Friday, April 29, 2011

Are "Birthers" Welcome?

This post is triggered by a recent discussion in an ELCA Clergy group on Facebook.

One of the posters asked how this Sunday's upcoming Gospel reading might be applied to the  "irrational and even racist" doubts over President Obama's birth certificate and addressing the issue.  For those who would like to read the Gospel text, please do so, otherwise, scroll down past the italics:

John 20: 19-29

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’  24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Of course, most folks talked about being prophetic, taking a stand against racism, or making fun of Donald Trump's hair. 

I took a different approach and asked, "Just for the fun of it, pretend a 'birther' comes to visit your congregation this Sunday and hears what you have to say. How have you represented God, Christ's earthly body: the Church, your congregation, etc. If that "birther" is a seeker who is looking to find a faith home, what would be the odds of that person feeling welcome in your congregation?"

Most ELCA clergy are squarely left to far left on the political spectrum in the U.S.  I intentionally asked this question knowing many of these same clergy often and forcefully speak about Jesus' "radical inclusiveness."  Most of these same clergy agree with the original comment that "birthers" are irrational and racist.  So, will such clergy offer words of welcome to those whom they vehemently disagree?

There are those who believe Thomas was being perfectly rational in the Gospel for this Sunday.  I would argue this is mostly the case.  People don't just spring up from the grave.  Although, Thomas probably should have known better.  He did see Jesus raise Lazarus.  He was there when Jesus raised the widow's son on the road to Nain.  He did hear Jesus say that He would rise again.  Further, Thomas had the witness of his closest friends and companions.  In the Jewish custom, if two eyewitnesses agree on something, it is generally considered to be true.  Yet, Thomas dismisses all such arguments.  One could argue on this basis that Thomas was being irrational.

Yet, how did Jesus handle Thomas?  Did Jesus call him names?  Did Jesus question Thomas' mental state? 

Read again for yourself.


Jesus made no such commentary.  Instead, Jesus came to Thomas and revealed to him the truth.  Jesus took hold of Thomas' hand and placed it in the nail marks.  And it was only after revealing himself that he dared utter the words, "Do not doubt, but believe."

Contrast that with how this whole "birther" issue has been handled.  Do you or did you see action to quell this movement right away?  Rumors are best squashed early before they take a life of their own, and the best antidote is the truth.  Was such a thing done? 

No.  Instead, those whom it affected tried to laugh it off, call people crazy, etc. etc.

The God honest truth is there is nothing wrong with doubting.  Healthy doubt is...well, healthy.  My college professors tried to teach me to be open minded by questioning everything.  I was taught I shouldn't become absolutely certain about anything until I had spent quite a bit of time thinking, reflecting, and studying over it.  This included my theology professors.

Yep, went through an awful lot of doubt in what they taught and the things they offered up to us theology students.  Many things caused some deep, internal wrestling. 

But I've had a few Thomas moments.  I've had times when Jesus came and directly moved in my life.  I'll even dare to say, I've heard His voice speak to me.  (Ask me about the call I received to be a pastor when I was 18.)  Always, it was with compassion, with a sense of peace, and with a sense of empowerment to follow Him and remain convicted as His disciple.

I am acutely aware of this whenever I hear anyone say that such and such a group or such and such a person should not be welcomed in church.  I am also acutely aware of this when folks use labels or name calling when presenting an argument.  Such things are never helpful in conveying the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For this reason, I have worked diligently in the past few years to proclaim a message: Christianity isn't about hanging out with people who are like you, look like you, and agree with everything you say.  Christianity is about sitting down with even those who you disagree with, sometimes on the most fundamental issues, and still be able to follow Jesus' command to love them.

I have stuck my neck out on several occasions in my congregation to convey this message, and I will continue to do so because I think it's how Jesus acted: radical inclusivity.  He wants everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE to be a part of the family of God--birther, 911 truther, homosexual, heterosexual, male, female, transvestite, liberal, conservative, independent, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian; you label it, God wants that person to find His life changing and life saving love in Jesus Christ. 

I believe in such a fashion, the Church sets itself up to be a truly counter-cultural place.  In the midst of a society driven by ideology and separation, the Church proclaims: set that crap aside and remember you are a Child of God!  All are indeed welcome!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

When God Doesn't Seem to Listen

We are currently in the midst of a horrendous drought.

It's not just a mild one.

It's not just a severe one.

Even the National Weather Service has classified it as an extraordinary drought.

That folks, means it's a bad one.

For Texas, we're talking 1950's dry, and that ain't good.

I believe I have been leading my congregation in praying for rain each Sunday for at least seven months.  And...nothing.

I remember just two months ago.  The Saltgrass Trail Ride was taking its usual practice run on Saturday, and the wife and I took our kids out to watch it.  We crossed the closest thoroughfare and walked up to a few of the wagons and horses to give the kids a closer look.  When we did so, I saw one of my church members sitting in a wagon.

We struck up a conversation, and she introduced me to the wagon driver.  The weather was picture perfect for Texas.  Temps were in the 70's, a light north wind was blowing, and not a cloud was in the sky.

The driver looked at me (after discovering I was a pastor) and said, "Did you pray for us to have this kind of weather?"

I looked him straight in the eye and replied, "No sir, I did not.  I've been praying for rain for the past six months, and if it were up to me, you'd be riding in a storm.  However, the Good Lord just isn't listening to me."

Everyone laughed.

But it's getting to the point it's not funny anymore.

Ponds are drying up.

The grass, what little there is of it, is turning brown waaay too early.

It doesn't look like there will be much of a hay crop.

For those not connected with a rurual location, you need to know--this is a very bad deal for many within the community whose income is supplemented or depends upon raising crops or caring for cattle.

And so, we pray.

And pray.

And pray.

We look to the sky and at the weather forecast, and we hope.

And pray.

And pray some more.

The longer the drought lags on, and the less and less rain we receive brings up those tough questions: why isn't God listening?  And if He is listening, why isn't He answering?  Doesn't He promise to provide what we need?  We need, really need, rain.  Why isn't He sending it?

I do know, God isn't just some cosmic candy machine.  You can't just put a prayer in and wait at the bottom for the toy or candy or whatever to come out. 

I also know God answers prayer in three ways: Yes.  No. And wait.

I also believe God has His reasons for answering in the way He does.

But I sure wish He'd let us know why.

I sure wish He'd help us understand the length, breadth, width, and depth of this drought and His purpose behind it. 

He doesn't seem to be listening to my prayers at this time.  I just hope He isn't trying to say something to me/us that I/we are missing as well.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. --Ephesians 1:5-6

Today, my thoughts turn to something near and dear to me on a personal and professional level: adoption.

Five years ago, my wife and I received a phone call that turned our world topsy-turvy for the second time in less than two years.

16 months prior, we had adopted our first child from Aggieland Pregnancy Outreach in College Station.  We had a marvelous experience.  We waited for two years before being chosen for our first child, and in anticipation of another long wait, I had mentioned to the agency director we would be looking to get back on the list soon.

Five years ago this afternoon, I was visiting with one of my members who was overseeing a construction project being conducted by my congregation.  I had forgotten my cell phone back at home.  I looked up the dirt road which led to the site and saw what looked like our mini-van headed toward us.  A few moments later, my thoughts were confirmed as my wife and daughter pulled up.

My wife bounded out the door and asked, "Are you ready to have our life turned upside down?"

"What?" I asked.

My wife then filled me in on the details.  The adoption agency had called inquiring about a Mother's Day program they were putting on.  We had planned on attending, and my wife was planning on baking a cheesecake for the event.  The director of the agency, Kim, thought everything sounded very good, and then she said, "And by the way..."

My wife now says if a director of an adoption agency says such a thing, get ready for a bombshell.

Kim continued, "Kevin said you were looking to get back on the adoption list.  How soon is too soon?"

My wife, "Why do you have a birth mother looking to place?"

Kim, "No, I've got a baby."

Wife, "A baby?"

Kim, "Yep.  She was born today in a bathtub, and mom's looking to place.  She's a bi-racial little girl, and no other families at the agency will consider a bi-racial child at this time.  Since you already have one bi-racial child, and you were looking to get back on the list, can I show the birth mom your life book?"

Wife, "I need to talk to my husband."

In a surreal moment, I stood there overlooking the rolling hills around, and I went through a mental checklist very, very fast.  Finances were stable.  We wanted another child.  The child was bi-racial just like our first adoptee (a requirement that we decided upon).  The only hitch in the set-up was this wasn't according to my timing.  I wanted at least two years between kids.  But in this situation, my timing isn't the important part.  God's timing is.  I felt I needed to be open to His leading, so I said, "Let's call the agency.  We'll let the birth mom look at the book, and see where we go from there."

Phone calls were made, and we were informed they would take our book to the mother that evening.  We were told they would call us back after the book was considered.  I personally figured we were looking at the next morning before hearing anything.

