Friday, June 29, 2012

Healthcare and the Church

My bishop wrote a pretty decent article about Lutherans and health care.  He ends with the comment, "We are pro-healing and pro-health care."  I cannot disagree.  The Church indeed is called to healing and called to the care and concern for neighbor, including our neighbor's health.  Our theology leads us right squarely to that conclusion.

But the question my bishop doesn't address theologically is the health care law passed by our country and deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court yesterday.  He says, "Requiring insurance for those who require medical care (all of us) spreads the cost out. Is it the right thing to do? Some Lutherans believe so. Some do not."  Later, he comments, "We acknowledge that there are diverse viewpoints within the Church. We celebrate that diversity." 

Well and good.  Those statements are, in the words of Luther himself, "most certainly true."

However, the devil is in the details, as one would say.

What does Lutheran theology teach about compassion, charity, and giving?  That is the ultimate question when it comes to the Church's role in society. 

Now, I am not trying to turn this into a political discussion.  The U.S. Congress can do what it wants within the limits of the Consititution.  If it deems that people should be compelled to purchase health insurance or pay a fine, that is their choice.  My concern is whether or not such a thing should be affirmed by the Lutheran Church.

As I see it, it should not.  Why?

It goes back to the Lutheran understanding of giving.  As Lutherans, we believe salvation has been given to us as a gift with no strings attached.  This is the ultimate meaning of grace.  Because of grace, we are no longer under the discipline of the law (Galatians).  This means, all things are lawful for us (Corinthians).  We are free to choose to do as we please with our time, talents and treasures.  No longer are we bound by the Old Testament understanding of the tithe.  No longer are we required to give to the Church as an obligation.  No longer do we need to feel compelled to give to anything.  We are completely and totally free from that requirement of the law.

So why give?  If it's not required, why give to the Church, to charity, to social organizations, or to anything for that matter?

We give not because we have to, but because we find it a joy to return to the Lord what He first gave to us.  We give because Christ saw our need and gave to us; therefore we imitate Him as we see our neighbors' needs and give to them.  We give because we are stirred by the love of God in our hearts not because the fear of God or the fear of punishment.  That's the Lutheran understanding of giving.  Plain and simple.

Now, let's apply this theology to the centerpoint of the health care law passed by our Congress and signed by our President.  Does it follow this theology?

Not hardly.  In fact, it's completely the opposite of Lutheran theology.  It compels one to use one's money.  It punishes if money isn't spent in that fashion.  It's completely and totally legalistic and not based upon grace based living.  As such, this portion of the law isn't Lutheran, and neither do I believe, Christian.

What I find most intriguing about the support given by some Lutherans to this provision is that those same Lutherans who celebrate this compulsory act in the goal of attaining universal health care, would rail against a congregation requiring its membership to tithe.

While Lutherans are indeed supportive of health care and healing for all, our theology does not support compulsory giving towards it. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

So, Why Bother?

The other day, I wrote about Kurt Goedel and the God of the Gaps.   In it, I told of how Goedel proved that no system of knowledge is complete and that we will never have full knowledge this side of eternity.

In my adult Bible study last Sunday, we covered some similar territory, and one of my members asked, "So what's the point of even trying?"

It's a good question in some regards.  I've had some time to think about such an answer, and I'm going to put one out there just for the fun of it.

#1. Do you stop eating knowing you will be hungry a few hours later?  Just because you can't ever find satisfaction, will you cease to stop the activity?

That's the smart alec response.  I do have some deeper thoughts as well.

#2. If we cease to look for the Truth and perhaps capture a part of it, where does that lead us?  If we choose to stop striving for Truth, what are the consequences?

Relativism?  Nihlism?  Complacency?  All three?

If we remove a search for Truth from the equation, I think we end up in dire straits.  I think we end up with no compass to help us understand right and wrong; just and unjust.  I think we finally end up believing there is no purpose or reason for our existence other than to simply enjoy what time we have on this planet, make the most of it, and let everything--and everyone--be d@mned.  That might sound harsh, but I believe it to be the truth.  (Irony noted.)

What must be noted is that just because we can't fully find the Truth doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  It also doesn't mean we can't come close to the Truth at times.  In fact, circumstances demand that we have some sort of means to judge wheter something is right or wrong.  We don't just leave that up to what any given society says at any given time.  If we thought Truth was only based in what a society said was true, we'd have to say the Holocaust was just one country's way of understanding the truth; that destroying the Native American culture and way of life was O.K. because it was manifest destiny; that forcing women to stay covered and be subservient to the whim of a man is fine and dandy, and if that woman is raped, it's o.k. to kill her because she brought dishonor to a family; etc.  That's the reality of cultural relativism.  Anyone want to go there?

The minute we begin saying something is better than something else, we have made a judgment of Truth.  The minute we have called something right and something wrong, we have made a judgment of Truth.  No one I know of does not make some sort of judgment in this fashion. 

The ultimate question that I think must be asked is who is closer or closest to the Truth?  And what would being closest to the Truth look like in terms of how we treat one another as human beings?  What would being closest to the Truth look like in terms of how we care for creation?  What would being closest to the Truth look like in terms of justice and compassion and care? 

Do you really want to give up pursuit of those questions?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Through Burnout and Back: Where Do You Turn for Healing?

It's interesting to note what happens when you actually, publically admit your burned out.  People respond in many and various ways.

You get the folks who say, "Been there.  Done that.  I understand what you are going through.  Here's some things to consider..."

There are others who say, "I'm right there with you.  I've had it up to here."

Others don't know what to say or what to do.  It makes some folks  feel a bit awkward.

Still others really don't want you to say anything about it.  They'd prefer it if you would just keep things quiet and to yourself. 

Each of these responses is expected, but as a very public figure, I decided to go public because of a myriad of reasons not the least of them being that most folks (whether they admit it or not) go through burnout.  Most folks hit the wall at some point and time and question a lot of stuff.  Hopefully, I can provide some sort of example of how to get through burnout in a healthy manner.  And if I fail...well, I really don't want to consider that...but if it happens, folks can see what not to do.

Thus far, I believe I have begun the healing process.  I've got a ways to go, but things are better now than they were a few weeks ago, and I'd like to share where I've turned to so that the healing may begin.

1. Of course, the beginning answer is God.  I've worked diligently to be more attentive to listening for His guidance in the midst of all this stuff.  I've worked to carve out space to listen to that "still, small voice" that speaks.  I've also been attentive to how God uses others to speak to me and bring words of healing and wisdom.  I'm not a big believer in coincidences, so when someone has said just the right thing at just the right time to connect with just what I am going through at just that particular moment, I'm pretty sure I know who sent that person.

