Bring Me a Coin

Since the dawn of time there have been those who have wanted to assert their authority and power over others and if they had no authority or power to assert many have worked diligently to acquire some.

One of the fasted ways to get on the bad side of the powerful is to threaten their authority or legitimacy. This is why some presidents, prime ministers, dictators, and religious leaders hide what they are doing from public scrutiny, lock out the press, and make their deals and bargains in secret. It is often a hallmark of wrong-doing. Power structures do not like to be challenged.Perichoresis Coin

The Pharisees and religious leaders of the early first century were no different and they resented Jesus for many reasons. For one… he did not announce himself to them first when he became a human being and for another he persistently worked to rip down the hierarchical power structures they had created for their own benefit.

Well as you might know, the Pharisees often attempted to trip Jesus up with questions and scenarios that seemed to have no safe way of answering. One of those occasions is found in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 20. The scene sets up like this… a tax was owed for going to the Temple and Jesus was asked by the Pharisees whether it should be paid. They knew the tax was unpopular with the Jews so he could not come out in favor of the tax without enlisting the ire of the people and on the other hand he could not oppose the tax publically without being in jeopardy from the Roman rulers. They had him… or so they thought.

When asked about the tax Jesus asked them to bring him the coin used for the tax and inquired, “Whose image is this on the coin?” Their answer was, “Cesar’s.” Jesus replied, “Then give to Cesar that which is his and give to God what is God’s.” WOW… do you see it? How amazing is Jesus’ answer?!? Can you say, “Checkmate?”

I do not believe that Jesus was, in this encounter, validating the system of Roman taxes where money was extracted under the threat of violence or imprisonment. I do not believe Jesus would ever endorse a system where the powerful confiscate wealth by the sword.

Nope, what Jesus was doing here was speaking to the logic of these people’s being. Those listening were Hebrews and would have been very familiar with the creation narrative in which Triune God proclaims, “Let us make mankind in our image… so male and female he made them.”

When Jesus implies that the way we know who the coin belongs to is to look at whose image is on the coin he is deflecting the intent of their question and using it as an opportunity to let them know that, because they each bear the image of God as human beings, they belong to God and should give themselves wholly to him.

Do you see that? You are created in the image of the Triune God… you bear the image of the Father, Son, and Spirit… Jesus wants you to know that no matter what… you belong to him!

You belong to the Father, Son, and Spirit. You always have. You always will. The Father loves you and likes you. You are his beloved child. Amen!

~Bill Winn

From an “S” to a “D”

DSometimes the simplest differences can make the most profound changes. Changing our statement of the gospel from an “s” to a “d” would be an example:

Instead of saying “Jesus Saves

we might simply say

“Jesus Saved

~ Jonathan Stepp

Why Jesus’ Church Fellowships More And More! pt.5(c)

fellowship5

https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/15-07-05-why-jesus-church-fellowships-more-and-more-pt-5c-hebrews-10-luke-2-mark-6-tah.mp3

On this 6th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Timothy Brassell of  New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Proclaims the GOOD NEWS of The God Revealed in Jesus Christ through Hebrews 10: 1-26, in the continuation of pt. 5 of this Gospel Series, entitled, “Why Jesus’ Church Fellowships More And More!” This is a series designed to help us re-think WHO and WHAT we are in light of Jesus Christ, and who and what we are called to be and do AS THE BODY OF CHRIST!

We understand more clearly in this message:

  • The FIRST thing we Christians MUST do when we are faced with any “WHY?” question!
  • How challenging and exciting it can be to work through our civic  and Church responsibilities in this time between the present evil age and the age to come!
  • What a Christians PRIMARY Job is as a citizen of both heaven and earth!
  • 9 “down-to-earth, on-the-ground-and in-the-flesh” 21st Century practical Job and Civic reminders that will help you as you think through participating more creatively and properly with Christ in your various roles in this world!

Check it out!