In the meantime, I told my congregation member farewell.  My wife and I needed to do some talking and planning.  We started trying to get our heads around this whole ordeal.  We grabbed a bite to eat at a local Mexican food restaurant, and then stopped for a few groceries.  I had my cell phone by that time, and as I walked out of the grocery store I saw I had a message from APO. 

Shockingly, at least to me, the birth-mother had seen our book and wanted to meet us.  That evening.  We raced home, bathed our daughter, and headed to College Station where we met our daughter-to-be, Kaylee Grace.

Now, this process didn't go as smoothly as the first adoption because of circumstances out of our control.  But things eventually worked out for the better.  We have established great relationships with the birth-parents and take periodic trips to visit with them.  Kaylee is an absolute joy and is so beautiful it has her father concerned about those dating years.

But I wouldn't trade anything for it.  Not a chance.

Some wonder if you can love an adopted child as much as your own.

I can vouch--you can.  Easily. 

After adopting our two girls, my wife became pregnant.  That's another God story, by the way, but I can tell you that I love my two adopted girls just as much as I love my son.  They are my kids, and I would die for them without hesitation.  I will do everything I can to provide for them, protect them, and give them the tools they need to make their way through life. 

And because of this process, I somewhat get a better sense of all those adoption references in Scripture--all those texts like that Ephesians text about God adopting us as His children.  If God loves us as much as I love my kids, I understand why He suffered and died upon that cross for us.  I understand why He went the distance to show His love to us.  I understand why He seeks to guide us in our lives  and show us the way.  I understand why He wants to provide for us and care for us.

He's a Father.  That's what Father's do for their kids.

Adopted or otherwise.

They are your kids.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reflections on My Lenten Discipline

Perhaps my readers will remember my post about giving up computer games for Lent.

Well...I did just that.

Surprisingly, it wasn't as tough as I thought it might be.

I managed to occupy my extra free time with other activities--most of them involving outside work.

Unfortunately, as I told several people, life without computer games was like to kill me with allergies and in my pocketbook.

Working outside most of the afternoons was very beneficial to my children who enjoyed playing outside, but in East Texas, oak, dust ,grass, and other pollens make your life quite miserable.  Many nights I went to bed with very scratchy eyes full of dust and pollen.  When I awoke, I spent more than a few moments getting all the phlegm out of my throat and nose.  Mucinex became my friend.  During Holy Week, I began a regimen of Zyrtec--or at least the generic brand.  Without that, I probably would not have made it through Easter services.  I guess it was my lot to suffer with such things, though.

My pocket book was a little lighter too.  Video games aren't necessarily cheap, but when I buy one, I play it into the ground.  I will spend countless hours in it, and so the more I play it, the cheaper it becomes.  Working outside posed a little more of a problem.  Yardwork, gardening, and landscaping gets a little pricey.  So is buying a pressure washer and cleaning sidewalks and buildings.  So are materials to keep your cars looking clean.  So are materials to maintain and modify your cars.  You get the picture.


You know...

I think I actually had more fun doing all the work outside.  I actually enjoyed working the muscles of my body as I chopped weeds, dug for plants, hacked at a stump with a grubbing hoe, sweated over my cars, and watched my kids running around and playing.

I have no doubt I'll play a game or two in the future, but when Easter hit, I didn't go running to the computer to get a fix.  I think I managed to break an addiction. 

But we'll see...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Reflections

Easter is a thrill every year.

As a pastor, this is THE moment you wait for--the chance to proclaim "CHRIST IS RISEN!"

It's THE proclamation of the Christian faith--the fulcrum on which hinges the entirety of what we believe and why. 

It's also, usually, a chance to preach to a packed house.  I really don't care what many of my colleagues say about having churches which are more faithful than full.  We want rear ends in the pews!  What good is proclaiming the Gospel if there is no one to proclaim it to?

Which brings me to a second point, most of us clergy dream about having congregations which grow beyond our expectations.  I haven't met a single pastor who has said, "It's my goal to shrink a church."  It just isn't there.  Pastors want to serve in churches that are living, active, growing, and reaching out with God's Word.

Which brings me to my third point.  Pastors cannot make this happen alone.  I don't care if we are the best preachers in the world.  I don't care if we have the best ideas in the world.  I don't care if we are the best administrators in the world.  A pastor doesn't make a church.  If a pastor and the congregation don't work as a team, nothing will happen.  For instance, a pastor might be an excellent preacher who puts together a great sermon week after week after week; yet, if the congregation members are not welcoming, do not greet people with intentional, meaningful, and real hospitality, or try to forge meaningful relationships, folks will not continue coming to congregations.

Congregations and pastors must work together to reach out with the Gospel and make a difference in their communities.  If these entities are not working as a team, forget about it.

I have been extremely blessed in the past seven years to work with a congregation who has wanted to make a difference in their community.  They have wanted to reach out with God's Word.  They have wanted people to feel a part of this family of faith. 

Sure, I know the skeptics out there will say, "You are just saying that because you are a pastor there.  You have rose colored glasses on."

Maybe.  But I intentionally ask all those who visit with us how they were treated.  Most of them are honest.  Nearly all have said they felt welcomed without reservation. 

And, I'm pretty sure they aren't telling me that because it's what I want to hear.  How do I know this?

When I first started serving this congregation, we had 185 members.  They were pumped and primed and ready to go.  And they did.  We began working together to make this congregation grow and thrive. 

It did, it has, and I am very hopeful it will continue.  It would not have if we weren't working together.

This Easter Sunday, in two services, we worshiped 366 people.  Speaking with several of the folks who are long term members, they said this is a record.  I believe it's meant to be broken.  We haven't reached our potential yet.

There's a lot happening, but I know the Spirit is moving.  I know He's leading us toward more things.  Sometimes I struggle to keep up, as I am sure the congregation feels the same at times. 

But, you know, I wouldn't change it.  I have truly grown to love this place and its people.  We will have more ups.  We will have some downs.  There will be times when the congregation questions why I am doing something in a particular way.  There will be times when I do the same to the congregation.  But this is the case in any relationship.  It's never perfect.  But I am willing to work hard to continue to earn their trust as their leader.  I'm perfectly aware I have clay feet, and they know I will admit my mistakes and ask for forgiveness.  Luckily, they are willing to offer it freely.

This is how we are called to live as Easter people.  I am extremely blessed, and I hope my folks feel the same way.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday Sermon: God Wins!

Have you ever looked into the face of despair? Have you ever seen the face of hopelessness? It is extremely unpleasant. Painful, to say the least. If you have an ounce of empathy in your body, you find it hard to gaze at the face of someone who is lost in thoughts of sadness, depression, anxiety, and pain. You find it hard to look at someone who sheds tear after tear after tear, and there seems to be no end of them. You find it hard to sit there with nothing to say. Their pain and suffering has made you feel inadequate and impotent. You want to help. You want to remove some of that pain, some of that suffering, some of that grief, some of that hopelessness, but everything seems inadequate. You don’t know what to do. You don’t know what to say. And if you are the one who is actually suffering from such hopelessness, you know the feeling is amplified a thousand times.

I wish I could say such feelings and such things are simply figments of our imagination. I wish I could say we have the ability to control ourselves and our emotions during such times. But I would be lying. I’ve encountered too many situations where grief is overwhelming and despair is tangible. I’ve seen it in couples who have had stillborn children. I’ve seen it in people who have gotten the dreaded diagnosis of terminal cancer. I’ve seen it in parents whose child has suffered a debilitating illness. I’ve seen it in people who have lost their jobs and ability to provide for their families. I’ve seen it in people who are undergoing family strife. I’ve seen it in people who have lost nearly all their possessions to fire or storm or other such tragedy. I’ve seen it in people who had dreams in life–dreams that were shattered by events that were out of their control. Their pain is real. Their hopelessness is tangible. Their despair is out there for all to see. Life stinks at that moment, and all seems lost.

You probably know someone to whom this has happened. You might even be such a person yourself. You know the reality of which I speak. You know the darkness that can be a part of this thing we call life on earth.

The disciples knew this darkness too. They knew depression. They knew pain. They knew suffering. They knew what it was like to have a dream shattered. For at least a year, all of them had tied themselves to a man named Jesus. They had watched and marveled at the things He did. They witnessed Him turn water into wine. They witnessed Him heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the sick. They saw Him walk on water. They saw Him calm the storm. They saw miracle after miracle after miracle. They knew He was a man of God–infused with a power that was beyond comprehension.

This Jesus spoke to them about the coming Kingdom of God–a kingdom where God’s goodness, mercy, and love would overflow. It was a kingdom where justice reigned and no one was in need. It was a kingdom where the wrong things were made right. And this Jesus was to usher in this kingdom. The disciples had their hearts set on this hope. They had their hearts set on this desire. Many of them had struggled to put food on the table. Others had struggled with being outcasts of the community. Jesus had brought them all together with a hope and a dream that was beyond anything they could have imagined.

