Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Questions of Jesus: Mark

This is the introduction and a few paragraphs of the book I recently published on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing titled: The Questions of Jesus: Mark.  If you are interested in purchasing the book, please click the link.  If you are patient, in a week or so, you can get it for free.



Introduction


            Being a father of three, I hear these words or a version of them constantly: “Daddy, how come…”; “Daddy, why does…”,  “Daddy, do you…”  The amount of questions seems inexhaustible, and many times, I find myself thinking, “Would you just stop asking questions?”  Yes, I am completely aware of the irony of the situation.  But, questions are important.  Very important.
I truly believe that as human beings, we never stop learning.  Even though our bodies stop growing and start aging, our minds and intellects continue to develop and grow through our interactions in the world.  Something is always out there that we just don’t know enough about and could stand some brushing up on.  Those of us with internet access know that there exists a whole virtual world of knowledge and opinions that far exceed the capacity of the human mind to assimilate.  In my opinion, this is not a bad thing.  It allows us to stay sharp as we engage points of view and facts that do not necessarily conform with our understandings and views.  Such attempts to reconcile, change, or reject keeps our synapses sharp.  (For those of you who don’t know what a synapse is, I have just made my point about the necessity of continued learning.) 
            As a pastor, it is further my belief that our faith lives are in constant flux.  Contrary to the belief of some, you never have your life of faith all figured out.  You never can figure all of Christianity out.  Just when you think you’ve got it down, another insight is revealed, another interpretation is offered, or God speaks to you in a way that sheds light on something that you have struggled with.  Yes, our faith constantly ebbs and grows. 
            Now, there are those who might like to argue with me about that statement.  Christianity is nearly 2000 years old.  In that 2000 years, we have covered all there is to cover forward, backward, and forward again.  There is nothing new under the sun.  “Jesus loves me, this I know.  What more do I need to know?”   The teachings in the Bible have not changed.  If my faith is based upon what is revealed in the Bible, how can things continue to ebb and grow?  These trains of thought are very similar to some of the folks written about in the pages of Scripture: especially those who questioned Jesus’ teachings and actions.  They thought that they had faith in God all figured out.  They thought that they understood the things they were supposed to do and say that would keep them in God’s good graces.  Why should they grow any further? 
            But Jesus would have none of that.  Jesus constantly stretched His audience, called them to see God in another way, and called them to open their eyes to different possibilities of how God can and does act.  Oftentimes, some of His most poignant points were rammed home by asking a question.  “Why are you afraid?”  “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  “Who do you say that I am?”  “Why do you call me good?”  Jesus stretched his audience, and he continues to stretch us today.  The questions that he asked during the time he walked the earth are questions that still carry relevance to us today.  I invite you to join me in a journey of looking at those questions and growing in your faith as we invite Jesus to challenge us with the questions He asked in the book of Mark.

In Your Hearts


2:1-9, 1When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  8At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?10But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—11“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

            A rather interesting scene takes place in the movie 10 Things I Hate About You.  Two characters who have a rather colorful past end up dating together, and on one such date, they begin to question one another regarding all of the rumors that others have told about them.  The conversation went something like this:
            Patrick: No, none of that stuff is true.
            Kat: State trooper?
            P: Fallacy.  Dead guy in the parking lot?
            K: Rumor.  The duck?
            P: Here say.  Bobby Ridgeway’s b-lls?
            K: Fact, but he deserved it.  He tried to grope me in the lunch line.
            P: Fair enough.
            K: The accent?
            P: It’s real.  I lived in Australia until I was 10.
            K: With the pygmies?
            P: Close, with my mum.  (10 Things I Hate About You, 1999)
            I watched with fascination at how nearly all the rumors that swelled up about these two characters were false.  Because each character was mysterious and acted quite contrary to what others believed as normal, folks talked about them behind their backs.  In order to explain the perceived abnormality, folks created stories questioning the characters’ sanity and painting them as psychopathic wierdos.  Anyone who has ever had one’s name drug through the rumor mill can relate very well to what happened to these two characters.  Fortunately, for them it was a movie.  In real life, things can end up much worse.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

There is no Magic Bullet

The other day, as I was walking through the corridors of the church building, I stopped and tightened my belt.  I have now officially graduated to the last notch, and before too long, a new belt might be in order.

This is not the first time I have come close to reaching such a milestone.  Several years ago, I came close to this, but I gained it all back.  My motivations were different back then, and once the motivation was gone, so was my drive to do things differently.

This time, I think things are different.

This time, I think I have the drive, desire, and motivation to keep things going.  At least I hope so.

You see, I share a lot in common with my dad.  He and I are cut from the same mold.  We have a very similar personality and thought process.  We have a very similar warped sense of humor.  We have a very similar, deep faith in God.  Physically, I am maybe an inch taller, but we share a very similar build.  We shared a love of playing sports in our youth, and we share a similar injury history as well.

Dad sustained a knee injury while playing football--luckily, it didn't require surgery.  I sustained injuries to both knees while playing football--neither needing surgery.

Dad's injury has come back to bite him in a big way.  It's been tough to watch.  For much of my youth, my dad seemed invincible.  His strength and endurance seemed unparalleled.  I didn't want to jack with him because of this.  He could out work me any day of the week and twice on Sunday.  Nothing seemed to slow him down.

But age is finally doing that.  It is the great equalizer over time, and age has gotten my dad's knee in a painful way.  He simply can't do the things he used to do.  The last time we were down, he had to skip an outing with the family because he would never be able to walk the distance required.  My kids sorely missed him.  I did too.  I love watching my dad interact with my kids.  They adore him.  It's fun to see.

But I am cognitively aware of many things.  Not the least of these is the affect that carrying extra weight can have on one's joints over time, and while I certainly didn't look massively overweight, I was carrying at least 30 pounds too much.  With all the similarities I share with my father, I didn't want to share this one.  I didn't want to succumb to painful knees which limited my ability to work and play with my kids and hopefully grandkids.  And I also know that starting now is better than starting later.

Sometimes, the stars align just right, and we are given the tools we need without even asking for them.  Back in May, there was one day when Amazon.com highlighted a free app of the day.  It was Sparkpeople a "diet" and exercise app.  I downloaded it.

Looking it over, I studied it's capability.  There were several things which caught my attention: if you inputted your current weight and then inputted your goal weight and the time with which you wanted to achieve that weight, it would give you a calorie range per day to stay within.  It also allowed you to type in foods and figure out how many calories you were consuming.  It further allowed you to input your exercise routine and figure out how many calories you were burning.  The word which came to me was: accountability.

