Friday, October 24, 2014

Get Your Motor Running!

A Reading from Romans, the 3rd Chapter
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law,
for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Listen now to Reformation Day parable.  Once there was a parent.  A wonderful parent, but like any parent, this parent’s kids were sometimes wonderful and sometimes... well, more of a challenge.  When it was time for the kids to drive, this caring, compassionate parent sat on the front porch and wondered what would be the best way to go about this thing.  The first idea was to sit down and write out an agreement with the kids.  They do their part... drive responsibly, no speeding, no drinking and driving, maybe put a little gas in it and this would EARN them the right to drive and this parent would do their part by letting them use the car and pay the insurance.  

Both parent and kids agreed to this plan but like most good-parent-plans it didn’t last for long.  The insurance premiums were paid, but some of the kids burnt the rubber off the tires in the Wal-mart parking lot, others left the tank on empty and there were even some reports of some seriously dangerous driving too.  This parent was pretty upset…  some about the tires and the empty tank, but mostly at the scary, dangerous stuff; this parent REALLY loved their kids.  It got so bad the kids were grounded and the keys taken away until it was decided what to do about all this.

The parent considered all the usual parental solutions; an infinite grounding, military boarding school, beatings with various sized branches and sticks and even death.  But in the end, the conclusion was that there was no really good solution that would both make the kids understand AND keep their relationship in tact.  At some point, this parent knew that punishment would have to escalate to the point where it would alienate the kids and this parent was obsessed with the idea of maintaining a relationship with the kids no matter what.  Love seemed to be this parent’s biggest weakness.  In the end, it was determined that there was no deal or bargain that could be made with these kids that they would be able to live up to perfectly and this parent was wise and knew that if the hammer kept being brought down on the kids every time they messed up, then sooner or later the kids would be run away and for this parent, that was simply unacceptable.  

So, it was decided to do something radical, crazy, unconventional and even a little different.  The kids, apparently, weren’t able to EARN the right to drive the car.  They would never be able to drive well enough, so instead of continuing to raise the punishments to the point the kids ran away from home, this parent went and gave each kid their own, brand, new car!  Every single one, no matter how responsible or irresponsible... no matter what grades they got, how well they did in driver’s ed, no matter EVEN if they paid attention in confirmation or not.  Cars were given in a way that would make even Oprah, green with envy... You get a car!  You get a car!  You get a car!  Every single one of this crazy, backwards, parent’s kids got a brand new car!  Now, there was obviously a cost to this decision.  You don’t just buy a new car for every single kid without a price.  But to this particular parent, the price (which cost the parent everything by the way) was worth it because THAT is how much this parent loved their kids... with EVERYTHING they had... and punishing them and risking loosing them was just never an option. 

The kids reacted to this seemingly insane gift in very different ways.  Some simply thought it was too good to be true... it must be a test or a trap... they didn’t trust the Word that this was a free gift and wouldn’t even get in.  Instead, they continued to try to follow all the rules and wait for the day they would finally EARN the car on their own merits.  They had the keys.  The scorecard that had kept track of violations before had been torn up but that didn’t seem to matter.  They continued to try to EARN the right to drive the car and so they never got in their car... they never really drove it.  This loving parent just shook their head at this choice and wondered why those kids chose to live such a grumpy life and not just get out on the road and drive.

Some kids, on the other hand, thought their parent had temporarily lost it and drove off like maniacs worried their parent would come back to their senses any minute.  They drove in crazy and reckless ways that hurt themselves and others around them.  Their loving parent, of course, hated that this was the way they chose to drive simply because, as a loving parent, they didn’t ever want to see their kids hurt or anyone hurt for that matter.  But no matter how they chose to drive, the car remained theirs, and each kid always remained an unconditionally loved child, no matter how they chose to drive.

Some of the kids, though, were very thankful for this wonderful gift.  They understood what a sacrifice this had been and tried to drive responsibly; buckling up, not blowing through yellow lights and the like.  They did occasionally speed a little; a few even wrapped their car around a tree in one of life’s unavoidable accidents.  They weren’t perfect drivers, but they did try.  Their loving parent knew that they wouldn’t ever be perfect drivers but rejoiced when they did their best and lived their lives out on the road, driving the gifts they had been given.  After all, DRIVING was the reason they were given cars to begin with!  

