Monday, May 31, 2010


I own real property and I am a tenant, too. I sometimes get the two confused in my head, partly because of my underdeveloped understanding of Florida “homestead” laws, but that is another subject.

Owners, in the eyes of the law (and probably in the eyes of God, I think) can control, shape, develop or neglect their property. It is theirs to do with as they wish—unless and until it impinges on others’ property or their tenants’ rights under their lease and/or under the law. In those cases, the governmental authority steps in and restrains the owner from doing harm to others. As long as that is not happening owners are, for all intents and purposes, lord of the manor, caller of all shots, the desk where the buck stops on the disposition of their property.

Tenants or renters (depending on whether or not you want to use the legal term or less formal term) are not in ultimate control of the property, and usually don’t have the owner’s same sense of responsibility for it. That is why when you drive through a neighborhood you can usually spot which homes have tenants and which ones are owner-occupied (usually, but not always). No one cares for a castle like its owner, and tenants will flee at the least little thing.

They remind me of the skittish and fickle peasants in history. We have a water colour of Conisborough Castle hanging on our wall, dear to us because of all the memories of that place we lived 10 minutes from for 3 years in the mid-90’s. It is famous because Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe was set nearby (which I must admit I still haven’t read, like so many books). I could tell so many interesting stories and details about that place, some hilarious, some tedious I’m sure. But here is the one of interest for this brief entry: the keep at Conisborough (the keep is the tower in the middle of all the other formidable defenses) is the best preserved keep in England for one reason only. It had been abandoned at the time of the Parliamentary Wars in which so many castles were dismantled by armed bands spreading the “democratic spirit” of Cromwell and friends (ironic, but true).

Sorry, I started getting off track, but back to the point. Castles with mote and perimeter and barbican and defenders and hot oil and archers and catapults and their own supply of water were formidable indeed in older days. But there was one weakness and it ALWAYS appeared when the lord of the manor was absent. The Achilles’ Heel of the castle defense was the willingness of the servants to defend the castle in absence of the owner. I can almost envision the conversation in a Monty Python-like dialogue, as they opened the gate to save their own lives, and lowered the bridge for the invaders to come in: “Take what you need—we didn’t vote for ‘im.”

The same can be said for business owners versus employees or non-stake holders in a corporation. That is probably why small businesses (read sole proprietorships—owner-run operations) account for such a disproportionately large percentage of our economy. Jesus made this same point long ago, referring to the unreliability of paid pastors: He said (as John reports): “The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-- and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John’s Gospel, 13:12-14). For all its bluster, it is ironic to me that the church-as-we-know-it in our country is mostly committed to this socialistic funding of the Christian religious enterprise (misusing the word “socialism” as is so avant-garde these days), and turning up its nose at the more tea-party-friendly and entrepreneurial understanding of Christian mission so clearly modeled by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9, a missionary strategy so unequivocal and clearly reiterated to the wise-ones late in Paul's life: “I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:33-35—stunning statement, if you read the warnings that come just before it).

I used to think it was cruel and heartless when church organizations, having fallen on hard financial times, told their pastor to go get a job. Now, I think, they were halfway back to where they needed to be in order to start: they could get there if they went all the way and sold their buildings and assets (if, indeed, they really want to help someone in need as they claim). Don’t laugh. Many churches around the country have done it lately. I don’t know that I’d call it a trend, but it sure would be interesting if it were.

All of that are a part of my reflections this morning on ownership. For the encyclopedic readers of my blog the answer is yes, this is another entry in the lexicon of acceptable words: “Lord” is out since those who say “Lord, Lord” won’t get in at the end of days. In our vernacular, Jesus is Owner and Physician, Commanding Officer and Skilled Therapist, holistic in all things social, spiritual, physical and emotional. In the words of the great hymn I heard someone singing on the street in Annapolis last weekend: “This is my Father’s world….”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

why hasn't Jesus returned yet?

I got asked last night what I thought about why the Lord has not returned, and if I thought it had something to do with the bride NOT preparing herself. I gave that some thought and wanted to read the few scriptures in the New Testament that use the word "bride" (very few) before I replied. Here are several things that I pondered, and then I summarize my very tentative answer below. I'd be interested in your take on the question.

1. We don't have a single instance of Jesus' teaching his disciples about the people of God as the Bride (and he never uses the word "bride" in the four gospels, or the rest of the NT including Revelation).

2. John the Baptist makes a DECLARATION ("this is true, ponder this!"), NOT an EXHORTATION ("become the bride!"): John 3:29 "The bride belongs to the bridegroom" (cf. Rev 21:9: "of the Lamb" = belonging to). It reminds me of 1 Cor 12: we ARE the Body of Christ and each one of us is a part of it. Declaration: it is a fact. It doesn't mention the purity of the bride here, just that the bride belongs to the bridegroom.

3. Revelation 19:7-9 (quoted below) APPEARS to answer your question in the affirmative, yet not quite.

(a) God brings the wedding: the wedding of the Lamb "has come" = divine passive construction="God has brought the wedding."

(b) Our part begins with "AND." "God has brought the wedding AND his bride has made herself ready." Why is that important? We are not to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). It does not say "because," but "and." The two happen at the same time.

(c) Verse 8 puts it in a divine passive construction again: "was given to her to wear." God clothes her in fine linen...

(d) ...AND this fine linen is our righteous acts (the parentheses () in the quote below are in the text itself, not my insertion). God's action AND our action. God's clothing and our obedience. Grace AND good works/obedience...

(e) We don't need to go there, right? What comes first, the chicken or the egg? The chicken: GRACE upon grace results in obedience (and, James corrective: if no obedience, there was no grace).

(f) All in the context of Jesus' teaching that not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" will inherit the kingdom, but only those who DO what He says (for whom He is truly Lord=if He's your Lord you can't not do what He is saying).

Revelation 19:7 "Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) 9 Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God."

4. It all ends with a divine passive construction: "I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (Revelation 21:2). Dressed by Whom? You don't need to ask: divine passive construction: dressed by God.

So, after pondering these passages afresh (is there one I overlooked? Please let me know), here is my answer: The Lord will come when He comes. He is the Lord. If He chooses to wait, it is His choice-not ours. If He arrives and we are not ready, He arrives nevertheless. Not everyone will be ready, and the consequences will be disastrous for them. Those who are ready have no boast--they have been made ready by Him, they have been washed and cleansed and salvaged by His gracious hand. If He has done that for them, you can observe it in their behavior: they obey Him.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us continue to do what He says, AND not go beyond what is written. Let us pray as we should, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus." Let us be found ready when He comes.