God talks a lot.  Sure, sometimes you do have to be on guard, because the other guy likes to talk as well, and his stuff isn't exactly healthy.  But there is a subtle difference in the voices.  If you've spent a lot of time walking with the Lord, studying His Word, and listening to how He's spoken to and through the saints, you can tell.  Part of the problem is setting aside the things we would like Him to tell us and actually listen to what He does tell us.  This is both humbling and empowering.  It tears down and builds up.  And as the process unfolds and unwinds, it brings peace.

2. Family.  Not just your immediate family, but your extended family as well.  It is within our families that we learn our coping skills.  We learn how to handle various situations.  You're never too old to stop learning from your family.  My grandfather spoke many words of wisdom.  My dad offered challenge and timely advice.  My mom offered comfort.  Connecting with the resource of family has helped tremendously, and I know we'll continue the engagement.

The dark side to this point is the question, "What if your family is unhealthy?  What if they actually drag you down?"  There is that problem at times; however, sometimes even asking questions of unhealthy family members makes a difference in the family dynamic.  Stories abound of how relationships are changed for the better by a question asking for advice or help or assistance.  And if you don't think changing your family dynamic affects your work dynamic...well, try it, and I think you will see a difference.

3. Friends.  I've been fortunate to make several good ones around here.  Extended phone calls and conversations have done wonders.  A good friend knows when to talk and when to act, and I've been fortunate in my friends.   They've asked good questions and helped me see things from different perspectives.  Oftentimes, thinking about things from a different perspective breaks a person out of a rut--at least it does with me.

4. Myself.  This might sound a bit strange.  Perhaps even self-centered, but let me explain.  For several years I've been training in Bowen Family Systems Theory.  The theory centers on one main component--self-differentiation.  It's quite the tricky concept which means being defined about one's beliefs, understandings, and principles while staying connected to others who might not share the same sort of things.  Counselors who are trained in this system of thought are trained not to help people (yeah, you heard that right) but to help those people draw upon their own sense of self to work through situations in life.

Since I've been engaged with this theory for 12 years or so, I know cognitively what I need to do, but I simply need to do it.  And I've started.  See my post about priorities regarding this.  Being well defined about one's goals and priorities gives focus and vision and healing.

I am sure there will be other places I turn to along this journey.  Being at the bottom truly sucks, but as you start climbing back up, and as the healing begins, you start to breathe easier.  Things don't look as bad.  Hope endures.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

God of the Gaps

Friday morning as I was taking my (almost) daily bike ride, my mind for some reason began thinking about the concept of  "the God of the gaps."

From WikipediaGod of the gaps is a type of theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God's existence.

Under "Origins of the Term":

The term goes back to Henry Drummond, a 19th century evangelist lecturer, from his Lowell Lectures on the Ascent of Man. He chastises those Christians who point to the things that science can not yet explain—"gaps which they will fill up with God"—and urges them to embrace all nature as God's, as the work of "... an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology."[2][3]

In the 20th century Dietrich Bonhoeffer expressed the concept in similar terminology in letters he wrote while in a Nazi prison during World War II, which were not made public until years later.[4] Bonhoeffer wrote, for example: " wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know.

Interesting commentary by Drummond and Bonhoeffer, and to an extent, both gentlemen are correct.  We do indeed see and look for God's hand in the things we know.  Scripture has more than a few examples of seeing the Hand of the Creator God in "His handiwork" of creation.  Most importantly, we see God in the God made flesh of Jesus Christ.

But Bonhoeffer, in particular is very, very wrong in his assessment--"the frotiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat."

Bonhoeffer never read Kurt Goedel.  Goedel was a mathematician who formulated a proof--which can and is easily applied to philosophy and science--that proves any system of thought to be incomplete.  No matter how well a person establishes a set of rules, there will be a gap--a truth if you want to call it that--which cannot be proven by the rules.  A corollary to that rule is: even if you add a rule to cover the incompleteness, another incompleteness will be established.

Essentially, Goedel proved we are limited as human beings and we will never--this side of eternity--ever have complete knowledge.  Science won't get us there.  Philosophy won't get us there.  Mathematics won't get us there.  All of these systems are and will forever be incomplete. 

Bonhoeffer was wrong.  As knowledge expands, more gaps pop up.  There will never be an end to such gaps.

Now, this certainly does not prove the existence of God.  But it does shoot holes in the arguments of those who contend their particular fields of study can or will give humankind a system of complete knowledge.  It also shows there are a few things in life that will never be explained and have to be understood

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sunday's Sermon: Why Are You Afraid?

The sermon I am about to deliver is not the sermon I originally prepared. Yes, you heard me right. I prepared two sermons this week after being prompted by my dad. After reading my blog post this week about working in a large cotton patch, dad emailed me and said, "Write a sermon on the hymn ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus." I responded with a few excuses, but he replied in another email that simply said, "Write the sermon." As I looked through the hymn and held it up with our Gospel lesson, I knew the message wasn’t only from my dad–it was also from my Heavenly Father. Unfortunately, I got the message after finishing my first sermon, so I had to pull double duty in a sense this week. I think it was worth it.

What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.
Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry. Everything to God in prayer.

Jesus was asleep in the boat. Think about that for a moment as you consider our Gospel text for today. After a long, hard day of preaching and teaching God’s word and healing the sick and casting out demons, Jesus crashed out. There were two things I learned from this. First, doing God’s work is exhausting. You know this if you have been engaged in doing it. Even being the Son of God couldn’t prevent Jesus from needing rest. As He and His disciples were crossing the lake, Jesus succumbed to his fatigue and slept, and He slept very deeply. Yet, this isn’t the most interesting thing in my book. What is most interesting to me is that Jesus didn’t wake up during the storm, and by all rights, He should have.

I mean, Jesus wasn’t traveling on any sort of luxury yacht or fishing boat that was equipped with stabilizers, GPS and equipment specifically made to help a boat endure a great storm. He was essentially on a 25 to 30 foot long by seven foot at its widest canoe with a sail. Those kind of boats take it on the chin in rough weather. We know the boat was getting swamped. The story tells us this. Water was coming in over the sides, and I’m pretty sure the disciples were busy trying to bail the boat out. They were trying to fight the wind and the waves. The boat was rising and falling and being pushed around by the wind and waves. It would not have been a smooth ride. It would have been jerky and rough and nasty. And still, Jesus slept through it.