But that dream was gone. It had been shattered in the space of a few days. One of their own had betrayed Jesus. They saw their leader arrested and taken to trial. In what seemed like a nightmare scenario, charges were brought up, and he was sentenced to go before Pilate. Pilate wasn’t able to do anything, and Jesus was sentenced to die a horrible death–a death by crucifixion. Impaled on a cross, the disciples watched in horror as the life blood drained out of their teacher, their leader, their friend. Adding to their misery was Jesus’ cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" His anguish became their anguish. Jesus was dead. He had been buried in a tomb. Sealed with a giant stone. Hope was gone. Despair reigned. For all practical, rational purpose, it was finished.

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Oh, oh, oh, oh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble.
Tremble. Tremble.
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?

And we too tremble and shudder in our despair. In our hopelessness. In our darkness. In our depression. In our misery. Is there a word for us? Is there anything that can point us in a new direction? Is there anything out there to break the shadow and give us strength?

Shhh. Listen. Do you hear it?

It’s a small voice. I can barely make it out. Can you?

I think it’s saying, "God wins."



God wins?

Low in the grave He lay
Jesus my Savior
Waiting the coming day
Jesus my Lord.
Up from the grave He arose
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes.
He arose a Victor from the dark domain
And He lives forever with His saints to reign!
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Yes, and in that one instant, everything changed. All that had been done for evil, for despair, for darkness, for fear–all of it was undone. When it looked like there was no hope–God acted. When it looked like darkness would prevail–God acted. When it looked like death would win once again–God acted. Jesus was raised from the dead! The one who was crucified was now alive! Victory was snatched out of the hands of darkness, and now it burns with an unquenchable light. God wins!

And this is vitally important news. This is life changing news. Especially for those who have lost hope. Especially for those who are living in despair. Especially for those who will find themselves in such a state at some point or another.

The good news of Easter is that God wins! God has the last word! And God will make everything that was wrong, right! Oh, I know sometimes such words ring hollow for those who find themselves at the bottom of a pit. I know sometimes such words take a long, long time to sink in. I know such words sometimes sound like just that: words.

But words can have a powerful effect. Words, especially true words can change a person’s outlook. Words can lead us away from darkness, despair, and hopelessness. Say it to yourself. God wins!

Whisper it to yourself. God wins!

Say it out loud to your self! God wins!

Tell it to your neighbor! God wins!

Shout it to the heavens! God wins!

Jesus is alive! He has triumphed! Do not let darkness consume you! Do not let despair overwhelm! Even though you might think all is lost, the resurrection shows us the final outcome. GOD WINS! AMEN! ALLELUIA!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Maundy Thursday Sermon: April 21, 2011

I would like for you to pretend for just a moment that you have never known a thing about Christianity. I want you to pretend that you have never set foot inside a church. I want you to pretend that you have never heard the news of Jesus Christ, you don’t know a thing about what He taught, and you know absolutely nothing about the Bible’s stories or its teachings. For all practical purposes, you are a blank slate with no bias one way or the other.

I know for some of you, putting yourself in this position is not an easy thing to do. If you are like me, you grew up in the church or you have been around the church for a very long time. You learned many of the Bible stories at an early age. For me, as a pastor, this story is my story. I eat, sleep, and breathe it during the week. I constantly think about God, His Word, and it’s application to my life and the life of those around me. Separating myself from this reality is nearly impossible. So if you are having a hard time, believe me, I understand. But I still want you to try. I still want you to try and take yourself out of your Christian identity for just a few moments and pretend that you know absolutely nothing about the faith of which you and I are a part.

Take this mind-set, this vantage point of knowing nothing about the church, and look at this institution that we call the body of Christ. Look at what it does. Look at its members. Look at what it embraces. What do you see?

Now, this might darn near be an impossible task. After all, who can see or envision the entire Christian Church? I really don’t think it can be done. The church is vastly different from place to place. It functions differently in Africa and Asia and Latin America and Europe and in North America. None of it looks quite the same. Asking us to look at the whole church with a limited perspective is not fair. It’s just too large.

So, let’s narrow it down a little bit. With the mind-set of a blank slate, of knowing nothing about Christianity, take a look at the church in the United States, and tell me what you see.

Again, this might darn near be an impossibility. The church in the U.S. is broad in it’s beliefs and practices. It could be very, very confusing for anyone trying to understand what they are seeing. You have televangelists who paint a very different Christianity than Roman Catholics. Southern Baptists paint a very different picture of Christianity than Lutherans. Some articulate a prosperity gospel which says God wants you to be rich and wealthy. Others articulate a gospel of care and concern for the needy and a redistribution of wealth. Before you know it, you would become very, very confused and wonder what this faith was all about.

So, let’s take it down another notch. Let’s narrow our focus another time. Let’s take this blank slate mind set and look at the ELCA. What do we see when we make this part of the church our focus?

Once again, we would be painting with broad brush strokes. As we look at the ELCA we see people and congregations who vary in belief and practice. We know of congregations who adhere rigidly to certain interpretations of scripture. We know of congregations who play a little more fast and loose with interpretations of scripture. We know of congregations who focus on personal piety. We know of congregations who focus on corporate understandings of faith. We know of pastors who engage the political process in their preaching and teaching, and we know of others who believe such a practice is wrong. We have pastors and congregations who strive to follow the Augsburg Confession and the Book of Concord, and others who consider these documents outdated. What does this do to us as we struggle to find out what Christianity is all about? More than likely, it confuses us even more.

And so let us narrow down our view once more. Let us gaze upon this congregation of St. John Lutheran Church of Cat Spring. If we have a completely blank slate and pretend we know nothing of the Christian faith, what do we see when we look at this church in rural, East Texas? What do we see?

Ah, this might be a hard question to answer, for now we must look and gaze deeply at ourselves, and do we see a congregation engaged in the Lord’s ministry? Do we see a congregation that embodies its Lord and Savior’s message? Do we see a congregation united in its purpose to share the gospel with others? What do we see when we gaze upon our church?

Do we see in this church much of what we see in the world? Do we see confusion? Do we see people playing out their own interpretations of Scripture and battling about who is right or wrong? Do we see people engaging in the political debate and giving it a Christian cloak as they argue over who should and who should not have power? Do we see a community of faith struggling to grow more in understanding of who Jesus is and walking the path He laid out for us? Do we see a community enthusiastic and empowered to make a difference in the world?

Who knows? Who knows?

But perhaps, my brothers and sisters, on this night of nights, we need to ask one more very important question. It is a question that cuts to the core of the calling of the church. It is Jesus’ own ideal of how the church is called to operate.

When we look at our congregation, do we see people enacting Jesus’ command to love one another? Do we see people willing to set aside personal beliefs and biases to practice respect, kindness, and compassion? Do we see people willing to set aside grudges, hurt feelings, and slights to offer forgiveness and healing? Do we see people willing to love others as Jesus loved us?

If we look at ourselves with a blank-slate, do we see a community which can be identified as followers of Jesus?

For it is He who said, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples; if you have love for one another."

Do we see this love being practiced? Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Pain of Pressure Washing

Everyone knows when you get a new toy, you have to play with it for a while.

Such is the case with me and the new pressure washer I purchased a couple of days ago.  The first task I set to was cleaning the sidewalks in front of the church parsonage.  Don't know when the last time that task was undertaken, but it was obvious that years of grime had accumulated on those walks.  That grime wasn't coming off without some serious washing.

I didn't purchase the biggest pressure washer out there, but it does put out 2200 psi.  That's over 1 ton of pressure per square inch.  The instruction manual gave some pretty good advice regarding that amount of pressures--don't point that at anyone's skin.  It's liable to rip it off.  Well, they were a bit more tactful, but you get the point.

My kids loved playing outside while I was washing the sidewalks.  Numerous times when I have been outside watering, I will spray the kids with the water hose, much to their delight.  I think they expected me to do the same with the pressure hose as they kept coming tantalizing close to the stream.  Each time, I backed them off with words of warning. 

When one is pressure washing and the sound of the motor is running loud, you can't hear the birds or the breezes or much of anything, so you start thinking.  At least I do, and my thoughts raced to the theological spectrum.

I began thinking about my relationship with God.

I know I need cleansing.  I know there is a daily need for God to work on me so that His light can shine through me.  But the problem is, I am not a very good reflector.

The years have accumulated a bunch of grime on me.  Certain experiences have left me gun shy when it comes to some of the stuff I am called to do.  I'd rather not rock the boat when it comes to doing things that I know are right, but I also know will anger some folks.  Certain other experiences have emboldened me almost to the point I don't care what anyone else thinks, I'm just going to plug ahead.  Such an attitude is deadly in relationships as it conveys smugness, arrogance, and detachment.  Other experiences and thoughts have left a sheen of grime that I really don't want uncovered.  In churchy terms, I'd call them "secret sins." 

Oh, there are a host of other things I could talk about, but I'll leave it at that for now.  And suffice to say, these layers of grime don't reflect God's light very well.  They don't empower me to be a witness to His goodness and mercy.  Therefore, I need to be cleansed.  But it is a double edged sword.  These experiences are me.  Literally, they have helped make me the person I am.  Grime and all, this is me.  In order to be the person God wants me to be, there will have to be part of my grimy self that will have to be removed--and I'm not sure I like the thought of that.

