If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Motivation for Action: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

Do our actions always call for pure motives? Is pleasing God always the best motivation for action? Now, the apostle Paul sought to appeal to the Thessalonians from pure motives and was more into pleasing God than people (2:4). And in this scripture lesson Paul seeks to provide practical instruction on how to please God through holy living. My hope is that my questions-at-an-odd-angle lead us to more subtle thinking about motives and actions as maturing Christians.

Obviously impure motives for our actions can muddy our ethical waters. When British Petroleum gives lower levels of oil leakage than less biased sources, shifts the blame for the oil spill to contractors, defends its safety record, and promises to clean up this big mess, their ulterior motives seem obvious. Saving face and maintaining profitable business-as-usual are not the best of motives. And BP should be held accountable.

But, are our own motives always as pure as the driven snow? My wife and I adopted two older special needs children over 20 years ago. My main motive? To provide a home for some children at great risk. My lesser motives? To provide companions for our natural born daughter. To have a son who would carry on the family name. To please my wife, who wanted more children. To be seen as a person with a justice-seeking lifestyle. My motives were not completely selfless. If I only acted from pure motives, I would most likely get nowhere in life.

What about pleasing God as the purest of motives? There may be times when rote acting to please God reflects an unreflective, immature faith. Hear me out. Many people relate to God as an overbearing, judgmental parent or with unhealthy dependency issues. “Pleasing God” becomes just a repetition of the same old kind of fretful acting that’s done to please parents, boss, spouse, or teacher…. which doesn’t please God! And sometimes our best motives may be to do something simply because it is the right thing to do and that is what ends up pleasing God. Capeesh?

Pleasing God as a motivation for action is generally a good moral principle, as Paul teaches us. But be careful not to limit your moral actions by scrupulously calculating the purity of your motives or the extent to which you are pleasing God. God knows our hearts and our humanity.

•Do you always have a full grasp of your motives when you act?
•Are there times when our actions simply call for doing the right thing and leaving the rest up to God?
•When does our desire to “please God” become unhealthy?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Encourage One Another: 1 Thessaloninas 3:1-13

The work of peace and justice can be slow, tough, and lonely work, even within a so-called “historic peace church.” As Minister of Peace and Justice for Mennonite Church USA for 7 years I found that encouragement was desperately needed among those “in the trenches” as well as those of us who were leading the struggle. Many of those working for peace and justice in the churches felt isolated and with little support. And when the broader social and political climate continued to support war, violence, and injustice, it became very discouraging. Whenever we gathered with people engaged peace and justice or met them in our travels everyone was encouraged just by being with like-minded believers who shared in a common work.

We were often encouraged by the letters that came with donations that supported our peace and justice work. “Your work is favored by the Lord”. “Thank you for grounding and prodding us to honor Christ through a peace and justice witness in Mennonite congregations.” “We appreciate your efforts to keep us “awake” to peace and justice issues.” ”Thank you for your attention to peace and justice and keeping it at the forefront of our churches’ mission.” These letters lifted our spirits and gave us needed encouragement to keep on keeping on.

In our biblical text Timothy returned from a visit to Thessalonica with encouraging words for Paul and Silas. The believers continued steadfast in their faith despite their suffering. Paul further encouraged the Thessalonians in his letter to the churches. There was mutual encouragement among the leaders and disciples. They were strengthened together to carry on their work.

Everyone needs an encouraging word every now and then, particularly those who are swimming upstream or going against the grain. The Thessalonian believers were part of a misunderstood, persecuted, minority faith within a pagan empire living against the flow of their culture, which is becoming more the case for faithful Christians in our increasingly secularized, postmodern Western culture today. Mutual encouragement is essential for survival in our world.

Who has been an encouragement to your faith recently? How have you encouraged others to “keep the faith”? Have you thought about writing a letter of encouragement to a struggling believer or congregation?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Motives for Commitment: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

*Blogger's note- This is the seond in a series of summer lessons I am writing for Adult Bible Study Online, a Faith and Life Resource. This lesson can be found at:

Christianity has been tied to some pretty bad news recently. Conservative Christians are a strong part of the Tea Party and birther movements, which exhibit racist overtones in their opposition to the Obama Administration, A Baptist minister and anti-gay activist was recently caught traveling with a gay escort who he claims was “handling his luggage.” A Baptist missionary was charged with kidnapping children during the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Fundamentalist Christians on the Texas Board of Education are revising social studies textbooks to reflect a right-wing ideology. On and on the stories go. The gospel message is getting distorted. Where is the authenticity and integrity when message, motives, and morals don’t match?