He was at peace. He wasn’t worried. He wasn’t anxious. He didn’t even feel the storm. Oh to be at such peace in the midst of a storm. Oh to be in such a place that one can sleep through the turmoil and rage of things that happen which one had no say so in what was happening. Oh to be in such a place of trust that one was not worried about one’s safety, well-being, or very life. Oh to be like Jesus.

But the promise of our faith is that we can have such peace. When Jesus called His followers, He did so in the rabbinic tradition of ancient Judaism. In this tradition, the rabbi chose his followers, his disciples, because he believed they had what it took to not only understand his teaching, not only pass on his teaching, but also to live out his teaching and be just like him. That’s what the ancient Jewish rabbis did when they screened out their disciples. And Jesus did that with those 12 men long ago in Galilee. And He does that today with you and me. He believes we can be like Him and have the peace to endure the storms of life.

And yet, how often do we have that peace? How often do we sense that deep sense of resolve that God is with us, watching over us, and caring for us? How often do we relinquish our control to Him? Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry. Everything to God in prayer. Instead, we become like the disciples on the boat.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged–take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful? Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness–take it to the Lord in prayer.

The disciples became discouraged. They became full of fear. The trials and tribulations of the storm, the raging sea, and the boat being swamped overwhelmed them. They despaired, and perhaps they became a little frustrated and angry. Where was their leader in the midst of this storm? What was their leader doing? Was He up and about giving them encouragement? Was He picking up a bucket and helping to bail out water? Was He using His power–that awesome power that enabled Him to heal the sick and cast out demons to make the disciples’ situation better? No. He wasn’t. Not even close. Jesus didn’t even seem to care. He didn’t seem to worry in the least that their very lives were in danger. Jesus was sleeping.
And what did the disciples do? Did they imitate the non-anxiousness of their leader? Did they trust that Jesus just might have some insight that they didn’t? Did they take their cue from Him, or did their own trials and tribulations overwhelm them?

Well, we know the answer. They woke Jesus up. They confronted Him. Their frustration, anger, and fear spoke loudly. "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

Jesus wakes up. He knows this is a teachable moment. He knows He has an important lesson to teach the disciples about fear and faith and trust, especially in Him. But He also knows it won’t do any good to try and teach them about this in the midst of the storm. He knows their weakness. He knows their fear. He knows they will not hear Him at this juncture. He must be a faithful friend and teacher. A faithful friend knows when to take action and when to teach. Jesus knew He must act first before the disciples can hear what He has to say. He speaks to the wind and the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Can we find a friend as faithful as Jesus? Not likely.

Are we weak and heavy laden? Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior still our refuge. Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer.
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

"Why are you afraid?" Jesus asks. It’s a pertinent question given the rabbinic tradition I spoke of earlier. "If I was calm, why weren’t you? If I was at rest, why were you worried? You’ve seen the acts of God I’ve been doing–you must know I come from God–you know I have power–you know I’ve called you to learn to be like me. This is all part of what it meant for me to tell you, ‘Follow me." You know this. Why are you afraid?"

The disciples know the answer. So does Jesus. "Have you still no faith?"

"Have you still no faith?" That’s the tough one. That’s the question that hits home. Faith is the assurance that there is something to hope for–the confidence that there is something unseen leading, guiding, even pulling us through this life toward a goal. For Christians, that goal is life with God–not only in heaven, but a life with God right here and right now. Faith in God means believing that when we are in His presence, He is our refuge and strength. Faith in God means believing that when our friends despise us and leave us because we don’t fit into their boxes, God cares and is leading us to a better place. Faith in God means believing Jesus is in the boat with us; not separate from us, and that we will reach our destination together–not without storms, but being able to pass through storms and into a place of peace and calm.

Yes, we will have storms to pass through. In our media, political driven world today, we are always being told storms are coming or are here. Stresses and anxieties are shoved at us over and over and over again. The temptation is to allow those things to overwhelm us to become weak and heavy laden–to be encumbered with a load of care. But, if we take it to the Lord in prayer, we will find solace. We will find peace. We will find the dead calm. The storm may be raging, but we will be able to see a destination. We will be able to see the goal. We will know that Christ is with us, and we will know the peace that passes all understanding.  Amen

(For those of you who have been following my blog and have taken notice of the ongoing conversation about me burning out, you might be saying right now, "Pastor, heed your own words." Believe me. I am and have been. I’ve been taking a lot to the Lord in prayer, and piece by piece, He is making things clearer to me. Piece by piece I am finding peace and solace. For those of you who have been there and are there, my hope and prayer for you is that you may find it too.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Love the Sinner/Hate the Sin

I saw commentary on this phrase just a few days ago.  The commentary argued that Christians should actually stop using this phrase.

The argument was presented thusly:


See, the problem that I have with this phrase is that it assumes that “sin” is a specific action that is done/can be undone.  If that’s the case, name the specific action that you hate.

“I love you, Tommy, but I don’t like it when you break my glasses.”  “I love you, Sarah, but I don’t like it when you kick my shins.”

But really, I haven’t heard this phrase used in those ways.  I’ve only heard it used when people are talking about identity.

“I love gay people, I just hate that they act on their homosexual orientation…”

There we go.  There’s an honest statement.

And an unhelpful one.

It’s unhelpful because, you can’t love me apart from my sexuality.  I really don’t think you can.  It’s part of what makes me who I am, even if it’s not the whole of my definition.  So, if you were to say to me, “I love you, but I hate that you’re heterosexual…” I would probably stop listening right then and there because, well, I wouldn’t believe you.

You can’t love me and yet hate an essential part of me.  This phrase is disingenuous.

Really?  Therefore, we should measure all statements about identity found in scripture and in our doctrine in such fashion?

As a Lutheran (and the blogger who wrote that statement is a Lutheran pastor), we believe every Christian is simul justus et peccator -- at the same time saint and sinner.  At the same time our very identity is both saintly and sinful.  And we should embrace and love that sinful part? 

Let's talk about it in another couple of ways:

Evolution has bred within each and every one of us the desire for self-preservation.  Our brains developed where we are able to contemplate the future and prepare for it so that we can better survive what may happen to us.  There's a reason people sought out caves for protection from the weather and from other roving tribes of people.  There's a reason we save money for the time we can no longer work.  There's a reason we accumulate stuff--in case we ever might need it.  One could say that at some point and time, the desire for self-preservation turns into greed--that greed is the extreme of self-preservation; however, it also could be that we are born greedy so that we may have a better chance of preserving ourselves.  Any parent knows the selfish nature of a child.  When an infant is born, he/she is extremely self-centered and expects the world to wait on it hand and foot to give it comfort, food, and whatever else it needs.  I don't think we ever fully grow out of that.  At our core, we still work diligently to preserve ourselves.