 

 

With Honor

IMG_9130It’s 6:00 a.m. and many of us have been up since 3:00. The airport hangar in Toledo echoes with chatter, the occasional announcement coming over the loudspeaker. We’re standing in a long line, and from my vantage point, I see white caps on gray heads and bright gold t-shirts with a quote from John F. Kennedy on the back lining up to go through airport security. The quote says, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

Veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, along with their guardians (some family, some newfound acquaintances) await the opportunity to board the Flag City Honor Flight to spend one day in Washington, D.C., visiting the war memorials. I am guardian for the day for my dad, a Korean War vet, and throughout our trip, I am struck again and again at the respect that is shown the veterans.

Leaving the plane, we are greeted by a long row of active service people, shaking hands and welcoming our group to Baltimore. After loading the bus, there are some issues with the wheelchair lift so we are delayed by about 30 minutes, just sitting on the bus waiting to go. Outside the bus, a row of active service people stand in their dress uniforms at parade rest for that half hour, solemnly staring straight ahead while it lightly rains on them. As the bus pulls away to take us to the memorials, they salute, holding the posture until the buses are past.

At the WWII memorial, there are a number of school groups taking field trips. “Thank you for your service,” a few of them tell my dad, shaking his hand. Later, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, signs posted say “Silence, please, as a gesture of respect.” Small stones are lined up in a row on the top of some tombstones, along with coins, a tangible indication of honor and respect paid by visitors.

We observe the changing of the guard, the meticulously choreographed routine that honors the Unknown Soldier as representative of all who never made it home. Normally, the sentry picks up his feet in a precise manner, and he does not acknowledge the crowd in any way. However, to honor veterans who visit the memorial, the sentry will scuff his shoes as he passes by. Those in our group, some in wheelchairs and some standing, hear a number of scuffs as we watch the practice of honoring in action. I am honored, feeling very special, and I am not even a veteran. When we witness others being honored and shown respect, it is contagious and uplifting.

This trip makes me think about honor, respect, and love, and how they are very much a part of the relationship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we consider the story of Jesus’s baptism, Jesus is honored by both the Father, who announces, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” and the Holy Spirit who appears as a dove (Matt 3:16-17 NIV). Honor and respect is an integral part of love, and anytime we show honor and respect to others, we are participating in a practice that started before the foundation of the world.

Your practice of honoring others might not take place on an Honor Flight, but it might happen in a long line at the bank with a teller who is trying to do her best. I might show honor and respect as I grade my students’ papers, attempting to find something they’re doing well along with pointing out areas they could do better. In our families we honor each other by showing little considerations, small gestures of kindness and concern. It is through these practices which may seem insignificant that the love of the Triune God flows.

The Honor Flight may have been intended to honor veterans, but I felt honored, too. I learned about the positive effect of honor on all those who witness it, and I recognized the goodness of God as it was revealed that day.Though JFK’s quote is inspiring, I’ve decided to tweak it a little: “A person reveals the love of God by the way he or she honors others, and when a person is honored, everyone including God celebrates.”

~by Nan Kuhlman

Why Jesus’ Church Fellowships More And More! pt.5(b)

fellowship2

https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/15-06-21-why-jesus-church-fellowships-more-and-more-pt-5b-hebrews-10-tah.mp3

On this 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Timothy Brassell of  New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Proclaims the GOOD NEWS of The God Revealed in Jesus Christ in the continuation of pt. 5 of this Gospel Series, entitled, “Why Jesus’ Church Fellowships More And More!” and continues to show through Hebrews 10: 1-25  and 1 Thessalonians 2 that the historical context of Hebrews demonstrates that living in God’s image (in relationship together!) is SO CRUCIAL to our well-being that we ARE CALLED to FELLOWSHIP WITH EACH OTHER, all the more, even in the middle of persecution!

