Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On Replacement Officials

The replacement refs finally blew a game changing call last night.  I personally didn't see it so had to watch the replay.  I was off in dreamland valuing sleep much more than an NFL Monday night game.  Oh how I wish I would have stayed up so as to not miss this pivotal moment.  (Sarcasm off.)

Today, headlines ran from Sports Illustrated to Yahoo!  to Drudge regarding this game's ending, and all articles echoed the sentiment:

The integrity of the NFL game is shot or on life support due to the replacement officials.

Yeah, right.   Sure.  Blame the refs.  It's all their fault.  They are the reason the NFL has lost all integrity.  And I have some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you.

This past Sunday, I watched exactly one half of one quarter of the Dallas Cowboy's game against Tampa Bay.  Want to know what I was doing during the other three and a half quarters?  Taking a couple of my kids grocery shopping.  Do you honestly think this would have happened two or three years ago with yours truly?  Not a chance.  I can take or leave these games and lose no sleep or interest over it.


The integrity of the game, in my estimation has been gone a long time.  Unfortunately, it's taking replacement officials to open the eyes of others to something that I've personally felt for some time.  Please let me explain:

Seventh grade junior high football is a game.  It's fun to watch.  I had the opportunity to do just that the other day.  The refs made a few errors.  People laughed.  It's what happens.  No one questions the integrity of the sport. 

When I played in junior high, I remember the first game I suited up.  We were playing Falufurrias, a little town in deep South Texas.  I was playing defensive end--actually outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.  The quarterback was rolling out to pass.  I reached through a defender trying to block me and grabbed the guy's facemask right in front of the ref.  The opposing coach pointed and yelled, but no flag was thrown.  It was blatant; it was an accident; I took my hand off immediately, but it was still a foul.  The coach had the right to complain, but even though no flag was thrown that was the end of it.  No one went ape over the missed call.  Why?  It's a game.

The NFL is not a game.  It's a business--a multi-billion dollar business.  They provide a product with high-priced gladiators in giant arenas.  That's the reality.  And the business is a winner-take-all, cut-throat industry with fans who are more dedicated to their teams than many religious fanatics are to their congregations. 

Integrity of the game?  B.S.  An inferior product to market?  Now, we are getting somewhere.

I believe the integrity of the game was left behind long ago when money became the driving force behind the NFL. 

Last season's strike rammed this home to me.  In the midst of a struggling economy with people hurting financially from one coast to another, millionaires battled billionaires over how billions in revenues would be shared.  In the midst of this battle it seemed like these two sides were living in a totally different reality than the rest of the world.  It was mind boggling.  I began to lose my taste for the whole ordeal. 

And now with the replacement ref debacle, I'm losing even more of my taste buds.  Why?  Because despite all the hullabaloo about integrity, this is just one more illustration of how the "game" really has none.

Free agency has decimated team loyalty.  There is no such thing as watching your favorite players stay in one place.  Loyalty has been replaced by money.

Fantasy football--which I absolutely refuse to participate in--has decimated the spirit of team work.  It's more about the statistics of any one player instead of the ultimate in teamwork.

Salary caps have made the NFL a paragon of parody.  There's really no thrill of the upset anymore.  Teams seem to go through cycles of being really good for a couple of years to really bad as they get hosed by the cap.  No longer do we see the dynasties of the 60's, 70's, 80's, or 90's.  Part of the thrill of the game was seeing an underdog take down a giant.  No longer.

Because winning has become paramount--again because of being driven by the almighty dollar--character has taken a back seat.  Consider this quote from Chad Greenway of the Minnesota Vikings in an ESPN article:

"Nature says for us that we're going to go out there and push the limit regardless.  If they're calling a game tight, if they're calling a game loose, it's going to be pushed to the limit. You are pushing it to the brink. If things are going to be called easier, and in some situations I feel like they've been less lenient, too, you've just got to play and see how (it's being called)."

Players of character don't intentionally break the rules.  They don't push the limits and see what they can get away with.  They play it clean.  Good luck with that in the NFL today.   Character has taken the back seat to winning at all cost because of the money tied to it.

In all these ways, the integrity of the NFL has been decimated...steamrolled...destroyed.  The replacement refs are simply a part of a much bigger problem--one that will not be rectified until people stop spending copious amounts of cash on this business.  And once it stops being a business, it will start being a game once again.  And once it returns to being a game, it might just have some integrity.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sunday's Sermon: "I'm Better than You-u"

Jesus asked the disciples what they were arguing about as they traveled, and the disciples were ashamed to say anything because they had been arguing about who was greater. Is anyone surprised by their argument?
I mean, really, is anyone surprised that Jesus’ disciples would get into a game of "I’m better than you-u"?

There seems to be something woven deep within the fabric of the world in which we live that pushes living things to be the best, the greatest, the strongest, or to manipulate things in such a way that allows them to get ahead. Now, I know some folks may choose not to see such things. Sometimes, folks like to think our world lives in perfect harmony, but if you study plants and animals long enough, you will see that they are constantly striving with one another oftentimes fighting for control.

Dogs live in packs and establish pack order. There is always a dominant dog at the top of the order, and if someone violates that pack order, fighting ensues.

Those of you with cattle know it is not a good thing when bulls manage to cross fences because they will often fight for dominance over a herd.

Mockingbirds will often chase other birds out of their territories, and I’ve watched them go after dogs, cats, squirrels, and even humans they feel are encroaching on their territories.

White-tailed deer bucks fight with one another over does and territory. Last year while hunting, one morning I watched no less than three fights between young bucks trying to establish dominance in one morning.

All throughout nature, living things desire to rise to the top, to be the greatest, to have the most power, the most territory, the most status. And we, my brothers and sisters are no different. Deep within us lies the exact same thing.

How many of you are willing to admit that as a child you said something to the effect of, "My Daddy’s bigger than your Daddy!" Or stronger. Or smarter or what have you?

Or, how many of you played sports at some point in your life? Was your goal ever to come in second? Did you ever want to finish last? How many trophy ceremonies have you attended for those who came in last or
second to last?

When you went to school, was there ever a push for you to do your worst? Did teachers ever encourage you to have the lowest grade in the class? When you received an "F" on any particular paper, did you rejoice in that "F" and show it off to everyone?

Yes, there is something deep within us that wants to be the best, to be the greatest, to be the top dog in the pack. We are really no different than the rest of nature’s creatures in this except in one regard. And what is that one regard?

I believe, if I have studied this correctly, most of nature’s creatures strive and fight for greatness to control territory, or for sexual dominance, or for food. I believe we are the only creatures on this planet who are willing to fight for ideas and thoughts. We are the only creatures on this planet who will actually fight for something we call the Truth.