It's going to take pressure washing to do it too.  Those stains are so embedded, so tough, no amount of light washing and delicacy is going to make a dent.  It will take rough handling.  And it's going to hurt.  Badly.

Facing my secrets.

Facing my fears.

Facing my anxieties.

Allowing God to take me and reconstruct me.

"Not my will, Lord, but thine be done."

I do take comfort in a couple of things:

1. God isn't going to try to accomplish the whole project in a matter of minutes.  He's going to take His time over my entire lifetime.  Some moments will be more painful than others, but He knows what I can handle and there will never be too much to bear.

2. Christ will always be there to bring His healing and compassionate touch to the process.  He will remind me of the pain He suffered and bore so that my pain would be minor in comparison.  As The Good Shepherd, Christ will tend to me as needed so the process will go as smoothly as possible.

3. The Holy Spirit will give me glimpses of the person God intends me to be.  He will be my Advocate and guide in the process helping to keep me focused on the end product.  I believe He will also give me strength to get through the most painful parts--the parts that I do not want to relinquish yet need to be let go in order for me to fit in the mold God has prepared.

One day, the project will be complete.  I only hope I shine forth His light and love and mercy as brightly as possible.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Snakebit! Part 2

Last evening, I finished up with power washing the side walks.

Once again, my kids came outside to play for a little while.

Once again, my dog headed out to explore.  She had already recovered remarkably.  The swelling was gone, and all that wass left of her ordeal was two puncture wounds in the top of her snout.

I watched with some curiosity as she walked around the yard.

Suddenly, she stopped about five feet from the bush where she was struck.  She looked at that bush.  She tilted her head back and forth.

You could almost see the wheels turning.  "I want to go sniff around, but the last time I did, something really bad happened."

She walked away from the bush.

She didn't want a repeat performance.

Ah, but how hard it is to walk away sometimes.

The lure is just too great.

What if I check it out and there's nothing there to hurt me?

Can I get away with it if I don't get caught?

This time things will be different.  I have great faith.

And what usually happens?

We. Get. Burned. Again.

And again.

And again.

We oftentimes fail to learn from our experiences, and as Santayana once said, "Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it."

Put in another fashion: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results.

So why not change?

Why not do something different?

Why not walk away from the abusive relationship?

Why not walk away from that one more drink?

Why not walk away from that last bite of ice cream?

Why not walk away from the easy chair and exercise?

Why not walk away from spreading a rumor?

Why not turn away from depression and embrace hope?

Because it's too hard?

Of course it is.  The road less traveled can seem treacherous.  Jesus put it this way, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it." (Matthew 7:13)

But there are some things that can give us comfort along the way.

1. Jesus promised to be with us always.  You are never alone in doing something different and new.  He will walk through it with you. 

2. If you try and fail, you are forgiven.  There is no need to keep kicking yourself.  Learn from failure.  Move on.  Peter nearly drowned after getting out of the boat, but Jesus grabbed him and pulled him to safety.  The other disciples could have laughed at Peter, but they didn't even attempt to walk on water.  Peter at least experienced that thrill.

3. And speaking of that little episode: Jesus was there to catch Peter.  He'll catch you too.  Don't know exactly how, but when we fall, He's there.

Sometimes it's not easy to go against our nature.  Dogs love to sniff around bushes, but I know at least one who learned.  She didn't head back.  She walked away.

Can you?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Yesterday afternoon before my council meeting, I had my kids and dog outside.  I was busying myself with my new pressure washer, cleaning off sidewalks that hadn't seen one of those things in many, many years.  The kids were meandering up and down the sidewalks with their bikes and tricycles.  They were splashing in the water puddles left by the washing.

My dog was digging around in the bushes messing around with something she considered interesting.

Suddenly, the dog bolted across the yard and began pawing at her nose.

I looked at where she had been and found nothing.

Curiously, I thought she had suffered a bee or wasp sting, nothing more.  Well, I was wrong.

That evening after council, my wife and I started calling for our mutt.  She wasn't in the house.  While shuffling the kids into the house, the dog had apparently been consumed with her bite and hadn't followed.  We opened the front door, and our mutt's face looked like a St. Bernard! 

Uh oh!

Luckily, one of my congregation members is a vet.  And he's on council.  I knew he was still up, so I called him and gave him my thoughts that my dog may have been snake bit.

We were blessed that he had all he needed in his truck, and just a few minutes later, he and his wife pulled up to the parsonage.  Five shots later, my dog was resting and recuperating.

This morning, the swelling is greatly reduced, and I can see the bite marks.  It was a smaller snake that bit her.  Probably a copperhead.  Could have been a rattle-snake or cotton-mouth, but unlikely for the last two.  There are numerous copperheads around the area.

So, now we are in a state of constant vigilance.  This morning, I poked around with a shovel in the grass and leaves where I believe my dog was bit.  We're making sure the kids play outside with closed toe shoes (for the moment).  I'll be doing some yard work very quickly to minimize the places snakes can hide and make sure most stuff is visible--i.e. no tall grass.

It's one thing for a dog to take it on the chin with a snakebite, it would be a totally different thing if it were one of my kids.

Thinking about this experience this morning actually leads be back to another "snake bite."  You know, the one in the Garden, a long, long time ago. 

Adam and Eve took it on the chin when the serpent led them astray.  They, and humanity, suffered the consequences of that action and are still suffering from it.

God intervened and gave the inoculation.  This Sunday, we will celebrate that blessed event--the life saving "shot" which restored humanity.

But the question is: how much do we learn from the event?  How much to do we remain constantly vigilant so that we do not get bit again?

Now, none of us can be perfect.  We're bound to fail.  It's just part of our nature.

But how many of us go poking and prodding around places where we know snakes gather?  How many of us have seen snakes in a particular place and keep going back against our better judgment?  How many of us handle snakes on a daily or weekly basis and are lulled into a false sense of security? 

And then...


We get bit.  Again.

Fortunately, God keeps rushing medicine to us.  Fortunately, He has a limitless supply.  But is it too much to ask of us to try to prevent those bites from happening?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sunday's Early Service Sermon: Palm Sunday

Matthew 21
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately." 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5 "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey." 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" 10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" 11 The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

How did it Turn?

Have you ever had the experience of starting a project that you were very excited about? Have you ever leapt in with both feet, grinning ear to ear because you knew that you would have a ton of fun before it was all over? Have you then experienced how that same project suddenly started taking much more time and energy than you thought? As time dragged on, so did the project, so did your patience, and then you became frustrated with what you started with such enthusiasm. Have you ever had this experience? For me, it’s doing counted cross-stitch. I will find a beautiful pattern, something that I think is great, and I’ll jump into it. I’ll go out and buy all the thread. I’ll sit down and begin stitching, but after a few days, my enthusiasm is gone. No longer am I content to stitch and stitch and stitch. I get frustrated. Soon, I’ve put down my project, and I’ve moved onto other things, never to pick up the old one again. Sometimes it causes me to wonder how I can begin something with such enthusiasm and then have it turn so quickly into frustration and disenchantment. How do things turn so quickly?

Today we gather for a huge celebration in the church. We celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We read of how he entered into the city, riding on a donkey–in the Hebrew scripture, this is the sign of a King entering. We read of how a great crowd has gathered to welcome him, laying before him palm branches and robes. We read of them yelling out, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" Today we join in this celebration as well, raising palm branches, singing "All Glory, Laud, and Honor!", and having a little donkey among us. Our service is a little bit different as we do this as we too gather to honor the King as he comes among us.
But I can’t help but think about what happens in the coming week. Things go from this high-point; from crowds crying aloud and celebrating, to an absolute low-point when these same crowds gather to shout "Crucify Him!" at the same one they were celebrating just a few days earlier. How does this happen? How does it turn?

Scholars have debated much about how Jesus could ride into Jerusalem one day to cheers and leave a week later carrying a cross and hearing jeers, and for many of these learned individuals, it all comes down to expectations. Speculation goes that many of those who had gathered to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem were there expecting him to ride in and conquer the city. As most of you know, the Jewish people were subjugated by the Roman empire at this time. They were hoping for a King to come and rally around who would overthrow these Roman oppressors and establish Israel as a world power to be reckoned with. They wanted someone of power and prestige. They had heard of all the things that Jesus had done. They had heard about his miraculous healings. They had heard of how he cast out demons. They had heard about his feeding 5000 people from five loaves and two fish. They had heard about how he calmed storms. They saw that Jesus had power. They believed that he came from God. They believed that he would lead them to victory to defeat those who oppressed them. No longer would they have to pay taxes to Rome. No longer did they have to worry about Roman soldiers taking their possessions and taking Jewish women. No longer would they have to worry about Romans forcing Jews to do things that they did not wish. Jesus would help them over throw these occupiers! Can you imagine the excitement that these folks would have had?