We hear in this message:

  • Through a quote by Deitrich Bonhoeffer that “the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”  Life Together, p.22-23. This is why we meet. We were meant to hear the Gospel proclaimed to us!
  • There are many pressures placed on us, especially on fathers, because of society’s myth which is that the primary goal of life is the American work ethic and how it will give you power and save you, especially since our jobs are where we get our paychecks, or livelihoods.
  • A more detailed answer to the question: “How do we sort out our calling to the Body of Christ and our calling to our Civic Responsibilities including our jobs?”  Specifically we understand the responses to that question to be that:    
    • (1) In this world we have dual responsibilities and they relate around one true center – JESUS CHRIST, so we should NOT rank our responsibilities but prioritize CHRIST IN ALL OUR RESPONSIBILITIES!  
    • (2) We should NOT conceive of our job or the Body of Christ as independent of one another because in Christ, the Kingdom of God has broken into THIS AGE so that Jesus has the SAME END RESULT for BOTH YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE AND YOUR WORK LIFE!
  • Jesus IS our Work and our Ethic even if that appears confusing or troubling to us! Our Identity IS in Him! The right thing to do is whatever God is doing through us, in participation with Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.  We not only live FOR Jesus, but we also live FROM Jesus!

Listen and understand more clearly that we can and need to think of our participation in life as DUAL CITIZENS who relate in our dual roles around the One Center of reality: Jesus!

God reveals the God we need

As God progressively reveals himself through time, God reveals those aspects of himself that we need most at the different eras of human history and development:

  1. Early humans’ prime concern was sheer SURVIVAL – Food, Safety, Reproduction. So, in Genesis, God revealed Himself as the PROVIDER who graciously gives those things. Hey Noah, do you need to know how survive a Flood?  God has blueprints for an ark.  Hey Abraham, do you need land that will feed you and your family?  God has a place all picked out for you.  Speaking of which, do you need some reproductive assistance?  God has your back.  Oh no, an enemy tribe kidnapped your loser nephew Lot?  God will make your raiding party succeed at getting him back. Hey Jacob, is this drought threatening your family’s survival?  God has had a rescue plan in the works for years; it involves a trip to Egypt to see your dead son Joseph…
  1. As humans made the shift from nomad-shepherds to settled farmers-ranchers, we became concerned more and more about SECURITY – victory in the fierce inter-tribal competition to claim and protect real estate. Some tribes, the Egyptians for example, found security by conquering and enslaving their neighbors. In that context, God revealed himself as a WARRIOR. Hey Hebrews, do you need freedom from slavery?  Good news – your God is bigger than your slavemaster. Hey Joshua, do your people need space to exist? God will do what it takes to make sure you win that competition. Hey Israel, do you need relief from your oppressive neighbors? God has a plan for giving superpowers to a long-haired dude with a temper.

Now, it must be said here that the brutality and gore of these stories are deeply troubling for many of us, and I have no interest in trying to explain it away or to un-trouble anybody.  All I want to say here is that these people needed a God who would give them an edge in a life-or-death competition for land, and they received the God they needed.

  1. As history moved on, it became clear that the best way to secure your land was by concentrating POWER in a single leader. As Israel became a monarchy (in the books of Kings and Chronicles), they became more receptive to God revealing himself as a KING – One who issues decrees and is obeyed (This didn’t jive perfectly with the long Hebrew tradition of arguing with God until he changes his mind, but we’ll leave that alone for now).  This image of God dominates the rest of the Bible, not to mention the Church up through the Middle Ages.
  1. Through the rest of Israel’s history (and much of Church history), it became clear that monarchs are not always all that great. Jesus is a great king, for sure, but all the other ones *most* often kind of suck.  So we experienced a growing concern for FREEDOM.  Our political systems became less about kingly judgment and more about laws and constitutions that people could have some control over.  Church became less about popes and priests and more about the Bible – a kind of God-Constitution full of spiritual laws we could study and use for our own benefit.  God revealed himself more and more as a God who cares for INDIVIDUALS, a personal God who offers personal salvation to anyone who wants to choose it.