As I began using this app, I truly became accountable for how much I was eating and the amount of calories I was putting into my body.  Frankly, I was a bit shocked at how much I was taking in without even realizing it.  Personally, I did not change the things I ate, but the amounts that I actually ate.  Portion sizes became key.  Limiting the amount I ate at a particular time became key.  Spacing out the times where I ate and snacked became key.

I started exercising much more regularly as well.  I began with walking.  Just walking.

The weight started coming off.  I was pleased.

But, as with most things, a plateau was reached, and I stayed at it for quite some time.  I knew something had to give, and I gave up drinking sodas.  This was difficult since I love the taste of Dr. Pepper made with imperial cane sugar.  I budgeted 150 calories per day to have one of those puppy dogs.  I still miss them.

But I don't miss the weight.  It began coming off again.

Walking turned into intervals of walking and speed walking.  Soon, I added squats and push ups to the circuit.  Then I added jogging a couple of times.  Now, I'm doing intervals of walk, speed walk, and jog on a consistent basis with jumping jacks, squats, and push ups mixed in.

I'm only two pounds away from my goal.  As far as things are going, I might push a little more to see if I can get five more pounds below that.  If I am successful, I will have taken off 35 pounds.

And there was no magic bullet.  There was no magic formula.  There was and is pain.  There was and is hunger.  A church member asked me whether or not I was able to do this without being hungry.

"Not a chance," I said.

For me, the question comes down to whether or not one allows one's brain or one's impulses to be in charge.  One's impulses are strong.  They want to eat, to consume, to sit and rest and relax, to seek comfort and pleasure.  There is a part of society which tells us to give in to these impulses because then we will be really happy.  Maybe for the short term, such an assessment is correct.

But I see my dad limping.  I see that I could do the same in 20 years if I do not take steps now.

There's no magic bullet that will prevent this, but there is watching how much I eat.  There is making sure I exercise and stay active.  There is telling my stomach "no" when it wants me to indulge.  "How many calories is in this, and how many do I have to spend?" is my constant question.  Enduring a few hunger pangs and sore muscles is the price I must pay, and hopefully my knees will not cause me grief.  Hopefully, I will be able to have plenty of movement to have fewer limitations when dealing with my children and grandchildren.  And hopefully, I will need a new belt.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mismatched Socks

I am wearing mismatched socks today.

My wife and I have both been pretty busy as of late and so the sock pile in my drawer dwindled, and the sock pile of dirty laundry grew.  This morning, there were only three socks in my drawer, and they were all different--a testament to the uncanny ability of a washer and dryer to consume socks.

Therefore, I was left with little choice but to wear mismatched socks.

But here is the kicker, no one would ever know unless I told them.  I wear blue jeans and boots to work.  No one ever sees my socks.  I could have gone through this entire day without anyone ever knowing the flaw in my attire today.  The only one who would have known about it is me.  Well, me and God, but I'm not so sure He consumes Himself with angst when one of His creation wears mismatched socks.

There are other matters with which He consumes Himself--not the least, the other things we willfully try to hide.

And we like to hide a lot.

Yeah, I know that all those aisles of make-up are sold to people with the idea they are to "enhance" a person's natural beauty, but give me a break--that's one of the greatest lies ever told.  P.T. Barnum would be proud.  Make up covers up the original.  It's a mask.  It covers reality.  It allows a person to hide one's true face-flaws and all.

And how many products are on the shelves which seek to help us hide the fact that we are growing older?  Hair dyes, creams, Botox, plastic surgery.  You name it, it's out there.  All striving to get us to cover up and hide the fact that we are growing older.

Baggy clothes cover up weight gain.  Other products are designed to cover up other perceived physical flaws and limitations.

And we don't just cover up our physical selves.  Not in the least.  There is much that we hide about our families.  To let others know our family isn't perfect--that we argue and fuss and fight and deal with stubborn, rebellious children and worry about our financial situations and work too much and play too little and that we are bored out of our minds when the power or internet goes out and that we desperately want quiet time but not too much of it because it gives us too much time to think and reflect and that we want to disconnect from all the electronic connections technology has brought us but we are afraid we might miss something and that in the midst of all of this we long and desire to love and be loved but even when we have a significant other we are afraid to admit this or ask for what we would like lest we show some sort of vulnerability.  Yes.  Our relationships can be quite messy, and so we work to cover them up.  It is very rare that if you ask someone, "How are you?" they don't respond, "Fine."

And that's not all.

No.  Not the least.  We haven't even gotten to the real nitty-gritty.  We haven't even gotten to those other dirty little secrets: the mismatched socks which are a part of the human psyche and soul.  You know the ones I am talking about.  The secret thoughts and desires and hatreds which reside deep down within our hearts and minds.  The secret thoughts and desires which never see the light of day.  The secret thoughts and desires which if were ever fully known might cause a number of people shock, discomfort, surprise, even anger.

We bury such things deep down.  They must not see the light of day.  For then, others would truly know our flaws, our weaknesses.  Sharks smell blood in the water, and they circle quickly.  If we show weakness, the human sharks will do likewise.  No one must know that we have mismatched socks.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. --Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount

Most of us know, God forgives us.  Most of us know God sees all of our sin.  Most of us know when we admit such sin to Him, He wipes the slate clean.  We become free--free to live our lives from carrying around such burdens. 

We know this.  We also know we continue to sin.  We also know nearly everyone else does too.  We know all too well we have skeletons in the closet, but we know everyone else does too.  Yet, we persist in trying to keep those skeletons from everyone else.  We persist in trying to keep them secret, covered up.  If no one ever knows...then my reputation will remain in tact; then no one will think less of me; then I will not have to answer embarrassing questions; then I don't have to face any shame; then I don't have to admit my failure and my flaws.

We spend tremendous amounts of energy making sure no one knows we have mismatched socks.

What if we truly practiced what Jesus spoke of forgiveness?  What if we truly implemented the truth of forgiveness?  What if we truly recognized our flaws and the flaws of others and instead of spending so much time, energy, and money trying to conceal them, we admitted them and asked each other for assistance in overcoming them?  What if by bringing them to light, we walked through the shame and into the freedom of true forgiveness?

Would it change the way we lived?  Would it change the dynamics of our relationships?