Now, some might think this is a bad thing. They might think, "We shouldn’t fight over ideas. They are just ideas. There is really no such thing as Truth. There is only our perception of it. Our perceptions are different, so we should just be willing to overlook things and strive to get along." It’s a noble thought, but it just doesn’t work. Why?

Well, to be perfectly honest, if Truth is relative, then there is no right and wrong at all. This at first might sound rather liberating. There are no boundaries. There is nothing to hold us back or prevent us from doing whatever we want to do. Everything would seem hunky-dory until you run into someone who is bigger than you, stronger than you, and wants to impose his or her will upon you. If you believe you are being taken advantage of, what recourse do you have? None. There’s no right. No wrong. You are at the mercy of those who are stronger than you are–at least you are at their mercy if you are not the greatest. Do you really want to live in a world governed by this?

I don’t. Not at all. There must be some ultimate Truth which helps us discern what is right and what is wrong. And that Truth must be worth adhering to and spreading.

As Christians, we believe we have that Truth. We believe it has been revealed to us through the actions of God, and those actions of God are recorded in Scripture. Those actions culminate with God’s great act of redemption through Jesus Christ, and it is to Jesus that we turn to understand the Truth. And not only do we turn to Jesus for understanding, but He compels us to go out and tell others about the Truth of God. He compels us to go out and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all He commanded.

And now, comes the tricky part. Just how are we supposed to go out and spread this Word? Just how are we supposed to convey to the world the Truth?

If we look at the way the world works, one would think we would need to fight to spread the Truth. One would think that we need to strive to become strong, to rise above everything, to obtain power and wealth and status so that we could impose this will upon others. After all, that’s what nature does. Nature uses strength and power and might to take over, to rule, to become greatest.

But the problem with such an attitude is there is constant combat. There is constant battle. Someone is always taking shots at the greatest and trying to drag them down. There is always someone claiming they are stronger, better, faster, smarter, and they are always willing to challenge–to fight, and many times, they will not play by any rules to win.

Perhaps this is why Jesus offers us an alternative route. Perhaps this is why Jesus tells His disciples, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Jesus tells you and me, "Forget about being top dog. Forget about rising to the top. Forget about strength and power and might. If you really want to make an impact, if you really want the Truth to spread, don’t impose it. Don’t argue everyone to belief. Don’t try to climb to the top of the ladder and then pontificate and tell everyone what to do. Instead, serve. Instead, spread the Truth by being unassuming, doing the tasks others think are lowly and beneath you. Don’t seek power. Seek humility."

Now, many of us probably hear this and shrug our shoulders. We’ve heard it before. We’ve heard this Scripture reading before. We know Jesus says to be a servant, but have you ever tried to implement it? Have you ever tried to give up the pursuit of greatness? The pursuit of power? The pursuit of being top dog? Have you ever tried to go against what seems to be deeply ingrained in you by nature? If you have, you know Jesus’ teaching here is no simple task, but history shows us it is tremendously effective.

Centuries ago, when the plagues were ravaging the Roman Empire, many folks fled for their lives. Whenever someone fell ill with signs of the sickness, people turned tail and ran. Generally, the only folks who stayed to take care of the sick were the Christians. Many of them knew they faced the potential of getting the plague and dying. Some did. But they knew the Truth. They knew Christ would care for them just as they were caring for Him in the sick and dying. They did not seek greatness. They sought service, and people took notice. Christianity grew exponentially.

There is much talk these days about a Church that is declining in North America. There is much talk about a Church which is losing members, and I believe one of the reasons is that parts of this Church have sought greatness. It has sought power. It has tried to impose the tenets of Christianity onto others through such acts of power and legislation. I believe this is contrary to what Jesus teaches us today, and I also believe if the Church is to thrive once again in this nation, it must be willing to set aside any thoughts of greatness and power. I believe it must set aside any thoughts of trying to impose legislation upon others, and I believe it must return to what Jesus tells it to do in our Gospel lesson. If the Church wishes to be great, it must be last of all and servant of all. Amen.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Funeral Sermon for Buddy George

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Ladies and gentlemen, the world that we live in is broken. Now, that might sound like a strange way to begin a funeral sermon, but please bear with me. There are things which happen in the world around us which are just not right. There are things that shouldn’t take place, and yet, they do. Parents should not have to bury their children, but sometimes, they do. With the amount of food we can produce agriculturally, no one in the world should go hungry, and yet, they do. With all the safety features we have on automobiles today, no one should ever get into a wreck, but they do. Because we know we are all created in the image of God, no one should hate another based upon race, color, or creed, but we do. With medical technology the way it is and all the knowledge we’ve accumulated about living healthy lives, no one should die before their time, but they do. Our world is broken.

And the thing is, we would like to fix it. We would like to make things perfect, but fixing the world is an awfully big task. And throughout history, we’ve seen people who try to fix the world–they try to get rid of disease. They try to get rid of hunger. They try to get rid of poverty. They try to get rid of pain and suffering and evil, and no matter how hard they try, these things continue on in many various ways. It would almost be enough to make a person throw up his or her hands and say, "I give up. I can’t do anything about it."

But that person would be wrong. There is something we can do. We might not be able to change the world, but we can have an impact in our own little sphere’s of influence.

I may not get this quote exactly right, but Buddy was once heard to say to his little league team when they were about to take on the best team here in Victoria, "Gentlemen, if you’ve already made up your mind that you’ve lost, you’ve already beat yourselves. If you’ve already decided that, you’ve already lost. Don’t ever quit. It all starts in your mind and with what you believe."

These are important words, not only for sports and athletics, but also for those of us who walk the Christian walk of faith. For if we were caught up in believing there was nothing we could do to change anything, we would fall into despair. We would be justified in giving up. Yet, if we believe that God is somehow working in and through creation to bring about good–if we believe that God is working even through us and our actions, then we certainly would never quit. We would certainly never despair. We would certainly never give up hope. If we believe in God and in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it impacts what we do and how we live.

Buddy had that faith, and if you looked in his life, you would see it. You would see how God worked through him and through some of the events in his life. You would see it in Buddy being reunited with Kim 17 years after his writing her love letters in the first grade only to have her move away after that year. Somehow I don’t see that as a coincidence. You would see it in his dedication to his family–to the love he showed to Kim, to Travis, to Kaleigh, to Kyndall, to Justin, and his nieces and nephews. You would see it in how he worked day after day year after year to provide for them, sacrificing his time to ensure they had what they needed. You would see it in his being there for all his kids’ sporting events and practices. You would see it in his teaching them to hunt and to work around the lawn and on various things around the house. You would see it in his acceptance and care for his mother-in-law when she moved into their home after no longer being able to care for herself. There was no pressure, no stress. "We’ve got to take care of JoAnn," he said. You would see it in his dedication to revamp Rosebud Field and establish the Friends of Victoria so that kids would have a place to play baseball. You saw it in his turning down hunting and fishing trips to officiate in numerous football and basket ball games. In all these things, Buddy practiced the second greatest commandment that we heard earlier read from Mark Chapter 12, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Buddy strove to do just that, and in doing so, he made an impact and made a difference in the world around him.