This is in clear contrast to what the Christian faith teaches us about relying upon God for all we need.  Instead of being greedy and working for our preservation or retirement or safety, we are supposed to rely upon God to provide.  (Matthew 6 for the reference; also Luke 12)  Yet, we don't.  Not at all.  We work like the dickens; we save and sack things away; we are not as generous as we could be.  And unfortunately, it's in our nature--it's part of our identity--as to why we do such things.  Are we to accept that our behavior in this matter is acceptable because it is an essential part of who we are as homo sapiens?

On a related note:  one of those texts that makes me (and I have been told even makes a few women as well) squirm:  Jesus' teaching on adultery in Matthew 5.  Wicked little text and teaching.  If you even look at a woman with lust in your heart you have committed adultery. 

It is the nature of the human male to look at women all the time.  It is the nature of the human male to be attracted to females and desire to further the evolutionary process.  Evolution has led the majority of males on this planet to have the desire to pass on his genes.  Attractive women catch his eye and his brain all the time.  It's in our nature.  It is an essential part of us.  It is ingrained into our identity.  So, is Jesus wrong?  Is it disingenuous to say this natural occurring, evolutionary produced attraction is sinful?  I don't think so--if Jesus is the authority and not myself or science or what have you.

The disingenuous part of this equation is the failure to think all the way through the argument.  If one decides to begin applying such logic to a particular argument, one must be prepared to take that logic to related arguments as well.  And oftentimes, one finds the consequences of doing so are dangerous.

Much of the ethics regarding the Christian faith are about self-control.  Much of the ethics of the Christian faith call a person to go against their natural tendencies that evolution instilled into us.  And, lest we forget, the Christian faith isn't about God affirming our identity--it's about God giving us a NEW identity through, with, and in Jesus Christ.  It is a new identity that seeks to become more Christlike in how we act in the world and toward one another. 

I personally realize the impossibility of attaining that new identity, but that is where grace comes in.  Grace gives us the ability to love the sinner and hate the sin--even when that sin is a part of ourselves.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Large Field of Cotton

Growing up, I walked many a mile in a cotton field with a cotton hoe in my hand.

It was hot work

It was tiring work.

Sweat poured off my forehead and soaked through my bandanna and baseball cap.

At the end of the day, I couldn't wait to take a shower, enjoy a cold drink, and sleep.  My dad often used the cotton patch as an opportunity to teach important lessons.  I'll never forget the time we stopped in the turning row about mid morning. We pulled out a Dr. Pepper and began drinking, taking a mid-morning break from chopping. 

"Kevin," Dad said, "do you want to spend the rest of your life doing this?"

"No, sir," I promptly replied.

"Then, you're going to get yourself an education, right?"

Enough said.

Well, I got my education.  High school, college, and then a Master's degree at seminary.  I've worked behind a desk and behind the wheel of a car and in front of a congregation.  It's been good.  Real good.

But there are times when I long for that cotton patch now.

That may sound ridiculous, but I assure you, it's not. 

Back in the day when I chopped cotton, you didn't have cell phones or any such method to "stay connected."  You were out in the middle of the cotton patch walking mile long or half a mile long cotton rows.  The only sounds you heard were passing trucks, crop dusters, the wind, and possibly a few birds which decided to fly over.  You had no choice but to think--to process things that had happened in your life and to imagine your future.  And, being the person I was, many of my thoughts turned to God.

God and I wrestled mightily out there in those cotton patches underneath the South Texas sun.  We had many a conversation, and there was nothing to interrupt us.  I long for times like that now.

At the end of the day, I could look at the rows of cotton I had walked, and I saw what difference had been made.  The rows were weed free and looked clean.  You could tell someone had done something.  You felt confident as you had spent quality time with God with no interruption, and you knew He'd be waiting to visit with you again the next day. 

Such is not to say that God isn't a part of my life right now.  Neither is it to say that a difference isn't being made in what I do.  But things were a little more evident--straight forward.  You could notice things much more easily.

It would be nice to spend a day in a large field of cotton with a cotton hoe in my hand, walking, chopping, and conversing with God one more time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Free Book Today

My Kindle Book is free for the next several days.

What Is God Calling You to Do and Be?

An excerpt:

...are we really open to God’s will? Do we really and truly mean it when we pray the Lord’s Prayer and say, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."?

Before you say, "Oh, yes. I’m open to God’s will," let me pose a question or two to you. What if, in the midst of prayer, God spoke to you and said, "I need you to sell your home here, leave your job, and go to Iraq to work among the people there to build their country." Would you go? What if God said, "I need you to quit your job, attend seminary, and work in downtown New York City ministering to the homeless." Could you do it? If you were truly open to God’s will, you would.

Now, some of you might think really hard about putting this little book down right now. You might believe that I am trying to use a little thing called guilt to make you truly consider God’s will and truly be open. Nothing is farther from the truth. The fact of the matter is that throughout history, particularly through the biblical witness, folks generally rebelled against God’s will. It’s quite amazing that God accomplished anything through people because the first response from many is, "No. I don’t want to do that." Don’t believe me? Let’s take a little walk through some Bible stories and let’s see if what I say is true.

Biblical animosity

Let’s start with one of the great pillars of the faith: Moses. His story can be found in the book of Exodus.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Through Burnout and Back: Revisiting Priorities

My recent trip to Arkansas was very beneficial for my healing process.

Sitting at the feet of my (almost) 93 year old grandfather helped a lot.  He gave plenty of advice even though he told me to take it with a grain of salt.  The connection was priceless even as I continue to process much of what he said.

Being 500 miles away from Cat Spring also helped give me a different perspective on things.  When you are sitting in the midst of everything happening, it's very, very easy to lose perspective, and unfortunately, I did just that.  Hopefully, being away gave me a little more of that.

One of the gifts of this perspective was to help me see where I was at fault in this process of burnout.  As I looked at the situation from afar, I realized several of my mistakes.

  • I lost the vision that drove me for the first several years in my congregation.
  • I took responsibility of things I should not have taken responsibility of.
  • I became too enmeshed in the emotional processes of stuff that was happening.
These are the things I think I can share at this point.  As time goes on, there might be a few more things I can put out there.

