Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Last Post of 2011

The deer blind beckons in the next couple of days: thus, this morning's post will be the last for 2011.

In many ways, I will gladly say, "Good-by and good riddance!" to 2011.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. I hope to say good-by to 2011's catastrophic drought here in Texas.  It's affected my community in horrendous ways.  I hope and pray for all of my members and friends who have had their herds decimated by lack of water and lack of grass.  It will be quite some time before they recover, but I pray for a speedy one.
  2. I hope to say good-by to the numerous health issues that have plagued members of my congregation.  Every once in a while you get into a string of such things.  The worst I have experienced is 14 deaths during the 7 weeks of Lent in my first congregation.  The run of severe illness and surgery has been comparable in 2011.  Stroke, heart surgeries, a child suffering a heart attack, cancer, and the like.  This streak needs to come to an end and fast.
  3. Recent rains have enabled many counties to lift their burn bans, but I am hoping to say good-by to the conditions that led to the nasty wildfires across the state.  People responded generously and greatly to this situation, but rebuilding is still months away.  I hope folks don't have to watch their neighbors' homes burn again.
  4. I hope to say good-by to a bit of depression brought on by all of those things above.  Walking with people through these issues was tough.  It dragged me down quite a bit at times.  I wondered time and again when the next shoe would drop.  Sometimes when you lose your focus of the big picture like I did during these times, it wears on you greatly.
But, I cannot call 2011 a totally bad year.  There are some things that I must rejoice in.  And these things are quite good.

  1. It was great watching my kids thrive in school.  They are all doing very well in their respective studies.
  2. It was fantastic watching my wife enter the work force--if only for a couple of days a week.  She loves teaching Spanish to preschoolers, and she is absolutely thriving at doing her job.  She is enthusiastic and is having a blast doing so. 
  3. My congregation inspires me.  After a down year in giving, they responded tremendously this year.  People were very generous, and that worry was greatly alleviated for me.  Oh, but that was not all.  They used much of their excess revenue to support rebuilding efforts of fire damage in the state to the tune of $10,000.  Not bad for a country church.
  4. The folks of the congregation supported one another greatly with all of the illness as well.  They rallied around those who were sick and suffering and supported them with prayers, attention, and money when needed.  Watching them do such things took the edge off of my depression.
  5. Which brings me to a very important number 5, my own spiritual growth.  Many times it is said that God does His best work when we are walking through the darkness.  I will testify to such a thing as I did in my Christmas Eve sermon.  Reconnecting to prayer, meditation, and the practice of the presence of Christ has brought me to a different level of peace, anxiety, and faithfulness.  (As a rule, I'm not sure how long it will last, but I hope for quite some time.)  I'm not sure such growth would have happened without going through all the hard stuff of this year.
Every year is a mixed bag.  Next year is an election year.  (Boo!  Hiss!)  It's also supposed to be the last year of our existence according to the Mayan Calendar.  (Just like 2000 was in several other predictions.  Luckily, they've all been wrong so far.)  I am sure there will be challenges in the coming year, and I am sure there will be blessings.  My hope for all my readers is that the blessings will out number the challenges by a long shot.  May you have a blessed 2012.  Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Behind Every Man...

I'm no exception to that phrase.

I know it too.

Today, my wife turns 20 again.  Happy Birthday, dear!

I've got a good woman who does an awful lot.  She's the primary care giver for the kids.  She does laundry and puts it away.  She puts the dishes in the dishwasher and unloads them when they are clean.  She does the girls' hair--something I am very inept at.  She cleans the house.  She takes the kids to school and picks them up either at their school or at the bus stop.  She even teaches Spanish at my son's day school two days a week.

Most of all, she actually puts up with me--a task that isn't exactly the easiest in the world.

She's probably not going to be too happy with me for posting this on her birthday because she is one who doesn't want to be in the spotlight.  She doesn't like any  type of attention.  She's happy to fade into the background and let others get all the focus.  She doesn't even expect me or want me to do much for her on her birthday.  (We gave up exchanging gifts long ago.)

But in spite of this, and in spite of the fact that I might draw a little bit of ire for writing this, I do want everyone to know how special she is.  I want her to know that I see all that she does, and I appreciate it immensely.  I want her to know that she is not taken for granted.

God knew what He was doing when He put the two of us together.  I am truly blessed, and I hope that she is blessed today--even though she doesn't want much attention.  She still deserves some, because she is  a good woman.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Day Sermon 2011

Many people long to hear God’s voice. I will include myself among them. I long to hear what God has to say. When I am facing a difficult decision in my life, I ask God, "What should I do?" I long for the clarity of a response. When trouble strikes in my life or in someone I care deeply for, I ask God, "Why?" And again, I long for the clarity of a response. Sometimes when I look at all the events happening in the world around us, I pause and say, "Lord, what are you going to do about this?" And I want a reply that is so crystal clear that I have no reason to doubt or object." Others, I know, ask different questions. Some ask, "What am I supposed to do with my life?" And they want desperately a direction. Others ask, "What is the purpose for our being here?" And they too wait for a reply. Many times, those of us who ask these questions wait...and wait...and wait...and we never hear an answer. Sometimes the disappointment is overwhelming. We long to hear God’s voice.

When we enter into such a state we are very much like the people of ancient Israel. They too longed to hear God’s voice. They longed to hear a word from Him. And many times God did not disappoint. For hundreds of years, God spoke to the people of Israel through the judges and the prophets. God raised up the likes of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Michah, Habbakkuk, and others to bring His word to His people. They would confront sin and injustice. They would call people to repentance. Their proclamation, "Thus sayeth the Lord," rang loud and clear through the streets. Sometimes their words brought comfort. Sometimes their words stepped on toes. People both loved and hated the prophets because they loved hearing from God, but they weren’t always pleased with the message.

But after a time, God grew silent. He ceased to speak through the prophets. For 400 years the people of Israel waited to hear a word from the Lord. Invading armies entered their lands. Revolts and uprisings took place. They were conquered by Rome. The people asked God what was happening. The people asked God what their future held. The people asked God for a word either good or bad. But God was silent. The peoples’ disappointment was tangible.

But then God began speaking once again. A prophet named John the Baptist began proclaiming in the wilderness. As the prophet Isaiah had once foretold, "A voice was now crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’" John proclaimed a baptism for the repentance of sins, but he also pointed to one who was coming. "I baptize you with water, but one is coming who is more powerful than I. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!" The people were curious. God would speak some more? Through someone more powerful than John? Who could it be? How would God act?

This Christmas day, we gather to reflect upon the answers to those questions. We gather to remember how God acted decisively in history. For God decreed that John would be the last of the prophets. God would not use a mediator to hear His voice any longer. He would send His own Son, Jesus the Messiah, who was fully human and fully divine to speak to the world. The babe born in Bethlehem would speak God’s will loudly and clearly. The Kingdom of God was at hand. Repent. Believe the good news! The Son of God was coming into the world not to condemn the world but to save it!

The writer of Hebrews affirms this boldly in our lesson this morning, "Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word."

This news is good news for us on two fronts. First, because there were those who wrote down Jesus’ teachings and sayings, we can know God’s Word first hand. All we need to do is open the pages of our Bibles. We can be seeped in tidings of great joy as we read God’s Words to us straight from His Son’s lips. Those words will often at the same time comfort us and challenge us, but they will also give us a certain insight into the heart and mind of God. We cannot know God fully, but there are things we can come to know. Jesus teaches us.

The second aspect of this good news is the knowledge that Christ is still seeking to communicate with us as He sustains all things by His powerful word. As we read Jesus, we see in John chapter 14 that He says these words, "25"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will be our guide through life, and that this Spirit will continue speaking to us even after He is gone. Do you realize what this means? Do you realize the radical nature of this comment? For at one time, God only spoke through the prophets and the priests. At one time God only spoke to a few people at any given time in history. But because of the promised Holy Spirit, God talks to us directly–in the midst of our daily, busy lives.

Ah, but that brings us right back to the beginning of this sermon. And the questions now come in earnest. But I have asked God time and again to speak to me. I have repeatedly asked God time and again to give me direction. I have asked God time and again to give me answers to life’s most difficult questions. How come I am not hearing Him? How come I can’t hear God’s voice or the Holy Spirit’s promptings?

Here is where I must say to you, "I don’t know." I don’t know exactly why. I don’t fully know your circumstances or the things you are going through in life. But let me ask you a couple of questions: #1. Are you taking time to listen for God to speak? Have you turned off your television, your computer, your MP3 player, your radio and whatever other noise producers you have around you? Have you embraced the silence so that you can hear the still small voice that God often uses to speak?

#2. Have you opened your heart and mind to listen to what God actually has to say, or are you just waiting for God to affirm what you want to hear? So often, we want God to simply tell us we are doing Okay or to bless a path that we have already chosen instead of allowing Him free reign to lead us and guide us in the direction He wants us to go. When our minds are already pre-determined, we won’t hear God.