But he couldn’t change the world completely. There were still things that happened to Buddy that he couldn’t control and that he didn’t like. If you were a recipient of one of his phone calls on his daily commute, you knew that. He also had a word or two to relate about politics if you ever engaged in one of those discussions with him. He did have a slight stubborn streak in him as well. And of course, Buddy couldn’t change the fact that he had pancreatic cancer.

I remember the evening he was taken down to Memorial City in Houston as they prepared to do a procedure to stop the internal bleeding caused by the tumors. I stood in the hospital room with him and Kim, and he laid there looking lovingly at her. There were very few words that evening, and absolutely no complaining. He didn’t ask why this was happening to him. He wasn’t bitter at God or at anyone. He knew that after years of smoking and living a very stressful life, such things can happen. Buddy knew that the world was broken; he was broken, and there wasn’t much he could do about it. He accepted it, but he didn’t quit.

From that time on, he began making sure his family would be taken care of. He focused on spending as much time with them as he possibly could. He’d sit out on the back porch of his house and reflect and think, and every once in a while, he’d sit down with his pastor and talk about things. As I said before, let me say again, he never complained or asked why he had cancer. The only things he complained about were his acid reflux and some of the things Kim tried to make him eat and drink to help out with the reflux and fight the cancer. Not that I can blame him though, I mean, who really wants to eat a bunch of Kale chips? Kim was aware I was going to say this, by the way; and I do want to say this, Kim, as an outside observer, you need to know that your dedication to your husband and your care for him and your kids is much admired. You are a real trooper.

Buddy and I had many conversations on that back porch, about his kids, about sports, about hunting, and about faith. Buddy had walked away from the church in earlier years. He’d gotten frustrated with the brokenness of how church sometimes is. He didn’t want to put up with how imperfect humans try to worship a perfect God; but several years ago, he and his family came out to St. John Lutheran Church of Cat Spring. Buddy returned, and he was glad to find a place to worship once again. He was glad to talk about his faith.

On one of the last visits I made with him, I caught him in a very contemplative mood. I pried, and without going into the details, he said, "Sometimes, pastor, I wonder if I’ve done enough."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, there have been some things that I’ve done in my past that I know were wrong. I don’t know if I’ve done enough to make up for them."

I replied, "I could give you an answer straight up, but instead, I’ve got a story to tell you. It’s about a guy who went to see a saint. This saint reportedly had visions where she spoke with God. The guy went up to her and said, ‘Is it true that you have visions.’

‘Yes,’ she replied.

‘Is it true you speak with God?’


‘Can you do a favor for me? Next time you have a vision, ask God about this sin I committed years ago.’

The saint agreed. A month later, the man returned, and he asked, ‘Have you had a vision?’

‘Yes,’ the saint replied.

‘Did you ask God about my sin?’


‘What did He say?’ asked the man.

The saint replied, ‘He said, "What sin?"’

Buddy paused for a few seconds and said, "That covers it, doesn’t it?"

I replied, "Yes, it does."

Buddy realized he couldn’t fix his brokenness, but God could. Christ could through the forgiveness He gives to all Christians. And even though we cannot fix the world–we can’t fix hunger, or poverty, or sickness, or cancer, or death, as Christians, we have the promise that God will.

As we heard from the book of Revelation, one day we will see a city of gold, a new heaven and a new earth. There will be no more hunger, no more thirst, no more pain and suffering. There will be no more heat or cold, and God himself will wipe every tear from their eyes. Buddy is experiencing this reality right now.
Buddy is now with God and he is no longer suffering. No longer having acid reflux, and perhaps either not having to eat kale chips or they are so tasty that he doesn’t mind them. He fully knows now the promises of God, and for this we rejoice. And we remember. We remember that even though we grieve this day, we grieve because we miss Buddy. We grieve because we no longer have him to travel with in our earthly journeys. But we do not say farewell this day. We do not say goodby. Instead, we say, "See you later." For one day we will be reunited with Buddy as we go to be with God and we experience the joys of heaven, the forgiveness of sins, and the restoration of a broken world. Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Congregations

Today I will spend most of my time preparing a funeral sermon for a man who departed this earthly life too soon in the eyes of many.  I have the privilege of preaching a word of hope into the midst of the grief of family members and friends.  The sermon I prepare is the culmination of several days of planning and coordination for the funeral, and there is something that I am still in a bit of shock over.

For my congregation member's funeral will not be held here in Cat Spring.  Most of his family and friends live in and around a small city in South Texas.  To make life a little easier for them, the service will be held down there.  Of course, they wanted the funeral to be held in a church, and this is where my shock begins.

The family's first choice of facilities was the church the couple was married in.  The deceased's mother-in-law had been a life-long member of this congregation until she passed away a year or so ago.  The family contacted the congregation's pastor, and he, in turn contacted me.  I was under the impression I heard the following:

"We can help you out, but it is the church's policy that we will need a letter from your congregation asking for the use of our sanctuary.  The letter will have to be approved by our council." 

When my congregation member died, I sent such a letter requesting the use of the facilities.  I sent the letter Sunday afternoon, the day after his death.  I was told by email later that evening, "There shouldn't be a problem."  Yet, I heard no confirmation by the next morning with a service pending on Wednesday.  The family needed information and confirmation so that they could get word to family, friends, and the local newspapers.  As the minutes ticked by, they went to plan B--seeking out another facility.

They called another congregation.  Again, I received a call from that congregation's pastor.  The phone calls could not have been much different.

"We're all about Jesus here," the pastor said.  "Whatever we can do to help you minister to this family, we will do.  You will need the sound system.  You will need x.  You will need y.  I look forward to meeting with you and helping you get acclimated to everything once you get here."

No hoops to jump through.

No approval needed.

Simply a willing heart to help fellow brothers and sisters in Christ grieve and proclaim the message of salvation and hope.

This is a true tale.  I could name names, but remembering my last posting, I will not.  What I will do is offer my hope that those who are members of various congregations who read this posting will seek to ensure their congregations are "all about Jesus", welcoming those who are hurting, seeking to minister together with others, and giving a space for the Gospel to be proclaimed--even if those attending and those preaching are not members of that particular congregation.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sunday's Sermon: Watch Your Mouth

This past week, as I was contemplating my sermon and asking the Lord what I should preach about, I came across a little poster posted by one of my Facebook friends. Perhaps it was God’s message to me about what I was supposed to preach–at least I took it that way. It seemed to fit very well with the second lesson from the book of James. What exactly was the saying? This:

"I told my relatives to think before they speak, and I haven’t heard a word from them since."