As I thought long and hard about these things and the role I will play in the future, I knew it was time to revisit my priorities as a pastor, husband, and father.  I knew it was time to begin thinking about what I needed to focus on in the future to stay healthy in all three aspects of life: spiritual, physical, and mental.

So far, these things seem to be where I am headed:

  • As a pastor, I feel deeply called to focus my attention on reaching out to the unchurched, dechurched, and those who do not believe.  My grandfather's question regarding what sermon I've preached to most further the Kingdom of God refocused me here.  I have a very good, wise friend who commented that I still have many years left in the ordained ministry to preach such a sermon; however as I think about the Church and its mission to reach out to the world and make disciples of all nations, I am convinced such sermons should not be preached once in a career.  I am convinced that such sermons should be preached all the time.  Conversations should be held within and outside the church building on a very regular basis engaging unbelievers.  The Spirit has led me toward this area and field and has been equipping me for just such a purpose.  I believe I must fulfill it and change my focus to accomplish this.
  • I also sense a deep sense of purpose to pass my faith down to my children.  At their baptisms, my wife and I promised to teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments.  To place in their hands the Holy Scriptures and provide for their instruction in the Christian faith."  So far, we've got the Lord's Prayer down.  We've got a long way to go in regards to the other things, and we've got a very, very long way to go in teaching the Bible stories.  Sunday School programming hasn't been very easy to accomplish in my current congregation.  I've been spending a lot of time in adult study.  I may have to shift my focus to ensure my children have the faith passed down to them.
  • I have to discern the main responsibilities I am to take in my congregation.  There are several things outlined in my letter of call and in the congregation's constitution.  These things probably take up 75% of my time.  The other 25% must be used wisely, and I've got to make sure they are used in regards to my primary purpose as a pastor.  I'm not exactly sure how that will play out given I am situated out in the middle of the country, but I know it's what I need to do.
I am sure this is just the beginning.  This process of recovery will take a while, but getting these things prioritized will help greatly.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

An Important Lesson from My Dad

I remember the night well.

I was in eighth grade.  We'd played a football game that Thursday evening.  A game that we lost.  I don't remember the opponent, but I remember what happened when I got home.

I didn't exactly play too well that evening.  In fact, I'd had my butt handed to me several times by an opponent who was inferior to me physically in every aspect of the game.  The only way he dominated me was because he had more heart than I did.

For my father, that was unacceptable.

He had coached football for several years before finally settling into teaching mathematics and science, and he wasn't about to let his son slack off and be beaten around by someone who had no business doing so.

Dad was waiting for me when we pulled into the driveway.

For about 15 minutes, dad put me through football practice.  I'd never been more frightened.

In that 15 minutes, I learned more about defending myself and getting away from blockers than I had ever learned at one of our team practices.

No.  Dad didn't throw any punches.  He didn't slap me around.  He actually didn't lay a hand on me.

He threw himself at me, rolling on the ground as if he were trying to block me.

I had no choice but to push him away and avoid his blocks.

Dad outweighed me by a good 100 pounds or so at the time, so it was avoid the blocks or end up hurt. 

I walked away.

And I learned my lesson. 

There was no coddling in my dad this evening.  There was no, "Aw, poor Kevin. Y'all lost the game.  Do better next time."

There was a, "If you are going to do something, you'd better work your a$$ off.  You'd better do it to the best of your ability.  If you don't, you're going to have your a$$ handed to you or you are going to get hurt.  Don't let anyone ever, ever have more heart than you do.  You may run up against someone who is more physically gifted than you, but don't ever let them beat your heart!  Don't do anything half-a$$ed!"

We never met again at night after a game.  Lesson learned.

I turned out alright as far as playing football was concerned.  Even ended up making the all-district team numerous times, including several unanimous selections.  I'm not sure I'd ever have ended up there without my dad laying a whopper of a lesson on me that night.

Now, at other times, Dad did some coddling.  He was more than willing to sit down and talk through things. He's really good at that now.  Sharing advice.  Of course, he still outweighs me, but I'm not as afraid of him physically.  If he was 15 years younger, that statement would be quite different.  :-)  Yet, in certain situations, he refuses to give sympathy.  He'll still get after me.  Most of the time, it's needed--and later, I appreciate it.

Discernment is an important quality in parenting.  My Dad had it.  I hope I am doing half the job he did.  The Lord blessed me with a great father, and for all the rest of you who appreciates your dad as much as I do, let's raise our glasses together and wish them a Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fictional Conversation Based Upon Yesterday's Post

A pastor is engaged one day by an atheist who tries to convince him God doesn't exist.

Atheist: I can see by the collar you are wearing, you are a religious sort of fellow.

Pastor: Yes, I am.

A: Well, I am not.  In fact, I think belief in God amounts to pure superstition and isn't rooted in any sort of fact at all.

P: That certainly would be the case if you carry the assumption that reason is the best way to obtain knowledge.  But it's just an assumption.

A: I don't think you can say that reason is an assumption. 

P: Of course I can, but for the sake of argument, I'll simply say that reason is far too limited in conveying the truth to others.

A: You'd have to have a lot of proof to back up that statement.

P: It's easily enough done.

A: I'm all ears.

P: For the sake of argument, pretend that I was born blind.  I have never seen anything. 

A: O.K., so what's your point.

P: Explain to me the concept of color.  Explain to me the concept of something being green.

A: Hmmm.  That's a difficult one.  I suppose you'd start by talking about an object.

P: O.K.

A: And then you would say that this object has a color.  Other objects can look different and have different hues.

P: But how would a blind person understand that statement?  Would it even make sense?  Close your eyes and pretend someone said that to you if you had no frame of reference for it.  Could you conceive of what green looked like?

A: No.  I couldn't.  It'd be impossible to conceive of green.  When all one has seen is darkness, you couldn't understand what a color is.

P: And yet, those of us who can see know those colors exist.

A: Yes.

P: But we couldn't convey them to someone who has been born blind.

A: Yes.

P: Therefore, reason is limited in its ability to convey the truth.

A: But, if the blind person had all of his faculties, then they would be able to know the truth.

P: But they don't. That's part of the equation.  We're dealing with what is, not with what could be.  The fact of the matter is, you couldn't convey to a blind person the essence of what it means to be the color green.  You couldn't even convince them there is such a color as green.

A: Now, that we might be able to do.

P: How?

A: We could gather up some folks this person respects and have them tell him that green exists.

P: But that assumes the blind person would fully trust and accept what people told him.  He hasn't discovered such a thing by himself.  He is totally dependent upon what others have told him.  This isn't what reason teaches.