I have mismatched socks.  Literally and figuratively.  Does that make you think less of me?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Re-Forming

    There was a potter who after years of dedication and hard work decided to create his most wonderful work.  He woke that morning and began working the clay.  He added just the right amount of water to make it just the perfect consistency.  He molded it with his hands to check and make sure.  When he was completely, absolutely satisfied, he threw it on the potter’s wheel.

    Sitting down, the potter began to spin the wheel.  Years of doing this very thing had honed his muscle movements perfectly.  The wheel spun as he worked his feet building up to just the perfect speed.  The potter’s hands then flashed toward the clay.  The hands worked it, embraced it, and molded it.  The lump of clay began to change shape.  Guided by skillful fingers it rose into a perfect mound.  Studying the mound for just a second, the potter thrust his fingers toward it and shaped it further.  A piece of pottery so masterful, so creative began to take shape.  The master’s hands continued to work and mold and create until after what seemed like eternity, the piece was finished.  The artist stood back and admired his work.  It seemed perfect.  He could detect no flaws.  Removing it from the wheel, he set it apart to dry. Eventually, he would paint and fire the piece so that all could see this marvelous artwork.

    Going to bed that night, the potter dreamed of seeing the faces of others light up as they viewed the exquisite piece he had thrown this day.  The dreams were abnormally sweet.

    The next morning, the potter awoke and checked on his masterpiece.  When he entered the room, he cried out in dismay.  The piece had slumped and fallen into disarray!  This could not be.  He had mixed everything perfectly!  He had taken all precautions!  This should not have happened!  He rushed to check on his piece.  Looking it over, he thought it could be more than salvaged.  As he inspected it, he was quite sure he could actually restore it to its original perfection.

    His skillful fingers once again worked over this masterful piece of art.  Molding the clay, he reformed it into its original beauty.  After painstaking moments, he stared once more at the intricate beauty he had created.  He then departed to continue his other work.

    But alas! When the artist came back to check on the piece, he noticed it becoming deformed once again!  What was wrong with this piece?  He had never had such a thing happen before.  Should he start over?  Should he scrap his work?  Should he just try to recreate it?

    No.  The piece was too beautiful.  It was too precious.  It was indeed a masterpiece, and so the potter reformed it once more.

    Perhaps it was fate.  Perhaps it was something else, but the potter found that each time he reformed the piece of pottery, it somehow managed to get out of whack.  No matter what he tried; no matter how he added water or extra clay, it would fall out of perfection and into disrepair.  People marveled at how the potter could be so stubborn.  “Why don’t you just scrap that thing and try and create it again?”  “Wouldn’t it be worth your time just to move on?”  “Why don’t you just give up on that thing and just let it go.  Let it do its own thing and you create some other piece of artwork.”

    The advice was often tempting.  It seemed like it would be more rational to give upon the whole process, scrap the thing, and start over.  Surely there was another masterpiece within those hands and fingers.  Each time those thoughts crept in, the potter would look at that piece he had sculpted.  He saw the beauty of his creation.  He saw how marvelous it looked when it was brought to perfection.  He saw that in a real way, it was a part of him–almost as if it were created in his own image.  Destruction was out of the question.  He loved this piece of work.  He knew what it could be, and he would not stop reforming it–even if he had to keep working on it until the day he died.

    Most of us, if we were in the shoes of that potter would probably quit.  We would probably start all over and give up.  We would probably say our time, effort and energy was not worth it.  Many of us would perhaps say the potter was crazy in his endeavor to fix a masterpiece that obviously could not be fixed.  Indeed, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again while expecting different results.  However, I would like to offer a different caveat to that definition this morning: what if you know you are doing the right things?  What if you know you have indeed chosen the correct approach in dealing with a particular situation?  What if you know that the other options of doing things are ill advised or detrimental to that which you are working with?  If indeed you are doing the right thing, then is doing it insanity or determination?   Is it craziness or hopefulness?

    Some may look at God’s decision to deal with humankind through the concept of grace as insanity or craziness.  After all, in many ways it doesn’t make much sense.  We are corrupted.  Don’t get me wrong here–I am not saying we are completely and totally deprived.  I am not saying we are completely and totally evil.  I am not saying we cannot do good things or accomplish things which are acceptable in God’s sight.  This is most certainly not true.  Indeed, when you look around the world and in our communities, you see that we do some really marvelous things: acts of compassion and mercy not only toward other human beings but toward other species–cats, dogs, cattle, horses, and the like.  You see that humans are generous in their response to those who have suffered tragedy and despair.  There is good which runs through us.

    But we are not wholly good.  There is a streak of selfishness which runs through the best of us.  That streak emerges time and again in obvious and subtle ways.  It leads us to division, strife, anger, and animosity.  Instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves, we love ourselves and care for our neighbor as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us.  Our brokenness shows when we blame others for problems and do not realize that we too suffer from the same selfishness and anger which drives thieves, murderers, adulterers, and manipulators of the system to do the things they do.  We are cracked, broken, slumping pieces of pottery–even though we were created to be a masterpiece.

    And God cherishes the beauty He sees in us.  God cherishes the kindness He put into us.  He cherishes His creation that He created in His own image and likeness.  He could destroy us and start anew, but He is attached.  And so, He constantly reaches His hands out to us to mold us and reform us into that which He intended us to be.  He knows He is doing the right thing.  He knows He is handling us with all the skill He can muster.  He knows He must give us freedom to stand on our own–even though He knows we will probably slump down once more into imperfection.  But He will never give up.  He will never quit.  He will always seek to reform us and bring us back to His original intent.

    Today, we celebrate Reformation Sunday.  It is one of my favorite Sundays of the Church year.  We commemorate the day when Martin Luther, the namesake of the Lutheran Church, nailed 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg Germany calling the Church of the day to debate the nature of God and the salvation He provided through Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, the intended reform brought about division because of the hard headedness and hard heartedness of humanity, but it also brought about a re-emphasis on the nature of God–the God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; the God who from the cross spoke the words, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”; the God who sent His only begotten Son into the world so that those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it.

    Today, we remember God’s desire to keep reforming, not only the Church, but us as well.  When it might be easier to scrap the whole project and start over, instead God tenaciously and hopefully molds us over and over into the people we were intended to be.  We don’t deserve it, but God does it anyway.  It’s called Grace, and it’s the reason we seek to Live God’s Word Daily.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Actions Follow Beliefs

I have heard numerous comments from concerned people regarding the need to minimize argumentation over beliefs.