You and I individually and you and I collectively as the Body of Christ are God’s kids you know.  Our loving and generous parent has given us a bright, shiny, brand new life in the waters of Baptism.  There are no payment books, no catches, no agreements to sign, no limits to where or how we can drive it.  The only question is, what are we going to DO with this incredible, grace filled gift?

A new, and somewhat interesting stretch of road has just opened up to us as a congregation.  It’s got some twists and turns we haven’t driven before.  Those new twists promise to make driving both more exciting but also a bit more nerve wracking all at the same time.  The question for us is will we choose to turn off our well traveled road and take this new St. Mark’s highway?  Well, I can’t speak for you all, but for me... I’d like to get in and put the top down, (yes life is a convertible) turn off the well worn route we’ve taken this far and open ‘er up (yes does come with a V-8) and see where this new road takes us!  I feel confident in doing that because I trust God’s Word... that this life has been given to us to not just live, but to live ABUNDANTLY!  I trust that no matter how this trip goes... whether perfectly or even wrapped around a tree, God’s love for us will never waver.  So, with a new car given as a free gift, a challenging new road laid in front of us and a parent that loves us unconditionally, I say... Let’s go for a DRIVE!   Amen.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Global Warming, Ebola and ISIS, Oh My!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew the 22nd Chapter

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice,
said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

It’s harvest time and the world is producing a bumper crop of things to worry about this fall!  Do you worry about the big stuff like ISIS, Ebola and Climate Change... that sort of thing... or are you a more close-to-home worrier... worrying about heating oil, a rough ferry trip, who is going to be the next pastor or maybe a friend’s illness?  You can worry about the big stuff or you can worry about the close to home stuff OR you can be like me and worry about EVERYTHING!  I worry about the big global things like ISIS and Ebola but I also go above and beyond and worry about less known international problems like reduced freedoms in Indonesia, protests in Hong Kong and growing global income inequality, just to name a few... and believe me there are more than just a few!  BUT I also worry about things closer to home: rent, college tuition, if there is enough tread on my tires to pass inspection this month and how will the world be for little Lilly, who we baptized today, in 20 years.  

On the surface of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is simply sneaking out of a trap again.  Two political groups who normally can’t agree on anything have found the one thing they CAN agree on... that Jesus has got to go!  The Herodians were the rich and powerful who had gotten that way by sucking up to the occupying enemy... the Romans and supporting their puppet king Herod.  The Pharisees were the group that thought that by following a much more strict, fundamentalist understanding of the Law, God would bless Israel and the BIGGEST of those blessings would be that God would get rid of the Romans and the Herodians!  So, you can see how they wouldn’t normally get along.  The trap they set, put Jesus (they thought) in a no-win situation.  If Jesus said, “don’t pay taxes” the Herodians would get the Romans to literally crucify him for trying to start a revolution and if Jesus said, “pay your taxes” the Pharisees could get him killed as a heretic because, on that coin was not just the picture of Tiberius Caesar but also his self-claimed title of “Son of the Divine” both of which made that coin a big, giant idol!  

So, once again the Herodians and the Pharisees came to another battle of wits with Jesus.... again, they came totally unarmed... and of course they lost.  BUT!  There’s WAY more going on in this little scene than just Jesus making a bunch of politicians look like idiots.  (Although you really can’t ever get too much of anyone making a politician look like an idiot, can you?)  BUT, the REALLY important thing happening here is a powerful reminder of who is really in control of what.  