In our current era of history, it seems to me that we are continuing to wrestle with Freedom and Individuality. For one thing, we’ve found that we’ve been good at giving freedom to wealthy white men, but our record hasn’t been so great with the non-wealthy, non-white, non-male parts of the human race.  So we’re working on that.  And we’ve found that when individuals are encouraged to do whatever they want as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of other humans, the results can be disastrous, not only for human communities, but for the non-human communities and natural systems that make life on our planet possible. So we’re working on that too.

Here is what I see going on:   God is now re-revealing himself as the Holy COMMUNION of Father, Son and Spirit.  We are rediscovering the God in whom perfect Freedom and perfect Community go hand-in-hand.

And in the midst of this, God is still the Provider who will somehow give daily bread to all from the soil of our damaged planet.  The Warrior who is on our side, not against our enemy tribes but against the inter-tribal hatred and violence that threatens all of us. The King whose Power is self-sacrificial love.

———————————————–

NOTE: My thanks to Brian McLaren for the overall idea of looking at the Bible this way, as well as for his labels of Survival, Security, and Power.

Why Jesus’ Church Fellowships More And More! pt.5a

fellowship2

https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/15-06-14-why-jesus-church-fellowships-more-and-more-pt-5a-hebrews-10-tah.mp3

On this 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Timothy Brassell of  New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Proclaims the GOOD NEWS of The God Revealed in Jesus Christ in pt. 5 (a) of this Gospel Series, entitled, “Why Jesus’ Church Fellowships More And More!” and shows through Hebrews 10: 1-25 that the historical context of Hebrews demonstrates that living in God’s image (in relationship together!) is SO CRUCIAL to our well being that we ARE CALLED to FELLOWSHIP WITH EACH OTHER, all the more, even in the middle of persecution!

We hear in this message:

  • Simply, and positively, that, the reason we meet together more and more is simply because we have Trinitarian “DNA”! God through Jesus Christ, by the Spirit, shares HIS RELATIONAL LIFE with us and Relating together in the Spirit is what HIS LIFE looks like! Christianity IS Union with Christ!
  • We can only be who we are in Jesus, the New Humanity, as we relate WITH Jesus AND other people – The Great Commandment: Loving God, and Loving our neighbors as yourself! This is especially true of the Body of Christ of which Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said:  “The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself …. He needs his brother man [or sister girl!] as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”
  • A 4TH MYTH EXPOSED! THAT MYTH? The Primary Goal of Christianity is the American Work Ethic! Get a bit of the context  about why the American Work life puts such a negative pressure on you the way it does and a little handle on what you are up against and why!
  • A good first response to the question:  How do you sort out your calling to the Body of Christ and your calling to your civic responsibilities, including your job, in a world that runs at the pace of 24/7?!
  • A more REALISTIC picture as to the conflict and cost involved in being a Christian in this world, living between “The present evil age” and “The Age to Come.”
  • An invitation to respond to Jesus calling you to His Body and you having the greatest kind of hope because, in the Spirit, the Father and Jesus bring the future into the present through those in union with Jesus!

 

Lessons from a Litter

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Our youngest with Willow.

One year ago, my husband showed up with a couple of rabbits for our children to enjoy raising. I honestly wasn’t too sure about it. The rabbits were big enough that they weren’t exactly cuddly, and I didn’t find them endearing in the manner of a dog or cat.

Winter arrived in Minnesota a few months later, and this was when our first litter of babies arrived. There were just three babies and none of them made it more than minutes. Our rabbits were outdoors in a hutch, and while they had grown thick winter coats, the babies were born without a strand of fur. I was really unsure about the rabbits at that point — not extremely happy with my husband for bringing such a sad experience into our lives. A second litter followed one month later, and we were able to keep three babies alive. One weakened and died, but we ended up with two that were doing very well by two weeks of age.