A: That's true.  But there isn't any way the person could know green exists.  They would have to trust others who say green exists.  They would have to simply believe what is being said is true even if they couldn't see it.  They would have to know they are limited by their visual impairment and are unable to grasp such a thing as a color.

P: So, you are saying that a blind person would have to have faith such a thing as green existed and base that faith in the witness of others who he trusts?  And believing such a thing is perfectly acceptable--even reasonable given the circumstances.

A: Yes.

P: And you honestly have an issue with those who believe in God?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How Would You Try to Accomplish This?

My cousins adopted two girls from China.

They are both blind.

Both are thriving here in the states.  Both have learned braille and one of them has won an award for three consecutive years for most books read in braille. 

But my aunt (the girls' grandmother) told us of a difficulty they are running into.

"How do you teach these girls the concept of colors?" she asked.

Of course, being blind from birth, they have absolutely no concept of what it means to have color.  Green means nothing.  Blue means nada.  They are simply words pulled out of thin air for all these girls are concerned.  For a shape, they can create a triangle and have them touch it.  For an object, they can find that object and have the girls feel it.  How do you do such a thing with something intangible like a color.

It set my mind reeling, not only with the practicality of trying to do such a thing but also with a theological question:  how does one convey the concept of God to someone who doesn't believe?  How does one convey the concept of something one cannot see--that cannot be grasped--that cannot be felt or touched (at least until one believes)?

How would you seek to convey such a concept to one who could not see?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Difficult Question

Leave it to my (almost) 93 year old grandfather to ask a question which offered both clarity and no small amount of discomfort:

"Can you point to one sermon you have preached that has most furthered the Kingdom of God?"

That question gave me pause because I didn't have an answer.

My grandfather had no such trouble.  In fact, he remembered the situation starkly and how he handled it.  What he did stands in stark contrast to what I was taught and trained to do, but I know I cannot say I've had the success he had.

Many, many years ago, my grandfather was asked to perform a funeral for an atheist--a non-believer who made no bones about his unbelief.  For some reason, they asked a clergy to perform the ceremony.

My grandfather had to make a decision about how to handle this particular situation, and he chose to act boldly.  He chose as his funeral text John 3: 16.  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that who so ever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."

My grandfather began his sermon, "I am sorry your loved one did not believe that promise."

My grandfather would probably be tarred and feathered for such a thing today.  As I mentioned earlier, I was taught and told in no uncertain terms that funerals are not appropriate places for evangelism.  It angers folks.  It does not offer comfort to the families.  Etc.  Etc.

The sermon my grandfather delivered offered no great comfort to the guy's family at first, but over the next year or so, the majority of the deceased man's family ended up in church.  They went from unbelief to belief because the Spirit used my grandfather's sermon to hit home.  That one sermon furthered the Kingdom of God and brought numerous people to faith.

Now, I could cop out of that question by saying that many of my sermons were good and encouraged people to bring about God's Kingdom by their actions in their daily lives.  I could cop out and say that many of my sermons have encouraged people to make the world a better place by feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, etc. etc.  But can I point to one single sermon--or combination of sermons that I have preached which the Spirit has used to bring unbelievers to believe?  Can I point to any situation where those who were either sitting on the fence regarding belief or who were even hostile to belief had their hearts warmed and broken by words placed into my mouth?

I'm drawing a blank.  That's very, very discomforting. 

For the primary purpose of the Church is to make disciples of all nations and witness to the resurrection so that all may come to believe.  That's the clarity.

Am I furthering the Kingdom of God where I am and preaching how I am preaching?  That's discomforting.

Do I need to re-emphasize reaching out to those who do not believe in Jesus Christ?  That's the clarity.

Do I have the courage to continue wrestling with my grandfather's question?  To follow where it may lead me? 

Do I have a choice?

Monday, June 11, 2012

In the Foothills of the Ozarks

My family and I have arrived at one of the special places in my life.

In 1984, my mother's parents moved to Bella Vista, Arkansas to a retirement community located a mile from the Missouri border in the upper northwest corner of the state.  It's cuddled right in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.

The landscape is generally lush and vibrant.  There is a mixture of evergreen and deciduous trees.  It can be hot, and I have seen the region in extreme drought, but it's nice and green now.

For the past 28 years, my family and I have made several forays to this area, and I have seen this place change mightily.  It used to be a cradle of hillbilly heaven.  Walmart made Bentonville (a few short miles down the road) its headquarters, and you now have to drive a piece to reach hillbilliness--yet there is still something very peaceful about this area.  There is something wholesome.

It's deep in the Bible belt, and there is a spirituality about the place.  Several times I've tasted it, and I hope to drink deeply at it this week.  I hope to experience it's healing draught and have some weariness restored.

My grandfather will celebrate his 70th year of being an ordained pastor this week.  I am happy to be a part of that celebration.  I'll be picking his brain a little bit this week, and I am sure he will be happy to share words of wisdom--along with several deep seated opinions.  (If you ever wondered where I get my opinions and openness...)

It is my hope to ask him a little bit about how he handled the burnout that comes with being a clergy.  I'm pretty sure I know part of the answer, but I want to hear him speak.  I want him to pass down his understanding of that part of the faith.

I have known all along, ministry isn't something I do alone.  It's something the community does.  When we are at our best as a Church or denomination or a congregation, we are caring for one another and building one another up.  We are passing down our faith and understandings and helping one another come into contact with Christ.  Sometimes, we forget this.  In the foothills of the Ozarks, I hope to be reminded.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Through Burnout and Back: I'm not Peeing on the Electric Fence

A few months ago, one of my members gave me a joke to share with our senior citizens at our Senior service.  It goes kind of like this:

There are three kinds of men in this world:

1. Those who learn by reading.

2. Those intelligent few who learn by observation.

3. And the rest of those who have to pee on the electric fence before they get it.

I've stuck this one deeply into the recesses of my brain when it comes to things.  And in the course of dealing with this burnout stuff, I'm hearkening back to it.  I hope I am falling into category #2.

I learn a lot by visiting with people in my job.  I learn doubly from people who suffer life-altering circumstances in their own lives. 

A few weeks ago, I visited with a member who has stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  We're all aware of what that means. 

(I have my member's permission to share the following.)

In our conversation, Buddy reflected upon many of the things in his life up to that point.  He had a very good job, but it was tremendously stressful.  He was on call week after week after week.  He fielded phone calls on the weekends and had to travel a lot.

He said, "As I think back on it, I wonder if it was worth it.  I didn't gain anything financially.  There was no benefit, really, for my family.  As I think about it, it wasn't worth it."