Of course, I laughed heartily when I read that. Then I thought about it. I wondered whether or not the relatives stopped speaking because they couldn’t think or because when they did think, they considered talking a waste of time? Things that make you go, hmmm.

Now, most of us would agree that talking is something we do a lot of. It’s the main way we communicate with one another. Most of us would also probably agree that we won’t stop talking any time in the near future. We have to, just to get by. But interestingly enough, in this day and age–particularly in a political election year, a good chunk of us might say that there are a few folks who are talking too much. I mean, take a look at what James says in our second lesson and then think about all the political talk you hear these days:

3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Was James foretelling politics? Perhaps. But perhaps James is actually delving much deeper. Perhaps James is not just confronting politicians. Perhaps James is confronting all of us because he doesn’t just stop with these words. There are a few more which are of note.

9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

James is getting into good Lutheran territory here as he describes how the tongue is used. We use it to bless and curse. We use it to bless the Lord and curse those who are made in the likeness of God. With our tongues, with our speaking, we talk of beauty, of love, of affection, and kindness, and we also gossip, slander, lie, complain and whine. James isn’t exactly too thrilled with this, and he urges Christians to control their tongues.

But I have a question regarding this: how? How does one control one’s tongue? How does one stop cursing or swearing or gossiping or lying? How does one perpetually offer up blessings and praises without backsliding? For the reality is, we are all saints and sinners. At the same time we can bless and curse. At the same time we can praise and lie. It’s in our very nature to do such things. How can we stop? This isn’t just about politicians: it’s about confronting our very nature. The tongue is a symptom of a much greater problem–the problem of sin.

Now, I guess I could stand up here and tell you, "Stop sinning." and be done. Some of you might appreciate the brevity of such a sermon. Some of you might even leave here determined to stop sinning. Yet, I would bet a large sum of money that you couldn’t do it. One of my colleagues used to offer a challenge to his confirmation classes. He’d tell them, "Go home and stop sinning for five minutes." They’d head home and lock themselves into their closets. They’d try. Oh, they’d try. But they all reported back and were honest enough to say the following, "We tried. We almost made it, but just as time was almost up, a thought came into our heads, and we knew that one thought was wrong."

You see, no matter how hard we might try, we are going to sin. We are going to miss the mark. This is one of the reasons we have public confession of our sins week after week after week. We know we have fallen short of the glory of God. We know we will fall short of the glory of God. We know we will not do the things we are supposed to do or say the things we are supposed to say. We know that we will sin in thought word and deed by the things we have done and the things we have left undone. We know we can’t just turn things off. Oh, and I wish I could say that the more one grows in a relationship with Jesus, the less one sins, but I cannot be truthful with such a statement. Even the greatest saints realized their need for forgiveness as they progressed along the Christian path. Mother Teresa daily went to confession even though most of us might wonder what she had to confess. She knew she didn’t measure up. So should we.

So, does that mean we should just stop trying? Should we just throw up our hands and let it rip? Should we say, "I can’t stop sinning. I can’t control my tongue. I can’t think before I speak, so I’ll cuss, lie, curse, gossip, or what have you. God will forgive me. It doesn’t matter!" Should we say this? Should we believe it’s o.k. to stretch the truth even just a little bit?

Well, what if you knew that doing so disappointed the One who forgives you? What if you knew He expected more out of you? What if you knew He thought you could do better and was trying to give you the tools to be a better person, to speak more thoughtfully, more compassionately, and more graciously? What if you knew the hurt it caused Him when you slipped up and blasted someone with your mouth and said things that you knew were wrong? What if you knew the great love He had for you and the hope He held for your striving to do His work? Would that change your perspective? Would that give you courage to work toward curbing your tongue? Would that motivate you to strive to love as He first loved you?

Ah, that is a word I haven’t spoken as of yet. Love. Perhaps it is a word that needs to be introduced at this time. For as we reflect upon how we speak to one another, how often do we speak with the motivation of love? St. Paul wrote some brilliant words in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. He said, "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." Think about that.
Think about how your words come across. Think about the words of others that you hear and how they come across. Think about how you receive them. How often do those words come across to you as noisy gongs or clanging cymbals? And how would they come across if they were spoken in love?

As you listen to political rhetoric, how much do you suppose is spoken in love and how much is spoken in an attempt to get elected? As people of faith enter into the public arena, how many do you suppose speak in love, and how many speak because they are upset about the way the world is working? As you connect with others, do they hear you because you speak in love, or do they tune you out because you are trying to force your opinion or beliefs upon them? And what would happen if our motivations changed? What would happen if the underlying motivation we had in speaking was the same motivation our Heavenly Father had with us? Do you think love could tame our tongues? Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

It's Just a Deer Feeder....Sort Of

Roughly nine years ago, I bought a deer feeder.  I had been invited by one of the members of the congregation I served to go hunting, and I needed to purchase said feeder and a deer stand.  Mission accomplished, even though I didn't bag a deer.

When it became apparent I would be leaving that congregation and moving to Cat Spring, I let my dad have the feeder and tripod hoping he'd use it out at our ranch near Freer, TX.  Dad decided not to use the stand because he didn't want hogs tearing up the pasture, so my deer feeder and deer stand sat for nine years in an outside shed.

Last year, I was invited by one of my current members to go hunting with him on his property.  I jumped at the chance.  I've had a great time getting back out in nature and putting meat in the freezer.  Earlier this summer while pig hunting, my member informed me of an opportunity to go hunting later this year in the hill country.  He said the property out there was rough but good deer country.  He also said they needed a couple of feeders out there.  I immediately thought of mine sitting at my parent's home.

I called my dad and asked him if he still had it.  He did.  I asked if he could bring it up here.  He did.  I was thankful.

But the feeder wasn't exactly in prime condition.  It was covered with several spots of rust.  Around the rim, several places had already rusted through.  I could replace the barrel, but that would come at a pretty good expense.  Dad thought it might last a year.  I had other thoughts.  I wanted to fix the thing up.  I wanted it to last a long while still.  I went to work.

I took a wire brush attachment for my drill, and I brushed the whole thing.  Several places chipped off, but I kept going.  Once I had knocked the major parts of rust off, I went shopping.  I knew some Rust-o-leum was needed, but I found something else--something I didn't know existed, and it excited me.

Apparently, you can buy phosphoric acid (a mild concentration) and apply it to rusty equipment.  The acid kills the oxidation process and stops rust in its tracks.  I applied two coats.  The rust turned black.  The repairs were under way.

Painting was the next step in the process, and with a small can of Rust-o-leum, Hunter Green, I got busy.  But I kept worrying about the rim.  If the rim continued to wear and came off, the feeder couldn't be shut properly.  Again, I'd have the expense of the barrel.  I didn't want that.  I wanted the thing to be almost good as new if possible.  How could I fix those places where it had rusted through?

