourself but to bless the listeners. Be resolved today to continue to preach the truth with your words and actions. Remember, your faith and trust in God has already saved you. You no longer face eternal damnation. Now, it is time to put on your spiritual armor and march into battle and bravely defend and live the gospel of Christ. Our task is not to kill the unbeliever but to point him to Christ so that he may be saved.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Surrender of the Will

"'My determination is to be my utmost for His Highest.' To get there is a question of will, not of debate nor of reasoning, but a surrender of will, an absolute and irrevocable surrender on that point" (January 1, Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest).

Yesterday's reading set the tone of this lovely daily devotion book. It also spoke to this rather broken heart of mine. The "surrender of will" is such a difficult thing to do. We are taught from earliest education to strive, to succeed, to think on our own. Then we come to the teaching of scripture and the apostle Paul tells us to surrender with complete abandonment to God. Surrendering to God can become an insurmountable task for those of us who have struggled. Trusting God is a difficult occupation when parents, family and people claiming to know Christ have wounded one deeply.

Much of our understanding for God develops from the people we come in contact with that claim to know Him. When these people prove to be impostors, those blasted wolves in sheep's clothing, they damage the entire body of Christ. In order for us to understand the intended relationship with God, He is often portrayed as Father. Yet, when one's earthly father has failed miserably in his duty and love as a father, this analogy is hard to understand, let alone accept.

This is the situation with which I battle. I have often felt like I was peering into the window of a neighbor's home where the father and mother truly love their children. Therefore, I have often described my relationship with God as His forgotten stepchild. Not as one who is truly His daughter or the recipient of His selfless love, but close enough to see a father's love poured out on His true children. Trusting God with my will is a challenge for me on occasions since I have rarely felt invited to the inner circle of His home and hearth.  When those who should have cherished you such as one’s parents, grandparents and sisters, have damaged your heart the picture of God as Father and Christ as Brother can be rather offensive and hurtful.

Yet, I long to have a Father who loves me and embraces me with the gentleness of a sweet summer's eve. I desire to lazily sit on the porch swing with Him and hear His direction and know that His advice comes to me because I am His beloved daughter and not an unwanted stepchild.

My heart's cry this year is to keep myself above the trappings and the pain of this world. I intend to trust God as Holy and Loving. To be an ambassador for Christ that draws people to Him and to not act as a repellant is my deep desire. Like Paul, I do not want to ever be ashamed but to continue to submit my stubborn will to Christ's will. True examples of this totality of God-living are hard to find in this world. My prayer is that I can be one of His children choosing to live my life with no thought of my will but only of His with a compete trust in Him.

I want to end my ramblings with a quote from Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622) who explained complete trust with the following statement:

"Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life with fear. Rather, look to them with full confidence that, as they arise, God to whom you belong will in his love enable you to profit by them... Be at peace then, and put aside all useless thoughts, all vain dreads and all anxious imaginations."

Be Blessed,

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A Time to Grieve

By Debbie Baskin
August 7, 2014

            Tragedy can enter into one's life in various ways. The most insidious involves the loss of one's child whether through death or kidnapping there can be no greater agony.

            Recently, two couples we know have lost a young son - one through an auto accident and another through suicide. I wish with all my heart that I could ease the horrible nightmare that these families are going through. But, there is one humble truth - I cannot. I can pray. I can send expressions of love but I cannot rip that pain from their hearts. This new pain will forever be part of the fabric of their lives.

            I remember over twenty-five years ago receiving the phone call that would forever change my life, challenge my faith, cause me to question truth, and bring an anguish so intense to my soul that breathing was a excruciating experience. Our phone call was from our attorney who coldly stated to my husband, "Mark, that thing you said could happen, has happened. Marvin and Sandra have kidnapped your children."

            Disbelief. After battling my parents for a year on horrible allegations of abuse and neglect, with all being disproved in court, we had been told that the following Friday our children would come home. Unknown to us or the court, the guardian ad litem had given my parents permission to take our beloved children out of school for a week for a vacation from which they never returned. We were already beaten up by the slander and thought that at last this horrible period was coming to an end. Instead, we were informed, "They have been stolen."

            When Mark hung up the phone and told me, I fell to the floor and became violently ill. Mark was able to get me up and we stood clinging to each other. No language has words to describe the unfathomable emotion we were feeling. Yet, we had to continue. We had to pack a suitcase, find a seminary friend to keep Michael, and drive to Tennessee so we could press charges and appear in court to be told that we were wonderful, self-sacrificing parents. I remember little of those days except the pain. I prayed to wake up from what had been the hell on earth we had lived through for the past year. I prayed to wake up to hear the sound of my three children's voices talking or singing. But, I never woke up from the nightmare because the nightmare had become our lives.

