Sunday, January 30, 2022

The Parables: Getting Personal

My delving deeply into the parables of Jesus was because of an email. 

I had not heard from my brother for fifteen years.    

One evening, I received an email from a woman who wanted to know if I could contact her, because my brother wanted to talk with me.  She had access to a computer, and was trying to get a hold of me on my brother’s behalf.  The memories came back—excruciating ones that I had tried to leave in the past and now were swirling though my mind as I read this email.

My brother had battled with drugs and alcohol for decades, and as a result, went through two marriages.  I was very close to his first wife and my two nieces.  My husband and I did all we could to help her when my brother chose his addiction over his family.  We even had his wife and his daughters come live with us when he engaged in emotional abuse and threats of violence towards her. 

He eventually became homeless and lived in his car by the city’s river.

He soon remarried, and this stormy relationship saw an arrival of another daughter.  His second wife suffered from mental illness and did everything she could to estrange my brother from us. 

He eventually left her and went to live in his car again. 

Sadly, my brother’s first wife remarried a man who had a criminal record, which did not allow for my nieces to live in the same household.  Now my two nieces would have to live elsewhere.  My brother had finally gotten an apartment, but there were drug deals going on in the park across the street.  It was not a safe neighborhood.  I then went and retrieved my two nieces and they came to live with us. 

One of the daughters chose to live with another aunt and moved out of state.

Eventually, the younger daughter went back home to live with her mother.  The parole board had said it was alright to do so, and we felt that our niece belonged with her mother, even if she had made a poor choice of a second husband.

That was back in 1996.  My last contact with my brother was listening to him say that his children were not his problem.  He laughed as I pleaded over the phone for him to be responsible.  I hung up the phone, shocked and amazed at his utter repudiation of his children. 

I lost what little respect I had for him that day. 

I lost contact with him altogether. 

Fifteen years later, I was faced with this email:  my brother wanted to reestablish contact with me.  The email also included a number of an elderly woman who offered to talk with me before I contacted him. 

I thought that best—I wanted to understand what had happened to my brother in the intervening fifteen years. I called her and she sweetly explained that after my brother’s second marriage had failed, he became homeless again, and ended up living by the river.  My brother had become mentally ill yet through the love and kindness of many, he received the medical treatment he needed and a place to live.  She was very proud of his progress.  He had helped her and husband, and he meant a lot to her. 

Wow.  I labored along and hard in my mind about what to do.  I could still hear his laughter in my head and the pain of what he put his first wife and daughters through in my heart. 

Then after spending time in prayer, it hit me:  the parable of the Prodigal Son came blazing into my mind. I was the older brother in that parable:  angry, spiteful and very hurt, glad that my brother was doing better, yet fighting the urge to throw the past into his face and say, “Look what you did to us!” 

So right then and there, I realized that this parable was not just a story told by Jesus to illustrate a truth.  It became a story that I was now living. 

The other parable that came roaring into my mind was the one involving the ungrateful servant.  The king had forgiven this guy a huge amount of debt.  This servant then hunts down a fellow servant and beats the tar out of him for a few measly coins.

I had been forgiven so much from my King, and now I resented having to forgive my brother.

Wow.  I was living inside another parable.

The parables pointed me to what Jesus was asking of me:  to forgive and be reconciled to my brother. 

I could be obedient or obstinate. 

I talked to my brother soon after, and we were able to have a good relationship in what turned out to be the final years of his life.  He found a church that ministered largely to people with drug and alcohol issues and mental heath challenges.  He played on the church’s worship team, (one Sunday I joined his team and played with him) and he preached from the pulpit.  He had a lovely partner and a nice place to live.  But sadly, the years of drug and alcohol abuse drove him so deeply into mental illness, he lost everything, and ended up dying alone in his apartment.

But I am so glad we were able to make beauty out of the ashes for a time.  I would have lost all of that if I had chosen to blow him off, and focus solely on the past.  

My experience in the real world brought the stories of Jesus to life—to real life.  Isn’t that where Jesus meets us?  In the real world?  In our world?  A resounding “Yes!” is my response. 

So, come with me as we explore the parables of Jesus.  I am certainly not the first person to explore the parables, and nor will I be the last, but I always find there is a freshness in His Word when we dig deep.  

Join me. 


Saturday, January 22, 2022

Covid: The Modern Black Death?

Hang on.  I know this sounds like an inflammatory comparison, but bear with me.

The Black Death hit Europe with a sledgehammer. It arrived on a boat filled with dead and dying sailors, who had come back to Italy with cargo.  But when the mayor demanded the ship be sent back out, the rats had already disembarked.  The Plague, the Great Mortality, the Black Death had arrived.