The feeder needed a new battery, so I headed to one of the local stores.  I found a replacement and then on a whim, I started looking through the aisles.  I came across another item I hadn't seen before.  J-B Epoxy Stik Weld.  It looked like it would fit the bill.  I headed home.

After following the instructions, I molded the weld and fitted it into the places where things had gone south.  In a matter of minutes, I had all the rusted out spaces filled and drying.  The instructions said it would take an hour to cure.

After an hour, I came back, and to my pleasant surprise, the rim was solid as a rock!  The epoxy worked extremely well, and while not looking good as new, the feeder seemed like it could hold up for a long while.

I finished up with the paint, and the feeder looked great.  The solar panel charged the battery, and the motor whirred to life at the appropriate times.  It was fixed and ready to go!

Now, I know it's just a deer feeder, but to me, it became more.  It was something that was broken down, rusty, seemingly on its last leg.  But after some work, some time spent mending what was broken and replacing the parts that were worn out, it became something serviceable--something that could be used for a long time.  Not brand new, but fully restored and functioning. 

I took great pride in the restoration project.  It gladdened me to get my hands dirty and make it work again.

Some say our churches are rusty, worn out, decaying and falling apart, but looks can be deceiving. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You Need to Share!

My favorite flavor of ice cream is Blue Bell's Tin Roof Sundae.  It's essentially a chocolate sundae with chocolate covered peanuts.  Love might not be strong enough a word to describe how much I enjoy this particular flavor.

And there's a kicker to my favorite type of ice cream: Blue Bell only puts it out for a few months out of the year: late summer into early fall.  Yes, I have three half-gallons stored in my freezer.

Shortly after purchasing the first half-gallon, I am in the kitchen rationing out my portion for the day.  My eldest daughter is searching around for dessert after finishing her dinner.

She sees my ice cream.

You know what's coming next, don't you?

"Daddy, can I have some of your ice cream?"

Daddy doesn't want to share.  Daddy wants to guard his favorite ice cream and keep it to himself, and Daddy actually says it out loud.

"Kiera, this is Daddy's favorite ice cream.  He doesn't get to have it all the time.  You can have some vanilla."

Not good enough for the little pest, I mean, girl.  She wanted my ice cream, and she knew how to get it.

"Daddy, you need to learn to share!"

Ooooh, don't you hate it when your kids are right?  Don't you hate it when they get old enough to turn the tables on you?

Kiera got her, I mean, Daddy's ice cream. 

Funny thing, she hasn't asked for it since.

Do you think that bothers me?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Angels Watching Over

There is a new lawn ornament that graces the facade of our church building.

Several months ago, one of our members entered into her eternal home.  The church received a substantial gift in her honor to add a beautification project which would enhance the landscaping of the buildings. 

The family consulted with the congregation council, and it was decided that an angel statue would be placed to the side of the fellowship hall entrance.

Two weeks ago, the statue was put in place.  Flowers were planted around it.  On the statue's pedestal, words of rememberance were engraved.  In my humble opinion, it is a piece of beauty and a fitting tribute to the woman who is remembered.

My children have quite a different take on the matter, however.  Whether it is their imaginations or their child-like faith, I am not sure.  But I am hopefully wise enough to allow them to "see" with their own eyes.  What do I mean by that?

A week ago, I was in the yard watering my blackberry and raspberry bushes.  My eldest came running up and said, "Daddy, I need to tell you something amazing.  It wasn't a dream.  It really happened.  Last night, I was having a nightmare.  I woke up scared, and I looked out the window.  I saw the angel standing there watching over me.  Do you believe me, Daddy?"

"Yes, dear," I said.  "I believe you."

For all I know, she saw that angel watching over her, and I'm not going to discourage her.  Too often our beliefs get pressed down or pressed aside by science and reason.  Science and reason are important, but they have their limitations.  They will always have their limitations, and I recognize this all too well now.

There is and always will be mystery in this world when one engages the life of faith, and I'm going to let my kids hold onto that for as long as possible.  What's wrong with letting them believe angels are watching over them?  In this father and pastor's view: nothing.

Monday, September 10, 2012

For My Congregation: So You May See What Your Giving Does

She walked into the church office needing assistance with her light bill. Normally, folks walk in and head right out after dropping off their paperwork. Not so with her. She was winded and needed to take a breath, so I stayed and talked with her.

She told me about her circumstances. She’s been on disability since 2008. She had worked as a nurses assistant in one of the local nursing homes and had taken care of a lot of folks.

But tragedy had struck her family. Her oldest son had suffered some sort of brain injury. Carbon-monoxide poisoning, I think I heard her say. Somehow, his lungs had suffered, and he was now on life support in Houston. Several times they had tried to wean him off. All had failed.

Tears welled up in her eyes, "Every day, I wake up and I don’t know if I’ve lost him."

She had never had problems making her light bill before. Her son had always taken care of her and seen her through. His hospitalization had affected her dramatically–not only mentally and emotionally, but also in being able to take care of herself.

She had talked to the electric company, and they had carried her for a couple of months. I gave her the max
I was authorized to give. It fell short a little of the total amount needed, but if necessary, she can come back. Perhaps it will stay the electric company’s hand for just a little longer.

I do not often get to sit and talk with those who are in need. This time, it was more than a hand out. This time, it was true ministry. This woman didn’t just need money. She needed a chance to talk, a chance to grieve, a chance to have someone tell her that prayers will be offered for her and her son in Jesus’ name. Ali Lewis will be in my prayers for a while now. His mother, whom I met, will be as well.

As she stood to leave, thanking me profusely, I asked her, "Can I give you a hug?"

"Yes please."

"Hang in there," I said. "I wish I could make it all go away. Jesus was able to do such things, but I’m not Him."

Yes, I wasn’t Him, but I surely met Him, and the combined efforts of those in my congregation who give to our Community Care Fund cared for Him in a small way today.

Such encounters are part of the reason we give of what we have received.

Sunday's Sermon: Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement

There is an old story about a woman who brought her child to a well respected religious teacher.

"Teacher," the woman said, Please tell my child to give up sweets. Tell her they are bad for her and will hurt her teeth and her health."

The teacher replied, "Please come back in two weeks."

After two weeks, the woman returned and made the same request.

Again the teacher replied, "Please come back in two weeks."

Two more weeks passed. Once again the woman returned. She said, "Will you speak to my child now?"

The teacher responded, "Not yet, please come back in one week."

After a week, the woman returned once again. She asked the teacher once more to talk to her daughter about giving up sweets. The teacher agreed.

As the woman and her daughter were leaving, she asked, "Why did it take so long for you to talk to my child?"

