Rappin’ With Rick

It sometimes takes a professional theologian

I got an email from Randy Pim last week, assuring me that the Pim’s still read our newsletter, and sharing a message that a delegate from Africa presented at the recent Methodist conference on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

In his address he said, “We welcome all people to our churches; we long to be in fellowship with them, to pray with them, to weep with them, and to experience the joy of transformation with them. Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as…(LGBTQ). We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal. And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to ‘grow up.’”

The good news, and yet the sad news, is that by the relatively close vote of 438 to 384 the delegates managed to keep in place the church rule that said the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

I read something in Touchstone last week that bears repeating here.

“Jesus doesn’t urge Peter to ‘go ahead, betray me, I understand.’ Jesus doesn’t tell the woman taken in adultery, ‘go back to your lover, because your situation is complex.’ Jesus doesn’t tell Zacchaeus the tax collector, ‘actually, keep the money you may have unjustly taken because you need it to support your family.’ Jesus dines with sinners, hangs out with prostitutes and publicans, he evangelizes the much-married Samaritan woman, he welcomes thieves into eternity. But he never confirms them in their sins, or makes nuanced allowances for their state of life; that sort of rhetoric is alien to the gospels…

This is not some complicated esoteric reading of the New Testament; it is the boringly literal and obvious one, which is why it takes a professional theologian to dispute it.”

God Bless, Rick

Azazel or Scapegoat?

Who in the world, or some other world, is Azazel?

If you are reading through The Daily Message with me this year, you may have wondered about that while reading in Leviticus 16 about the Day of Atonement and the sending of a goat into the wilderness. “Then he will set the two goats before God at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and cast lots over the two goats, one lot for God and the other lot for Azazel.” “The goat on which the lot for Azazel falls will be sent out into the wilderness to Azazel to make atonement.”That sounds like God is telling Aaron to send a goat to someone, or something, named Azazel as an act of atonement.

As I often do when reading a different translation or paraphrase, I immediately went to my reliable NASV to see what the text really says. As expected, it simply speaks of one goat being made into a scapegoat to bear the iniquities of the people into a solitary land. It does, however, note in the margin that the word “scapegoat” may be translated as a name Azazel. And that, of course, led to a quick internet study.

I soon discovered that the word “azazel”is a Hebrew word that the seventy-two scholars who originally translated the Bible into Greek understood to mean “the sent away.” They translated it as “scapegoat”, and that has been the accepted translation in most Bibles until recently.

Now several contemporary translations and paraphrases have decided to follow the lead of the apocryphal Book of Enoch, and view it as a proper name. Why the unknown authors of what became the Book of Enoch decided to use the unusual word as a name is not known, but they created quite a mythology about him. They pictured him a fallen angel who taught men how to make weapons of war, and women how to use makeup to seduce angels. He has now become a demonic X-Men character in comic books.

I find it very sad that a beautiful ceremony God ordained to picture sins being carried away into the wilderness, a type of what the Lamb of God would do for us, has been so tarnished under the guise of modern scholarship.

God Bless, Rick

Choosing Holiness

As I write this, eight hundred and fifty Methodist delegates from around the world are meeting in St. Louis “to decide whether to change the church’s historical position that sexual relationships should be solely between married men and women.” Three plans are being discussed, and “the commission and the church’s leadership broadly support the One Church Plan which would allow the ordination of LGBTQ pastors and recognition of same-sex marriage.” An openly lesbian bishop who is in a same-sex marriage said Methodists need to learn “how to live in beloved community where every child of God is beloved, wanted, celebrated, needed in order for the body of Christ to be made whole.”

Obviously every child of God is to be loved and wanted. Every behavior, however, is not to be celebrated. And the distinction between who I am, and what I do, must not be ignored.

In our Sunday night study we recently learned that “the idea of putting sexual attraction at the core of our identity is a recent invention,” and that “from ancient times, the adjective homosexual was used to describe acts that anyone might perform, not an unchanging condition or an essential identity. It referred to an action, not a category of person.” And that while “we do not choose our feelings, we do choose our behavior and identity”

Christopher Yuan, who had regularly visited gay bath-houses before becoming a Christian writes, “I had always thought that the opposite of homosexuality was heterosexuality. But actually the opposite of homosexuality is holiness. All Christians are called to holiness, no matter their sexual feelings.”