            At first I thought that surely the FBI or the TBI would find them any day. I believed that God would restore what the enemy had stolen but as the hours turned to days, the days to weeks, the weeks to months, and the months of years my faith faltered and grief, mourning, pain, anger, and hatred began to grow in my heart.

            People had no clue as to what to say. Most folks (even to this day) want to minimize the pain. Folks said things to us like, "Well, at least it was your parents who did this. You know that they love your children." Really, that was supposed to give me comfort? I thought that my parents loved me and yet they slandered me and stole my children. We had those who wanted to spiritualize everything and advised me to thank God for allowing me the opportunity to walk through this tragedy. And, of course there were questions. Questions that could not be answered: "So, why did they do this?" "How are you doing?"  And my all time favorite, "So, where are they?"

            A friend once told me that I did not act like someone with kidnapped children. I remember wondering where the rulebook was on how to act when one loses the loves of her life. I had no idea that I was supposed to act in a certain way. There was no script to follow. My response as best I can recall was, "If I acted how I felt, I would never stop screaming. No one would be able to stand to be in the same room with me. My thoughts, my sorrow, my pain is only between my God and me. I can only go to Him with these feelings because only He already knows."

            Only God was able to comfort me during those early days and years. Yet, most of the time I did not recognize that it was His strength and love that was carrying me. While I instinctively knew that only God could understand, I was also very upset with Him. I wrote a song that I defiantly sang throughout our seminary apartment about I how I was no longer going to praise an invisible God who had abandoned my children and me. Finally, after weeks or months (I do not remember the time frame), Mark asked me why I was singing this song to God if He did not exist. Without pausing to think about my answer I responded, "I am singing it loudly to make sure He hears me." Mark remained silent for a moment, looking at his aching wife for which he had no comfort. Finally he quietly stated, "So, you really just want God to know you are hurting." I never sang that song again. Even at my blackest moment, I knew that God was real. However, I felt like his forgotten stepchild.

            Most people, even well intentioned folks, attempts at comfort only brought more pain. Blessedly, I can recall a few souls that God put in my path that seemed to have an understanding that I needed time to grieve. They were the ones that gently embraced me and cried with me. I remember Jack and Carol Davis. They were fellow seminarians and the first people I told. Jack was getting his PhD in counseling. As I stood wailing in their living room, Jack made this statement, "I am so angry." He did not try to counsel me. He voiced an emotion that was real. I could recognize that I too was angry. Carol grabbed me and we stood crying. I know God led me to them because nothing reckless or insensitive came out of their mouths. They let me cry, grieve, and scream. They did not quote Bible verses; instead they stood as the reflection of Christ and wept with my husband and me.

            While at a meeting at church, Debbie Thomas came up to me and said, "I wish I could bear your pain one day for you." Later, I found out from another friend that she thought that was a thoughtless thing to say. It was not. I knew she meant it. If there had been anyway for her to carry my pain for that day, she would have gladly endured it. Knowing that she was willing to do this actually relieved some of my sorrow that day. Without realizing it, she was reminding me that Christ was carrying my sorrow.

            On another occasion, Denise Tillman showed up at our house one day with bags of groceries. She stood in my kitchen with red-rimmed eyes appearing very unsure of her actions. "I wanted to do something for you. But, there is nothing that I do about this situation. So, I bought you groceries. I hope this doesn't offend you." She recognized my pain and gave me groceries. I do not remember one thing in those many bags, but I remember her act of kindness. Groceries have nothing in common with the loss of a child; but she gave of herself and her time. She did not offend me; she loved me by helping to care for my family’s needs.

            God revealed a truth to me in the people who came to us as consolers over the years. There are two kinds of people - those who literally ache with you and those who try to sympathize but are really there hoping for information.

            The only questions that should be asked of grieving parents are, "What can I do?" "How can I assist you?" Never ask them how they are feeling. Never ask them how they are doing.

            Let me tell you, they are hurting beyond human expression. They are trying to function when in reality they want to sleep and never wake up until that child is back in their arms. That's how they are doing.