The teacher replied, "I am sorry for the delay. I did not realize how long it would take me to give up sweets."

There’s a lot to be said for this story. A lot. There’s a lot here about integrity; honesty; and having a do as I say and not as I do attitude. There’s a lot here about loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self. And, in my opinion, there’s a lot here about judgement as well.

In the eight years I have served as your pastor, you have not heard too many hell, fire, and damnation sermons. In fact, I’d hazard to guess you haven’t heard a single one. Now, that doesn’t mean you haven’t heard me urge all of us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus or to obey God’s commands. I think it’s important for all of us to do that, but if I am recalling things correctly, you haven’t heard me condemn anyone to hell or otherwise for committing sin.

Perhaps there are those among you who have wanted me to.

Perhaps there are those among you who have wanted me to speak out more strongly about certain decisions the national church has made.

Perhaps there are those among you who have wanted me to speak out more forcefully about choosing to do things other than worship on Sunday morning.

Perhaps there are those among you who have wanted me to speak out more forcefully about giving to the church and supporting the mission and ministry of our congregation.

Perhaps there are those among you who have wanted me to speak out forcefully against some of the policies and decisions made by our congress or elected leaders.

Perhaps there are those among you who would appreciate it more if I firmly stood up here week after week and pontificated upon who was right and who was wrong and who was a sinner and who was a saint and who would receive God’s wrath and who would receive God’s blessing.

I am sorry to disappoint you. As easy as it might be to do such things, I am influenced by something rather profound when it comes to pronouncing such judgements. I am influenced by something rather horrifying as well. For you see I am greatly influenced by something I see everyday; something I deal with every morning, every evening, and several times during the day. I am influenced by the reflection I see in the mirror.

For when I gaze at myself in the mirror, I do not see an image of perfection. Even on Sunday mornings when I put on my clerical collar, I do not see a man who has perfected the Way of Christ. I do not see a man who follows God’s laws to a tee. I do not see a man who is whole and complete. Instead, I see a man who is broken. I see a man who struggles to follow Jesus. I see a man who commits sin on a daily basis and deserves God’s punishment.

"But you are a pastor!" you might say. "You preach and teach God’s Word. How is it that you see yourself in such a fashion?"

Look again carefully at our second lesson this morning from the book of James. Look again carefully beginning at verse eight. Hear those words once more. 8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law."

Oh, the line that grabs me and holds me accountable is verse number 10. "For whoever keeps the law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." Let that sink in. Let that go deep. If you want to live by the law, and if you fail at even one point, you are held accountable for the whole thing.

Which brings up the next question: do I follow the whole law? Do I keep the precepts of Christ and follow His instructions on what it means to live a good live and be a good person? Three chapters of the book of Matthew are widely cited as Jesus’ ethical framework for living according to God’s law. They being in Matthew chapter 5 and run through chapter 7. We know these verses as the Sermon on the Mount. When I read through these chapters, I see just how far removed I am from following God’s commands. I see just how sinful I actually am. For as I read through these verses, I see how many I actually break. Here’s a few I can say I do not follow well:

Matthew 5:22 is extremely difficult, "22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult* a brother or sister,* you will be liable to the council; and if you say, "You fool", you will be liable to the hell* of fire."

Matthew 5:28 is impossible, "28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

I haven’t done too well with 5:38 and 39, "38 ‘You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."

And verse 44 is not encouraging, "44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." And this is just chapter 5. There are two more chapters to go full of such teachings of the law, and they are places I stumble repeatedly.

As James articulates, I am under judgement. I have failed in more than one point of the law. I stand condemned. I am no better than those who break God’s commands–those whom some might like me to condemn. I am in the same sinking boat they are sitting in. But am I, and they, going to drown?

No, there is good news. James continues, "12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment."

Mercy triumphs over judgement. God’s mercy; Christ’s mercy triumphs over judgement. God forgives that man who looks back at me from the mirror. God forgives my transgressions, and I am humbled by this.
When I deserved judgement, I received mercy. When I deserved punishment, Christ took that punishment to the cross and redeemed me. And now what am I to do? Am I to rain judgement down upon others, or am I to offer them the same mercy I was given? Am I to act with integrity or with a do as I say but not as I do attitude?

And perhaps the next time you and I are tempted to rain down judgement, perhaps we need to take a good long look in the mirror again. Perhaps we need to realize that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Perhaps we need to realize mercy triumphs over judgement in our own lives, and then we need to show that same mercy to others. Amen.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

God and Jerusalem

If you follow politics, you know by now the Democratic National Convention raised some intrigue by holding a vote to change their platform changing the wording of a particular phrase to reinstate the words "God-given talents" where it had been taken out and by including that a unified Jerusalem would be the capitol of Israel.

Video here.

Perhaps I am mistaken, but I believe the measure, at least by voice, should not have been passed.  It didn't sound like a 2/3 majority voted in favor of the amendment.  However that can be hashed out later by other pundits.  Yours truly doesn't know whether or not the main criticism of the amendments comes from the God language or the stance about Jerusalem or both, and I actually am only comfortable talking about one of those topics.  Therefore I will.

I would like to focus on is the use of God in the platform.  Of course, the Democrats put this amendment to their platform due to heavy criticism by the Republicans who noticed their absence in the original documents.  Now, whether this was an oversight or intentional, we won't know for sure.  Depends upon who you listen to.  However, the Democrats knew right off the bat this could potentially damage their public persona and cost them some votes.  Hence the necessity of getting it back into the platform.

This is where I take issue--with politics in general.  It seems to me that political parties could care less about what God wants and instead care more about how many votes God can deliver.  Think about that for a moment.  Especially in light of the following:

1. If a political party appeals to God, in a pluralistic society, one must ask, "Which God?"  It is not intellectually sufficient to say, "Everyone worships the same God, they just have different ways of doing so."  To say such a thing means the person saying it somehow knows more about God than a person who has been connected to Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or what have you.  Furthermore, it cheapens the beliefs and doctrines of each individual religion taking away parts of their unique identities.  Religions have differing beliefs about God.  Period.  So, which one is a political party appealing to?  It makes a difference.

2. Beliefs have consequences.  An appeal to the Christian God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit leads a person or a party to institute certain teachings: love of neighbor, care and concern for the widow, the orphan, and the poor, love of enemies, forgiveness, a willingness to sacrifice one's own life for another.  All of these are central understandings of Christ.  An appeal to the Muslim faith means actively implementing the teachings of the Koran.  Same for Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or what have you.  If such a thing is done, in many ways, it amounts to a theocracy.  Such theocracies usually have bad endings for those who are not in the "in" group--at least that's what history has shown us. 