#3. Are you looking for God no matter where you are? Sometimes God speaks through strangers. Sometimes God speaks in church. Sometimes God speaks in the deer blind. Sometimes God speaks in the shower. Sometimes God speaks as you are watching your kids playing sports as you enter into the "white noise" produced by crowds. Do you expect God in these places? Or do you limit Him expecting Him to talk to you on your terms? Open your heart to see Him everywhere.

#4. Do you really want Him to speak to you? Remember, Jesus’ words both offer comfort and challenge. We like the comfort part, but are we open to the challenge? Are we open to those directions the Holy Spirit might take us even though they make us squirm. If we aren’t open, we won’t hear.

Oh, I could go on with questions and points to ponder, but let’s stop for a moment, shall we. Let’s instead ponder that God indeed wants to talk to you. God indeed wants you to hear His voice. God indeed has a message for you, this day and every day. And that’s one of the reasons He sent His Son into the world–so that we could hear His Word and have our lives filled with His light and His peace. Merry Christmas. Amen.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Eve Sermon 2011

There is something very healing and wholesome about holding a baby. I don’t exactly know what it is. It’s kind of hard to describe, but I do know that I experienced it while holding each of my children in their infancy. It would usually happen right after feeding them. After burping, their eyes would begin to close as sleep overtook them. I would then rest their head on my chest. In a matter of moments, they were breathing deeply and regularly, sleeping while listening to the beat of my heart. At this point, it seemed like time would stop. An overwhelming sense of peace and serenity came over and upon me. And I didn’t care a bit about anything else. Work? It would get done. Politics? Who cares. Fire and bombs raging around? Inconsequential. My child was sleeping on me. She knew she was safe. She knew she was protected. And in some strange way, so did I. It didn’t matter what was happening in the world. All was well.

Sadly enough, these times were short lived. Time interrupted. I had to trudge off to the office because food had to be put on the table. My kids’ beds also awaited them because we believed they needed to get used to sleeping on their own in their own beds without clinging to us and needing us to sleep. With a sigh of regret, I would put my kids down and be reunited with a world that raised my anxiety and stress. A world that reminded me time and again of brokenness, of pain, of frustration, and all the other downers of life. In bygone years, we would nave named such things sin, but it has become much less popular these days to talk in such terms.

It cannot be sin that has ruined the world. No. It has to be something else, it has to be something that we can control and change.  It has to be something that we have power over.   It has to be greed. If folks just weren’t so greedy and could learn to share, things would be better. Or it’s just pure laziness. If people would just get up off their backsides, stop thinking that they were entitled to things and get to work, they would learn how to earn their own living and stop whining and griping so much. Or it’s capitalism. That system of economics creates a wealthy class and a poor class where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. If we could dismantle capitalism, things would get better. Or, the problem is socialism. It robs people of the incentive to work, and so they no longer become productive. Those who actually work watch their wealth siphoned off until they break under the pressure and the whole shooting match collapses. Or, no, it’s the Republican’s fault. No, it’s the Democrat’s fault. Let me stop for a moment and see if I have sufficiently offended everyone yet.

If I haven’t, then perhaps I will now. For you see, I believe that in each and every one of us, including myself, there is greed. And in each and every one of us, there is laziness. There is a root cause for this, and it is called sin. There is a problem with capitalism just as there is a problem with socialism, or communism, or with a monarchy or any form of government that is instituted: none of them can deal with the brokenness of humanity. No government is equipped to deal with human sin. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican. Neither political party can even come close to addressing the real heart of the matter which confronts the realities of why the world is as messed up as it is at times. Until we can confront sin and overcome it, we will never, ever have a perfect world.

Most of us deep down know this. Most of us deep down realize the futility of trying to change the world and turn it into some type of magical utopia. Most of us realize just how ineffectual we really are at bringing about change. And so, we either stop trying and seek ways to escape the conflict and turmoil or we throw ourselves into the fray even more convinced we’re not working hard enough. One of these methods is called escapism. The other is called insanity. Neither work.

God knows this. God knows the futility of humankind trying to fix the problem of sin. God knows we cannot fix it anymore than a kindergartner can fix a nuclear reactor. The problem is too complex. It’s too big. It’s too overwhelming to consider. And so, God is the one who has to act. God is the one who has to bring a remedy for sin. God is the one who must bring a way into the world to confront sin and offer hope to those of us who want the world to be a better place.

And that is exactly what God did. When we couldn’t reach up to the heavens and deal with sin, God came down to earth in the person of Jesus to begin the process of defeating sin. Why do you think Jesus’ birth was so special? Why do you think the Heavenly Host appeared to the shepherds? Why do you think they sang "Glory to God in the Highest and peace to His people on earth? Why do you think the shepherds left their flocks to go and see this thing that had happened? God was acting. God was no longer keeping Himself separate from this world; He was entering into it.

Now, at this point, you might be wondering just how Jesus coming into the world accomplished this. You might be looking around at the state of our nation today. You might see the polarization of movements like the Tea Party movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement and say that Jesus didn’t do much to confront sin. You might also look at the continued squabbling between political parties on capitol hill and say the same thing. You might look at the continued high unemployment rate and the still struggling economy, the amount of poor and hungry, and the continued injustice and say, "Well, Jesus may have come to confront sin, but he hasn’t done a good job of getting rid of it."

And you would be right, but I would also argue you would also be missing out on how Jesus works. For, He came, not as a king of nations. He came not as one who would change the structures of society. He came as one who was to rule over the hearts of those who came to believe in Him. Let me rephrase that just a little bit–He didn’t come into the world to rule over society, He came to rule over your heart. He came to help you confront sin in your life so that you may live differently in this world right here and right now. How? Let me explain by sharing something personal with you.

This past year has been a very difficult one for me. My faith has been challenged in all sorts of ways, and many external factors have contributed to this. The ongoing drought that has stricken our state and this community has played a major role. I’ve been praying for rain for months, and it seemed like God didn’t care. On top of this, many of the congregation members here have experienced some severe trials and tribulations. Illnesses, strokes, heart troubles, cancer, children ending up in the hospital in extremely serious condition–dealing with all of these things has been a constant struggle in the past several months. And it would be easier if I didn’t care, but I do. It hurts me to watch others suffer. And I prayed. I prayed fervently to God for His intervention. But it seemed like He was quiet. Then, I got kicked in the teeth when it came to my own faith life. In reading a couple of books, I found just how far short I was falling when it came to my own following of Jesus and being his follower. I threw myself into further study and discipleship techniques. But interestingly enough, this didn’t help at all. I found myself further and further discouraged.

Until just recently. Something changed. As I was preparing for a class on discipleship I was teaching, I re-read a portion of Richard Foster’s book The Celebration of Discipline. I re-read about practicing the presence of Christ. This is a prayer technique which invites a person to realize that Jesus is not far off, but that He is with you at all times and in all places. Suddenly, something clicked within me. As I reflected on many of the things that had been happening in the church and in the community and with the drought, I realized that much of my prayers were directed to God who was out there–far away–who I needed to somehow cajole into action. I had forgotten that Jesus was here, now, a part of daily life.

I’ll not forget soon after, driving in my Mustang and picturing Jesus in the passenger seat. I asked Him to forgive me for missing His presence. I asked Him to help me be more aware of Him on a daily basis. As we drove, I pointed out to Him the stock tanks and how depleted they were. Somehow, it seemed like He heard me better, and I could sense my own anxiety draining away. Jesus was here. He cared. He listened, and He wanted me to know that. And He wanted me to know that He wasn’t finished with me yet. There was work to be done. "I am yours," I said, and I was at peace.

My friends, just as Jesus came to me, He comes to you. This is the reality of Christmas. He is not apart from us. He is not far off. He is near. He is present. He is with us right now, in this room and in our lives. He wants to work on and in us to change us so that sin may decrease and His love may increase. Do you dare take hold of Him? Do you dare allow Him into your heart? Do you dare sense His presence and rest in Him so that you too may say, "All is well?" Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Looking at Christmas Differently

I woke this morning after a 10 hour sleep.  Such a thing is few and far between for me since kids have come along.  But, my wife took the kids to my parents' house so that they could have Christmas with the cousins down there.  Being in my position, travel is difficult to impossible before Christmas Eve services, so I stayed home to hunt and be there in case any questions arose about our service this evening--there were several calls.

This morning, I arose and began final preparations for Christmas Eve at our place.  Dawna and the kids will return this morning along with my mom and dad.  My sister and her two children will arrive as well. 

My wife had already done a great job cleaning, so I proceeded to make a few final touches in the process.  I put the decorative table cloths on the table.  Vacuumed the floors.  Cleaned the counter and island in the kitchen and made them ready for final preparations.