Let's set the stage:  

"The Black Death (also known as the Pestilence, the Great Mortality or the Plague) was a bubonic plague pandemic occurring in Afro-Eurasia from 1346 to 1353. It is the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, causing the death of 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. Bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis spread by fleas, but it can also take a secondary form where it is spread person-to-person contact via aerosols causing septicaemic or pneumonic plagues...The plague created religious, social and economic upheavals, with profound effects on the course of European history." [emphasis mine]

I am intrigued by the "religious...upheavals."  As I have shared many times in my blog, I am terribly concerned about the state of the American church.  Prosperity gospel, a focus on big is blessed and rock star pastors have caused me to look askance about where we are going as the 21st century unfolds.

The death toll of the Black Death was unprecedented: 

"According to medieval historian Philip Daileader, it is likely that over four years, 45–50% of the European population died of plague. Norwegian historian Ole Benedictow suggests it could have been as much as 60% of the European population. In 1348, the disease spread so rapidly that before any physicians or government authorities had time to reflect upon its origins, about a third of the European population had already perished. In crowded cities, it was not uncommon for as much as 50% of the population to die...Monks, nuns, and priests were especially hard-hit since they cared for victims of the Black Death." 

The people acting in accordance to Christ's request that we offer cold water to the thirsty and clothing to the naked were the heroes of their day.  

How did people respond to the overwhelming death rate and terror?

"Renewed religious fervour [sic] and fanaticism bloomed in the wake of the Black Death. Some Europeans targeted 'various groups such as Jews, friars, foreigners, beggars, pilgrims', lepers, and Romani,  blaming them for the crisis. Lepers, and others with skin diseases...were killed throughout Europe.

Because 14th-century healers and governments were at a loss to explain or stop the disease, Europeans turned to  astrological  forces, earthquakes, and the poisoning of wells by Jews as possible reasons for outbreaks. Many believed the epidemic was a punishment by God for their sins, and could be relieved by winning God's forgiveness. 

There were many attacks against Jewish communities."

Blame and fear are a potent mix.  When chaos is reintroduced into society, we question and ask, "Why?"  The genius of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament was to ascribe meaning to their suffering and see it as a invitation to return to God, after their sinful wandering and disobedience to God's decrees.

In fact, I would argue that suffering is a hard but penetrating way to question how we are living--are we walking in accordance with God's revealed ways and not staying entrenched with man-made philosophies and beliefs?  Paul is emphatic when he says, 

"Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ." (Col. 2:8) 

Remember that he was writing to the believers at Colossae.  The  church can be infiltrated with ideas and beliefs that are not of Christ.  All ideas, spiritual and cultural, must be looked at with Christ and His revelation in mind.  

I wonder if, to those outsiders watching the Christian church,  will be Christians who insisted "I have faith, not fear" and then caught Covid and maybe even died.  These Christians used their faith as a kind of shield, a free pass away from any scientific approach to the pandemic and then when they caught it, they turned to the very medical establishment that they had derided and dismissed.  

How many family members will weep over their departed loved one, because that person would not get vaccinated, refused to wear a mask, and in general, acted as if Covid was nothing to be hung up about and then caught Covid, went to the ER and struggled to survive.  This person either returned home very broken by the ordeal or died, alone, in a hospital room.

The line that was drawn in the sand by people who thought this whole thing was a hoax or greatly exaggerated and then blamed Big Pharma, Greedy Doctors and Big Invasive Government might have been the same people who hunted down people in the Middle Ages, looking for (different) culprits while another pandemic raged.

I continue to be extremely saddened by those fellow believers who have entered heaven way before their time.  Will their "faith not fear" protest bring comfort to those who are left behind? 

The Black Death forever changed European society.  

How will Covid forever change our society?
















Sunday, January 2, 2022

What is the True Gift of Christmas?

Here it is, the first day of the New Year.  Wow: What a wild ride 2021 has been.  What saddens me when the holiday season ends is the makeshift mangers on church lawns goes empty again.  All that remains is the rickety roof, and bit of straw, and another year must go by before we find the occupants having returned and the manger full.

But that is what is so miraculous about Christmas.  The manger was filled with not just animals, a mother giving birth and kings who sought the true King, but it is always filled with light.  

No one puts together a manger and leaves it dark.  Some kind of light is present; that is truly how God works.  His light led the children of Israel across the desert and  His light is there to lead us.

In other words, Jesus is there, waiting for us, no matter how far we wander away.  

The manger fills up each year with the hope of Christmas.

Yet, there is a divine irony here.

The tomb was filled with the broken body of Christ.  We don't go to a tomb set up on a lawn and expect to see a linen-wrapped body.

Nor do we set up a cross with a suffering Servant upon it.

The tomb doesn't fill up year after year, nor does the cross.

Both are empty for the Lord of the Universe, the King of kings and the very Son of God has a new residence: our hearts.  We only have to call upon His name and He comes and stays in our hearts, year after year.  And if we should wander away, He is only a prayer away.

Blessings on you in 2022. 





Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...