The apostle Paul defends his presentation of the gospel with authenticity and integrity. His message came without flattery, seeking praise, or exercising greed or self-interest. He even calls upon God as witness to his sincerity. His motives and message and morals matched. Paul’s focus was upon pleasing God rather than pleasing others or in personal gain.

There seems to be a pattern of young people leaving the church in large numbers. Generation Y, young people born between 1980 and 2000, are seeking a church with authenticity and integrity. In a young adult statement to the Mennonite Church USA assembly in San Jose, they collectively said: “We want a church that practices its beliefs with consistency and integrity. ... Some of us are connected to our home congregations, and others are finding it hard to connect to any congregation ...” Young people are keenly aware of hidden motives behind church actions, leaders who preach welcome but are exclusive, congregations that preach the gospel of peace but are divided or support state violence. Authenticity and integrity are high on their list of church priorities.

These should be priorities for the church as a whole. Paul urged the Thessalonian Christians to “live lives worthy of God” and of the gospel we share. Living with authenticity and integrity is not just for the sake of our children, but for the sake of God, the gospel, the church, and the world.

Why is it important that our message, motives, and morals match? Are the young people in your congregations looking for authenticity and integrity? How can we better reflect the gospel we preach?

Witness in Daily Life: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

*Blogger's note- This is the first in a series of summer lessons I am writing for Adult Bible Study Online, a Faith and Life Resource. This lesson can be found at: http://www.faithandliferesources.org/curriculum/abs/abs100606.html

As an artist I have a drawing table where I sit each day and do my work. My 6 year old grandson, Gavin, likes to watch me draw. He is a budding artist himself. One day he gathered up his clipboard of paper, stack of colored pencils, grabbed a wooden TV tray and set up his drawing table right behind me. The sight of him sitting right behind me drawing reminded me of how much he imitates what I do and the responsibility I have to provide a good example for him.

In probably one of the earliest written books of the New Testament the apostle Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they “became imitators of us and the Lord” (1:6). Long before the “imitation of Christ” (imitation Christi) became practically synonymous with the monastic devotional book by Thomas รก Kempis, Paul encouraged Christians to imitate Christ and himself. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” Paul admonished (1 Cor. 11:1). Model your lives after Christ and those who seek to reflect the life of Christ in their own.

We all learn first by imitation. Artists, like my grandson, learn by copying artists. Novice musicians imitate masters. Everyone learns first by imitating others until they become models themselves. The Thessalonian church had become a model or witness to other Christians in their world.

In our increasingly secular, postmodern society in which the credibility of Christianity has been marred by scandals, bad examples, divisiveness, exclusiveness, violence, oppression, racism, bigotry, and xenophobia, there is a desperate need for authentic models of the Christianity as individuals and faith communities. Granted, we cannot simply repeat what Christ or even what his followers did in their time. But, when we model the kind of life Christ lived, or live in the spirit of Christ in our own world and time, we will be a witness to Christ through our lives to those around us.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My drawing of Oscar Romero in Madonna magazine

Just received my copy of Madonna magazine, July-August, 2010 edition. It is an Australian Jesuit publication. They used my drawing to illustrate an article on Oscar Romero, martyred archbishop of San Salvador. A number of Roman Catholic organizations have used my drawing of Oscar Romero.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Hippies

This weekend I watched for a second time the History Channel documentary entitled "The Hippies" and drew the above illustrations (Yeah, that's me in 1968!). The documentary itself can be seen at: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7434881801914630046#

It makes you feel old when a time you lived through becomes part of "history." The documentary seems to be a bit imbalanced on the negative side of the 60's, the hippie movement and its broader impact upon society. I remember the time positively as a peace-loving artist doing psychedelic artwork and a Rock musician living and playing the LA scene with Beauregard Ajax, light shows, strobe lights, psychedelic music, long hair, and wild trippy clothes. Maybe it was more positive because I wasn't high on drugs, but was more of a Jesus Freak who was exploring not only Christianity and Catholicism, but world religions. The documentary brought back some good as well as bad memories (i.e., Vietnam War).

Monday, June 7, 2010

Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Church

finished this icon of Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church (1968), a Christian church that affirms and nurtures LGBT people. Perry started off with 12 people: "Nine were my friends who came to console me and to laugh, and three came as a result of the ad." There are now over 300 MCC churches in 18 countries.