As I wiped the table, I noticed the marker stripes all over the place.  I noticed the dings and places the kids had marred the finish.  I noticed the food crumbs under their places where they sat.  I took stock of the living room as it now stands, clean and ordered, and I pictured it a few hours from now with five little kids running around, pulling out toys, and leaving them to drag others to join them.

I smiled at the thought.

Here I was putting a few extra minutes into the hours my wife had put in to watch it descend into chaos only a few hours later.  There's a bit of insanity in the thought.

But I wouldn't trade it.  Not for a million dollars.

After struggling to have children for so long, I'd rather have a house full of kids who do everything possible to ruin a clean house than an empty house where no one even tries.

When it was just Dawna and I, Christmas was Okay.  I enjoyed being with my wife.  I hated the schedule at the church where I served.  Christmas there was an exercise in wearing you out.  It dampened the mood of the season.

But now, with my congregation and my children, Christmas truly is special.  I can't wait to see the expressions on their faces as they open presents.  I can't wait to see them all dressed up for church tonight.  I can't wait to hear them talking about Santa coming and spreading their reindeer food on the lawn.  I know I will get woken up way too early tomorrow morning, but in the scheme of things, it's okay.  Their excitement will spread, and while I won't show much of it, I know in my heart I will be treasuring it all. 

Sure, the house will be trashed.  There will be wrapping paper and toys all over the place.  Arguments will break out over who gets to play with what, but I will be content.  I will be at peace.  I'll look at all the chaos and remember Who is present in the midst of that chaos and the blessings He has given me in this life.

For many, Christmas time is busy, hectic, overwhelming, stressful, and (string together any number of adjectives here), but I see things differently.  Because of Christ, Christmas isn't these things in the least.  It truly is joyful, peaceful, and happy.

I hope yours is the same.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Wussification

It literally has been ages since I've been hunting.  I believe the exact count is eight years.  I've missed doing so.

You see, I'm not one of those hunters who needs to shoot something.  I enjoy getting out into the middle of nowhere and listening to nothing.  Well, you don't listen to nothing.  You hear the birds, the wind blowing, the creak of your chair as you adjust yourself, the snap of a twig when a deer steps on it--it's quiet enough out there to actually hear these things.  It is peaceful.  It is relaxing.  It's a joy.

One of my church members graciously invited me to come hunt on his place this year, and I jumped at the chance.  Two hunts in, and I'm enjoying myself thoroughly.  But, I have found that I have become more of a wuss.

This morning, it was cold.  Not bitter, nasty cold.  But the cold of South Texas.  45 degrees.  Cloudy.  North wind between 10 and 20 mph.  It's not bad when you are moving around, but when you're sitting's cold.

As we headed to the blind this morning, my congregation member said, "There's a heater in your blind."

I replied, "I probably won't use it."

You see, in my mind, I'm still 13-20 years old.  I still have something to prove.  Tough guys hunt.  I've sat in deer stands in below freezing temps with the wind blowing.  That's what real hunters do.  They grit their teeth and bear it, and d@mn the weather conditions.

I hunkered down in my blind this morning determined to do just that.  After 45 minutes of enduring the wind and cold and huddling, I started thinking to myself, "You idiot.  What do you have to prove anyway?  You're almost 40.  You deserve to be comfortable when you hunt."

Well, maybe I don't deserve to be comfortable, but that voice convinced me anyway.  I pulled out my cell phone so I could get enough light to see how the heater operated.  After a few moments, the propane ignited and warmth started to wash over my legs.  As I sat there, I felt the most cold coming through a few cracks in the north wall.  A simple rearrangement of the blind fixed that.  The heater was moved to that wall ensuring the cold air blew the hot air right toward me.

It was most enjoyable.  Hadn't felt so warm while hunting in cold weather ever. 

A little voice in the back of my head started saying, "You're being wussified."

I replied, "Shut the h*ll up!"

(And the heater stayed on.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Teaching Giving

Yesterday morning, my eldest daughter came up to me and said, "Daddy, I want to get a Christmas present for Kaylee and Kevin."

Two simultaneous thoughts entered into my mind at the same time.  #1.  I am thrilled my daughter is learning the spirit of giving to others.  Yeah!  #2.  Oh crap, it's only a few more days until Christmas, and she wants to go shopping.  Do I really have to?

#1 won hands down.  If I can sense an inkling of something like generosity, caring, compassion, etc. in my children, I will try to nurture it as much as possible.  This would be no exception. 

So, last night, I loaded Kiera in the car with me to go get gifts for her brother and sister (and I found out at the store: Momma too.).   Not to be out done, my wife loaded up the other two children to go in a different direction to get something for Kiera--and, as I found out later, for me too!  We would have all the bases covered.

On the car ride to the Columbus, TX Walmart, Kiera babbled incessantly about what she wanted to get her brother and sister.  She talked at length about wanting to get Kaylee a mermaid Barbie, "so that my mermaid Barbie will have someone to play with."  Then, she started on Kevin, Jr.  "I'm going to see if they have a man mermaid so that he can play with me too."

Right then, I sensed a teachable moment--especially since the idea of my son playing with a mermaid Barbie doll--even if it is a guy doll--turned my stomach.  (It's o.k. if you want to leave me nasty comments about my reaction.  I don't mind.  Still won't change the fact that I'm old fashioned.)

"Kiera," I said, "does your brother play with dolls a lot?"

"Yes, Daddy," she replied.  "He always plays with us."

"Really?" I responded.  "That's not what I see.  What does your brother play with all the time?"

"Trains and cars," she said.

"Look, sweetie, I really like that you want to get your brother and sister a gift.  I'm very proud of you for thinking about them.  But one of the things you need to realize is that when you get someone a gift, you try to figure out something they really like and they would really like to play with."

My daughter sighed as she thought about it.  Then she errupted with babbling once again, "Kaylee really likes my Barbie laptop.  I need to try and find her one.  I need to look for Cars 2 stuff or Thomas stuff for Kevin.  He really likes that.  But Kaylee really likes Barbies too, and I know she'll like a mermaid Barbie...."

Kevin Jr. ended up with a Thomas the Train set.  Kaylee ended up with a mermaid Barbie.  Kiera was insistant that Mommy needed a gift too, but I won't list what she got her mommy because Mommy will read this blog before Christmas.

I was proud of my daughter.  She starting to get it.  She has the desire to give, and she just needs a little teaching to flesh it out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More from: Finding Calcutta

I get caught sometimes between the radical nature of following Christ and a society which depends upon money to make things work.  We in the church seem to have bought into the money thing--we believe we have to have more and more money to accomplish God's work.  Here's how Poplin describes the complete opposite of this when she worked with  the Missionaries of Charity:

She [Mother Teresa] believed the Missionaries were only able to do the work they do by the power, love, and mercy of God.  I came to understand why this must be true.  Most social workers--liek me in my early adult years--move in and out of private middle class lives to serve the poor, generally receiving payment for the work.  By contrast, the Missionaries live the lives of the poor.  Their everyday routine is feeding, cleaning and tending the sick, dying, and the poorest of the poor--with no salary.  No abstract system of food stamps or special programs supplement their efforts.  To me, the work would have soon become boring, physically grueling and even discouraging, but not for them.  Mother Teresa said, "A Christian is a tabernacle of the living God."  That is the way they saw their work--as him "dwelling in them."  She also said, "I wouldn't touch a leper for a thousand pounds; yet I willingly care for him for the love of God."

...I thought of how differently I frame my life than these sisters even though I am a Christian.  I forget that God wants to make his home with me, direct my steps and give me his power to do his will.  I often think I chose my own work by my good sense and careful control of circumstances, rather than that God formed me for specific purposes.  I flatter myself that it is out of my goodness that I do things for others.  Nevertheless, when I am most honest, I confess that many of the "good" things I do are really as much or more for me than for those to whom they are given.  I find it hard to live out what the apostle Paul said, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me."  --pp. 32-33
Okay.  I'm guilty. 

Lord, change me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Finding Calcutta

I am currently reading Mary Poplin's book: Finding Calcutta.  It's a reflection of Poplin's visit to Calcutta and her time spent working with the Sisters of Charity.

One of the things I am coming to appreciate as I read this book is Mother Teresa's wisdom.  For instance, some heaped criticism upon Mother Teresa for being somewhat a-political.  She never entered the fray of politics, and she refused to engage in a debate of the structures or systems in society that led to poverty.

[A] radical feminist...criticized Mother, calling her "the glamor girl of poverty."  One of her criticisms was that the Missionaries did nothing to cure poverty in the world.  Rather they just helped a few people.