"We just need to set aside our beliefs and simply act in an appropriate manner toward one another."

I understand where this is coming from.  I really do.

In a diverse society where there are many conflicting worldviews and beliefs, it is difficult to find a particular common ground.  If we emphasize the differences--i.e. the belief systems which vary so much--we will become polarized, divided, eventually see one another as enemies.

If we could just set aside those beliefs and not worry so much about them or trying to get others to agree with our beliefs, then we could just concentrate on what we need to do to work together to make this world a better place for everyone.

Well, first, I think you have to convince everyone of your belief that we don't need to concentrate on beliefs.

Secondly, this goes against how our brains actually function.  Reading the book Why God Won't Go Away by Andrew Newberg , Eugene G. D'Aquili, and Vince Rause, I came across this quote:

The fact that such inhibitors are necessary in the first place to prevent us from slavishly acting out all our thoughts suggests that it is the inbuilt tendency of the brain to turn thoughts into actions.  In fact, even when our brains are operating normally, this tendency may break through, as when we talk with our hands, or when we lean and sway in an attempt to coax an errant golf shot back toward the fairway.  (Kindle location 1413)

The inbuilt tendency of the brain is to turn thoughts into actions not vice-versa.  It is our thoughts, our beliefs that lead to actions, and it would behoove us to remember this.

If the Church tries to get caught up into the idea that our beliefs don't matter, we will get in trouble. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cliques in Church

A respected member of my congregation approached me a week or so ago.  "Pastor," he said, "You need to say something or do a sermon about cliques."

I waited for further explanation.

"I've spoke to two people recently about coming to church.  Both of them said the same thing.  They both said they won't come to church because of the cliques in the church.  Something needs to be done about that."

Perhaps so, but I am now a veteran when it comes to handling church dynamics.  I've seen how more often than not, when you try to address something, the exact opposite happens.  Harp on people for not coming to church, and church attendance drops.  Harp on people for not giving enough or telling them to tithe 10% of their income, and offerings drop.  Tell them they need to come to Sunday School, and they don't.  Reverse psychology should be the order of the day, but if you go with the intent of trying to change things by doing the opposite, might you get figured out by doing that too?  Isn't that a bit manipulative?  Probably.

And that rightly leads to stagnation and a fear of even trying to address the issue.  That's not good either.

So, the question is: how does one address the issue of cliques without trying to offer a mandate or tell everyone how they should act knowing they are liable to do the exact opposite?

Perhaps what follows is a feeble attempt:

I believe cliques are a part of the way the world and nature works.  I think they are inescapable.  I mean it.  Kids form cliques in pre-school and school without any sort of guidance or compulsion.  They just do it.  In the animal kingdom, cliques are formed in most species.  Fish swim in schools.  Cattle gather in herds.  Lions in prides, etc. etc.  Each has its own hierarchy and social structure.  Most become closed and only open up on special occasions.

These groups form for various reasons: protection, cooperation, feeding, and even socialization.  In my estimation, this means cliques are neither good or bad, they just are.

Even in the church, we have our cliques.  I think we'd like to pretend they don't exist, but they are there regardless.  You have the women's group.  The quilters.  Men in mission.  Youth group.  Choir.  Adult Bible study, and so on.  These groups are organized based upon some commonality shared by all group members--gender, age, interest, ability.  It's how we organize ourselves.  Again, neither good or bad; cliques just are.

As I see it, the problem is not with cliques in and of themselves.  It is when cliques become self-important, refuse to cooperate with others, and become closed that they become a problem.

St. Paul's analogy in 1 Corinthians 12 is instrumental in my opinion:
 
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 22On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Paul does not encourage everyone to be alike.  Far from it.  In fact, Paul encourages the Church to honor it's differences, but with a very important caveat:

We are all one body.

Let that sink in for a moment.  We are all one body.  If various body parts begin warring against one another, really bad things happen.  We actually know what that is called: cancer.  With cancer, a group of cells thinks they are more important than the rest.  They quit doing their job.  They go rogue.  They begin monopolizing resources.  They begin feeding off the rest of the body.  Eventually, if left unchecked, they kill the body.

In the Church, there is an antidote for such things--remembering who the head of the Church is and what He has called us to do.  Remember, Paul is explicit in who he says the head of the Church is:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. --Colossians 1:15-18

To give this a very, local spin: St. John Lutheran Church of Cat Spring is actually ruled and governed by our head: Jesus Christ.  We believe He has given us a vision and a mission: To Live God's Word Daily specifically by Actively reaching out as a strong Christian influence in our community by showing God's love through kindness, caring, and involvement with others inside and outside our community of faith.

All of our various parts theoretically should revolve around the Head and His instructions to us.  Theoretically, everything we do should keep these things in mind.  All of our various ministries and parts revolved around this vision and mission.  If we should lose sight of this, then we face a war between the cliques.  We face cliques vying for power and influence.  Each clique's ministry becomes more important than the overall mission.

If you need evidence of this, look at our current political situation.  Most representatives of our nation are there not to work for the good of their country, but for the good of their constituents.  They are trying to get a piece of the pie for their district, their state, their area of representation instead of looking out for the good of the entire country.  This leads to division and strife, something we are all too familiar with by reading our news papers and news feeds.

Should the Church reflect society or Christ?  Should the Church represent what is going on in society, or should it represent what is going on in heaven where all are focused on God and His reign?  The answer to me seems pretty obvious.

I personally do not believe cliques are necessarily a problem in any congregation, church, or community.  It's how we organize, but it is my sincere hope that any clique that is within the congregation of St. John or any other congregation or denomination recognizes its vision and mission and works for the betterment of our congregation, denomination, and its fulfillment of the Christian mission in society.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Do You Have Itchy Ears? (Like Me?)

    There is a story I have told in a sermon before, but I believe it bears repeating in light of our lessons this morning:   

    A retired preacher went back to visit a town in which he once served.  Sitting down in the local cafĂ©, he recognized on of his former parishioners.  The preacher called out, “Hi, Bob, how are things at the church?”

    Bob recognizing the preacher from years ago replied, “Hello Reverend.  Actually, I don’t know how things are at the church anymore.  I don’t go there.”

