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Are We A Christian Nation?


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Today’s Gospel challenges us to consider how we view–and use–our blessings:

Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out
those who were selling things, saying to them,
“It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer,
but you have made it a den of thieves
.”

And every day he was teaching in the temple area.
The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile,
were seeking to put him to death,
but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose
because all the people were hanging on his words.

The question arises: are we treating God’s house as a house of prayer, or are we acting as a den of thieves?

Lately I’ve been confused by what I’ve read on Facebook.  A lot of my fellow Christians have posted fearful messages about closing our borders, rejecting refugees, and denying entry to people from abroad.  Many fear terrorists finding their way into our country.  And many of these same people fear that we, as a nation, are losing our Christian identity.

We are blessed as a nation.  Our natural resources, cultures and subcultures, blending of human diversity, all make us who we are.  And to the extent we are a Christian Nation, our land has been given to us so that we may give it back to God in worship; our land is a temple, a place of worship.

Have we, then, turned our land into a den of thieves?

As I dig deeper into the Gospel, I find even more evidence of its contemporary relevance.  When Christ entered the Temple and encountered the merchants, He was in an area specifically set aside for Gentiles.

In the court of the Gentiles there would be those who sold animals for sacrifice, and those who changed Greek or Roman money to Jewish money, for that was needed in order to offer it. Yet Jesus drove them out, citing the prophet Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 That court was the farthest out from the sanctuary, yet all the noise and traffic there was unsuitable.  Aquinas Study Bible.

This court then was Solomon’s porch—probably the eastern part of Solomon’s porch, in the court of the Gentiles—in which were sold doves, sheep, and lambs for sacrificing in the Temple, whom Christ drove out of it. For the court of the Gentiles was, as it were, the temple of the Gentiles, in which, therefore, it was not seemly to buy and sell.  Aquinas Study Bible.

According to one source, “the Court of the Gentiles was the vast open space on the Temple mount in Jerusalem where all those who did not share Israel’s faith could discuss religious matters.” It was a place for non-Jews to understand the faith of Abraham and be introduced to the Covenant. The Gentiles were the outsiders of the Jewish people, but there was a place in the Jewish Temple set aside for their inquiry.

Shouldn’t we offer the same sort of welcome to those suffering persecution abroad?

Two questions are relevant:

  1. Are we really a Christian Nation?
  2. Are we really the Home of the Brave?

If we really are a Christian Nation, shouldn’t we show Christian mercy to those who suffer?  If we really are the Home of the Brave, shouldn’t we demonstrate the courage of compassion for those who don’t have our blessings?

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Am I Ken in a Barbie World?


The year 2012 was a tough one for my overall health and physical fitness.  In essence:  I really let myself go.  With all the transitions (new job, new home, new church, new schools, etc.), I abandoned any real fitness regime and lost any dietary discipline as well.

A few times during the year, I resolved to start running regularly.  But what would begin as a weekly commitment was soon exposed as a commitment made weakly.  But this all changed when we flipped the calendars to 2013.

With the New Year I resolved to improve my health.  This began with finding a new doctor in my new hometown.  After I finally made an appointment, what began like any other resolution was bolstered by the data disclosed by the first doctor’s visit:  cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, blood sugar—all demanded to know: “WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU MAN?!”

So I doubled down on my resolution.  And then some colleagues brought up the Tough Mudder, a team-oriented challenge requiring some measure of fitness.  What a great opportunity to get back in shape!  So I bought in.

And finally, Lent.  I know that my body is a temple of God, and so as part of my Lenten preparations, I committed myself to undertaking certain exercise- and diet-related activities to improve my health.

Of course, it helped that we had planned a family vacation for March. Our destination:  Mexico!  I know one of my jobs as Dad is to humiliate our kids, but there are limits!  Knowing that I was going to expose parts of myself in a bathing suit—parts that hadn’t seen the sun since early in the Michigan autumn—I set a goal for myself:  reduce my weight to … well, to nunya.  As in, “that’s nunya business!”  But I set a goal.

It wasn’t easy, but the thing that made it more bearable was a Lenten attitude of fasting, of self-denial.  So, when I was hungry, I reminded myself to fast for love of God.  When I didn’t want to run on the treadmill—preferring a more horizontal position—I again reminded myself of God’s love.

I have to admit: I have been pleased with the results.  I pretty much met my goal well before our vacation.  I now can wear work slacks that until recently I had abandoned (I thought they were made of shrinking material, a sort of planned obsolescence foisted on consumers by the fabric conglomerate).  I even caught myself looking a little longer in the mirror.

I was getting a bit smug.  Until last night.

Last night, I had a strange dream.  In it, I was looking pretty buff.  Sort of like a Ken doll—you know, Barbie’s former beau.  (I’m embarrassed to admit that I am aware of their breakup).

KenIn fact, I looked too much like Ken.  Like I had detachable limbs.  I had a tan line that corresponded to the body parts of a Ken doll.  My torso was bronzed, but my legs (up to my hips much in the same shape as a Ken doll) were white, as were my arms.

I was amused by the dream—until I realized what it meant.  It dawned on me that I had been drawn into a sense of superficiality.  What began as a healthy, holy endeavor—physical fitness to take care of the temple—became idolatry.

Remember a recent pop hit, Barbie Girl by Aqua?  One annoying verse goes:  “I’m a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie world.  Life in plastic.  It’s fantastic.”

In my effort to attain a semblance of fitness, I became plastic—shallow.  I lost sight of my purpose (health) and latched onto another (self).

Wow!  I don’t ever remember God speaking to me in a dream before!  I was reminded that even things that are normally positive can be abused.