To these types of criticisms, Mother once responded, "You take care of their tomorrows; I take care of their todays."  --p. 61

Poplin reflects on these comments as an intellectual and as someone who taught radical feminist ideology in the university:

Upon my return [from Calcutta], I had an exchange with a rabbi who told me how much more he appreciated twentieth-century contemplative monk Thomas Merton's writings on poverty than Mother Teresa's approach.  Being an academic, I knew what he admired in Merton's intellectual prose and poetry, but I wondered how much Merton's work really resulted in feeding the poorest of the poor.  Similarly, did my research and teaching about the education of the poor ever really help the poor?  --p. 61
I think Poplin was introduced to wisdom versus intelligence.  There is a difference between the two.  I personally pray for the former.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sermon Delivered December 18, 2011: Advent 4

Mary scares me. Now that might seem strange, but let me explain. You see, I am not scared knowing that she is the Mother of Jesus. I am not scared of the fact that she bore the Son of God. I am not scared that there are those who believe that she was born without sin so that her Son would have no sin. I am not scared that there are those who believe she appears throughout the world to devout believers. None of these things scare me in the least.

But there is still something that scares me greatly about her--her attitude.

For you see, when the angel Gabriel showed up on Mary’s doorstep that fateful day so long ago, she didn’t just arrive with tidings of great joy. Those tidings would be reserved for the Shepherds nine months later. Gabriel’s news was both blessing and curse. "How?" you might ask.

Things don’t seem all that bad because Gabriel begins his announcement with these words, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

By all accounts, this is good news! This is the news that nearly every Jewish person alive had been waiting to hear. They wanted the coming of the Messiah. They wanted the coming of the Son of the Most High. They yearned for the savior who would right the wrongs who would be an ancestor of David who would bring peace and prosperity to Israel. Yes, this would be very good news.

Mary, of course is a bit skeptical. She asks, "How can this be since I am a virgin?" It’s a legitimate question. She is only betrothed at this point to Joseph. She is not married. They have not consummated the marriage. There is no way she could be pregnant.

But Gabriel continues, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God."

Now, all of this sounds well and good. All of this sounds grand and exciting. All of this sounds like all will be peaches and creme from here on out. But...we forget what kind of society this announcement is being made in. We, in our day and age, forget the strict Biblical laws which governed society and marriage and adultery. Would you like a lesson in some of those laws now? Well, regardless, you’re going to get one.

Mary was betrothed which means she was promised in marriage. If she ended up pregnant, she would be seen as having brought shame upon Joseph–either because they did not wait until the marriage was finalized or because she had been unfaithful. Either way would bring shame upon Joseph and upon Mary. They would have been considered to be breaking the laws of God. At the very least, Mary would have been considered an adulterer. Such a stigma did not go away easily in that day and age. She could look forward to a life full of men and women looking down their noses at her because she was a sinner. In addition to this, Joseph could dismiss her, and that would mean she would be relegated to a life of begging or prostitution. No longer under his protection or care, she would have to scrounge and get by as best as she could. Submitting to God’s will by carrying His son could lead to all of these things.

And yet, Mary says, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your will."

Did I tell you Mary scares me?

Mary scares me because she is willing to be obedient to God’s will despite the cost. Mary scares me because she is willing to put God’s will in front of all the devastating things that could happen to her in her life. Mary scares me because she willingly accepts the meanness of society and the scorn of others to carry out God’s mission in the world. Mary scares me because she makes me look deep within my own heart and wrestle with whether or not I can or would submit to God’s will should He come to me in a similar manner.

I mean, I would like to think I am open to God’s call. I would like to think I would go where God needed me to go and do what God needed me to do, but when the rubber hits the road, would I be able to do it? For instance, if God sent an angel to me to say, "Kevin, in a few days, you will be receiving a letter from an inner city church. They are looking for a pastor and have sent this to as many people as they can. The Lord has decided you are to be that pastor. You will be immensely blessed through this ministry. Through your work there, many people will come to know Jesus Christ."

I know what would flash through my head. I know the thoughts that would immediately begin popping in there. "I’m a country boy, I wouldn’t do well in the city. I need open fields, grass, and tall trees not concrete parking lots and skyscrapers. I love it out here. My wife has a part time job that she is thriving within and is just getting established in. My kids are doing great in school and they have good friends there. I love the people I am working with and the community that I am a part of. I’ve got roots started here, and it would be very, very painful to tear them up. Are you sure you want me to do this? I mean, I do want to reach as many people for Jesus as I possibly can. I want to make a difference in the church and make Christ’s name known. But can’t I do that here?" As it stands right now, I don’t know if I can get to that final statement. I don’t know that I could get to that point where I can say, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your will."

Mary scares me.

Does she scare you too? Does her willingness to turn herself over to God and His will cause you to look deep within yourself to see if you too would do what she did? Does she cause you to tremble at the thought of God asking you to do something that would bring great things through you but at a high cost? Has a messenger from God, or has God himself through that still small voice called you to do something? Have you dismissed it because it would mean sacrificing things you love and enjoy? Have you dismissed it because you believed it would cost you too much? Does it terrify you that at any moment God could do such a thing to you?

Yeah, it scares me too. But things turned out pretty well for Mary, didn’t they? She followed God’s will, and she continues to be highly favored to this day. If God should call on us, should we expect any less? No. For such is His promise. Perhaps it would be one of the most difficult things we could ever say. Perhaps it might scare us to death. But let us pray that if we are ever called to do so, that we have the strength to say with confidence, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your will." Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

More on Authority and Servanthood

33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  Mark 9: 33-35

Authority comes from being a servant.  Not from doing acts of service, but from being a servant.

This is easily verified in places where a pastor goes in and does many acts of service for congregation members.  He goes to parties, baptizes, goes out of his way at weddings and funerals to accommodate families, works like the dickens--and then expects congregation members to do as he says at all times.  Such a pastor usually gets in hot water very quickly.  He'll say that the congregation needs to do something or change something.  It won't be popular, and folks will run him out.  He will be left scratching his head thinking, "After all I've done for them, why do they treat me this way?"  News flash: Probably because you expected them to do what you told them to do and your acts of service were of the "I'll-scratch-your-back-if-you-listen-to-me" fashion.

Contrast this with authentic servanthood--the kind of servanthood which seeks to serve without anything given in return--the kind of servanthood Jesus speaks about with the disciples.  He's not telling them to be a servant to get something in return.  He's telling them to purposely place themselves at the bottom of the rung.  He's telling them to purposely put themselves where they will get kicked, stepped on, fussed at, and so forth.  He's telling them to purposely put themselves in the places of least honor and respect.  Why?  Well, because that's what He's doing too, and by doing so, He will be seen to have the greatest authority.

It sounds kind of counter-intuitive, but let's go back to how it works in a church setting.  Say a pastor comes into a congregation.  He doesn't look to change people or the way things are done.  Instead, he sets out to love the people entrusted into his care.  He goes out of his way to accommodate folks at weddings, funerals and baptisms.  He visits the hospitalized and shut in.  He doesn't make many demands.  He offers insights when asked.  He works to build up the strengths of the church and the people he serves.  He gets stepped on at times.  He gets fussed at at times, but such things do not ruffle his feathers.  He continues to love and serve those who get upset.  He rarely takes credit for things that go well, always choosing to lift up what his congregation members have done and giving credit to God for all good sermons, kind words, or prayers.  The more this pastor does such things, the more authority he will have.  He will earn respect as he seeks to be servant instead of ruler.

Oftentimes, I have heard the phrase that one needs to "Respect the office (position) even if you don't like the person who is in it."  I think Jesus reworks that phrase by telling us, "Start at the bottom as a servant.  Gain the respect by being at the bottom.  Once folks see your great love and the respect you give them.  They will respect you and your authority." 

I think that's how it works.

I hope I can do it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Practice of the Presence of God

It's kind of amazing how things work out sometimes.  Earlier this year, I felt the call to teach a class on discipleship.  We will be finishing up the first round of that class this weekend--I hope to teach it again in the near future.  What I found as we approach the end is that I needed the class probably more than those who took it from me.

The second half of the class has been spent talking about the various spiritual disciplines which aid our discipleship process, and I have been using Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline as the textbook.  We're not covering the entire book, just certain chapters.  But even in re-reading those certain chapters, I found myself drawn back to a deep well that I hadn't been drinking out of very often.

I've made little secret of feeling burned and stressed out.  But I now know a good chunk of the reason why.  I lost the reality of the presence of God.  Seriously.  I did.

For the past couple of years, I can attest that my prayer life--and even when I prayed for things with my congregation and with congregation members in hospitals, in homes, or what have you, I felt like I was praying to a God who was far off--who was seated in heaven who reigned from on high.  It was this God that I was beseeching with my prayers and petitions--hoping upon hope that He would come down and right the wrongs, the illnesses, the drought, or what have you.  And while it is certain the Father does indeed sit upon the throne in heaven, it is also certain, His presence is also here on earth right here and right now.