    This surprised the pastor.  Bob had been a pillar of the congregation when he left.  Bob had served as congregation president; he taught Bible study; he was a mentor to several youth; he attended almost every single Sunday; and he was a steady and generous contributor.  The fact that Bob no longer went to church there rocked the pastor to the core.  “May I ask what happened?” the pastor said.

    Bob didn’t hesitate, “Well, Reverend, I hate to say it, but Satan raised dissension in our midst.  Some folks just stopped believing the appropriate things, so half of us got up and started our own church.”

    The pastor replied, “I am truly sorry to hear that.  How are things going at that church?”

    Bob replied, “I don’t know.  You would think that we would be able to agree on everything, but it didn’t happen.  Satan’s reach is long, and before you know it, a group of us had to leave again.  About six couples started gathering in our homes to listen to God’s Word.”

    The pastor then said, “And did you find peace in that small group?”

    “No,” Bob said.  “Before long my wife and I had to leave that group as they were not true to the Word or to doctrine.  We began worshiping together on Sunday’s alone.”

    The pastor replied, “I take it then, that this has brought you spiritual peace?”

    And Bob said, “Nope, before long, things went south again.  I worship on the east side of the house, and my wife worships on the west side.”

    Yes, it is funny, and it probably is funny because it has a bit of truth within it.  For in many ways, this story illustrates the religious backdrop that is the United States of America–particularly the church.  We literally have thousands of denominations in the U.S. and hundreds of thousands of churches, and many of them have come about in exactly the fashion this story presents to us.  They have split over disagreements and doctrines, and more often than not, our second lesson which we heard this morning is used as justification for those splits.

    In case you missed it, I’d like to refresh it in our minds.  Please take a listen to what St. Paul tells Timothy: 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

    Usually, folks use this text as a weapon to basically say, “All scripture is inspired by God, and you are not taking scripture seriously. You have itchy ears and are leaving sound doctrine.  We have no choice but to break away and hold onto the right, pure doctrine.”  It’s always the other person who has the problem.  It’s always those people out there who are wrong.  It’s always the other guy who has itchy years, and it’s definitely not me.

    Of course, that’s the attitude; however I think it’s mistaken.  In fact, I’d submit to you this morning, my brothers and sisters, that each and every one of us have itchy ears.  I’d submit that each and every one of us have our own particular understandings and core convictions, and we like those things affirmed and stroked.  I’d submit that each and every one of us do not like having those convictions challenged, and we are often content to surround ourselves with people who believe exactly as we believe and do the things we like to do.

    That’s an extremely easy thing to do in our technological age.  I mean, how many of you have ever deleted someone off your Facebook list because they embrace a particular ideology and keep harping on it?  Guilty as charged here.  In this day folks are more than happy to announce their particular philosophy and theology, and many of them put this stuff on Youtube.  It’s easy to search around on there until you find folks who agree with your point of view and keep listening to them and have them reinforce your beliefs instead of being challenged by others.  It’s easy to frequent certain websites who give a particular slant to the news and avoid others which give you a different perspective on an event.

    Before you know it, you can end up completely isolated–never challenged.  And if you are challenged, say for instance, you don’t like what I say in the sermon this morning, you can head out of here turn on the television or get on the internet.  In a matter of moments you can find another preacher like Joel Osteen who will tell you the things you want to hear.  It’s that simple.

    And of course, such isolation leads to division.  We have only to look at what happened the past few weeks in Washington D.C. to see evidence of this.  Two sides which are completely entrenched decide to play games with the American people.  They are completely isolated and refuse to consider a different point of view.  Not only does it divide the capital-it divides the nation; and, instead of a place that seeks to be different from society, the Church oftentimes reflects society.  We become embroiled in division as well.

    And what do we fight about?  Interestingly enough, when you sit down and think about it, we don’t often fight about sound doctrine.  Instead, we fight about what we are supposed to DO; how we are supposed to live out the Christian faith.  How does this look?  Well, it can be a battle over what color to paint the building.  Some churches fight over whether or not it is okay to put artificial flowers on the altar or if real ones need to be used.  Churches fight about who can serve as a pastor–if a certain gender is allowed or not or if a person of a particular sexual orientation can serve.  Some fight about how a church cares for the poor–should they help without question or should someone work before they eat.  Others fight about how the church engages politics–should they lobby government and force government to promote Christian values, should the church remain separate and apart from government completely, or somewhere in between.

    All of these battles are focused on the law.  They are not focused on doctrine.  Now, the law is very important.  There is no doubt about that.  It helps us tremendously in teaching us how we ought to live.  It serves as a guide as to what is right and what is wrong.  It also teaches us and confronts us with our sinfulness.  Most of you know the Big Ten, and I’m not talking about the football conference.  You know the 10 Commandments: I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me; you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, honor your father and mother, remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s property or his wife and so on.  You know Jesus’ commands, “If you look at a woman with lust in your heart, you have committed adultery.  If you have anger toward your brother, you are committing murder.  When you fed the least of these my brothers, you fed me.”  We need the law, but we cannot follow it completely.

    And that is important.  Very important.  None of us can completely measure up to what the law demands.  None of us can follow every detail.  It’s an impossibility.  If we were able to follow it, we wouldn’t need a Savior.  Jesus would not have had to die.  As that most famous quote from the Gospel of John says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.”

    We call this grace.  And in my estimation, this is the sound doctrine from which we turn away from.  When we focus on the law, we divide ourselves to exclusion; however, if we focus on grace, a very different dynamic occurs.  When I realize that I am totally dependent upon God for my salvation, I am humbled.  I no longer see myself as the be all and end all when it comes to knowing and practicing the faith of Jesus.  And when I look at another person, I come to understand that other person needs Jesus just as much as I do.  Therefore, I cannot see that other person as an enemy, as an opponent, or someone doomed to hell because he or she does not believe as I believe.  Instead, I see that person as a brother, a sister, a member of my family–whether I like that person or not.

    And when a group of people gather together inspired by grace, they can come together regardless of differences and work and worship together.  In this manner, they change society instead of mirror it.  And that, my brothers and sisters, is Living God’s Word Daily.  Amen.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Connect the Dots: Football and Church

(This post was inspired by a friend's post on Facebook.  The original post follows the story.)

Tom was worried about his friend Jim.  The two of them had been great supporters of the high school varsity football team.  For years, they attended games and cheered their team, but it was four weeks into the season, and Jim hadn't been to a game yet.  This was disturbing.  Tom decided to pay his friend a visit.

Tom: Jim, ol' buddy.  How you doing?