Alas, though, they were wrong. Jesus had a much larger purpose in mind, one that did not simply mean freedom for the Jews, but freedom for the entire world. Jesus was not going to come in and start a revolution from Rome; he was going to start a revolution against all evil, darkness, and death. Rome was the least of Jesus’ worries, but the people didn’t know this. They couldn’t or wouldn’t hear what he had to say. Their excitement turned into frustration. That frustration turned into anger, and they turned against Jesus all because he refused to meet their expectations.

And expectations seem like such a trivial thing, but the more and more we study and understand them, the more and more we see how they govern how we react to others. We all have expectations of how others should treat us. We all have expectations of how certain people should function, and when others don’t live up to those expectations, we tend to get upset.

Ask yourself this: do you expect people to treat you with common courtesy and respect? If you really hadn’t thought of this, how do you react whenever someone talks really loudly on their cell phone when you are trying to have a pleasant conversation with one of your friends or family over lunch? If you get angry, chances are, you have an expectation that people treat you with respect and courtesy, and that person talking on the cell phone isn’t meeting your expectations. What if you are driving in Houston and someone cuts you off in traffic? Does that make you angry? If it does, chances are, you have the expectation that others will drive safely and not endanger you or anyone else. I think it’s safe to say that whenever our expectations are not met, we get angry and upset, so I have to follow this train of thought for a moment.

What are your expectations of God? What are your expectations of Jesus Christ? Do you think that there are ways in which God should act in the world? Do you believe that there are certain things that God is supposed to do, and do you get angry when you believe that God did carry out what you thought should happen? Did you believe that because you are a Christian that everything in life would work out just like you wanted it to? Did you believe that because you believe in God, that God would bless you with unlimited wealth? Did you believe that because you follow Jesus Christ, you would never experience any suffering and pain? Did you believe that if you prayed with just the right words that God would answer every single prayer with yes?

If you had expectations like these, and they fell through, did you find yourself getting angry with God? Did you find yourself turning to another place? Did you find yourself turning from saying, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." to "Crucify Him!"?

If you did, I invite you to think about this. What do you believe God’s expectations of us are? How do you think God believes we should act? How do you think God expects us to think? Do you think that we meet God’s expectations of us? When God started creation and then created humankind, did he have the same excitement that we do whenever we start a project? Do you think when he breathed breath into Adam’s nostrils that he rejoiced much like the people rejoiced when Jesus came into Jerusalem? How do you think God reacted to us when humankind did not meet up with His expectations? How do you think God reacts whenever we still fall short of His expectations? In this Holy Week, I invite you to reflect upon these questions, and then ponder this last one: How is it possible that God did not turn on us? Amen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How Limited are We?: Bishop's Conversation Finale

One of the most intriguing comments my bishop made to me as we conversed had to do with the scope of the ministry of our congregation in Cat Spring.

He said this or something very like it, "You are probably getting close to the limit of what you can do and how much you can grow out there, aren't you?"

I disagreed.

I know where my bishop was coming from.  He was approaching the situation of my congregation here in Cat Spring from a purely demographic standpoint.  And from that perspective, the future looks quite limited.  After all, our congregation sits squarely in a rural area.  We are 11 miles from the nearest congregation, grocery store, or population center.  Cat Spring is an unincorporated town with a couple of businesses and a post office.  Sure, there are people moving into the area, but we're not exactly a booming, bustling city or town.  It's quiet.  It's relaxed.  There's not much happening as far as things are concerned.

You would not expect a congregation to grow under such circumstances.  Generally, you like a place where you can reach a large population of people.  You want to be in a community that is growing and having people move into the area.  You want to be situated next to attractions and restaurants and areas where families congregate and gather so that you are visible.

Cat Spring doesn't have any of that, really.  Folks were really moving into the area before gas prices spiked and the housing bust.  But that's kind of trickled off now.  Demographically, because of this, you wouldn't expect a congregation to really grow or continue to grow.

But I disagree.  Why?

I'm not caught up in demographics too much.  Unfortunately, I handled the bishop's commentary with a demographic argument at first.  I responded, "We draw from all the surrounding towns.  We have members who commute from Sealy, Bellville, Columbus, Eagle Lake, East Bernard, and Chapel Hill.  We see all of these areas as mission fields, and people are willing to drive from there to here to go to church.  There's no reason growth can't continue."

As I reflected upon my response to my bishop, I wasn't satisfied with it.  At all.  It lacked something fundamental and very, very important.

I later sent an email to my bishop with a further response.

One thing I think I failed to address a little was the comment about being "limited" in our ability to outreach/grow/whatever out here in Cat Spring.  I talked about us drawing from far away, but I failed to mention that I simply don't buy into the limits we would like to place on things when it comes to church.  I mean, call me naive or what have you, but I firmly believe the Holy Spirit knows no such boundaries.  I believe a congregation even as isolated as we are can grow and thrive and continue to do such as it seeks to do God's will in this world. I am sure the disciples even thought they were limited in their ability to carry out the Great Commission, and I am almost positive not a single one of them would have believed 3000 folks would have been added to the Kingdom on the day of Pentecost.  Yet, that's exactly what happened.  God can make wonders happen.  In Cat Spring, or anywhere. 

I truly believe the words I said in that email.  I truly believe a congregation is only limited by its own failure to grasp and hold onto God's will for its ability to reach out.  I believe just about any and every congregation is capable of practicing the Great Commission and adding to the Kingdom of God.

I do not believe it takes any fancy gimmicks.  I don't believe it takes any high falutin' programming.  I don't believe it takes a "liberal" or "conservative" agenda or approach.  I don't believe it takes "contemporary" or "traditional" worship. 

I do believe it takes a congregation and leaders who truly seek God's will and seek to serve Him as much as humanly possible.  I do believe it takes good, solid preaching and relating God's Word to the everyday lives of believers.  I do believe it takes true hospitality--a genuine welcome of people and not simply an attitude of "we're glad you are here to increase our worship attendance and offerings." 

Such things know no human boundaries.  They are gifted and led by the Spirit of God.  Period.

So, how limited are we?

As limited as we choose to make ourselves.

A wise man once said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lenten Midweek Sermon: Let the Same Mind...

Philippians 2: 5-11
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Sermon Title: Let the Same Mind...
Whenever I sit down and visit with folks who would like to join our congregation, I tend to have a little bit of fun with them. I do so particularly when I talk about my responsibilities as a pastor and their responsibilities as a congregation member. The fun really starts when I talk about if these new members ever need any sort of pastoral care.

I usually say the following or something close to it, "If you ever are going to have surgery or are sick or need to talk to me, please give me a call. I am gifted in many ways, but I do not have the ability to read minds. I tried that for the first year or so in my marriage and failed miserably. I just wanted you to know that in case you expect me to be able to read yours."

This statement usually gets a hardy chuckle out of those I am meeting with as they realize they need to take an active part in this relationship between pastor and parishioner. As is the case in any relationship. When we enter into it, we must engage one another. One party cannot be aloof and fail to communicate with the other. Each person must be willing to open up and connect with the other. And even though this seems like common sense, rarely do we as people completely do such a thing.

Now, I know that statement probably raised a few eyebrows. Some of you maybe even recoiled a bit and thought to yourself, "That’s not true pastor. I am open. I am honest. I tell people the truth about myself and what I am going through without hesitation."

To this I respond, "Really? Then let me ask you this. The last time someone asked you, ‘How’s it going?’ did you answer with something more than the word, ‘fine’?" Odds are, you didn’t. And odds are, when you asked another person how he or she was doing, you really didn’t want to hear anything more than the word, "fine" in response. Why? Well, honestly, we don't want to let anyone know how we are truly feeling because we make ourselves vulnerable when we do so.  We have to expose ourselves to others, and we tend to be scared of how they might judge us.  It's safer to stay behind a wall.  Secondly, we don't really want to know how others are feeling because 1. if they are doing great, we get jealous, and we don't like that feeling.  2. If they are suffering or going through a hard time, we find ourselves empathizing with them and being drawn down ourselves.  Again, we dont' like that feeling, so we really hope someone just answers, "Fine." We like being safe and secure within ourselves, within our own thoughts, and within our own opinions. Anything that might challenge us must be pushed aside.

But contrast that with what Paul writes in our second lesson from the book of Philippians. Contrast our attitudes toward relationship with Jesus’ relationship with His heavenly Father. St. Paul writes: 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Hear this part again, carefully. He, Jesus, emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. Jesus willingly, let go and exposed all He was to His heavenly Father. Jesus emptied all of His own wants; all of His own desires; all of His nature and turned it over to God and God’s will. Jesus opened up and trusted God implicitly–even though it cost Jesus His life.