What helped to remind me was Foster's story of a prayer he prayed with a child.  I'll recount it from his book:

Imagination often opens the door to faith.  If God shows us a shattered marriage whole or a sick person well, it helps us to believe that it will be so.  Children instantly understand these things and respond well to praying with the imagination.  I was once called to a home to pray for a seriously ill baby girl.  Her four-year-old brother was in the room, and so I told him I need his help to pray for his baby sister.  He was delighted, and so was I since I know that children can often pray with unusual effectiveness.  He climbed up into the chair beside me.  "Let's play a little game," I said.  "Since we know that Jesus is always with us, let's imagine that he is sitting over in the chair across from us.  He is waiting patiently for us to center our attention on him.  When we see him, we start thinking more about his love than how sick Julie is.  He smiles, gets up, and comes over to us.  Then, let's both put our hands on Julie, and when we do, Jesus will put his hands on top of ours.  We'll watch the light from Jesus flow into your little sister and make her well.  Let's watch the healing power of Christ fight with bad germs until they are all gone.  Okay?"  Seriously, the little one nodded.  Together, we prayed in this childlike way and then thanked the Lord that what we had prayed was the way it was going to be.  Now, I do not know exactly what happened, nor how it was accomplished, but I do know that the next morning, Julie was perfectly well. --pp.41-42
Now, before you go off thinking Foster is saying that if you do such a thing, then everyone you pray for will get well, let me stop you quickly.  He isn't saying that.  He makes that clear throughout his chapter on Prayer.  But what Foster does in this story and did for me was illustrate the very present nearness and presence of Christ in my life and in our lives.  Jesus is here--a very present reality in our midst.  And for the past week or so, it has drastically changed how I approach things.

For instance, on Tuesday, I went to visit one of my shut-ins.  On the way to her home, I "imagined" Jesus to be in the car with me.  I talked to him and sat in silence to listen for a response.  After the visit, I told him how much I enjoyed visiting with this woman and the time we spent with her.  As we drove, I pointed out to him the various stock tanks that were very low and needed water.  I talked to him of the people who had cattle on these lands whose livelihoods depended upon rain.  The prayer was a conversation, not a requisition.  It just felt completely different.  And fulfilling.  Will it rain?  I don't know, but I know for certain Jesus knows we need it.  That's what matters.

There are stories of those who practice the presence of God in this manner throughout the minutes of the day.  Brother Lawrence.  Frank Laubach.  And others.  I'm not there yet.  I would like to be.  I have found it's a struggle with three kids, phones ringing, preparing for sermons and Bible studies.  But, for those moments when my mind and heart is aware, it makes a huge difference. 

"Jesus, keep me aware of your presence."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

True Authority?

John 13: 2b-17

And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" 7Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." 8Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." 9Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" 10Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." 12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

And now a quote from Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline:

Jesus never taught that everyone had equal authority. In fact, he had a great deal to say about genuine spiritual authority and taught that many did not possess it. But the authority of which Jesus spoke is not the authority of a pecking order. We must clearly understand the radical nature of Jesus teaching on this matter. He was not just reversing the "pecking order" as many suppose. He was abolishing it. The authority of which he spoke was not an authority to manipulate and control. It was an authority of function, not of status.
Jesus declares, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you [italics added]." He totally and completely rejected the pecking order systems of his day. How then was it to be among them? "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant...even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve." (Matt. 20:25-28). Therefore the spiritual authority of Jesus is an authority not found in a position or a title, but in a towel.  pp. 127-128

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's Just a Rock

O.K.  Maybe it was cheaply made.  I don't know at this point.

Here's what I do know.

When my wife and I took our anniversary cruise to Cozumel, I bought her a ring.  It was absolutely gorgeous on her, and she wore it proudly.  We got a great deal on it, and it wasn't from one of the ship's "reputable" dealers.  That wasn't necessarily important to me.  It looked good.  We didn't pay an arm and a leg for it, and my wife like it.  End of story.

Until this weekend.

Saturday evening, my wife looked at her ring and noticed that one of the pieces of Australian Opal had fallen out.  We don't know where.  It could be in the car.  It could be in our bedroom.  It could still be at my wife's parent's house.  I haven't spent copious amounts of time looking.  It's not necessarily that important to me.

My wife has shed a few tears over the ordeal, and I think she wonders how it is I am not upset.  I think she wonders how I could seemingly shrug my shoulders at her when she told me about it and say, "It's just a rock."

She shared her pain with some wonderful church members on Sunday including my statement about it being "just a rock."  I saw some of those ladies at quilting yesterday.  I don't think they quite understood how I could say such a thing.

I told them a story about when I was in high school. One Christmas, all I asked for was a gold cross necklace.  I didn't get it.  Until my birthday.  (My birthday is January 4th.)  That necklace was my pride and joy.  I cherished it.  The only time I took it off was to play sports.  Otherwise, it hung proudly on my neck.

I wore it all through college.  There, they didn't make you take off jewelry to play in intramurals.  I didn't.  Might have been a mistake.  During one intramural football game, the necklace was ripped from my neck.  I didn't notice it until the game was over.  My suspicion is the guy I was going up against tore it off and took it, but I can't prove anything.

I looked all over the fields for hours trying to find no avail.  Later, I called my parents and told them.  I was literally sobbing in apology that I had lost the necklace they had given me.  I won't forget the lesson learned.  "It's just a necklace," they said.  No anger.  No frustration.  No hint of a reaction.  "It's just a necklace."

My parents taught me something about the importance of things on that day.  I cherished something that was perishable.  I thought it was part of me.  But it wasn't.  It was just a necklace.  Nothing more.

I looked at those quilting ladies after telling my story and said once again, "It's just a rock.  Perhaps an expensive rock, but it's a rock none-the less."

I think some of them got it.  Now, back to my wife's ring.

You see, to me, that ring is just a ring.  It's some metal with some pretty stones in it.  It's nice to look at, but the ring, in and of itself is worthless.  It has no value to me.  But the person on whom the ring there is where the value lies. 

I can stand to lose a piece of Australian Opal.  It's a rock.

I don't think I could stand very well to lose my wife. 

One I cherish deeply. 

The other is just a rock.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Proud Parent

Friday, I chaperoned my eldest's first grade class field trip to Martin Tree Farms in Bellville.

I had a great time being with my daughter and helping her teacher herd a group of cats...oops, I mean first graders. :-)

The kids were actually very well behaved.  Only a few minor incidents during the morning, and nothing news worthy.  But there was one thing very news worthy, at least to yours truly.

The final activity my daughter's class participated in was listening to the Christmas story--the tree farm is run by Christian folks, and they have a little nativity set which tells the story of Christmas.  They all herded into a little shed where the Martin's gathered the trimmed branches of the trees and made wreathes.  After a simple explanation of how the wreaths were made, the lady giving the presentation asked, "Why do we celebrate Christmas?"

One little girl in the front jumped up raising her hand.  She spoke, "Because it's a neat time when Santa comes and brings presents."

The lady nodded and said, "Yes, but what else?"

That's when she called on my daughter.

I stood at the door, listening intently.

"Because it's Jesus' birthday," she said, without hesitation.


Sermon Delivered December 11, 2011: Advent 3

In our second lesson today, St. Paul writes these words, " 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22abstain from every form of evil." These words make solid, good sense. Hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil. If everyone did this, we wouldn’t have so many issues in the world, now would we? At least one would think so.

But, this statement carries with it an assumption–it carries with it the assumption that we can know what is good and what is evil. So, let me ask you this morning, what is the good we are supposed to hang onto?
Now, that might seem like a rather stupid question. You might look at me this morning and say, "Pastor, good is good and evil is evil and never the two shall meet. Right is right and wrong is wrong. End of story. You are wasting your time with this sermon."

O.K. Let’s play along with this line of thinking. Here’s a question that hits right in the center of rural America and especially farmers: is the use of chemical fertilizers good or bad? Think a minute on that one. Those of us who have been around farming and ranching know the tremendous benefits of chemical fertilizers. We know that it increases crop yields exponentially. We know it’s use has enabled us to feed the growing population of the world. We know that without it, many more people would have died. We also know that because of its use, fewer people have to farm thus giving others ample opportunity to use their time for other endeavors to be productive in society. So, along this line of reasoning, chemical fertilizers are good.

However, there is a down side, as I am sure some of you here this morning also know. Not all of the chemicals used in fertilizers are absorbed into the ground. Some of it gets washed away in heavy rainfall. That which is washed away runs into rivers and streams, and because of the large amounts of it, the excess chemicals cause a giant dead zone in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s one strike. Another strike comes in the form of producing too much leisure. Remember what I said about fewer people having to farm to produce what we need to eat? Well, it has led some to be more productive; however I seem to have heard more than a few complaints about youngsters continually getting into trouble now-a-days because they have too much free time. I’ve even heard, and said once or twice, "If these youngsters could spend a day or two behind a cotton hoe being worn out, we wouldn’t have as much trouble." So, you see that chemical fertilizers have actually caused too much leisure time for some folks. Now, the question again: are chemical fertilizers completely good?