3. Our Constitution does not allow the establishment of such a theocracy.  Now certainly this does not mean people of faith cannot seek to influence the government in its policies and laws.  A person does not just check his or her faith at the political door.  Yet, one must seek to influence with care and concern for one's neighbor--seeking not to impose his or her beliefs by force or coercion. 

What does all this mean for religious folks when it comes to politics?

I'm not totally sure what it means for everyone who believes, but for yours truly, it means I'm not going to vote for a political party just because they do or don't make reference to God in their platforms.  I'm not going to vote for a political party that seeks to make itself seem more Christian on the surface.  I'm going to look for a political party or politician that seeks to live out the ethics of my own faith--the Christian faith.

Therefore, if I see a Muslim who is kind, compassionate, trustworthy, oriented to justice, who seeks peace and strives to work with those whom he or she disagrees with, I will vote for that Muslim. 

Pressing further, if I came across an atheist who had those same qualities, I'd vote for that atheist.

In the realm of politics, giving lip service to such things is worthless.  Enacting those principles and values are worth so much more to me. 

Why I Will Begin Rooting for Notre Dame

Over the years, I've soured on College Football.  I've written on this blog before that I believe the sport has become dominated by money instead of athletics, academics and tradition.  The straw that broke the camel's back for me was Texas A&M's decision to leave the Big 12 and head to the SEC.  Tradition was thrown out the window because of money, plain and simple.

I am not the only one disappointed in this particular turn of events in college football.  I subscribe to Texas Monthly, and David Courtney, who writes "The Texanist" column, aired his feelings toward this situation by asking, "What's the point of Thanksgiving?"  (The editor's note which follows kept me chuckling for more than a few moments.)

But a week ago, I read an article which renewed my hope that not everyone is a sell out.  The University of Notre Dame refuses to bow to money, to lower its standards, or to give athletes special treatment. 

I am impressed.

From the article:

I find the national glee/outrage over Notre Dame’s demise as a national football powerhouse to be a staggering display of selective perception.

Penn State sacrificed its principles on the altar of king football, with tragic results. North Carolina has made a mockery of its academic reputation in an effort to admit and keep eligible marginally prepared football stars. There are looming NCAA clouds over Miami and Oregon, a postseason ban at Ohio State, and just-concluded penalties at USC.

We see all the fresh carnage caused by a loss of perspective. We howl at the scandals that diminish the game.

And still Notre Dame gets ripped and mocked for not winning enough.

How dare the school continue to stand for something more than going 12-0? How dare the school decide that leading the nation for the past three seasons in the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate is more important than leading the nation in the polls? How dare the school recruit future societal leaders instead of the future medium-security detainees Pinkett wants?

For yours truly, Notre Dame wins even though it may lose on the football field.  Winning a football game or national championship is secondary to preparing young men to be responsible citizens, people of character, and contributors to society at large. 

Kudos to the university for standing on principle. 

I couldn't stand Notre Dame when younger, but I've changed my mind.  I will begin rooting for the Fighting Irish, and it doesn't hurt that they are a religious university either!

(In fact, one wonders if such religious principles aren't at the core of why Notre Dame continues to do what it does.  Unfortunately, the article doesn't go into any detail on this.  It should.)

One Game Does Not a Season Make

But it is enough to spark at least a little bit of hope!

I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the Dallas Cowboys versus New York Giants game last night.  It was quite the change from business as normal--at least for the past several years.

See, I'm a cradle to 38 year old Cowboys fan.  Part of my family takes Cowboys football very seriously.  I can even remember some of them taking a television out to deer camp to make sure a game wasn't missed.  That might not sound like too big a deal, but the dedication shines through when you realize one cousin had to stand outside and hold onto the antenna to keep it just right in near freezing temperatures while watching the game through a window.  Did I say some of my family took the Cowboys very seriously?

I've even been a fan through the tough years.  I was there to witness the 1-15 season; a most horrendous year with the only highlight being the team beat the Redskins in Washington.  I remember Steve Pelleur as quarterback.  Landry, Staubach, Randy White, Ed "Too Tall" Jones.  Aikman, Smith, Irvin: the Triplets.  Yeah.  I've seen a lot of the Cowboys.

And I'd been witnessing a disturbing trend.  There was a willingness to go soft.  There was a willingness to quit or start playing scared.  Last year, the team lost three games in the last quarter where they led by double digits.  The previous year, they literally laid down and died, disrespecting and quitting on their head coach. 

With all the hype surrounding the Cowboys offseason and their acquisitions to upgrade the offensive line (which was still pretty offensive last night) and the defensive backfield, one had to wonder if the results would actually be different.

As the last quarter started, I knew we'd find out.

At first it looked like same old, same old.

The 'boys drove down to Giants territory and had a first and ten at the 14 yard line.  An illegal hands to the face and a holding penalty later, it was first and 30 from the 34 yard line, and the 'boys were almost out of field goal range.  Last year, you'd have probably seen a draw play or two followed by a sack and then a missed field goal. 

Surprise!  Romo audibles flashing hand signals to Miles Austin.  Double move fly route on the outside even with safety help.  The ball looked underthrown, but in reality, it was perfectly placed for what happened.  The Giants' defenders overplayed the ball.  Austin snatches it out of the air and waltzes into the end zone. 

"Wow!" I thought to myself.  "That's different."

But the proof would be in the next 5:21.  Giants' ball.  Eli Manning at quarterback.  Last year, the Cowboys wouldn't have stopped him.  Not a chance.  Both games last year saw that.  But indeed it was a different year.  Yes, the Giants ended up scoring on the drive, but it took them longer than usual to do so, and it wasn't the passing game that bit them hard.  A long run in a short yardage situation actually did them in.  The Dallas secondary was playing pretty decently and wasn't getting overly abused.

Dallas receives the kickoff after the touchdown.  What would happen next.  Two running plays followed by an incomplete pass giving the Giants one more shot?  Probably would have happened last year. 

But not this year.  There were shades, like when Demarco Murray ran for a first down on third and two, and the 'boys were penalized for holding.  Third and 12.  Sense a punt coming?  I did.  Until Romo hit Kevin Ogletree for the first down.  Game over.  Different season.  Different ending.

Made me a believer for one night.  Made me actually have some hope for the season--reserved hope, but still hope.

As I texted to one of my members who told me at half-time I needed to have faith, "I have faith in God.  With the 'boys, I have to see to believe."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Grubbing Out a Stump

There is now a large, bare spot of ground located just west of the carport at the parsonage.

Three years ago or so, GVEC sent a crew around Cat Spring to cut down any trees which were encroaching upon their electric wires. Unfortunately they were going to install a three phase line through the town right next to the parsonage, and as a result, one of two large pine trees had to be taken down. Not only did the parsonage lose some great shade, there was now a pretty large stump in the yard.