Look past the zinger Jesus gave the politicians and think about what he said: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  On the surface is a question about who is in charge of what parts of life.  But underneath that, Jesus is reminding us that God is the One who is in control of EVERYTHING!  On the surface, the question was whose face is on that coin, but underneath that question, Jesus is asking them who do you think gave the emperor his face to begin with!?  Now, I don’t want to forget about Jesus making fun of politicians... because, let’s face it, that’s just fun... BUT the REAL take home lesson is WAY bigger than that.  The real lesson is that this whole creation, including all the things and people and political situations and diseases and wars and every little, beautiful baby and my rent and heating oil and pastoral searches and how Christianity will become known to a new generation on Vinalhaven and EVERYTHING we could ever worry about belongs to God.  God really does have the whole world in His hands!  It’s not just a Sunday school song after all!    

Over the years though, lots and lots of people have read this lesson, and taught this lesson, the same way the Pharisees and the Herodians heard it, rather than the way Jesus told it. Jesus knew both groups believed there were places and situations in the world that were either beyond God’s reach or outside of God’s concern and many others have read this the same way... They say that over here, there are political, business, and worldly things that “belong to Caesar” apart from God and then there are the religious, church, and spiritual stuff over here that “belong to God” and the two simply aren’t supposed to mix.  God’s ways and Jesus’s teachings are fine and good for Sundays and on Christmas inside churches, inside our hearts, minds and souls; but outside the church walls during the week... God’s teachings through the law and the prophets and especially Jesus’s teachings should just not mix into how we run governments, businesses, handle violence, do politics or do justice.   But with this lesson, I think Jesus wanted us to clearly understand that God not only has something to SAY about every single aspect of every single moment of our lives, but that God has every single aspect of every single moment of our lives and every atom of creation wrapped up in God’s infinite, unconditional, loving and redeeming embrace!  

All the faith stuff, spiritual stuff and church stuff isn’t at all separate from the work stuff, political stuff and business stuff.  Because ALL STUFF is in God’s control and God really does mean for all of those upside down ideas like generosity, total forgiveness, unconditional love, justice and real lasting peace to be the way the whole world works... not just how Sunday morning works.  God really does mean for us to change the world so that there is no more poverty, no more hunger, no more homelessness, no more war, no more inequality, racism, or hate.  

Now, that doesn’t mean we need a “Christian” nation the way that idea is usually sold, where everyone believes the same way, but it does mean that as Christians, you and I are called to come out from the trenches we’ve dug to protect our personal and cultural preferences over the years and begin to work with new people in new ways to move our neighborhoods, our towns, our country and our world a little more toward working in that particularly “Jesus” sort of way. 

Worrying, it turns out, doesn’t help.  But simply “giving it to God” and not actively doing something about it isn’t the faithful alternative to worry either.  Jesus lived his life sacrificially, actively confronting the powers of the world and actively doing things to change the world for the better with ALL of his being, right to the bitter end and beyond!  Our call is to work as Jesus did, to sacrifice our pride, preferences and comforts just as Jesus did to actively make real changes where we can in our world.  AND, as we do that, we’re also called to keep in mind, just as Jesus did, that ALL of creation... the wonderful, beautiful, kind, life giving and loving parts AS WELL AS the frightening, worrisome, horrific, death filled and evil parts... the WHOLE world... THE WHOLE WORLD without exception, really and truly is in God’s loving and gracious hands!   Amen.

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's God's Party, Weep and Gnash if You Want To

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 22nd Chapter

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business,
while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’ 

“On this mountain, the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines; of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”  

Isaiah wasn’t describing a literal feast.  He was asking the people of Israel to take a powerful memory from their past... something they COULD wrap their minds around... and use that to help them imagine their future... something that was much harder to wrap their minds around.  Isaiah knew that if he just told the people of Israel to imagine the future God had in mind for them, they would just stare at him with glazed over eyes and their mouths hanging open.  BUT by helping them to remember a particular, powerful memory from their past (and let’s face it, food invokes powerful memories) he could help them IMAGINE and live into the future God had for them that wasn’t just OK, but was a FILLED with ABUNDANT LIFE.
One of the good things about being an interim is that I’m “pre-fired” so I can ask you to do crazy things and you won’t fire me because it’s just easier to humor me for a couple more months... So, I want us to try what Isaiah did.  So, close your eyes... come on, humor me... Now, think back to a time when you sat at a table and ate the MOST AMAZING food of your entire life!  A time when each bite was a symphony.  A time when you were full and you let out that fully satisfied sigh... and then gleefully ate some more because the flavors were SO amazing!  What was on the menu?  How did it smell?  How did it feel in your mouth?  What were you drinking?  How did the food and the drink work together to be more amazing than the sum of their parts?  Think back to that meal... remember the details... remember the tiny things that made that meal SO incredible... so wonderful and so abundant that you slowly reached under the table and loosened your belt a notch or maybe two notches so you could eat just a little more and then, when every little morsel was finally gone, when you had dragged your finger across the plate to get one last taste, you leaned back in your chair, looked up to the heavens with your eyes closed and your whole being... body, mind and soul... BEAMED with delight!  