Jim: I'm fine, Tom.  Just fine.

Tom: Are you sure.  I haven't seen you at any of the games on Friday evenings.  Is something wrong?

Jim: Tom, I'm through with football games.  I just am not going to go anymore.

Tom: Can I ask why?  I mean, you used to go to every game.  You used to sit in the same spot and cheer long and loud.  Everyone counted on you being there.

Jim: I've got more than a few reasons, ol' buddy.  And it starts with the fans.  I love the team, but I can't stand the fans.  They've become rude and obnoxious.  If the referee makes a correct call against our team, they boo and hiss.  But if they see a ref overlook a call on the other team, they go ballistic!  They think the rules don't apply to them.  They are a bunch of hypocrites.  Not only are they hypocrites, the last time I went to a game, they weren't exactly nice to me.  Instead of saying, "Excuse me." when they walked past me, they simply trampled over my stuff.  A man told me to quit cheering when he was talking on his cell phone.  Excuse me!  We're at a football game for heaven's sake!  Put down your dadgum cell phone and support your team!

Tom:  Slow down there a minute, Jim.  People are people, you know?

Jim: Don't give me that, Tom.  People should know better.  They should have better manners than that.  They are representing the school when they do that.  I don't want to be associated with a bunch of uncouth, rude, and obnoxious hypocrites.  Neither do I want to be associated with any sort of fair-weather fans.  This bunch now a days--they have no loyalty or commitment.  Why, at one game I attended, more than half the fans got up and left when we were behind by three touchdowns.  What happened to sticking with your team win or lose?  And if the weather is too hot or too cold?  Gimme a break.  Only the parents come to see their kids, but don't inconvenience anyone with the weather, by God.  They'd rather sit at home instead of toughing things out.

Tom: I know, Jim.  I know.  Not everyone is that committed, but you aren't there for the fans.  You are there to support the team.  The team is most important.  You can't just support them from home.

Jim: Support.  Yeah, that's another thing.  I'm tired of getting nickled and dimed every time I go to the game.  I spend money on tickets.  I spend money on concessions.  Then they are always trying to get me to buy other stuff and paraphernalia--t shirts, jackets, stadium seats, coolers, koozies, you name it, they got it for sale.  Money, money, money.  All they want is my money.  You say support, but all I've started seeing is dollar signs.  It ain't right.

Tom: It's not like you can't afford it. 

Jim: That's beside the point.  I'm tired of them trying to get it out of me.  And it isn't just the football.  The band wants money.  The PTO wants money.  The booster club wants money.  Hell, they even let student groups in to do fundraisers.  The proverb is that a fool and his money are soon parted, but I won't be played for a fool.  I can use that money to support other causes.

Tom: But all that money does good.  It helps teach these kids character and responsibility and dedication to a cause greater than themselves.

Jim: Irrelevant.  What do I get out of it?  Not a darn thing.  Last year, the band started playing that new hip hop garbage that you hear on the radio.  No more good music.  Can't stand that stuff.  They changed the words to the alma matter, and that ticked me off.

Tom: They just made the language more inclusive for all students.

Jim: They gave in to that political correctness B.S.  That's all they did.  There was nothing wrong with things.  People understood what those words meant.  They were just getting rid of tradition.  Throw out all the old stuff for this new fangaled garbage.  I won't stand for it anymore.

Tom: But the coach is trying to uphold many of the traditions of the program. 

Jim: I liked the old coach better.

Tom: Yes, the old coach was good, but it was time for him to move on.  He did a great job, but this coach is taking the team to a new level.

Jim: By doing what?  He doesn't even teach the basic fundamentals anymore.  He's bringing in all that fancy garbage and stuff.  He isn't strict and demand discipline.  You can tell it in how the kids play.  He needs to be tougher and lay down the law.  We don't need any wusses up there. 

Tom: Why can't you give him a chance and see what happens?

Jim: There's a right way of doing things and a wrong way of doing things.  He's wrong, and that's that.

Tom: But this is your team.  You really need to come and support your team.  How can you support your team by simply sitting at home?

Jim: Well, I can still show my support.  I can go hunting and fishing and think about my team.  I can read about them in the paper and what they did.  I can watch other teams on t.v. and learn more about how the game is played and think about my own team.  It's not hard to support them that way.

Tom: That makes no sense, none at all.

None at all.

12 Reasons Why a Pastor Quit Attending Sports Events

1. The coach never came to visit me.
2. Every time I went, they asked me for money.
3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
4. The seats were very hard.
5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites—they only came to see what others were wearing!
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Daughter's Desire


Yes, my daughter is one of those little girls running around in pink shirts. 

Earlier this year, she decided she wanted to be a part of the "Little Brahmanettes."  It's the school's way of encouraging youngsters to participate in and support extra-curricular athletics. 

My eldest wants to play volleyball and tennis.  Her choice.  I support her and am hoping she chooses to keep athletics as a part of her schooling.  I personally believe such things are valuable teaching tools for life.  Too often we try to remove the ideas of winning and losing in our lives today.  Too often we try to remove adversity.  You simply cannot do that with athletics.  And I am glad for that.  It is only in the imagination where winning and losing does not exist.  It is only in the imagination where disappointment and failure does not exist.  The sooner one learns to deal with such facts, the better.  The sooner one learns coping mechanisms to deal with loss, failure, and overcoming disappointment, the better.  Learning that to give one's all and still lose carries no shame is one of life's most important lessons, in my estimation.

I see my kids now trying to cope with such things--even in family life.  If something doesn't go their way, their egos get bruised a little.  I've heard them yell, "It's not fair!"  numerous times.  I tell them, they are correct.  I try to soothe their pain a little, but I do not try to remove it.  It teaches them a lesson. 

The avoidance of pain, in my estimation, is one of the things most wrong with our current culture.  We try to make it go away at all costs.  But discomfort is a great motivator.  It makes one move and seek out places where there is less pain.  Discomfort is also a great teacher.  It helps us learn to avoid certain behaviors.  My daughter can attest to that.  She only ignored a waiter's instructions to not touch a hot plate once.  It also can tell us we are growing--growing pains, soreness after exercise.  When we try to avoid pain at all costs, we cost ourselves dearly in the long run.

I have no doubt that if my daughter continues her desire to play volleyball, there will be pain.  But there will also be opportunity to teach, to learn, and to become prepared for life's lessons.  I will not hesitate to encourage her, teach her, and cheer her on with reckless abandon.

