Sunday, June 30, 2024

Waiting for rain

My garden is thirsty. It's been two or three weeks since we've had measurable rain in these parts. The ground is becoming hard, and the lawns are turning brown.

What do you do when you need rain? You irrigate as much as you can. But then you wait. It's all you can do. It's heart breaking to watch crops wither in the field. But still we have to wait. Of course we pray for rain. We have to trust God to bring what we need when we need it. Sometimes that takes a lot of faith, to believe that God has it all under control and that we can truly trust him. But then, what choice do we have?

Today I heard thunder at my house and thunder at my farm. Clouds were all around, but I never saw a drop. It's still cloudy, but I hear no thunder now.

Sometimes when life is dry, we find rainless thunder. A glimmer of hope for relief that turns out to be empty. All we can do is wait and believe that God will provide what we need.

Years ago I talked with a farmer in Georgia during an extended drought. I asked him when he thought it would finally rain again. With a wry smile he said, "I don't know, but it's one day closer than it was yesterday."

Friday, May 31, 2024

Somebody's got to say it

Governments often do bad things. They set things up to benefit the powerful and leads to oppression of the masses. They fail to bring justice and allows people on the margin to suffer. Often government rewards corruption. Someone needs to speak up. 

This is nothing new. Governments have always had such problems. Even good, honorable people can be corrupted when given power. History is full of these stories. The Bible tells plenty of stories of corrupt leaders and unfair economic systems. And the Bible includes voices who call out these abuses.

These voices are the prophets. They are the loyal critics who name names and point out hypocrisy and injustice. Sometimes the prophets' complaints get tiresome. Sometimes they give hope to the oppressed. Most often the prophets are ignored by the people in power. On rare occasions, the powerful hear and respond.

As you read the historical accounts in the Bible, you will find so much corruption in the kings and priests. Keep reading and you will find the prophets who call out the sins and urge the leaders to repent.

We need more voices calling out evil and corruption here today. And I expect every bit of repentance that we found the biblical stories.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Taking Notice

I've been reading my pocket New Testament a lot lately. The page layout is different, but the version is the same one I have used for years. Somehow the stories now feel so fresh to me. I'm noticing new details. I find story threads and repeated phrases. I see the context of Jesus's conversations. I feel like I'm more dialed-in to the author's train of thought.

There is so much depth to the story of the Bible. The more I learn the more I see. The more I understand, the more I experience the depth of God's love. And that helps me live out the Kingdom of God.

I need to notice the words on the page and the heart of the scripture's author. I also need to notice the world around me. God can also speak to me through people who are helping and people who are hurting. He can speak through the frustrations and the successes. Of course he can reveal himself through the vast outdoors. 

There is so much richness in the pages and the world. I just need to take notice.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Tax Day, Free Markets, and Housing Crisis

I have always been an advocate for free markets. Tax Day seems like an appropriate time for some reflections. 

Entrepreneurs should be rewarded for their risk and innovation. Those with property should be allowed to sell it, develop it, or hoard it. The free market seems like the only fair way to allocate resources. And employers and employees can negotiate appropriate wages without the interference of government. If wages are too low, a worker can find another employer who will pay a fair wage. The market is impartial and favors no one. 

Capitalism has served the Western world well, creating wealth like the world has never seen,  bringing new ways of meeting many of life's challenges. This system also allows investors to invest in innovation by purchasing stock. Enterprises can move at greater speed and greater scale thanks to the capital created with shared ownership.

But what happens when the free market goes wrong? Some would say that only interference in the free market causes problems. 

Today we see a growing problem in the housing market. Real estate prices have skyrocketed, while interest rates have moved to the highest levels in decades. That looks like the free market at work. But this free market now has a new kind of player. Investment firms with deep pockets are buying houses at high prices and high volumes. That is, these groups are buying up as much real estate as they can get their hands on. They are holding on to these properties and turning them into rentals. As demand for housing keeps rising, rental rates rise as well. Fewer homes are owned by individuals, giving these investment groups a lot of leverage in the housing market, allowing them to charge more and more rent. Those who don't own property are left with few choices. They have to pay high rent rates just to have a home.

This is the free market at work. The system works great for those with resources, but takes advantage of the poor. 

We are called by Jesus to love our neighbors. We need to find a loving way to help people have a place to live. Seems like the least we could do as a society.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Rethinking Righteousness

Jesus talks a lot about righteousness in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). But what's he talking about? 

I have always thought that righteousness was pretty simple. It's me doing the right thing, keeping the rules, being obedient. The checklist includes things like Bible reading, prayer, helping people, keeping promises, being honest, staying in Christian fellowship. 

In short, righteousness is about me being good. For the most part, it feels like righteousness is just between me and God.

But thanks to the Bible Project's study of the Sermon, I have a clearer understanding of righteousness. It's not just about me being good. It is about me being in right relationship with others. As Tim Mackie says, righteousness is "doing right by you." 

This understanding better captures the meaning of the original words. And we can clearly see that emphasis in other parts of the Sermon. Jesus goes on to say that if there is a problem between you and someone else, you need to chase the person down and make it right. You need to repair the relationship before you even worship. Don't murder, but don't even be angry. Don't commit adultery, but don't even lust. It's all about relationship.

And this tracks well with the second part of the Great Commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

So, yes, be righteous. But know that it means making relationships right. It's not just between me and God. We are all in this together. It's the kingdom of heaven.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

More Confessions

OK, so my Lent idea of confessing something every day sounded good. But here's my confession today. I haven't been confessing as much as I had planned or expected. 

I'm not quite sure what went wrong. Maybe it was not a great idea to start with. Maybe I just failed to make confession a priority. But God has still been at work. 

Even when we don't follow through, even when we have wrong priorities, even when we get distracted--even then, God is at work. He is at work behind the scenes. He is at work to reveal his love to us, as we discover our own imperfections.

And that's what Lent is about. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Book review: Devout

Today I picked up Anna Gazmarian's new book Devout: A Memoir of Doubt. I began by reading the foreword, just to get a sense of the work. And it was good. It was so good that I read the whole book today. Learn more about the book here.

(Full disclosure: Anna is my daughter's sister-in-law. I have known her for years, and I knew a good bit of her story already. And I want to cheer her on.)

This book shows one young woman's struggle with church culture and her deep desire to honor God. For some, the Christian life at least appears to be easy, but for Anna it felt all but impossible. She notes how shallow some Christian communities can be, how she tried so hard to fit in. But her own experience did not fit the mold. 

Many churches and Christians could not grasp Anna's challenges with mental health. Well-meaning people urged her to try more prayer, more faith, more Bible reading. But easy answers were simplistic. 

As she tells her story, Anna shares insights from the scripture, showing struggles of faith in the heroes of the faith. Her depth of understanding inspires people like me to keep digging into the riches of relationship with God. 

As a gifted story-teller, Anna takes us with her on her journey. She leans on the Christian community as well as the world of psychiatry. In both spheres she finds those who can help and those who just don't get it. She shows how creativity can connect us with the work of the Spirit in us. She shows us the pain and the rewards of addressing mental health. 

I can think of dozens of people I want to give this book to. It's a real story about a real struggle. It calls out Christian cliches and calls us to take mental health seriously. 

Anna, your story gives us permission to live with doubt and to face our own struggles with mental health. For many, reading your story will be a game-changer.