Do you have that meal pictured in your mind?  OK, now, turn to the person next to you and share it with them.  Whoever’s birthday is closer to today goes first.  You’ve each got one minute!  GO!  What was the meal?  How was it cooked?  How did it taste and smell?  NOW, share the way it made you FEEL.  OK, now, SWITCH.  What was it?  How was it cooked?  How did it taste and smell?  NOW, share the way that meal made you FEEL. 

Now, let the details of the food itself go out of focus, and bring into sharp focus the FEELING that meal gave you... hold onto those FEELINGS... how it felt in your being to simply BEAM with delight!  Got it?  NOW, turn back to your partner and tell them about an event, a time, a memory, a worship or anything else that happened here at Union Church that gave you THAT SAME KIND OF FEELING... a time, a memory, an event, a ministry, a worship... whatever... here at Union Church that made your body, mind and soul BEAM!  Go!  First thing that comes to your mind!  You’ve got a minute!  GO!  OK, now SWITCH!  What thing here at Union Church made your soul BEAM, like the best meal you ever ate?  

Alright, one last thing and I’ll leave you alone... for now.  This is the hardest part.  I need you to really, really remember what your partner just told you.  I need you to remember it all the way downstairs to lunch time today so that when we sit down to eat together we can go around the table and tell it to the whole group.  Got it?  Good!

(For those of you reading at home and not part of Union Church, we'll be taking the memories of those specific times of abundant life from the past, and trying to see if we can see any common patterns that emerge.  Those common joys from the past can be used to discern new joys they may want to work toward in the future.  Those will become steps toward a mission plan for the coming year or two.)

Isaiah used the memory of an amazing feast to help the people of Israel get a glimpse of how the future God wanted for them might feel when they returned from exile.  Jesus, in the parable we read today, also uses the image of an amazing feast to illustrate the future God wants, not just for the people of Israel, but for all of creation.  But Jesus’ parable also comes with some hard realities.  The King in the parable is God and the Wedding Banquet is an image of God’s Kingdom... it’s the way God intends the world to be.  By the end of the parable, EVERYONE has been invited to God’s party, but one of the hard truths is that not everyone will choose to come.  EVERYONE is indeed invited, from the rich and powerful people whom everyone knows, to the poorest person living forgotten in the shadows on the streets, but some will not believe that God’s feast is worth their time. 

The other hard truth this parable points out is that while indeed EVERYONE is invited, it is, in the end God’s party.  It’s not my party or your party... it’s God’s party and that leaves us with a choice...  to party God’s way or to spend the evening in the outer darkness, which seems to me to be a whole lot less fun.  You see, the man thrown out of the party was one of the gang that was rounded up off the streets.  These were folks who NEVER expected to go to the King’s Palace that day.  They were commuting to work, emptying dumpsters, unclogging toilets and heading home from school.  NONE of them had their wedding cloths with them.  Why would they?  SO if EVERYONE ELSE who came in with this guy right off the street DID have a wedding robe, where did they get them?  The parable doesn’t say, but my guess is that just like in our Baptisms we are “clothed with Christ” as a gift from God, I bet that these last minute, off the street wedding guests were also clothed as a gift from the King.  If my guess is right on that, it means that this ONE JOKER decided HIS clothes were worthy of the King’s party... that he was good enough on his own without the King’s good graces... and it turned out he was dead wrong!  The only ones worthy, were the ones the KING made worthy! 