Ah, you might stop me there and say, "Pastor, as with anything, there is some good and some bad. But, that’s with inventions and things like that. There is still right and there is still wrong. There is still good and there is still evil. Inventions are inventions, but it is human action that counts. Here we can easily know the difference between right and wrong–good and evil. I mean there is a reason we have the Ten Commandments, isn’t there. They help us know good from evil."

A good point is made by this argument. A very good point. Is it even possible to argue with it? Well, you tell me as we go a little bit deeper. Let’s pick one of the Ten Commandments now–number five to be exact. As a refresher for those who might not know this one, the fifth commandment is, "Thou shalt not kill or murder" depending upon your interpretation. Martin Luther in his Small Catechism explained this commandment this way, "We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life." Pretty straight forward, huh? Pretty black and white, right? Don’t kill. Got it. Killing, bad. Keeping alive, good.

So now, let me ask two quick questions: the Christian soldier who is serving in the military–if he gets an enemy in his sights and squeezes the trigger, is he breaking the fifth commandment? Or, if a would-be thief and murderer breaks into your home and threatens your children, and you have a gun and shoot him, have you broken the fifth commandment? Are you doing good or evil?

You see, such is the problem that we face as human beings. One would think it is very easy to distinguish good and evil. But we have a very hard time doing so. It stems way back in the Garden of Eden. Do you remember the story? God creates a beautiful garden. He puts man in the middle of it and shows him two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God says, "Eat of any tree except the tree of knowledge of good and evil because if you eat of that tree, you will die."

Man managed and did O.K. for a time. Woman came along because it was not good for man to be alone, and they thrived for some time. But then a serpent came along and offered up a temptation, "Eat of the fruit and you will be like God knowing the difference between good and evil."

At first glance this doesn’t seem to be such a bad thing. Who wouldn’t want to be like God and know the difference between good and evil? Who wouldn’t want to be able to distinguish right from wrong? But there was a qualification to this argument that the serpent didn’t put forward–the problem is human beings are incapable of having God’s perspective on things. We simply cannot know the heart and mind of God in its fullness. We are much too limited. But our hubris, our desire to be like God has had dire consequences. Our thinking we can absolutely know the difference between good and evil has led to all sorts of issues, and I cited but two earlier in this sermon.

And unfortunately, most of you know I am correct. Most of you know because you know the old cliche and you know the truth within it: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Out of our desires to do good, evil often comes. And sometimes when evil is perpetrated, good comes out of it. So what is good? What is evil? How do we know what to hold onto and what to abstain from? Are we left to throw up our hands and meander around in hopelessness?

In the Gospel of Mark chapter 10 beginning in verse 17 we read a very interesting snippet, "As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Now, Jesus response is actually very interesting here. Jesus response is almost out of the ordinary. Why? Because, 18Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone."

No one is good but God alone. Nothing is good but God alone. Quick question here as well, if the man recognizes Jesus as good, is he recognizing that Jesus is God? Perhaps so, especially since we believe that God came down as Jesus the Messiah, the Word made flesh–the true Light which has come into the darkness of our world. It is this Light which indeed is good. And it just may be that Paul is urging us, compelling us to hold onto Jesus. Hold onto Him with all our strength, all our soul, all our might, and all our power. For when we find ourselves confused by figuring out right from wrong; when we find ourselves in the chaos of the world that twists and turns our words and actions; when we find ourselves scratching our heads in bewilderment, we can turn to Jesus, we can grasp hold of Him, and we can truly know we are holding onto the Ultimate Good. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Response to Bishop's Blog

My bishop wrote an article:

At a cursory glance, it's hard to argue with it.  The facts are clear: #1. Mainline Protestant churches are in decline.  #2. They do tend to have a survivalist mentality.  #3. They are (mostly) concerned with retaining members--the insiders and keeping them happy instead of reaching out to those on the outside. 

But there are some very substantial, very troubling things about this article--things that disturb me greatly. 

Let's begin with the theory:

My theory is that the mainline churches have ceased to be relevant to the culture, because insiders trump outsiders every time.

This should be termed a hypothesis, but terminology aside, such a hypothesis must have some way of being measured.  So, we need to have some way of measuring the church's relevance to the culture.  But at this point, we don't even know what the culture is.

Is it the postmodern thought culture?
Is it the liberal culture?
Is it the conservative culture?
Is it the culture of group identity--gender, race, sexuality, or whatever other flavor of the month one chooses?

So, to which culture has the church ceased to be relevant toward?  And as far as insiders trumping outsiders...well, let's leave that alone for the time being.  Don't worry, I'll come back to it.

More facts on the ground: insiders are inherently change-averse. People don’t like change, especially those who have status in the church. Pete Steinke taught us that every church is an emotional system. Some people are benefitting from the system as it currently is. Some benefit emotionally. They are revered as church saints. Or they are validators to whom everyone turns for approval of decisions. They are having an emotional need met by receiving recognition. Or perhaps they are simply tirelessly defending The Tradition, regardless of how new or unhelpful that tradition may be. People in power, who have privileges in the current system, will resist change and make life really hard for any leader who seeks to be a change agent. Pastors are paid from members’ giving, so there is a potential conflict of interest. If they do the right thing, some leaders will end up losing their job (or up on a cross, to reference an often-told story).

This is a misread of Bowen Family Systems Theory with some statements of truth but with quite a few missteps.  #1. Yes, the church is an emotional system.  Not just each congregation, but the entirety of the church. 

#2. It's not just some people who are benefiting or who are in power are getting emotional needs fulfilled, etc.  This is a misunderstanding of systems.  Systems operate as they do because all people involved play the role the system has set for them.  That might sound strange, but it is true.  Not only are the "power" people having their emotional needs met, so are the "powerless."  This is what makes systems so difficult to change--in fact, Bowen System's Theory says that systems cannot be changed, only one's role within the system can be altered, but that leads to an entire different set of problems as the system tries to drag you back to the way you were operating before. 

#3. If you think #2 is off base, put it to a test within your own family of origin.  Next time you go home, act differently.  Put yourself into an entirely different mind set and see what happens.  If your kid defies you, and it is your norm to begin yelling, try talking quietly.  See what happens.  Odds are, your kids is going to exacerbate his or her behavior to get you to start yelling again.  The system will try to draw you back to the original way you behaved.

#4. Leading in a system isn't about bending the system to one's will.  Far from it.  Leading in a system is about being defined.  This is who I am.  This is what I believe.  This is what I think the church should be doing.

The world is hell-bent on destruction in countless ways. It is desperately in need of a church that offers a Way of peace, truth, compassion and hope, as opposed to the world’s way of power, materialism, exploitation and violence.

This is where some of the interesting insider/outsider stuff starts coming into play.  For if the outsiders are part of a world where power, materialism, exploitation, and violence occur, and they are caught up in that kind of system, what makes us assume they will want to have the qualities of peace, truth, compassion, and hope?  If they are caught up in the system of the world--a system where they are fulfilling a role, what incentive to they have to break out of that system and become a part of another?

Frankly, I see fewer and fewer within the Protestant church who have the capability to offer any sort of apologetics for it.  Most mainline denominations have bought into the postmodern culture as it is.  That culture doesn't believe in Truth.  That culture doesn't believe in moral absolutes.  That culture believes in the credo: believe whatever you want and do whatever you want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else.  It believes in relativism, and for the most part, the mainline has gone right down that path as well.  We are a part of the system, and in some cases, we even bless it.

I have stated this before, and I will do so again.  Even within the ELCA we have no standard of anything other than be good and help those less fortunate.  Even in our Book of Faith initiative, we didn't ask the question of how should Lutherans read the Bible.  We simply wanted to know how Lutherans read the Bible.  Relativism.  We buy into it hook, line, and sinker.

And if one dares question such a thing, one is summarily dismissed.  Closed minded is a wonderful polemic that is used without even addressing the deep underlying assumptions within. 

If indeed the Church is the place for peace, truth, compassion, and hope, we better do a doggone good job of apologetics to a world that doesn't give a damn about such things.

 It [the world] needs a church that so loves the world, that she’d be willing to die for it.

Really?  Are you kidding me?  The church doesn't need to die for the world.  Jesus already did that.  The church doesn't need to save the world.  Jesus already did that.  It's our job to tell the world what He has already done for it, not do it all over again! 

Which brings me to this:

So here’s the plan. New policy. Every decision, every single decision made by staff, council and every committee is made on behalf of those not yet here. Every sermon choice, every hymn, song and musical choice, every building and grounds choice, every spending choice is made with outsiders in mind.

No.  Absolutely not.  There is only One we really need to keep in mind when making decisions in the Church--Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or what have you: Jesus Christ.  Every sermon choice, every hymn, song, and musical choice, every building and grounds choice, every spending choice is made with Him in mind.  If we place our attention on outsiders, insiders, inbetweeners, or whoever, we are making our decisions on the folly of people.  We are buying into fads and whims.  It is only Christ and discerning and doing His will that will make the church relevant to society once again.