Remember that scene in the garden of Gesthemane? Remember when Jesus knelt and as He prayed giant drops of sweat fell to the ground as blood? Remember His agony as He faced the reality of what was going to happen to Him? Remember His anguish as He contemplated His betrayal, torture, and death by crucifixion? Remember how Jesus prayed, "Father if it is possible, please take this cup from me, yet not my will but thine be done." Do you remember all of that? Do you remember Jesus turning himself completely over to God–even unto death? Do you remember Jesus setting aside His power and authority to become powerless, stripped of all human dignity, and treated as a common criminal?

This is what Jesus did because He trusted God completely.

And St. Paul says, "Let the same mind be in you..."

How, Paul, how?

How can we empty ourselves and so be filled with the passion and desire to fulfill God’s will in this time and place? How can we forsake our desire for power, for control, for authority? How can we humble ourselves when everything in this world compels us to go in the opposite direction? How can we overcome our sinful nature to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus?

Any ideas?

Do any of you here this evening even believe such a thing is possible?

Do any of you here this evening believe for a second you and I could even come close to having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus?

Do any of you here this evening think that you know the mind of Jesus Christ, and do you think you can act in the same manner He acted?

I know that I don’t even come close. I personally want to be right all the time. I want wealth. I want status. I want privilege. I want authority. I want power. I don’t want to grovel and serve and be humble. I don’t want to wash everyone’s feet; I want to have my feet washed.

But...that’s not having the same mind as Christ, is it? I need to learn His humility:

Teach Me Your Humility
Verse 1
Teach me your humility, in all I do and all I see
Lord, let me be a channel of your love.
Teach me your humility, when all that I can see is me,
When I forget that you are God.

When I think I’m above the strife, And forget my place in the midst of life
Break into my heart of stone, Give me love for you alone
Lord, teach me your humility. Lord, teach me your humility.

Verse 2
Teach me your humility, to remember what you’ve done for me
And how you shed your blood upon the cross.
Teach me your humility, and open up my eyes to see
how to live my life to honor you.
Verse 3
Teach me your humility, to see my place in humanity
That I may live by your Word.
Teach me your humility that I may sit with the least of these
And then be exalted on high.
May God teach us His humility that we may indeed have the same mind of Christ and empty ourselves to pursue and live God’s will. Amen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Honesty, Loyalty, Car Buying, and Church

I should have known better.

I really should have.

I should have gone to my dependable car dealer right away when it came to the purchase of my Mustang GT.  I shouldn't have even bothered with anyone else.

But...(there's always a "but" isn't there?)

My local dealer never had one on his used car lot that was in my price range.  I should have listened more closely to the guys when they told me they would get me what I wanted even if it would have meant I'd of had to wait a little for it.

But I was stubborn, and I wanted my Mustang.  So I shopped around at a few other dealerships. 

Big mistake.

You know, I try to be an honest person.  I try to do the right things.  I try to make sure I slight no one, and if I make a mistake, I readily own up to it.  I expect to be treated in the same manner--even when purchasing a car.

You can stop laughing now.  I've actually experienced such a phenomena.  Ryan Ford Mercury offered me such an experience when I bought my 2009 F150 Supercrew.  I guess I was holding other dealerships to the same standard.

Big mistake.

When I tried to work with other dealerships, I received the same treatment.  Low ball trade tactics--even though I had printed out Kelly Blue Book and the NADA values for my truck.  An unwillingness to even come close to considering the value of my truck when I balked.  Stalling tactics trying to get me to invest more of my time so that I'd be willing to take less of a deal.  One clown even was so assured I'd break, he smoked in my pickup.  That sent me into a new level of ticked-off-ness that I had never experienced.  I had a very difficult time applying Luther's explanation of the 8th Commandment in that particular instance!!

Dejected with the experiences I had, I returned to Ryan.  I wasn't even thinking of putting together a trade because they didn't have what I wanted on the lot.

In a matter of moments, the sale's guys took me inside to talk to the purchase guy.  He said, "We just got one in!"

Minutes later, they allowed me to take a test drive even though they hadn't cleaned it up yet.  "We normally wouldn't let anyone do this, but because you are one of our customers, you get a chance to look it over before we've gone over it," they explained.

I left my truck keys so they could look it over while I was test driving. 

When I came back, I asked, "How much do you think you can give me for the truck?"

$23K.  A couple hundred dollars OVER Blue Book value.

"Let's get the deal going!" I almost shouted.

Smooth as silk after that.  The deal was consummated.  They treated me right.  I received a check from them for over $4000 because my truck was paid off.  There was no hesitation on their part.  They just did the right thing.

Honesty on their part has strengthened my loyalty even further now.

I'm not sure I'm even going to look at another dealership next time I'm looking to purchase.  (That will be a long way in the future, BTW.)  This dealership's honesty, integrity, and willingness to treat a person right won the day for me yet again.

If only other dealerships operated in the same manner...

Churches too for that matter.

How many of our congregations are honest?  How many pastors are willing to tell you exactly where they stand on an issue instead of offering platitudes?  How many congregations have the integrity to say, "Yes, we really want to grow and get new ideas from new people?" or "Yes, we'd like to grow, but we really don't want any new ideas.  We like what we are doing just fine."  Either way, at least honesty is ruling.

How many of our congregations breed fierce loyalty?  How many of us take pride in the congregation of which we are a part and then invite others to come check out how they will be treated?  I know I have referred no less than three folks who I know are interested in car buying in the two weeks I've been looking at/driving my Mustang after working with Ryan.  Do we do such things with our congregations?

Do we expect our congregations to be places of honesty, integrity, and "value" so-to-speak?  Or do we expect far less?  Do we, ourselves, when we see unfamiliar faces in church try to offer such things ourselves?

Some thoughts to ponder.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Silent Visit

Contrary to what some think, the most difficult pastoral visitation is not with someone you do not see eye to eye with.  Neither is it a visit with someone who is your antagonist.  Those visits are relatively uncomplicated.

The most difficult pastoral visits are the silent ones--the visits marked by presence and hardly anything else.

What do such visits look like?

Like the one I had today.

Readers of this blog know I am in the process of making weekly visits to Wharton, TX to visit one of my members who is dying of lung cancer.  Last week, he was suffering greatly from pain in his lower back.  Even though it has not been diagnosed, my suspicion (and the suspicion of his wife) is that the cancer has spread and is now causing him major pain.

Fortunately, she took action and asked that he be given stronger pain medication.

I don't know if it was that medication or his losing struggle with cancer or the fact that he was just plumb wore out from therapy, but when I walked in to visit this morning, this gentleman was slumped in his wheelchair dozing.

I placed my hand on his shoulder, and said, "Buddy, how are you doing?"

He opened his eyes, reached for my hand, and mumbled something. 

I asked, "What was that?"

He replied, "I'm glad you're here."

I then asked, "How are you feeling?"

He held up his hand, palm down, and motioned back and forth.  So, so.

"And how is the pain in your back?"

He shook his head and closed his eyes once more.

"Are you worn out from therapy?"

Nods head.

And then silence.

Utter silence broken only by the sounds of a nursing home.  The roommate's television tuned to "Deadliest Catch."  Nurses walking patients up and down the hall taking them to therapy.  Congratulations being offered to someone who had once struggled to walk.  The medicine cart being pushed up and down the hallway as meds are dispensed.

But there is no conversation between my member and me.  He's too fatigued to talk.  I have nothing to say.

Sure, I could preach a sermon.  I could rattle off all kinds of nonsense--a word about the weather outside, how little rain we got in Cat Spring, how much I like driving my new car, how my kids are doing, the news I heard on the radio.  I could fill the void of conversation with all sorts of information, facts, and figures.

But I believe such things lessen the significance of the ministry that is taking place.

The ministry of presence. 

Jesus said, "Where two or three or gathered, I am there." 

Perhaps Jesus is talking to this man as his body weakens and death inches closer.  Perhaps Jesus' Spirit is moving over him in his weariness letting him know about that place God has prepared for him.  Perhaps Jesus' comforting hand is resting on his shoulder offering him a peace that my words could never convey.


And it's hard to remain in that presence in the silence.  It's difficult to sit there while my mind is racing thinking of other visits to make, sermons to prepare, and church duties to perform.  I feel the need to be moving; to be doing; to be productive--whatever that means.

But my presence is necessary.

Buddy needs to know God cares, and whether or not I like it or not, I represent God's presence in that room.

Even in the silence.

Sacrificing for a Dream

When I finally made the decision to actually purchase my dream car, I knew I would have to make a sacrifice.  There was no way I was going to allow us to become a four car family.  Neither was I going to go in debt to purchase the car. 

There was only one way the dream would become reality.  I had to give up something I really, really liked.  I had to give up my truck.

Now, this might not be a big deal to some, but I live in Texas.  We Texans love our trucks, and I loved mine.

I got a fantastic deal on a 2009 Ford F150 Supercrew.  It actually got pretty decent gas mileage for a truck that large.  22 mpg on the highway.  It had good power and tons of features I really liked: adjustable pedals, SYNC, Tow package, bedliner, running boards, plenty of room for my entire family including three kids in the back seat in their car seats.  I could haul just about anything I needed in the bed of the truck, and that bed served as a handy playground for three little kids.