Buddy is now spending all the time he can with his family and friends.  Fortunately, his boss has told him to take all the time he needs.  Work is no longer a priority or a pressing matter.  Family and friends come first--along with his relationship with God.

Pancreatic cancer has a way of rearranging your priorities. 

I don't want to learn from peeing on an electric fence.

The other day, I had all my work finished by 3 in the afternoon.  I had visited folks and made phone calls.  I could have come up with something else to do, but I had a little girl who wanted to build a "habitat."  I had two other kids who longed to see their dad since they got out of school.  H.E.B. had had rib eye steaks on sale, and a couple of them were screaming to be grilled. 

I left the office.

I will do it again.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Obesity Epidemic Hits the Church!

Church apparently makes you fat.  (Story here.)

A 2006 Purdue study found that the fundamental Christians are by far the heaviest of all religious groups led by the Baptists with a 30% obesity rate compared with Jews at 1%, Buddhists and Hindus at 0.7%.

This study prompted the lead researcher, Ken Ferraro to say, “America is becoming a nation of gluttony and obesity and churches are a feeding ground for this problem.”

...Finally, a 2001 Pulpit and Pew study of 2,500 clergy found that 76% were overweight or obese compare to 61% of the general population at the time of the study.

Intriguing numbers to say the least. 
And where does the blame lie?  According to the article:

The contemporary church culture has unwittingly contributed to the rise in overweight and obese parishioners.

Today it is rare to hear a sermon preached on the stewardship of the physical body and even more rare on the vice of gluttony; it has become a secret and acceptable vice in the modern church. 

Tables at potlucks strain under the weight of pound cakes, pizza, fried chicken and cheesecake and fellowship is not considered complete without these rich, decadent –and yes addictive foods.

The sacred Sunday ritual between services is donuts, bagels and cream cheese, and coffee with cream and sugar. 

And finally, Platonic dualism, the belief that the spirit is sacred and the physical body is corrupt and inconsequential, perpetuates this problem and assists many in justifying unhealthy nutritional habits.

I'm not so sure this is it.  Far from it.  In fact, I'd like to argue that one of the main causes for obesity and unhealthiness in our churches is the issue of anxiety.  I blogged about this some months ago, but a recap might suffice.

Whenever our bodies are under stress and anxiety, they release cortisol.  This is how nature built us--particularly back in the days when we were running from lions and tigers and bears, oh my!  Cortisol gave us an adrenalin burst which enabled us to fight or flee from danger.  You can read more about the stuff here.  Did you catch the last bullet point about what happens when higher and prolonged levels of cortisol are in the body?

Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, the development of metabolic syndrome, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems!

I think it's sad to say, but our churches and congregations are places of high stress and anxiety these days.  They have been for quite some time.  Somewhere along the way, especially in the mainline denominations, we figured out we were in decline.  We figured out we were gaining some members through the front door, but an even greater number were slipping out the back door.  We found ourselves woefully inadequate in engaging the questions of relativity and pluralism in the world.  We found ourselves allowing culture to dictate our doctrine instead of holding onto that which history has shown to be true.  We found our scapegoats in our clergy and are convinced they are responsible for our congregations' problems--if we only had better leadership, then things would be better.  No wonder clergy obesity rates are up there.

Yet, we've found that despite clergy turnover, things haven't stabilized.  They've gotten worse.  Anxiety continues to increase--despite what our faith tells us:

25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.  --Matthew 6.

One has to wonder whether or not we are doing a good enough job of seeking the Kingdom of God?  One has to wonder if we actually focused on doing this and letting God worry about all those other details if things would fall into place?  One has to wonder if we remembered who is in charge of the Church--including our congregations--whether or not we'd spend so much time in anxiousness?  And one has to wonder if we spent less time in anxiousness if our cortisol levels wouldn't decrease along with our waistlines?

Whenever I hear about the obesity epidemic our nation (and now our churches) is facing, I think about cortisol and anxiety.  I think about all the news stories and media sensation that is meant to frighten and anger us.  I think about how all this stuff invades our congregations, and I wonder if the church has the capability to turn to Jesus and heed His words?  Judging from the numbers, we aren't doing such a good job. 

Maybe it's time we rethink just what we are doing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sunday's Sermon: Whom Shall I Send?

How many of you here this morning have seen the movie "Shrek"? A few of you. It’s really a good movie as far as things are concerned. It’s full of good life lessons about friendship and being true to one’s self. But, those aren’t the lessons I want to visit about in my sermon this morning. There’s something else I’d like to begin addressing with a scene from this movie.

Let’s set the scene for a moment. The movie centers on Shrek who is an ogre. Shrek likes being alone in his swamp. He doesn’t want to be bothered by anyone or anything. Unfortunately, Shrek’s peaceful existence is threatened by Lord Farquad who has decreed that all fairy tale creatures be kicked out of his kingdom. All the fairy tale creatures go into exile, and guess where they end up? Yep, in Shrek’s swamp. Shrek isn’t happy about this. He wants his swamp back. He doesn’t like all these creatures wandering around, so he decides to go see Lord Farquad and get his swamp back. This is where the scene of the movie comes into play.

Shrek stands in front of all the fairy tale creatures and asks what they are doing in his swamp. They reply that Lord Farqad kicked them out of their homes. Then, Shrek asks if anyone knows where this Lord Farquad is. One of the other main characters of the movie is then shown jumping up and down up and down saying, "Oh, I do. I know where he is." This character is Donkey. Shrek had already met Donkey earlier in the film, and, well, Shrek didn’t really care for Donkey too much.

Shrek then asks, "Does anyone else know where to find him?"

A bear raises his hand, and his dad pushes it down.

Two others point at each other.

Donkey starts jumping up and down, "Me! Me! Pick me! I know, pick me! Me! Me!"

Shrek sees that he has no choice, so he announces that he will go see Lord Farquad and get these creatures off his land. They all cheer. Shrek points at Donkey and says, "You. You’re coming with me."

Donkey replies, "Oh yeah, that’s what I like to hear."

Question: Where is Donkey today in our churches and congregations? Where is the person or persons who when you ask for help jump up and down with excitement saying, "Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!"

When is the last time an announcement has been made that we need Sunday School teachers, and 30 people jumped up and said, "Me! Me! I’ll do it!"

When is the last time an announcement has been made that council positions were open and 20 people came forward and said, "Me! Me! I’m ready to dedicate some of my time to serving the Lord in His church!"