One sunny afternoon, we had taken them out of the hutch for the first time and were letting them hop around inside a large cage in the yard. They were able to squeeze through the bars and escape, and my three children delightedly scooped them up and returned them to the cage each time. While we were distracted with one escaping, the other escaped, and my 2-yr old picked it up. All three of us dove for her, and in her excitement and desire to imitate our own actions, she threw the baby bunny into the cage. (Toddlers, in their exuberance, tend to do everything times ten.) It struck its head against the metal side and we could see immediately that something was wrong. It couldn’t hop properly any more and I worried that it had broken its foot. But it was even worse than that. It turned over on its side, exhaled deeply and stopped moving. I scooped it up immediately and within two minutes, that sweet baby bunny had died in my hands.

It was honestly the saddest thing that had happened to me in a very long time — and to my children ever. My 9- and 7- yr olds were crying in disbelief, and my 2-yr old did not understand what had happened at all. I’ll never forget my 7-yr old daughter walking around with lifeless Coco, truly mourning its short life. It was her bunny of the two, and she had poured as much love into it in its two weeks of life as too many people are fortunate to receive from others in a lifetime. She prayed aloud that he would somehow wake up.

Mommy, will Coco go to Heaven? Of course, Darling (and inwardly: well, C.S. Lewis believed that pets go to Heaven! I’ve read since that C.S. Lewis wrote that animals who are beloved and thereby infused with meaning by their human masters are likely to experience the afterlife in much the same way as humans, who are beloved and have been infused with meaning by our Master.) My 9-yr old son, who’d acted like a nervous father as the litter was being born, could not believe that, after all the losses to cold the litter had already sustained, this could have happened. And I sobbed into my own pillow that night. Why, God, why? In my maturity, I could handle it (barely) — but my children?? To see life end so abruptly was more than we could bear.

Just prior to that litter being born, we had given the father bunny away — so you can imagine our surprise when four weeks later, we noticed the mother bunny building a nest. She tore fur from her underbelly — the signs were unmistakable. I ran to Google and learned that indeed, a female rabbit can carry two litters of different gestational ages.

IMG_4454

Introducing Hazel, Snowdrop, Pipkin, Willow, Rowan, Clover, Blackberry, Thistle and Dandelion.

And the next day, we had nine new babies. This time, the weather in Minnesota had warmed considerably, and while we anticipated some losses. all nine survived and are 9 weeks old today. They are all different colours — black, grey, brown, gold, white with spots or stripes of various shades. My children named them after the characters in the classic novel Watership Down and even my 2-yr old and all my kids’ friends in our neighbourhood know them all by name.

And oh, we love them. We have had a glorious few months taking care of them. I love to watch the confidence and care my children have all developed with them. I’ve loved watching them chase them around our backyard when my 2-yr old has tipped over the cage for the umpteenth time that day to create just this effect. I’ve laughed as Dandelion, the runt of the litter, is the hardest to catch every time — absolutely the fastest. As much work as bunnies and toddlers are, if I could freeze them, every one, at this age forever, I would.

But they are swiftly reaching the age where we must find good homes for them and we are actively engaging in that process lest we end up with a fully fledged bunny farm in our back yard. We have about three weeks with them left.

As caught up with raising babies/children as I have been over the past decade, I have often shaken my head at the attachment that people have shown to their pets and animals. Of course, I remember what it was like as a child, when our family cat had disappeared. One we never were able to find; another showed up safe and sound after 10 days out in a Minnesota deep freeze. I remember how devastated I was at that kind of loss/potential loss. I really thought that the wondrous weight of caring for children had muted that at least for the time being in me.

But our litter of bunnies has shown me that this not so, and some other things too.

1. The love I feel is an expression of the love of Triune God. I am 100% in agreement with Baxter Kruger when he says that any time we experience an outpouring of love or deep care and concern for another person or living thing, it is the love of Triune God we are experiencing and in which we are participating. If this is true, and I believe it is, then God cares for these seemingly insignificant woodland creatures just as my husband, children and I do. (Endlessly more than we do.) They are not insignificant to him.