For the past couple of years, I’ve known that stump needed to be removed, but because of the size, I knew it would be a daunting task. Therefore, I did several things to make the process easier. I drilled holes in the stump to allow water and other elements to begin breaking it down. I put several rounds of stump burner in it to again help the stump break down. I’ve burned the darn thing several times. But because of the initial size, very little seemed to be accomplished.

From time to time, I’d pull out my grubbing hoe and take a few whacks at the stump. Usually, I’d get a pretty good chunk or two out of the stump, but this was definitely not my preferred method of stump removal.

You may be wondering why I didn’t ask someone to bring in a backhoe or other such implement to dig the thing out. Well, I did. A couple of times, but people are busy these days. Either the folks forgot or got busy with other things. And the stump still needed to come out.

About three weeks ago, I became resolved that this stump would be out before the end of the summer. I sharpened my grubbing hoe and went to work. Whack after whack, the stump shrank. Chunk after chunk flew into the air. Finally, the majority of the stump was reduced to wood chunks and wood chips. Burning ensued.

Now, I wasn’t able to get the down deep stuff. Even the fire didn’t do much damage to it, but I was able to get enough of the stump out; I was able to dig down deep enough that the ground is level with a good six to eight inches of top soil on top of it. In a few months or even a year, the grass will be growing on top of it, and you won’t even be able to tell there was a tree there. Nothing will show of the work I put into getting that stump out. So, why bother? Why put in all that work if there is essentially "nothing" to show for it?

Well, I noticed something as I’ve gone through this process. Swinging the grubbing hoe has produced some sore muscles, but they’ve actually gotten stronger. My hands blistered a little, but they turned to callouses and made the skin tougher. Hard breathing worked my cardio-vascular system and burned calories. In effect, working and enduring made me stronger.

Is there a lesson in faith here as well?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sunday's Sermon: You Can Quit

A guy joins a monastery and takes a vow of silence. He's allowed to say two words every seven years. After the first seven years, the elders bring him in and ask for his two words. "Bed hard," he says. They nod and get him a new mattress. Seven more years pass. They bring him back in and ask for his two words. He clears his throat and says, "Bad food." They nod and send him away. The next day, they give him different food.

Seven more years pass. They bring him in for his two words. "I quit," he says. "That's not surprising," the elders say. "You've done nothing but complain since you got here."

I think we can all appreciate the little bit of humor in that joke especially since it pokes fun at one of our honored traditions in our country. If you watch sports, which I know several of you here this morning do, you will see a recurring theme over and over again. It’s been ingrained in our psyches for some time. It was placed there by a man by the name of Vince Lombardi. Those of you who recognize the name know he was the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers who led them to victory in the first two Super Bowls. Among the numerous quotes he left the sports world, perhaps his most famous one is, "Quitters never win, and winners never quit."

Most athletes have run across this quote at some period of time. Coaches use it for motivation; however, I have begun to wonder why they always seem to use it when you are on your last leg, at the end of your strength, with little energy or stamina to move on. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to use it at the very beginning to charge you up? Who knows? But what I do know is that even now, with my sports career a far distant memory in my rear view mirror, the quote still haunts me.

"Quitters never win, and winners never quit." Now, the statement no longer applies to my days of playing football or basketball or running track. Instead, I now apply it to many other things in life. Perhaps you do too. Perhaps you this quote runs through your head whenever you face a challenge. Perhaps this quote runs through your head when you’ve had a rough day at work–or several days or weeks of roughness. Perhaps it runs through your head whenever you’ve had a difficult time with your family or your spouse. Perhaps it runs through your head whenever you’ve volunteered for a particularly challenging venture. Things get tough. They may get tougher. You are ready to quit. You are ready to throw in the towel. But you think back to Vince Lombardi, and you put one foot in front of the other. You don’t know how you are going to do it, but you choose to keep going. "Winners never quit."

But not everyone is a winner. We know that in life. There are winners, and there are losers. There are those
who continue to move on, and there are those who simply cannot meet the challenge. There are those who simply will not venture forth when things get too uncomfortable. There are those who believe they have nothing more to offer, nothing more to achieve, nothing more within them to give, and so they walk away. They quit. It becomes too much to handle.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, a whole host of people quit Jesus. Discipleship became too much of a challenge. You see, Jesus had offered a very difficult teaching to them. Right before the passage we just read, Jesus said that in order to receive eternal life, one had to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. Such a teaching was not readily welcomed. It was rather revolting to think about and comprehend. Remember, Jesus had not instituted the Lord’s Supper at this point. Folks had no idea He was talking about this important meal for Christians. They had no idea He was talking about the bread and wine of Holy Communion to be shared at the Last Supper and subsequent times the Church gathered for this meal. They had no clue about this. They only had Jesus’ words, "You must eat of my flesh and drink of my blood."

How could a person do this? How could a person resort to eating human flesh and drinking human blood?
This was revolting. Disgusting. Nasty. It went against every grain in most folks’ bodies. Only one who was seriously demented would say such a thing and then actually do it. ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ many began to say.

But, we are told, Jesus, doesn’t backtrack. Jesus doesn’t bend. Jesus doesn’t make the teaching more palatable by softening his rhetoric. We are told that "being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, [He] said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.’ 65And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’ After hearing this, one by one, those who had once followed Jesus turned away. One by one, they turned their backs. One by one they walked away. One by one, they quit.

And Jesus let them go. He didn’t chase after them. He didn’t ask them why they were leaving. He didn’t try to reason with them and beg them to stay. They made their choice. Jesus let them have it.
But Jesus then turned to those who were left. He wanted to see where they stood. He said, "Do you also wish to go away?"

There it was. The choice. Jesus was giving His disciples a way out. They didn’t have to follow His teachings. They didn’t have to take His yoke upon them. They didn’t have to worry about all those crazy teachings like turning the other cheek and giving up their possessions and seeking the kingdom of God without worry. They could walk away and leave Jesus’ comment, "take up your cross and follow me" behind. They didn’t have to follow His responsibilities. They could quit. It’s was their choice. It would be much, much easier.

But no one moved. No one left. Those closest to Jesus stayed. St. Peter put it into words, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Quitting would have been easier for the disciples, but quitters never win, and winners never quit. It was true then, and it is true now.

For you see, you also have the option to quit Christianity. You have the option to walk away from your membership in the Church. You are not required to stay.

I mean, think about it: quitting would make for an easier life. No more responsibilities. No more church attendance. No more having to give money to the church and charity. You can do with it as you please. No more promises of passing faith down to another generation. No more worries about lying or cheating or treating your neighbor with respect and dignity. You can do what you want when you want it.
But at what cost? Even though you were to get all of these things, would it be worth walking away from the Holy One of God and eternal life? Would walking away actually be winning? "Quitters never win, and winners never quit." The choice is yours. Amen.