But I made a promise to myself.

And I knew if I was going to fulfill it, I had to make a choice: wait for a good while, or give up my truck and buy my car.

I decided the wait was over.  Life is too short.

When you deal with some of the life situations I do, it feels good to get behind the wheel of a muscle car and lose yourself in a stretch of road with 80's rock music making your speakers shake.  For a few moments,  your body melds with the car, and you are lost to reality.  I don't speed often and I have no need for excessive speeds, but I do get a bit of small satisfaction in knowing I could blow past most of those who are passing me on the highway.  Such things are extremely enjoyable to me.

As is having my kids tell me, "Daddy, go fast!"  They like it when I red-line it.  I have to keep that at a rarity because it burns gas too quickly.

But I could not enjoy such moments if I hadn't sacrificed my truck.

I had to give it up.

Pursuing the dream cost me something.

But I was and am willing to pay.  That's life. 

I could go through some of the theological implications of this reflection, but the road is calling.  Time to go for a drive.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why Rehash Old Debates?

I would hazard to guess most Lutheran folks didn't and probably don't know who Rob Bell is.  If they had no clue, they might have gotten a little inkling when he published a book entitled Love Wins.  In it, apparently, Bell wrestles with the question of how a loving God can banish people to hell for an eternity.  I'm going to stop right there because I haven't read the book.  I can't say that I will read the book.  Honestly, I have no desire to read the book.  Why?

For several reasons.

Bell's book has somewhat reignited an old debate in Christianity: universalism.  Universalism is defined as the understanding that all people will (eventually) be saved.  The rational is: an all-loving God who displayed such radical love by sending Jesus to die on the cross cannot bear to see one of His children suffering for eternity, and God will give that person chance after chance after chance to be redeemed until he/she is finally saved.

Such a stance resolves dissonance within those who cannot see God having any sort of vengeful nature.

But I refuse to enter this debate.

It's an old one.

It's been hashed and rehashed, just like many of the arguments in Christianity.

Why do you think there are so many churches and denominations around?

We argue over doctrine, convince ourselves we are right, and then we break away to form a new church/denomination, proud of ourselves for "standing up for what is right."

Now, I recognize there is a time and a place for such action.  After all, I am Lutheran.  The Lutheran church was born out of such a split over doctrine.  Is salvation based upon works, grace, or a combination of the two?  We Lutherans came down squarely in the GRACE ALONE camp.  Other denominations followed suit.  Do I think we Lutherans have it right?  Yes.  I do.

But I know the Bible well enough to know that I could construct an argument for both of the other positions as well.  Without any difficulty.

Just as I could construct an argument from scripture showing God does indeed condemn some to hell.  Or, I could construct an argument that God will save all. 

In our "infinite" wisdom, we human beings like to think we are covering new ground when it comes to human relationships and our relationship to God.  We like to think we are making new discoveries all the time.  But we are delusional.  If one digs through history, philosophy, and theology, one will see evidence of such argumentation long before we delved into it. 

But we like to think since technology has rapidly moved forward, we as humans have done just as much progression in our relationships.  I'd argue to the contrary.

Still, we like to rehash old arguments.  For some reason, we think they are supremely important, and I wonder why.

Do we feel the need to justify ourselves?

Do we feel the need to belong to organizations and surround ourselves with people who agree exactly as we do?

Do we feel the need to convince others of our rightness and show them the error of their ways?

Are we convinced that if we don't persuade others to our point of view they will suffer eternal damnation?

What ever happened to simply proclaiming the good news of Christ and bearing witness to His love through word and deed?

And does it really matter?  Does getting into a heated argument with someone who disagrees with you on a theological/philosophical point worth it?  Is it worth the anger?  Is it worth the frustration?  Is it worth losing a relationship that one has with a fellow brother or sister in Christ?

After all, when it comes to that final judgment, who are we responsible for?  Are we responsible for what our neighbors' believe and have done?  Or are we responsible for what we believe and have done?  Are we going to be asked what Rob Bell believes?  Are we going to be asked what the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America believes?  Are we going to be asked what Pastor Haug believes?

I'm pretty sure we will be held accountable for our own beliefs and our own actions.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.

And if God chooses to ask me why I stood with people and with organizations who I fundamentally disagreed with and who committed actions that I didn't approve of, I hope I have the ability to say to Him, "Well, you stuck with me, didn't you?"

Sunday's Sermon: "Truly this Man was God's Son"

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 27:33-54

33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews." 38Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 41In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42"He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’" 44The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. 45From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o"clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 47When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "This man is calling for Elijah." 48At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him."

50Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, "Truly this man was God’s Son!"

Maybe some of you remember the Merv Griffin Show. It personally was before my time, but I ran across a sermon illustration about an event which took place on that show. There was a time when Merv was interviewing some body builders. As he was standing there looking at these guys with all these muscles, he asked a powerful question: "What do you use these muscles for?"

One guy answered by flexing his muscles in one of those body builder stances. But Merv said, "No, you don't understand. What do you USE all those muscles for?" The guy said, "I'll show you." And he flexed again in another stance.

Again Merv said, "No. You still don't understand my question. Read my lips. What do you USE them FOR?" The guy posed again.

A couple of thoughts came to me as I thought about this question. One of the first is the knuckleheaded body builder who didn’t realize that Merv was asking him if he actually did anything with his muscles at all other than show them off. Did he do any heavy lifting? Did he help little old ladies who couldn’t carry their groceries? Did he use them to move furniture or to lift up cars so that people could change their tires without a jack? Many audience members were probably smacking their heads thinking, "Can’t these muscle bound idiots understand even a simple question?"

Many of you might be thinking such thoughts as well; however, let me also come at it from another perspective. For I happen to think that body builder who was flexing his muscles was thinking something too. I happen to think that body builder was saying to himself, "You knucklehead, Merv. Can’t you see I use my muscles to flex and show off? Can’t you see that I use them to garner attention from other people? This is what they are for–to show off. There isn’t any other use that I have for them. I’ve worked on them to show off. Period." This body builder is probably thinking, "Can’t this television show idiot even understand a simple question?"

If you look at things from the perspective of each person, you will see that each is missing something obvious. Each person is so caught up in his own way and interpretation of the question that each fails to connect and try and understand the other. Each person is so absorbed in what he believes, that he fails to get it. And I wonder what it would have taken for Merv and that body builder to finally get it and see what was really going on?

Oftentimes we as people are so caught up in the midst of our everyday lives that we fail to see what is going on as well. We become so focused and so in tune with our own worries and cares and concerns and wants and desires that we miss some very important things that are happening right in front of our noses.

Take for instance that centurion who stood at the foot of the cross. In many ways, it was probably an ordinary day at the office for him. I’m sure he was not exactly all that happy about being stationed in Israel. When compared to the rest of the Roman Empire, this country probably looked shabby and run down. It didn’t have the beautiful, lush landscape of other places. It was rocky and dry. People struggled to eke out a living, and the religious customs and beliefs were strange to say the least. The people talked often about only one God, and they spoke of a deliverer who was the Son of God. Such things would have been a foreign concept to this Roman centurion when he first got there.

But he had to learn and become aware of such customs and the prevailing news of the day in order that he might keep the peace. Several times he had helped put down a rebellion because some upstart Messiah came along claiming to be the Son of God. He had helped crucify more than one of them, and each died, slowly, painfully, and without much fanfare. Every time thus far, when the head was cut off the snake, the snake died.

This centurion probably expected much of the same with the current Messiah who was hanging on the cross. This one would die, and the movement he had started would vanish into oblivion. Sure, he had heard the rumors about this one who was dying now. He had heard that he was a healer who made the lame to walk and the blind to see. He had heard about this man’s supposed ability to raise the dead. He had heard about casting out demons and other miraculous occurrences. Generally, he dismissed such things; however there was one thing the centurion had difficulty with. Nearly every so called Messiah before had sought to overthrow Rome. Nearly every so called Messiah before had considered Rome and the soldiers an enemy. But this one had supposedly been on friendly terms. The centurion heard about a buddy of his who came into contact with this man hanging on the cross. The buddy had a servant who was deathly ill, and this man had healed the servant. Supposedly, this man even ate with tax collectors and had one such man in his closest circle. That was different, he conceded, but these Messiah’s were a dime a dozen. He shrugged such things off. Why bother? When all was said and done, he’d head back home, enjoy a cup of wine, and try to endure the heat and dryness of this cursed land.

But something eventually happened that shook the centurion to the core. The man hanging on the cross cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Some of the religious authorities on hand tried to offer the man some wine on a stick, which the man refused. Within moments, the man cried out once more, and died.

The centurion though to himself, "This is the strangest one yet."

And then the earth shook.

Eerie sounds came from the tombs nearby.

The centurion stood, awestruck. This could not be coincidence. Something really significant had just happened. Something almost beyond comprehension. But something that made sense, if and only if...
The centurion looked at the dead man on the cross and uttered the only thing that helped him make sense out of the whole ordeal, "Truly this man was God’s Son."