Perhaps one of these days my "Little Brahmanette" will be a full fledged Brahmanette.  Schedules will have to be rearranged.  Other items will be put on the back burner.  I will probably complain at times, but the payoff should be worth it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

$50 Worth of Groceries

I drove my Ford Mustang GT into the apartment complex searching for apartment #34.

Moments before, I walked through the aisles of the local grocery store picking up food items for someone who requested assistance.  The woman is a "regular" in asking for help from our congregation.  I have had numerous conversations with her.  She is in her mid-30's to mid-40's.  I've never asked her her age.  She is on dialysis, does not work, is on disability, and has applied for food stamps.  I personally believe she perpetually tries to "work the system." 

Perhaps we should cease and desist when it comes to helping her.  Perhaps forcing her to do something else instead of the same things over and over again would be more appropriate, but I am struck by a couple of things--one practical, the other theological.

The practical: I have encountered a lot of people in my lifetime.  When you work with people, you learn who the extremely intelligent people are, who the average folks are, and the folks who struggle with thinking through their decisions.  The woman I was bringing groceries to falls squarely in that last category.  Her intelligence level is not high in the least, and frankly, trying to get her to see anything beyond one day would be a very, very difficult task.  She is functionally literate, I believe, but being able to manage money and time is almost beyond her capability.  It's sad really, but true.

The theological: Every time I am faced with someone who "works the system," I return to Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount.  I almost wish He wouldn't have spoken them.  Then it would be a lot easier to just walk away from such situations.  "Give to everyone who begs," the Master spoke.  Hey, Jesus, do you realize there are those who play the system?  Do you realize there are those who prey off the generosity of others?  Do you realize there are those who are capable of working yet do not?  Do you realize there are those willing to take as much as they can without so much as a pang of guilt?  Didn't you see the story about those who are on the EBT cards who filled up their grocery carts with tons of food items when those cards showed they didn't have any sort of limit on them?  I did, and I think it's blatantly wrong of people to do such things!  Don't you care about such manipulation?

Perhaps He does.  Perhaps He will take care of that judgment in His own good time, but at this time, I am bound by His Word and His Word alone: give to everyone who begs.  And when it comes to food, Jesus' command is explicit.  "When I was hungry, you fed me."  When?  "When you did it to the least of these, my brothers, you did it for me."

Yesterday, I received a call asking for food.  It is our policy as a congregation to never hand cash directly to those who ask unless there are special circumstances.  Therefore, I headed to the local grocery store to pick up a mess of groceries.  I spent $50.  Ten pounds of potatoes.  Ten pounds of chicken leg quarters.  Large bags of corn, green beans, and broccoli.  Two loaves of bread.  Peanut butter.  Sugar-free jelly.  (The woman is diabetic.)  A bag of fruit.  Cheese slices.  Oatmeal.  Eggs, rice, and beans. 

I headed for her apartment.

I turned into the entrance, and the woman was on the balcony with a friend.  She recognized my car, and walked down to meet me.  She said her apartment was in another complex across the lot.  She wanted to walk.  I offered her a ride. She accepted.  We talked for a few moments.

"I really need to move.  My friend is moving because her water heater caught on fire.  Mine did that not too long ago.  Now, I have a water leak in my place and no one is fixing it.  I keep mopping it up, but now, there's mold, and I keep waking up coughing."

We park.  I pop the trunk, and she asks if she can help.  I reply, "Yes, I can't carry it all."  She grabs several bags.  I get the rest. 

We pass a gentleman smoking a cigarette on the patio.  He lives in the apartment next to her.  I notice a pot brim full of cigarette butts on this woman's patio.  Details. 

Her apartment is relatively clean but a bit cluttered.  Older furniture.  Few decorations.  I can see where the water has been leaking.  She is very thankful for the groceries.  I tell her I didn't know exactly what to get and that I hoped the fare was o.k.  She says, "I'm not picky in what I eat."

She thanks me again profusely and says, "Pray for me Pastor Kevin."  Yeah, she knows me by name.  No anonymity anymore.  I tell her, "I do."  In fact, this woman is on our prayer list.

I walk back to my car.  I look around at the complex and see its run down condition.  I look at the automobiles sitting around.  These folks here do not resemble those stories you hear about folks who really "game the system."  There are no Cadillac Escalades or souped up sports cars.  All are in pretty poor condition with dents and scratches at the least and missing body parts at the worst.  None are even close to being newer models. 

I drive off and head back to my reality.

$50 worth of groceries can actually buy quite a bit these days--especially if it is for someone else. 

It can buy you a trip into an entirely different world.

Monday, October 14, 2013

It All Started with a Little Girl

    Greg Anderson, in Living Life on Purpose, tells a story about a man whose wife had left him. He was completely depressed. He had lost faith in himself, in other people, in God--he found no joy in living. One rainy morning this man went to a small neighborhood restaurant for breakfast. Although several people were at the diner, no one was speaking to anyone else. Our miserable friend hunched over the counter, stirring his coffee with a spoon.

    In one of the small booths along the window was a young mother with a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting, "Momma, why don't we say our prayers here?" The waitress who had just served their breakfast turned around and said, "Sure, honey, we pray here. Will you say the prayer for us?" And she turned and looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, "Bow your heads." Surprisingly, one by one, the heads went down. The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, "God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food. Amen."

    That prayer changed the entire atmosphere. People began to talk with one another. The waitress said, "We should do that every morning."

    "All of a sudden," said our friend, "my whole frame of mind started to improve. From that little girl's example, I started to thank God for all that I did have and stop majoring in all that I didn't have. I started to be grateful."

    And it all started with a little girl–a little girl who wasn’t afraid to share and live her faith.

    Isn’t it amazing how one such little thing from a little person can change things dramatically.  In our Old Testament lesson from 2 Kings this morning, a little girl had an even bigger impact on a much larger scale.

    The king of Aram had a very good friend and leader in his army, a man named Namaan.  Now, Namaan had the great misfortune of contracting leprosy.  In that day and age, this was a horrible ordeal because not only did you have a disease, but you were literally kicked out of society until you were healed or you died.  Namaan didn’t like facing this reality, and he wanted to be cured.  However, nothing seemed to be working.