I believe you are free to place your eggs in the basket of the outsiders all you want.  There are those who are free to place them in the basket of the insiders.  I'm putting mine in Christ's hands.  He's the one with the power, the authority, the way, the truth, and the life.  He's the one who has saved the world and who will save the church--even despite our best efforts to trash it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What Would Happen if I Put This on My Time Sheet?

During my Discipleship 101 Bible Study, we turned our attention to prayer and meditation.  We specifically focused on these two chapters in Richard Foster's book The Celebration of Discipline.  In each of these chapters, Foster makes it a point to say that during these disciplines, we focus our attention on listening for God's voice. 

As we spoke about the importance of doing such things in our lives, a thought occurred to me, so I got up from my seat and walked to the chalkboard in the room.

"Given the importance of taking time to listen for God's voice," I began, "what would happen if I wrote this on my report to the congregation council?"

Then, I wrote down:

prayer and meditation  10 hours

"How well would that be received?"

I just happened to have one of my council members present in this Bible study, and she was quick on the draw, "It wouldn't go over well at all."

I happen to agree.  Of course, I pushed the conversation, "Why?"

Well, of course, the answer is we want to measure productivity in our society--even from our clergy.  For some reason, congregations tend to be much more interested in the following:

  • How many home visits did you make?
  • How many phone calls did you make/receive?
  • How many hours did you take to write your sermon?
  • How much time did you spend preparing Bible study?
  • How many miles did you drive to get to folks' homes?
  • How many new member calls did you make?
  • How much time did it take you to plan worship?
  • How many hours did you spend counseling others?
  • How much time did you spend studying?
  • How much time did you spend in administration?

All these things are well and good, but...

I wonder if they miss the point. 

As one of my other students then said, "But you are in charge of bringing us God's Word, and how can you bring us God's Word if you don't hear it?  And how can you hear it if you aren't taking the time to discern it?  And how can you discern it if you aren't praying and meditating?"

Those are a good series of questions.   A darn good series of questions.

In 11 1/2 years of ordained ministry, I have never, ever been asked the following questions:

  • How much time have you spent in prayer this week, pastor?
  • How much time have you spent listening for God's voice?
  • How much time have you spent praying for the church this week?
  • How much time have you spent asking God to make Himself known here?
  • How much time have you spent in silence and expectant waiting?
  • Have you taken the time to get away from the busy-ness of church work to sit at Christ's feet to hear what He has to say to you?
I wonder how long it will be until someone asks, and then tells me to stop focusing so much on all the busy-ness and instead concentrate on the real business that truly counts?

Sermon Delivered December 4, 2011: Advent 2

I remember when I was a kid and how my kids are spoiled now a days. My kids, if they want, can watch cartoons at any time on t.v. or on the internet. I wasn’t that lucky. We had cartoons at around 3 each afternoon, and of course on Saturday morning. I don’t know how I managed to get up at 6 or so on Saturday mornings, but I did so that I could watch cartoons. Justice League, Spiderman and Friends, Scooby Doo. I can even catch a few of these on some of the satellite channels. We only had one t.v. in our house, and I remember my sister and I getting into fights over which show we would watch. She’d want to watch the Snorks or the Smurfs, and those things weren’t exactly boyish enough for me. It always seemed like my mom and dad let her watch that stuff more than me though.

However, there was a cartoon that my sister and I usually watched together: the Bugs Bunny Roadrunner Show. I think we both loved Bugs Bunny. The neat part about those cartoons is I can find them on Youtube now. And when I read the Gospel lesson this week, I did a search for one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons that sticks in my memory–the Bugs Bunny-Robin Hood episode.

Throughout this episode, Bugs Bunny keeps trying to escape from the Sheriff of Nottingham. At various points, Little John shows up, and he says, "Dah, Don’t you worry, never fear. Robin Hood will soon be here." And then he blows this little trumpet. Each time, Robin Hood fails to show up.

At the very end of the snippet after Bugs has already defeated the Sheriff of Nottingham, Little John shows up once more. He begins in the same manner as before, "Da...Don’t you worry, never fear. Rrr..."

And then Bugs interrupts, "Yeah, I know, Robin Hood will soon be here. He robs from the rich and he gives to the poor. Yo ho we go skipping tra-la through Sherwood Forest, helping the needy and the oppressed. Aaaa, you been saying that through the whole picture. Well, where is he?"

Little John replies, "Aaaa, you should not talk mean like that because there he is."

Bugs Bunny looks, and sure enough, there is Robin Hood.

Robin Hood says, "Welcome to Sherwood."

Bugs bunny rubs his eyes and face, shakes his head and says, "Nah, that’s silly. That couldn’t be him." And the cartoon ends.

I actually remember the first time I watched this cartoon. Whenever Little John first appeared and proclaimed, "Don’t you worry never fear, Robin Hood will soon be here.", I got excited. My folks had told me the mythical stories of Robin Hood who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, who was a fantastic artist with the bow and arrow, who could split an arrow with a perfect shot, and who saved Nottingham from the evil Sheriff. I wanted to see Robin Hood, and when he didn’t show up, I was most disappointed.

"Where’s Robin Hood?" I wondered. "Is he going to ever show up?"

I am sure that such questioning was going on when John the Baptist arrived in the Israeli countryside two millennia ago. Let’s set the scene by turning in our Bibles to the book of Malachi chapter 3. Remember, this is the last book of the Old Testament–the last prophet who spoke to the people. Chapter 3 begins with these words, "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts."

Malachi told the people of Israel that the Lord would send His messenger, his herald to prepare His way. I am sure the Israelites looked forward to this promise. I am sure they desperately wanted the Lord to appear. I am sure they wanted Him or His Messiah to come and deliver them and set up His kingdom on earth. The Israelites had suffered much at the hands of their enemies, and it was time for God to make things right.

But after sharing this prophecy, the Israelites heard nothing. Zip. Nada. Nil. After God spoke through this prophet, there was utter silence. Had the Lord forgotten His promise? Where was His herald? Was Malachi wrong? 400 years would pass. The Israelites would be subject to the rule of the Greeks and then the Romans. And still no Deliverer had come. No messenger had shown up to prepare the way of the Lord. The people wondered what was going on. Would this promise ever come true?

Then one day, a scraggly looking man began proclaiming in the desert. He wore camel’s hair clothing. A leather belt was around his waist. His diet was less than appetizing. He was about as far away from the garb and style of the religious leaders of the day. He certainly wasn’t a professional priest or pastor or rabbi. But those who heard him speak knew that something was up.

This man spoke with power, with authority, and with conviction. He said, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

"Da...Don’t you worry, never fear, the Lord of Hosts will soon be here!"

I am sure his words caused more than a few folks to get excited. Was this the promised messenger from God? Was this the Messiah’s herald? Was God about to do something that would change the world? Was God going to overthrow the Romans and establish the Kingdom of Israel? The more John preached, the more some became convinced that God had indeed sent His messenger, indeed had sent His herald into the world. But if John was the herald, who was the Messiah? Who was the Lord of Hosts?

And we see the answer blatantly in John chapter one, "29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel." 32And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God." 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!"

Yes, John pointed to Jesus. The herald spoke. And, of course, Jesus is the one we are preparing for in this season of Advent. But there were those who questioned John. They questioned whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. Yeah, just like Bugs Bunny questioned whether or not it was really Robin Hood that showed up. And just as Bugs doubted, many doubted Jesus. They turned away from Him to pursue their own ideas of what the Messiah should be. They didn’t believe the Herald.

How about you? Do you believe the Herald? Do you believe John was pointing to Jesus? Do you believe indeed Jesus has come to change the way things work: in the world? In the church? In your heart? For if what the herald speaks is true, then we have real reason to rejoice. The Messiah has come and will come again. Amen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Things that Deceive

I don't know why I still do it, but for some reason I just can't help it.

I stepped on the scale again this morning.

My weight was up again--over 220 lbs.

I could hear the folks over at the Mayo Clinic screaming.  I could hear my life coach shaking her head in disappointment.

That little voice in my head started talking, "You've set as your goal to get healthier.  You're supposed to be working out and eating right.  Your weight should be going down and not up.  You've been holding right in that area for several months now.  You might want to rethink some of the things you are doing.  Your BMI is too high and we need to bring that down."

I'm working hard right now to strangle that little voice.


Well, the scale says one thing, and my body says another.  My waistline actually continues to shrink in the midst of the weight gain.  I've arrived at the final notch in my belt, and if I wanted to be slightly uncomfortable, I'd need one 1/2 an inch deeper.  I've already asked for a new belt for Christmas.

Sure, I've gained some weight, and I'm purposely trying to do so, in my arms, shoulders and chest.  Looks like I'm having some success because it's not in my waist.  BMI too high?  Yep, according to that instrument of stupidity.

BMI, like the scale, is deceptive.  It doesn't give a true measure of health and vitality.  It doesn't give a true measure of a person's strength, muscle tone, muscle mass, body fat content, etc.  One must be very careful using just these measurements as the sum of overall health.