            Do not tell them that God is in control. Because honestly, when you lose a child it does not "feel" like He is even in the room let alone in control. Later, I realized the God was not only in the room but it was He holding me up from the inside. I could not see Him in the room because He had planted himself in the deepest places of my soul. It was He who was giving me the courage to face each day. But, at the beginning of the sorrow I was unaware of His presence.

            Also, do not tell them to thank God for viewing them worthy to walk through this fire!  People said, “God choose you and Mark to walk through this because He knew your faith was strong.” My faith may have appeared strong but it was only hanging on by a thread. I assure you as a person who has physically been on fire and also stumbled through the emotional fire of losing two of her children, no one thanks God for the fire when they are still burning and the flesh is falling off their body. That is an insensitive thing to say. I did not want to be His chosen vessel if losing my children was the cost.

            Often, the best expression of empathy is a hug. Hold them. Listen to them. Do not correct their feelings. Do not minimize their pain. Clean their house. Wash their clothing. Cut their yard. And, keep your mouth closed. I found those were the people that I poured my heart out to when I was ready.

            Most importantly, let them grieve. Accept their grief. Grieve with them.

            Later, much later, God may give you words of comfort for them. But at this moment, there are no words.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How Do I Give Thanks?

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NASB).

            Today, I have been pondering this short passage that the apostle Paul wrote. Many, many times in my life I have had people use this very passage to tell me that I needed to thank God for the kidnapping or thank God when suffering occurs. Yet, I have never been able to do so. How does one thank God for something incredibly evil? How does one thank God for a terrible sickness? Unfortunately, these well-meaning Christians have taken this passage and applied terrible hermeneutics.

            Paul was not saying thank God for evil; instead, he was reminding the Christians to give thanks “at all times” to Christ Jesus. God wants us to thank Him for the hope we have in Christ and for the truth that God will continue to work in our lives despite present sorrow or difficulties. I am facing the possibilities of yet another health challenge. Last night, as I was sitting in church, I became acutely aware that I was not going to fight anymore. I am tired. I am tired of praying and hoping for word from Christi and Bobby. I am tired of dealing with tiredness, severe pain daily with my eyes, and simply tired of the world. I began to think instead on the hope and promise of heaven. And, as I sat in church, crying (though no one knew since I do not make tears when I cry) my thoughts drifted to those that I have loved and have now died. I thought of my grandfathers, grandmother Kuykendall, Dub Ruchti, my nephew, and my niece. I decided that seeing them soon would bring me joy. I thought of my mother and decided that either God, in His tender mercy, had heard my pleas for her forgiveness and that I would see her again or that at least the pain would no longer be remembered.

            Lastly, I thought of Jesus. I wondered if He would see me hiding in the corner of the throne room and allow me to feel the light of His perfect presence. I wondered if He would at last let me understand the patterns of my life and let me bask in His presence and experience true and everlasting joy? These were my thoughts as I sat in church. I decided that if I received bad news from the doctors, that I was done. Simply done. My strength felt as though it had finally departed from me.

            As we were leaving church, a sweet member said that we were lucky to only have boys and not to have the stress of planning for a daughter’s wedding. I thought that my heart would erupt and split my chest into jagged pieces. I finally managed to say that I had hoped and prayed all these years to plan my daughter’s wedding. I walked away. She came after me and told me to thank God for what He had allowed in my life. Honestly, I wanted to slap her in the face. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit fortified my self-control and I refrained. I simply smiled and nodded and hurt beyond what words are able to convey.

            So today, I have sat and thought on this scripture, “Give thanks in all circumstances: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I can give thanks to my Lord at all times. I know that God wants me to rejoice in my position as His daughter because of the gift of salvation that Jesus provided to me. I can thank Him. I can praise Him. But, I will never thank God for evil. God is light and in Him is no darkness. Evil is the result of sin. Why would God want me, as a Christian, to thank Him for sin? I do not believe that was the intention of Paul’s words. Sickness and sin are the result of the fall. Crimes are the result of sin. I recognize that I live in a fallen world. But, I hang on to the hope of the future. This world is not my home. I am an alien awaiting a new dwelling place.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
     We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28-37, NASB).

            This sorrow and these illnesses that I experience daily in this life are not a result of my Lord’s pleasure. I believe that my Savior stands and weeps with me as He stood and wept with Mary and Martha. Christ is not immune from the misery that has layered itself in my life. He bears it for me. He holds my heart in His hand when I cannot endure the suffering and anguish. That is what I thank Him for – for His abiding with me and the knowledge that no sickness, kidnapping, or evil people can separate me from the love of God, which is in my Lord, Jesus Christ.