    One day, a little girl, who had been captured from the Israelites overheard what was going on with her master.  She made what seemed like an innocent comment, but it was a comment grounded and rooted in the faith she had been raised in.  “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 

    This little girl knew about the Lord.  She knew about the Lord sending prophets.  She knew about the prophet Elisha who was in Samaria, and she knew that the prophets were able to work deeds of power and mercy in the name of the Lord.  And what were the consequences of this little girl’s words?  What was the fallout of her sharing her faith?

    The wheels began to turn.  Namaan told the king about what the Israelite slave girl had said.  The king put together a huge bounty, and sent it along with a letter to the king of Israel.  “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 

    I find this next part terribly interesting.  Remember, a little slave girl, living in captivity says, “If my lord were with the prophet who lives in Samaria, he could be cured of his leprosy.”  And when Namaan is brought before the king of Israel, what does the king say?  How does the king react?  Dare I ask, “Where is the king’s faith?”  For the king of Israel has a very strong reaction.

     7When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”  Do you find this as interesting a contrast as I do?  Do you find it intriguing that the little slave girl knows the Lord, knows of the Lord’s prophet, and believes the prophet can heal her master WHILE the leader of Israel doesn’t even think of Elisha, believes he is supposed to cure Namaan, and believes the king of Aram is trying to pick a fight with him?  One of these folks is living by faith and the other is living relying only upon himself.  The powerless one relies on God and believes in the power of God while the other believes only in the power he has and doesn’t even think to turn to God.  I find this most interesting.

    The king of Israel has a freak out session, but word eventually gets to Elisha, and Elisha sends word to the king.  “Send the Aramean to me.  I’ll take care of everything.”

    And he does.  Wielding God’s power, Elisha commands Namaan to go wash in the Jordan river.  After some hemming and hawing, Namaan does what he is told and is cured.   Upon returning to Elisha, Namann says, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”  The commander of the army of the Arameans is brought to belief in the Lord, and it all started with a little girl.

    Now, at this point, you might expect me to invite you to be brave about your faith and be willing to share it, just like those two little girls did in the two stories above.  You are partially correct.  There is no doubt that the mainline church in the U.S. is in decline with some exceptions in some congregations.  There is no doubt that there are more and more people marking the word “none” when it comes to religious affiliation.  And it is the church’s job to reach out to these folks and share the good news of Jesus Christ with them.  There is no doubt we who are members of congregations and churches need to find some courage and willingness to share our faith publicly.  In fact, I think many Christians do indeed share their faith publicly.  Many Christians aren’t afraid to say that they believe in God.  But it is not simple belief that made the difference in these two stories–it was belief combined with engagement with those who did not believe.

    Hear that again please, it was belief combined with engagement with those who did not believe.

    You see, it’s easy to share our faith with others who believe in Christ.  It’s easy to bond with a circle of like-minded people who think like us and act like us.  It’s easy to talk about church and share the blessings and woes that frequent every congregation.  It’s easy to engage with others who have a common worldview.  However, it’s not so easy to do such a thing with those who are different.  It’s not so easy to hang with and talk with folks who come from a vastly different perspective.  That’s when things get a little more difficult.

    And there-in lies the risk.  It was a risky thing for that little girl to ask if she could pray in the middle of the restaurant.  It was a risky thing for the waitress to ask everyone to bow their heads.  But a difference was made.  It was a risky thing for that slave girl to engage her master and tell him about the Lord’s prophet.  It was a risky thing for the king of Aram to send money and goods and a letter asking the king of Israel to heal Namaan.  Wading out into unknown waters can do this.  Engaging people who are different can do this.

    Yet, with God’s hand guiding the process, great things can happen.  Lives can be changed.  Love can be felt.  Gratitude can flow.  Others can see “There is no other God except the God of Israel.”  When we seek to live God’s Word daily, it can start with a little girl, a prayer, the knowledge of a prophet; and it can also start with you.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I'm (Not) Mad as Hell

(I actually wrote this piece months ago.  Following up on yesterday's post, I think it timely.)

Remember this?


Amazing that this film came out in 1976, isn't it?

Amazing that many of the same things spoken of right here are still happening, isn't it?

And are people still angry?  Are they mad as hell?

Yep.  Just read a few comments on any given article about the goings on in Washington, D.C.  Just read a few comments on any given story about gun control.  Just read the comments on any given article about the Trayvon Martin case.  People are angry.  People are full of fear.  There are some saying that Civil War is right around the corner.

And you might ask me, "Don't you think we should be angry at all of this?  Don't you think we should be mad as hell and refuse to put up with all of this stuff?"

Don't you think we should be mad as hell that over 8,000 people were murdered by people using guns in 2012?
Don't you think we should be mad as hell that unemployment still hovers at near 8%?
Don't you think we should be mad as hell that our government uses drones to kill American citizens without due process?
Don't you think we should be mad as hell that 1% of the U.S. population controls the majority of its wealth?
Don't you think we should be mad as hell that there are millions in poverty?
Don't you think we should be mad as hell that there are people starving, who are mal-nourished and under-nourished?

Anger is a possible reaction.  It can certainly be a tremendous motivator.  Yet, I ask, is it the best motivation one can use?

I'm a Star Wars fan.  I think Master Yoda shows tremendous wisdom:


Anger, in my estimation is not the ultimate motivator.  Anger, in my estimation does lead to hate, and hate leads to suffering. 

Ever hear of a dude who said, "Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you."?

Hate is easy.  Anger is easy.

Acting out of love is not.  Working to change the reality of this world without demonizing and condemning the other "side" is extremely difficult.

Yet, it is the path Christ called His disciples to follow.  He called us to act with compassion, realizing the merits and sinfulness of all--realizing that the person who disagrees with you is also a child of God.

Remember, Jesus, who often criticized the Pharisees also was a regular guest in their homes, eating and celebrating with them.  He did not let His criticism lead to hatred.

Why?

Jesus acted out of love.  Plain and simple.

Love drives away fear.

It leads to restoration.

It leads to justice.

It leads a person to work toward improving the world, one step at a time-one piece at a time.

We often get frustrated and angry at the way the world works, and we'd like to see change; however, we fail to recognize our limitations.  We fail to realize that God has called us to work within a certain sphere and a certain reference.  Changing things means operating and functioning in that sphere--taking responsibility for the things one has the capability of affecting.

This is why I am not mad as hell.  I stick with what I can do and do not get frustrated when things happen which are outside of my control.  I strive to act with love and grace-acknowledging my anger, but letting go of it instead of allowing it to grow and fester and lead to hate and suffering.