I am grateful for this nudge from God:  to refocus my efforts on how best to serve Him.  That doesn’t necessarily change what I do as much as why I do it.  I am reminded that I should do everything for His glory.  And in humble gratitude.

Glory be to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be,
World without end.

Amen

A Servant’s Heart


On this Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

As noted in an earlier post, King David viewed all the blessings surrounding him, recognized their source and sought to reciprocate.  He knew that God had given him a beautiful palace, and yet God dwelled in a lowly tent.  So David planned to build a home for God.

God’s response?  “You ain’t seen nuttin’ yet!”

I will make your name like that of the greatest on earth.  I will assign a place for my people Israel and I will plant them in it to dwell there; they will never again be disturbed, nor shall the wicked ever again oppress them, as they did at the beginning, and from the day when I appointed judges over my people Israel.  I will give you rest from all your enemies.  Moreover, the LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you: when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom.  He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever.  I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.  If he does wrong, I will reprove him with a human rod and with human punishments; but I will not withdraw my favor from him as I withdrew it from Saul who was before you. Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.  2 Sm. 7:9-16.

How does David respond? First, with humility:

Who am I, Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you should have brought me so far?  2 Sm. 7:18.

And then with grateful praise:

Therefore, great are you, Lord GOD! There is no one like you, no God but you, as we have always heard.  2 Sm. 7:22.

King David sets a wonderful example of how to be thankful:  True gratitude begins with humility.

It is not possible to be truly grateful without recognizing our humble position in relationship to the source of our blessings.  How can a proud heart ever truly be grateful?  Deep in its recesses, a proud heart believes it deserves its blessings.

I think this is why an attitude of gratitude is the remedy to so many maladies; because the effort to recognize my blessings encourages a humble heart, reminding me of my need for God, our Creator.

I am reminded of a friend who recently blogged about her recent experience with gratitude.  She was having a grumpy day and recognized this immediately.  But she also recognized the remedy:  gratitude.  So she began a Gratitude List.  As she so wisely notes, “Nothing like a gratitude list to cure a bout of self-pity.”

It’s hard to suffer self-pity with a humble heart.

Day 35-1 Maybe this is what it means for David to be “a man after God’s own heart.”  Maybe David, with a humble heart, is reflecting the Love that is God.  Like Mary, who proclaims that her soul magnifies the Lord, maybe the servant’s heart is like a polished mirror that reflects God to all around us.Day 35-2

Three Incredible Promises


On this Thursday of the Second Week of Lent, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

 “But you promised!”

How often have I heard this protest—usually in the form of a whine.  It usually occurs when a child twists an off-the-cuff response to their request.  Something like:

Child: Can I go to the movies with my friends this weekend?

Dad:  We’ll see.

Child promptly interprets “we’ll see” as something like:

most definitely.  I promise. I do hereby swear or affirm that you will be allowed to go do whatever you want with your friends this weekend and I will do all in my power to make sure you do.

And then Friday finds the Child in flight grabbing his coat and the car keys in a mad dash out the door.  Dad is the sole obstacle to his progress.

Dad:  Where are you off to?

Child:  The mall with my friends.

Dad:  You can’t go until you (pick one):

(a) Finish the dishes

(b) Clean your bedroom

(c) Do your homework

(d) Complete some other mundane, unnecessary yet arduous task.

Child:  But you promised!

 Frankly I can’t always remember what I said five minute previously, let alone what I told the kids days before, so I am very cautious about using any words that can be construed as a promise by an objective observer.  Maybe that’s the lawyer in me.

Today’s reading discusses three promises God made to Abraham:

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

All the families of the earth will find blessing in you.  Gen. 12:2-3.

God promised, and God delivered.  Praise be to the name of God!  He never forgets His promises.

In my life I find that I can be very childish when it comes to what God has promised.  Whenever I respond to a situation with “why me?!” or “why not me?“, it’s an implicit demand that God fulfill a promise He didn’t really make.

When I lose a job, “why me?!” loosely translates to “God, you promised to keep me in this job!”  Conversely, when I am jealous of others’ blessings, “why not me?” can be loosely translated to “God, you promised me many blessings and successes!

And again, the antidote to these false expectations is an attitude of gratitude.  When I am truly grateful for all that I am blessed with, I can focus on the real promises our Father has made, particularly the greatest promise: salvation through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Day 16-2

Note the promise embedded in these verses:  “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving [NB: attitude of gratitude], make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Phil 4:6-7.

Day 16-1

The Destructive Power of Envy


On this Monday of the Second Week of Lent, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

Some people always seem to have it good.

You might know these people.  Some are called “Golden Boys”—they can do no wrong and always are in favor and highly esteemed by the powers-that-be.  Some have the Midas Touch—everything they do succeeds and turns to gold.  Others wear Teflon and nothing bad sticks to them.

It’s easy for me to get caught up in the fortunes of others, to focus on all their blessings.  The problem is that it distracts me from all my blessings.  This is particularly damaging when my focus takes the form of envy.

“Why is he so lucky?”

“Man!  He has it made!”

Instead of recognizing that I, too, am blessed, at times I perceive a Blessing Disparity—the false perception that somebody else is God’s favorite and is getting all the blessings.  This Blessing Disparity often leads to envy, the tendency to tear another down in my thoughts.  By focusing enviously on the blessings poured onto another of God’s children, I lose sight of the bounty that God has provided me.  This invites sin into my heart.

Day 13-1

The solution to a Blessing Disparity is to refocus myself on my blessings and recognize all the good that God has provided to me and continues to provide to me.  Make a list of my blessings.  Develop an attitude of gratitude.  Thank you, Lord!Day 13-2a

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