Finally, the centurion could see it. Finally, it all made sense. Finally, all the pieces came together.
And I wonder if that centurion ever asked himself, "Why couldn’t I see it before? How could I have missed it? Was I really that dense?"

Unfortunately, yes, he was. He couldn’t see it, and mostly because he chose not to.

But how about us? Do we choose to see it? Do we choose to see that this man who hung on the cross and died did so for you and for me? Do we choose to see that this man who hung on the cross died so that we might have eternal life? Do we choose to see that His Spirit is still living and active in the world empowering His church and His people to do great things? Do we choose to see that calling upon Him as Lord and Savior changes our lives and calls us into new paths of living? Do we choose to see such things? Do we choose to see that indeed, "This truly was and is and will be the Son of God?" Amen.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fulfilling a Promise

I try to be sure I keep my promises.

Do I miss sometimes?  Yep, but not intentionally.

I pride myself on my integrity.  If I say I am going to do something, I will do it.

It might take me a while, but I will follow through.

Unfortunately, I'm not as good as following through with promises to myself.

See, in November nearly two years ago, I promised myself if I lost 30 lbs. I would buy myself a Ford Mustang GT. 

Lost the 30 lbs. 

Didn't buy the car.

I had a host of reasons for not buying: didn't need a third vehicle, didn't want to get rid of my truck, wanted one of the brand new models that I couldn't really afford.  I'm very patient, and the excuses made it easy to not keep my promise.

But as gas prices eased up and then lept up, we purchased another, small vehicle.  We turned into a three car family anyway.

One of my principle reasons for keeping the truck was it could hold all my family with ease.  If something happened to our Yukon XL, we had the truck to fall back on.  But now that we had two cars...we could still get places as a family if the XL went down albeit we would have to take two cars.

Then I considered the gas situation.  The truck gets great gas mileage...for a truck.  But if I traded it in for a late model GT, I'd improve gas mileage a bit, and I could probably get a check back because my equity would far exceed the cost of the vehicle.

I decided it was time to stop waiting.  I could forgo the 2011 Mustang and its 412 horsepower engine.  I don't drive that way anyway.  I'd settle for a 2005 or newer, and through a long process, I found one.

I'll blog about that experience and the lesson I learned from it later.

But I finally fulfilled the promise to myself.  I've got the car.  I love driving it.  There is no longer any cognitive dissonance within me for a promise left unfulfilled.  I no longer have my beloved pick-up, but I know we'll do just fine without one.

The kids and I have already enjoyed our first Saturday drive in it, and they had a blast.

I'm looking forward to getting a babysitter one Saturday so that my wife and I can go cruising around.

I hope to keep this machine until the wheels fall off, the engine quits, or my knees can't work the pedals anymore.  I intend for it to be my one and only muscle car.  And I am going to drive the hell out of it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Stop Making Easter a Big Deal?

One of my friends on Facebook posted this link:,b=facebook

He leans a little more leftward than I do, but his comments left no doubt that he disagrees with this author.  On this, a more liberal person and a more conservative person agree wholeheartedly.   Since that tends to be a once in a lifetime occurrence in these charged times, I thought I'd personally delve into the idea that Easter should just be an "ordinary" day of worship as the author articulates. 

I'm going to do this by debunking a few things point by point:

The first very misguided statement is this one:

But ... I kinda think that God may simply be humoring us in our misguided attempt to throw an Easter party for God.

Hold your horses just a minute there bud.  The Church isn't throwing an "Easter party for God."  The church is holding a celebration in honor OF God and what God has done for us.  We are coming together in thanks and praise of Jesus whose death and resurrection has conquered death, evil, and injustice.  We come together to give praise that God shows that He has the last word in all things, and that word is good.  It's not a party for God, but it's a celebration of what God has done--just as a 50th anniversary celebration isn't a party for the couple, but a celebration of what they have accomplished in sticking together for so long.  It's a matter of focus.

In our hopes to please God, we go all out, especially for Easter.

Wrong again, Bruce.  Our worship is NOT an attempt to please God.  It's a way of honoring and praising God.  To put this in good Protestant, Lutheran terms: there is nothing we could ever do that would please God.  Even if we attended church 24-7 our thoughts and hearts would drift from worship, and we would not give our 100% that God demands.  But God acted through Jesus to forgive our inability to focus on Him and His will 100% of the time.  God acted through Jesus to forgive our inability to please God by serving our neighbors and feeding the hungry and visiting the sick and enacting His Kingdom on earth.  When we could not please God, God acted through Jesus to bestow what we call GRACE.  That's a very loaded theological term, and I really don't have time to delve into all the intricacies of it in just these few statements.  But in simplistic terms, because God has acted through Christ, we don't have to work to satisfy or please God.  God is already pleased.  We worship in thankfulness to Him, not to please Him.

Why shouldn't we give 110% and do it all up for God on Easter, you wonder? Quite simply, because it usually is more about perpetuating our own habits and expectations, than about sharing our faith in meaningful and life-changing ways with those who might be searching.

In one way, you are correct, Bruce.  Some of us clergy get hammered on Easter if we don't sing the right hymns or mispronounce a name or forget someone in the prayers of the church or fail to acknowledge someone's beautiful Easter dress.  There are certainly those who attend church because it's the "thing to do on Easter."  Such people are indeed "perpetuating [their] own habits and expectations."  But do you think you really know the hearts and minds of everyone who is sitting in those pews on Easter Sunday morning?  Do you think you know the hearts and minds of congregation members who have been touched by God's love throughout their years, and they are indeed looking to share that love with others?  Do you realize that "faith sharing in meaningful and life-changing ways" actually takes place more OUTSIDE the walls of the church than INSIDE? 

Worship is the place where God's Word is preached and His sacraments are administered.  It is the place where we hear a pastor, preacher, deacon, or whatever particular title you want to assign, proclaim God's love for all those gathered.  He or she announces how God's work happened, is happening, and will continue to happen.  For believers, this strengthens their faith and equips them to share their faith in "meaningful and life-changing ways" in their daily lives.  For those who are seeking, it offers an opportunity to reflect upon the faith being articulated and how it might apply to their lives.  It is through continued exposure that most "faith sharing in meaningful and life-changing ways" occurs.  Few get the experience of Saul on the road to Damascus, although it can happen.  Easter, with its pomp and circumstance can provide such an experience for some.

You see, by creating these "productions," especially around Easter, most churches only perpetuate the practice of coming to church only on special days because we have, in fact, said that this day is more worthy than any others...rather than put all our energy into one kick-butt worship service, use the Easter season as one that might inspire the rest of the year. We should plan our services with unabashed creativity and inspired energy as if this is what it will look like every Sunday ... and then we must make it so.

O.K., Bruce, I think this is the crux of your argument right here, and in some ways I can sympathize with you.  I too have wondered why worship can't be full of energy, vibrancy and "life" each and every Sunday.  I wondered why churches didn't pull out all the stops each and every week.

But there is a fallacy to your argument, Bruce.  Easter IS different.  Easter IS special.  Easter IS more worthy than any other day.  I don't know if you have kids or not, Bruce, but do you make their birthday more special than any other day?  Do you think to yourself, "Hmm, my kid looks forward to his birthday so much, I'm going to make every day like his birthday."?  Are you beginning to see how asinine such a thought is?  While there is some merit to celebrating a  new day of life, it lessens the impact of your kid's real birthday.  Same goes for Christmas.  Do you (or your wallet for that matter) really want to go down that road?

Easter is THE HOLY DAY of the church.  It's the day when God's redemptive action for humanity takes place.  Without Easter, there is no Christianity.  If you stop at Good Friday, you've got another act of injustice and death.  But Easter CHANGES EVERYTHING!  That's why it's so special.  That's why it's so significant.   All other days pale in comparison.

Finally, Bruce, I'd like to ask you what you do with Good Friday?  What do you do with the cross?  What do you do with suffering?  What do you do with the pain and anguish that people feel in their lives?  A perpetual Easter message with trumpets blaring and choirs singing and bells ringing denies the other side of the equation.  Jesus didn't just experience the resurrection.  He experienced the cross.  He experienced pain.  He experienced darkness and death.  Celebrating Easter every Sunday hides all of this.  You can't have the resurrection without the cross.  You can't contemplate and reflect with trumpets and bells.  Sometimes, you have to sit in silence.  Sometimes you need to sit through the minor key hymns like "Ah, Holy Jesus", "Go to Dark Gethsemane", and "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed."  You've got to experience the entirety of the meal, not just the part you like.  It's the way life works.

We're "suffering" through the season of Lent in my church right now, Bruce.  I'd invite you to come and worship with us through those 40 days next year and contemplate what Jesus went through.  I'd like to invite you to experience the low points and the tragedy of Jesus' death, and then see what your heart does on Easter morning.  Tell me then if Easter isn't special.  Tell me then if we shouldn't make a big deal out of it.

I have my suspicions, you'd change your tune.