Our author then noted, “No one chooses to have same-sex temptations, just as no one chooses to feel angry or jealous, or be tempted by drugs or pornography. Where we do have a choice is in deciding how to respond to our temptations. We can choose whether to purchase drugs, or search for pornography on the computer, or engage in same-sex behavior. Everyone is called to choose holiness, whether attracted to the same sex or the opposite sex, whether married or single.”

Contrary to the thoughts of some, the body of Christ will never be made whole by embracing sinful behavior.

God Bless, Rick

When Jesus is in the boat

When I asked Jonathan to send me a copy of the communion meditation he shared last Sunday, he hesitated, telling me that much of it had come from something he had read. I assured him that most sermons include thoughts, words, and perhaps even paragraphs that were found in places other than the Bible. After all, the Bible was written long ago, and it’s been studied and expounded upon ever since.

To claim to have discerned something in the Bible that no one else has ever discerned or commented on is probably more arrogant than accurate. In fact, I’ve openly stated that I have no idea what is“original” in my sermons, or what I picked up from others throughout the years. And quite frankly, I don’t think it matters. Unless, of course, you claim that everything you have written is original.

Having said that, I loved what Jonathan shared with us. And he has carefully noted in the printed copy he sent me what he is quoting from a source he discovered in his study. Kudos to him for his study, and for his integrity. Now, back to what he shared, and where I’m going with it.

As Jonathan noted, if Jesus is in the boat we don’t have to worry about storms, nor wonder about the reason for Him being in the boat with us. But there’s another benefit to having Him in the boat that came into focus for me on a fishing trip in Florida.

Alan, my friend from FitClub, and I had planned to go to Lake Okeechobee to fish for giant Florida bass, but water conditions led to a change of plans. The guide suggested that we head to Chokoloskee and the 10,000 Island section of Everglades National Park instead, and that we fish for tripletail. Neither of us had ever heard of tripletail, but he assured us that it was a blast to catch. And he was right!

As we were making our way through the 10,000 mangrove islands to get out into the Gulf where the crab pots that attract the tripletail are located, I realized that there was no way I could get through the maze of islands without a guide.

I trust I don’t have to explain how this relates to what Jonathan shared with us. If Jesus is in the boat with us, not only do we have no need to worry, we also have the only guide who knows how to get us where we want to go.

God Bless, Rick

Impossible to Put into Words

Until this morning, I had planned on using this column to simply celebrate the baptism of a granddaughter, and to encourage those who have not given serious consideration to being immersed into Christ to do so.

Without a doubt, the only thing that brings more joy to a father than baptizing his own child into Christ is watching that child baptize his child into Christ. The pride and joy I felt watching Matt baptize Josie is impossible to put into words.

Sadly, something I read on the front page of the SJR this morning also brought forth emotions that are impossible to put into words. However, with the standing ovation that was given the governor of New York when he signed into law the right to kill a baby as it is being born, and a pediatrician turned politician who made it clear that he believes a mother and her doctor has the right to end the life of a baby who survives an abortion, it shouldn’t have shocked me.

Still, I was distressed by the headline that read “4 Democratic legislators propose expanding reproductive rights.” And I was angered by the way the killing of babies has been cast as a “reproductive right.”

For years women were deceived into thinking that an abortion was merely the removal of unwanted tissue. After science definitively proved that the unwanted tissue is fully human, the argument for abortion was changed into a question of personhood, and the value that should be placed on humans who are dependent on others. Now, in the name of “reproductive rights” the child is completely ignored.

If you didn’t read the article, this attempt“to ‘modernize’ the state’s abortion law” would repeal Illinois’ current abortion law, would require all insurance policies to pay for abortions, would remove criminal penalties for doctors who perform illegal abortions, would lift the state ban on partial-birth abortions, and would repeal parental notification.

Even though most of you have chosen not to study and discuss on Sunday nights how we’ve gotten to the place where this is acceptable in our society, I pray you’ve given enough thought to this matter to be able to explain to your children how and why this has happened.

God Bless, Rick