When is the last time an annual meeting was announced and people were anxious and excited to stay and help conduct the business of a congregation so that its mission and ministry could continue?

When is the last time you saw an invitation for someone other than a pastor to lead a prayer in any particular setting, and you saw a whole bunch of hands raised in the air to volunteer? "I’ll do it! I’ll pray! Pick me! Pick me!"

Where is Donkey in the midst of our congregations and our churches?

Have you seen him lately? Have you seen many people like him?

Oh, and I really shouldn’t limit this to just church. I should probably ask about if you’ve seen him at the Ag Hall, at the Legion, at the PTA, in the classroom or at any other organization that is clamoring for volunteers. When the call goes out for help from all these places, how often do we see Donkey jumping up and down saying, "Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!"? And how often do we see folks sliding down in their pews and chairs? How often do we see people pointing at everyone else? How often do we see people shaking their heads, and we know what they’re thinking? They’re thinking, "One more thing that I don’t really have time for."

And yet, we know how important these things are. We know how important it is that the Ag Hall has volunteers. That the church has volunteers. That the Legion has volunteers. That the PTO has volunteers. That the classroom has parents willing to give of their time to support the kids. We know this stuff is so vitally important; yet, when the rubber hits the road: how many of us have the excitement and energy to jump up and down to get involved?
Interestingly enough the reluctance to volunteer–the reluctance to jump in and do such work seems to be bred deeply within each and every one of us. If one reads the Bible, one sees time and again the reluctance on the part of the people God calls to do God’s work. Moses argued with God at the burning bush begging God to find someone else to go to Egypt. Gideon put the Lord through several tests before shouldering the mantle of leading God’s people into battle against the Midianites. Jeremiah tried to excuse himself from being a prophet because he was too young. And Isaiah believed he was too full of sin.

As Isaiah stands before God in our First Lesson this morning he says, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

It wasn’t until Isaiah had been touched by God–had been touched by the burning coal–had been cleansed of his sin and restored that he was able to answer God’s call. It wasn’t until God had acted upon him that Isaiah was able to find the strength to say, "Here am I; send me!"

So, what does this say to you and me today? What does this lesson tell us amidst the myriads of stuff we are invited to be a part of in our daily lives today? Does it help us at all?

There would have been a time where I would have suggested that God will give us the strength to do any and every volunteer opportunity that came along so that we could spread His Word in all of these places. Now, I’m not sure about that. There are so many things vying for our time and money that if we tried to do such a thing we would be burned out, used up and out of money quicker than you could spit. That’s not what I believe we are called to do and be.

I could also stand up here and say, prioritize. You’ve got to choose the stuff that is most important to you. But the only problem with that line of reasoning is that in today’s society, I know what usually wins. Unfortunately, the church usually gets the short end of the stick. Everything else tends to take precedence. I’m not sure that’s the solution either.

Are there other ways and alternatives to looking at this issue? Are there other solutions that help us deal with the Donkey problem? Are there other ideas floating around that would help us be filled with energy and vigor and excitement so that if someone in the church said, "We need a volunteer for this...", we would have a host of people standing up and saying, "Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!"?

What if it starts with being in the presence of God? What if it starts by being touched by God? What if it starts with having His Spirit invade you and fill you and cleanse you and give you wisdom and discernment? What if you were filled to the point that you saw with clarity just how you were called, what gifts you brought to the table, and how best you could use them? What if you were filled to the point where you knew and understood those priorities very well and you knew that being a part of church was not energy zapping but a constant source of energy and power in your life? What if being in the presence of God gave you such vision and power?
How often do you seek to be in God’s presence so that you can know these things? How often do you consciously remind yourself God is present in your life? How often do you stand before Him and wait for Him to touch your heart and soul? And how would you respond if He did? How would you respond if He said to you, "Whom shall I send? Amen.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Through Burnout and Back: Getting Preached At

I have found during this episode of dealing with burnout I suffer from peaks and valleys.  I never know when one of those peaks will occur or when one of those valleys will hit.

Yesterday morning, before worship, I found myself in a valley.  It was unpleasant to say the least.  In 12 years, I have never not looked forward to preaching.  I love proclaiming God's Word.  It's one of my favorite parts of my calling, but yesterday, I almost dreaded getting in front of my congregation and preaching.  I looked my sermon over and felt, "blah." 

Yet, I know I must continue to preach.  I know I must continue to do what God has called me to do.  Worship must go on.  God's Word must be proclaimed.  I found some consolation in St. Paul's own admission in 1 Corinthians 12:9-10: 9but he [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

I headed to the sanctuary and set up for worship.  I then stood at the door and greeted people as they walked in.  For almost eight years, I have preached the Gospel to these people.  For the first time, I had little energy to do so.

And then Margie walked in.  (I have permission to tell this part.)  A couple of months ago, I did Margie's mother's funeral.  It was a touching ceremony for a kind, saintly woman.  Margie walked right up to me, told me, "You need a hug."  She hugged me and then spoke, "As mother would say, 'It'll get better.'"

The only thing that prevented me from breaking down and crying at that point was the fact the service was starting in just a few seconds.  The words hit me and brought healing and comfort in the midst of my morning.  They were exactly the right words at the right time in the right place.  Without even knowing it, Margie had preached at me, and her sermon found the mark.

I spoke last time about not wanting sympathy, and I don't.  Margie's words hearkened me back to Thekla's granddaughter who at the funeral spoke about how frustrating it was that "Wa" would never get upset at things that would happen; would never give any sort of sense of sympathy; would never commiserate in your misery; but she would just say, "It will get better."  For Thekla, it was a statement of faith, and that statement of faith was passed down to her daughter Margie.  And Margie passed it on to me.  The community of saints at work.  Bringing healing where it is needed.

I had no problems preaching for that first service or the second one a little later in the morning.  God provided me with exactly what I needed so that I could proclaim His Word.  I have no doubt He will continue to provide.  After proclaiming the Gospel to my congregation for eight years, they are preaching it right back, and I know, "It will get better."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Head Shaking

A law banning the feeding of homeless people on public property.

In the city of "brotherly love." 

To "protect the dignity of the homeless, cleanliness of the parks, and eliminate food health concerns."

Yeah, right.

Somehow I don't believe it.

Would love to have a church go out and feed the homeless in public and be cited for breaking this law.

Do you think the ACLU would lead the charge that the church's First Amendment rights had been violated?

Would be interesting.

Would be even more interesting if local congregations banded together and in unison offered feedings on a daily basis raising a banner which said:

"We must obey God rather than men."  Acts 5: 29