2. All life is sacred. My experience with our family of bunnies gives me assurance that the human race, as screwed up as it can be, is going to be ok — because if the love we bear these animals truly is an expression of God’s love, then not one breath of life is dispensable or insignificant to Triune God.

Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

What this says to me is not that the life of an animal or any living thing is cheap — but that if God cares THAT much for every creature on the earth, how much more does he care for you and me? It ought to blow our minds. He really is unreasonably crazy about us in the same way a parent is about his or her young child.

All life — human, animal, plant — is sacred. I have read that our children will only take care of our environment if they learn to recognise local plant and wildlife by name. It’s the same with people. If I were to get to know my neighbour and my “enemy” — the person I don’t like for a number of reasons I can claim, but in reality because of my own fear and insecurity — love would follow. Note that I said above that initially I did not feel that bunnies were very cuddly. As I’ve grown to love them, I’ve changed my mind about that. It’s exactly the same with people to whom we are not initially drawn as well. While we keep our distance from each other, we will continue to fear each other and continue to do the awful things to each other that humanity has done for generations. It must stop.

Alexa Coco.pg

My 7-yr old with her Coco, in happy days.

3. With perspective, loss, as hard as it is to bear, makes life more beautiful. The death of Coco and our losses, as hard as they were, made us appreciate our living bunnies all the more. We were ever so gentle with our surprise litter of bunnies because we had learned the hard way how fragile they were. I believe that, as painful as living can be sometimes, life would not be as beautiful without loss. We wouldn’t appreciate our world and the people in it as much. Perhaps our experiences of loss in this life will make our experience in the next all the sweeter, having felt the cruel sting of loss and then having regained all that we had lost and much, much more.

4. Nothing is ever truly lost, and even in this life, miracles still happen. I firmly believe that with God, nothing in this life is ever truly lost. My daughter prayed for Coco to live and he didn’t. But against all odds, seemingly, she gained an entire litter of bunnies instead. We won’t ever forget Coco, but his loss was not the end of the story.

The great news is that God is with us all, whether we acknowledge it or not. The losses we sustain in life, and we will, will never be the end of the story.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

 

 

Taste And See That The Lord Is Good!

taste and see

https://trinityandhumanity.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/15-06-07-taste-and-see-that-the-lord-is-good-psalm-34-8-tah-guest-andrews.mp3

In this Gospel Message, Pastor Richard Andrews of  New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Proclaims the GOOD NEWS of The God Revealed in Jesus Christ with a  message entitled “Taste And See That The Lord Is Good!” and asks the question “Are we ready to take that exhortation we find in Psalms 34 and make it something we LIVE BY, LIVE THROUGH and LIVE WITH?”

In this message we learn what trials REALLY represent and hear that:

  1. Our foolishness does NOT determine God’s actions towards us! There is no circumstance we can go through that is too big or complicated that can change who God is!
  2. No matter the circumstance, God invites us to open up our mouths and have an experience with him. God invites us to experience HIS presence.
  3. Our trials help us to taste and see God’s goodness. They make God REAL. The more we TASTE, the more we SEE, the more we TRUST!

Listen and be comforted knowing that God loves us too much not to let us experience HIM, and because of that there WILL be points of pain and trials.

Photo Compliments lizsarno.wordpress.com

Announcement and Invitation

Text Gospel AnnouncementThe good news about God is both an announcement and an invitation.

It is the announcement that all of humanity is included in God’s life. To be more specific, it is the announcement that the Father has adopted us as her children through Christ, in the Spirit.

The implication of this announcement is an invitation: an invitation to believe that this is true and to begin to live differently because we now see God, ourselves, our fellow human beings, and the whole creation differently.

When we share this good news with others, it is important to get the order right: first an announcement and then an invitation.

~ Jonathan Stepp

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