Just like in congregations and churches.  If you only use worship attendance, if you only use membership, if you only use giving as your core measurements, you will not get an overall picture of health and vitality.  There are many others to consider.  Like: discipleship--are people striving to follow Jesus Christ?  Like: involvement in the community: does the church address community issues and involve itself with community needs?  Like: transformation--are people's lives changed by an encounter with Jesus in the congregation's worship life, ministry life, Bible study life? 

There are, of course, more measurements to go by.  And perhaps one need to take as many of them into account as possible to get the overall health of an institution or person. 

One or two can end up being very deceptive.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

All are (Not) Welcome

I believe it is time for churches to stop with the hypocrisy already.

Just the other day, I came across this particular blog on the Living Lutheran website:

You did read it correctly.  The pastor, kicked a guy out of the congregation because he displayed the characteristics of a child molester. 

Now, I'm all for protecting children.  I'm all for keeping predators away from children, but there are several very major things at stake in this whole process.

#1.  The Gospel is indeed for ALL people.  Face it, everyone of us is screwed up in some form or fashion.  Even the most stable seeming people on the outside...even the most righteous looking people on the outside have something dreadfully wrong with them.  It may be a secret sin or sins.  It may be an addiction.  It may be a ticking bomb within that can go off at any moment leading to brokenness of family, job, or what have you.  No one is fully good.  No one is fully evil.  We are both saint and sinner.  Which is why the Gospel is for ALL people.  The Gospel has the power to transform that which is evil and bring about good.  From the little information we get from this article, the pastor never gave the Gospel a chance to transform.

#2. Within the Church, Jesus gave us a process for handling members who sin.  It isn't going up to a person and saying, "Buddy, you've got to go."  It's Matthew Chapter 18:

15“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

These aren't simply nice words to consider.  They are a plan of action to deal with folks who pose a threat to the harmony and wellness of a church by sinful behavior.  The goal is to help a person deal with his or her sin, confront them with it, have them work toward repentance, and minister to them.  The guy never apparently had that opportunity in the story.

#3. There indeed comes a time when people are not welcome in our congregations or churches.  We need to be honest about that.  For instance, it is all well and good if someone wants to believe they must do something to earn salvation; it is all well and good that such a person decides to worship at a Lutheran church; but it is not well and good that such a person try to impose such a belief upon a church which directly defines itself in the vein of St. Paul who says, "We are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ Jesus."  If a person directly tries to influence a Lutheran church in that manner, then they are not welcome.  Similarly, in the above blog, if the pastor and church members confronted the guy with his behavior, with calls to repentance, and none were forthcoming, then that gentleman should no longer be welcome in that congregation. 

Those congregations, and to an extent denominations, who put the sign out "All are Welcome" are being intellectually and practically dishonest.  It's time to lose that idiotic sound byte.  It's time to be truthful. 

"Come as You Are, but Be Prepared to Change"

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Time to Take It Up a Notch

I actually was hoping it was a fluke.

Turns out it wasn't.

For the past couple of months, I've been incorporating into my exercise routine a series of squats and push ups.  Begin with one squat, then do 10 push ups.  Continue adding squats and reducing push ups until you do 10 squats and 1 push up.  It's not as easy as it sounds if you aren't in shape for it.

And I wasn't. 

Until now.

Monday, when I did the routine, I completed the entire cycle without having to resort to "girl" style push ups.  It was the first time I had accomplished that feat.  I figured it was because I had taken four days off from doing the routine and my muscles were fresh.  It wouldn't happen the next time.  But, low and behold, this morning, I completed the routine again.  I finished with both a sense of accomplishment and a sense of dread.

The accomplishment, of course, comes from completing the task and knowing I have gotten stronger.  The dread comes in that I know if I am to continue to progress, I've got to take it up another notch.  It probably means adding one more set and beginning with one squat and 11 push ups.  That's taking the routine to a total of 66 squats and push ups in rapid succession.  While that may not seem like a big deal, I personally know it means more pain and a reverting to some "girl" style push ups.

Of course, I could get comfortable.  I could stay right where I am at and enjoy the fact I can actually complete the routine.

But, I am not where I want to be just yet.  I haven't gotten rid of all the belly fat I want to get rid of.  I haven't progressed to the point where I believe I'd make a Captain America costume look good (next Halloween).  My arms aren't as defined as I want them to be.  In order to reach that place, I've got to take it to another level--even if it causes pain and extra-exertion on my part.

Makes me wonder how often many folks get content with where they are in life.  Accomplishing something, we tend to sit back and relax instead of look for other challenges.  But aren't there other areas to pursue?  Aren't there other places we can take it up a notch? 

Thinking of my role as a pastor, I've seen congregations become comfortable.  They might have grown or completed a building program or paid off a debt or led a marvelous ministry, and when it is all said and done, they sit back and are content to stop right there.  But, if Christ has asked them (and us) to make disciples of all nations, and we know we haven't quite finished that job, isn't it time we kick it up a notch in our own Christian walks and in our congregational lives?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Becoming One of the Hated: A Bicycler

Yes, my friends, today I made my initial journey into the ranks of those most despised in my little area of the world.  I took my first bike ride.

As I traveled those first 7.5 miles, I couldn't help but remember a joke I had heard and told numerous times:

There was a trucker who was generally a nice guy except when it came to bicyclists.  He absolutely hated them.  In fact, whenever he saw one cycling down the highway, he would always nudge over and knock them over--such was his distaste.

One day, he picked up a hitch-hiker.  As the hitch-hiker got in the cab, the trucker noticed this was no ordinary hitch-hiker.  It was a priest.

"Thank you, my son," the priest said.  "My car broke down a few miles back, and I've been walking trying to get to the next town.  You were the first who would pick me up."

"No problem, Father," the trucker replied.

Things went swimmingly for the first few miles, but then, just ahead, the trucker noticed a bicycler in the shoulder ahead.  The trucker began twitching.  He changed lanes to get into the right hand lane.  He looked at the priest and then looked at the cyclist.  His fingers began shaking.  He moved his truck onto the shoulder just a bit; thought of his passenger, and moved back onto the highway.  Another look at the cyclist caused him to swerve into the shoulder once again, but at the last minute, the trucker thought of that priest, and swerved back onto the highway.

Yet, the driver still heard an unmistakable "THUMP!"  He looked over at the priest who then said, "I saw you swerve at the last minute.  Don't worry.  I got him with the door."

Such is the attitude toward cyclist that many of us have out here.  Now, don't get me wrong.  None of us begrudge anyone who wishes to get some exercise.  None of us begrudge anyone who wishes to see the beauty of the countryside from the seat of a bicycle.  But we do begrudge those cyclist who come out here and believe they own the road. 

More than a few weekends, our community is overrun with bicyclists from Houston and other urban areas.  They come out here to ride around, and most of them are pretty decent.  But there are those few who spoil it for the rest.  Several of them decide it would be fun to ride two or three or ever four abreast in the road.  Some decide it would be easier to ride in the middle of the lane.  And many times, they don't give a darn that a car is coming up behind them. 

Now, such a prospect isn't a difficult thing down in Houston or Austin or any place they actually have bicycle lanes.  (Head scratch moment: why did these folks gripe and complain about wanting bike lanes in their cities for safety purposes, and when the city installed them, instead they traveled to places where there are no bike lanes?)  Out in the country, we have two lane roads.  Most of them have no shoulder to speak of.  Furthermore, our folks drive around in tractors with equipment and trucks hauling trailers full of hay, cattle, or other such things.  Slowing down and stopping isn't easy, especially when the folks holding up traffic are traveling 10-15 mph down these roads.  And because of the curves and hills, you can't exactly just pass anytime you want.  When cyclists do such things, they don't only endanger themselves, but they endanger others on the road.  Plus, their cavalier attitude toward country folks has earned them the ire of folks around here.

In fact, generally good, solid, caring, compassionate people have their emotions take over to the point where they "wave" to bikers regularly--but they just don't use all their fingers.

I understand their anger.

I understand their frustration.

I understand exactly where they are coming from.

But now, I'm on the other side as well.  Not necessarily by my choosing.  My sciatic had something to do with it.  It started giving me all kinds of fits as I started incorporated running and jogging into my exercise routine.  So I had to start looking for something that was a little less stressful on my sciatic.  My brother-in-law had a bike he wasn't using, so I asked him if I could use it.  He readily agreed, and so I have begun.

There was only one car driving down the same road I biked on this morning.  I waved.  Not sure what the response was.  I can only say this: if you do come across me biking around Cat Spring, please know I am trying to follow all the rules of the road.  I do not wish to slow you down.  I want to use only a small portion of the road.  And if by chance you are forced to slow down because of me and you choose to "wave" at me, please at least remember why I am relegated to doing this and "wave" with a smile.