This parable reminds us that God has a future in mind for all of us... a powerful, abundant, wonderful future, BEAMING with abundant life.  It’s a future that God wants for each one of us, but even more than that, it’s a future God wants for us together as the Body of Christ called Union Church.  God’s abundant future is right here for us to live into and enjoy... but, just like in the parable, God won’t force us into anything.  

This parable also reminds us that if we do indeed want to live into that future that God has created for us we will need to do it God’s way... the Jesus way... living first for the other, setting aside real time for study, worship and serving in the world before we worry about ourselves.  It means we’ll need to give up some things that are familiar and comfortable, just like the King’s guests did when they put on those new robes the King gave them at the wedding.  It means living so that “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”  God has invited you to an amazing feast!  I'm pretty sure you want to go but I also know that the hard part will be letting go of what is familiar and comfortable and trusting that God really does know the best way to party!  Amen.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Padre Pollo's Costa Rican Arroz con Pollo

I say it is Costa Rican, but it's not exactly authentic.  It's basically the best I can do from my memory of our trips to Costa Rica with the resources I have here in Maine.  In spite of that, our family really enjoys it and it has become a regular dish for us.  Several folks have asked me to share the recipe so here it is!    

9 oz. Package of Vigo Saffron Yellow Spanish Rice or 
8 oz. Box of Goya Yellow Rice  
2 Cups cooked chicken shredded or chopped into bite sized pieces
Chicken broth
1 Medium Onion coarsely chopped
2 Bell Pepper coarsely chopped (red, yellow or orange)
1 Cup Carrot Shreds
1 Can Tender Young Peas
1 Bunch Fresh Cilantro coarsely chopped
Lawry's Salt to taste

Make the package of rice according to the package directions, substituting chicken stock for the water.  In a separate pan, sauté the onion, pepper and carrot until cooked but retains some firmness.  Add the chicken and peas to the sautéed vegetables and warm through.  Set aside and keep warm until the rice if done.  When the rice is done, add the coarsely chopped cilantro to the meat and vegetables and stir then mix in the rice.  Season with Lawry's Salt to taste. 

I usually use the meat from what's left on a store bought rotisserie chicken after we've used the breast meat for sandwiches or another meal.  I also make the chicken broth by simmering the carcass (after I've removed the meat) with some onion and carrot for about 30 minutes, but you can use canned chicken stock and any source of cooked chicken.  If you have access to Salsa Lizano that would add an essential authentic flavor to this dish but I don't have any now.  I'm hoping to get some as soon as we can travel back to Costa Rica!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

John Smith, Ebola and the Rapture

When I was in college, I knew a guy named John Smith.  He was a chemical engineering student from Hoboken.  He was hilarious!  While he had the exact same name as the explorer who came to Jamestown from England in 1607, they were, I am completely convinced, two completely different people.  I tell you that because sometimes people use the names "Christianity", "God" and "Jesus" in ways that I am completely convinced are referring to an entirely different and often opposing thing that what I mean when I use those names.  The names may be the same, but it seems like we must be talking about something completely and totally unrelated to one another.  

The most recent example of this comes with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  I read a story today about a person who self identifies themselves as a Christian but who is suggesting that Ebola is a plague sent by God to cleanse the world of a variety of people including, but not limited to gay people, atheists and the sexually promiscuous. While I too self identify as a Christian, my concept of Christianity is literally opposite of this person's.  The God I know would indeed like all of humanity to be in relationship with God and in our relationships with others treat one another with self sacrificial love, dignity, respect and compassion in all aspects of life including in our sexual relations.  However, the God I know doesn't care who we love but would prefer we love with respect, dignity and compassion.  Also, the God I know would NEVER kill people in ANY way (natural disaster, disease, violence, accident etc.) for ANY reason including using a virus that makes people vomit and bleed to death.  The God I know wants us to be in healthy relationships with God and each other not out of fear of some Divine violence but simply because God knows we'll all have a better, abundant, more enjoyable life when we do!  If the God you know makes anybody vomit and bleed to death because they don't believe a certain way or act a certain way or really, for any reason, you frankly have a horrible God and one who is completely different than the God I know.  For any of you who want to point to the Old Testament for examples of a God who was clearly into smiting, I would just say that I do see that in God's story but I also see that in Christ God did a new thing and part of what made that new thing "new" was God giving up the smiting thing in favor of love.  Now, onto some factual information about Ebola...

These days I'm a pastor, but when I knew John Smith (the engineer, not the 17th century explorer) I was studying to be a biochemist.  It was in the late 1980's during the AIDS crisis so as a result I know a bit more about fear-fueled viruses than your average pastor.  Ebola is certainly scary, but it is even harder to get than HIV.  Like HIV, it is NOT airborne and can only be contracted through the bodily fluids of someone both infected AND showing symptoms.  Unlike HIV, you will know a person is able to transmit Ebola when they are showing symptoms... fever, vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding. To be deliberately blunt and crass in order to make a point, you would need to get the blood, vomit, diarrhea or other bodily fluids of a person infected with Ebola into your mouth, nose, rectum, vagina or in your eyes in order to transfer the virus to yourself.

The reason ebola spreads more readily in West Africa is because the culturally normal way to care for a loved one's body after they have died is for the extended family to join together and personally clean the body, including removing all the virus laden blood, vomit and feces without anything like protective gloves or masks.  It is also the cultural norm to often kiss the body prior to burial.  The health care and educational systems in those countries have trouble getting that information out to the rural public, and often tradition has a stronger influence than the advice of government and health officials, so people do what they have always done when a loved one dies and the infection unfortunately spreads.  As to what to expect from the case in Texas, we should expect it to be handled at least as well as a nearly identical situation that happened in Nigeria.  Someone flew into Nigeria who was infected.  That country, with a better government and health care system than Liberia was able to quickly quarantine the person and then contain a potential outbreak.  I am confident our country will be able to address the case in Texas at least as well as the case was handled in Nigeria.   

The other thing that the Ebola fear has brought out recently is a renewed obsession by some folks about the "end times" and a non-biblical concept known as the rapture.  Ebola has become for some people a "sign" that the end is near.  Link that fear with a new "Left Behind" movie hitting theaters and you have an added reason for some to use Ebola to promote a movie with panic and fear.  Just as a review of the paragraph above, the God I know simply doesn't send plagues for any reason.  We do, however, live with the natural consequences of our world and many frightening things are indeed a part of our world including violence, death, hate, climate change, political unrest and infectious disease.  The God I know, however, doesn't send those things, but rather has enveloped all of creation… the good, the bad, the evil, and the ugly… in God's infinite and unconditional love which for me is something shown most clearly in Jesus' life, death and resurrection.  There is nothing, including the most frightening evils of this world, which is beyond God's love and control.  

As for the idea of the rapture (that the "good Christians" would be vacuumed up off the earth to someplace else before a time of tribulation on earth for those "left behind" and then the eventual destruction of the earth), it is completely made up and non-biblical.  To the contrary, the Bible is clear that first, not even Jesus has any idea when the end times would be, but second it is God's intention not to remove us from the earth and destroy it but to transform the earth into the creation God wanted it to be from the beginning for all of us to enjoy together… right here!  

To sum up, the God I know has this entire, seemingly out of control world fully under control and wrapped in God's infinite and unconditional love.  While I don't understand the process God is using all the time and it seems like there is a LONG way to go sometimes, I do hold onto the promise that the world is being transformed from what it is, into what God wants it to be.  What God wants it to be is a place where everyone has value, dignity and worth; a place where everyone has enough and a place where violence, disease and death itself is no more.  That process, which I understand to be in some way both complete and at the same time still in the works (I don't fully get it either) I believe began with Jesus and is not something anyone or anything can stop.  God will get God's way and God's way is love.  So, when you hear someone talking about "God," "Jesus," or "Christianity" in a way that sounds anything besides loving, compassionate and inclusive then they must be talking about something as different as John Smith from Hoboken is from John Smith the explorer!