Thursday, January 30, 2014

What God has Done

A rather intriguing thing happened in my life and in the life of this blog this past week.

First, my blog post 10 Things You Can't Say or Do or Believe or Whatever While Following Jesus was picked up by the ELCA website Living Lutheran.  Then, the blog post from Living Lutheran was picked up by the ELCA Facebook page.  Then, conversation about my post ensued with both positive and negative comments, including some who know the author of the post I cited in my original article.  Even the author of the original article put his two cents worth in about my blog post.  Two intriguing things stood out:

1. If Christianity isn't about what we are supposed to do, why did Jesus spend so much time talking about how we are supposed to interact with our neighbor?

2. If Christianity isn't about what we are supposed to do, why is there such a thing as discipleship?*

When I read some of the comments, I think I got a glimpse of what that German monk had to deal with so long ago when he kicked off the Reformation.  Never mind that I ended my original piece with the comment:

Then ponder how you may be called to share that love with others--without lists but instead with a Leader you are called to imitate. 

Grace doesn't mean you aren't called to do things.  Not in the least.  And I guess the folks wondering about discipleship missed that part about imitating the Leader, but I think that's a bit beside the point.

Look.  I stand by what I say.  Christianity isn't about what we do.  It's about what God has done.

I mean, first of all, Christianity isn't simply an ethical path.  Jesus wasn't some kind of mystical sage full of wisdom.  Nearly all of His teachings are found in the Old Testament.  Yours truly is absolutely astounded when I hear folks say, "We don't follow the Old Testament law anymore."

Really?  So, you mean the idea of loving your neighbor as yourself is something you don't follow anymore?

"That's different.  Jesus told His followers to do that."

You mean, Jesus quoted the Old Testament in regards to that.  Check Leviticus 19:18 out.

In fact, it could be argued that Jesus is speaking about the Natural Law here.  This particular teaching is found in just about EVERY code of ethics around the world and is central to just about EVERY religion.  Jesus is saying nothing new-at all.  And if He is just one of many other types of teachers of morality; well, then there is really nothing special about Him.  That's just the facts.  So, yes, Jesus did talk about how we should live with one another, but there was nothing particularly special about that teaching when compared to other cultures and religions.  (Check C.S. Lewis' commentary about this in Mere Christianity.)

Secondly, if you think you are really a disciple of Jesus and you are gung ho about doing what Jesus says and you think you have the moral authority to tell everyone what it really means to follow Him correctly (by doing this and not doing that), well, then I first challenge you to accomplish that top 10 list I posted in my blog, but if that isn't good enough I'll only ask you to do one other thing.  It's a simple matter really, because Jesus actually said there was one thing we couldn't do and still be His disciple:

So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.  Luke 14:33

There are no exegetical gymnastics to get you out of that one.  This is indeed a direct translation of the koine Greek.  There are no textual variants.  You could argue that Jesus was simply talking to His immediate disciples, but what is to prevent anyone from saying that about ALL of Jesus' teachings?

IF CHRISTIANITY IS ABOUT WHAT YOU DO, YOU CANNOT BE A CHRISTIAN IF YOU HAVE POSSESSIONS at least according to what Jesus teaches--yeah, that same Jesus that teaches us an awful lot about how we are supposed to interact with God and with our neighbor.

Enter GRACE.  Christianity is about what God has done.

We know what the right thing to do is.

We can't do it.

God takes care of matters on the cross.

We try to accomplish whatever we can out of love--and love doesn't say, "YOU CAN'T DO THIS!!"

Love says, "I love you anyway.  I give you your inheritance anyway even though I am still alive.  I come running to you anyway when you return home.  I invite you to the party anyway even though you have shamed me.  And I will keep letting you go; I will keep running to you; I will keep inviting you even though you keep messing up.  I will rejoice when you do things according to my will, but I will not punish you because you cannot achieve perfection.  You are my child, and you will always be."

Yeah, that's what God has done and is doing.  Only that kind of love can change a person...

Only the love of God can change a person...

Nothing we do can.

*I am reframing the original comments and putting them into question form.  Believe me, some of the comments weren't as nice as the questions.  :-)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Being Humbled

One of the most influential videos I have watched recently is a speech Timothy Keller gave on doing evangelism in a postmodern/post-Christian context.  Amongst the many important things he says in his presentation, a very important topic arises at the 1:01:00 mark: humility.

Keller argues that for Christians to truly make an impact in our society today, we must be humbled before God so that God can actually use us.

Keller draws from Jonah and then again from St. Paul--God's power is made manifest in our weakness.  Essentially, it boils down to one particular facet: we will not be effective communicators of the Gospel if we think we somehow are morally, intellectually, faithfully, or what have you better than others.  If we somehow think we are Super-Christians, we will not be effective in doing effective evangelism in this day and age.

Sure, I know there is a strain of Christianity which gets a lot of attention--the prosperity gospel folks--you know, the folks who teach that if one is faithful enough; gives enough; does just the right amount of things; then God will bless them with health, wealth, and wisdom.  These folks get plenty of air time because they have the funds available to get their message out there, and their teaching garners plenty of attention.  Yet, in all reality, they are very much a minority in the Christian landscape.  They attract a number of people, but not an overwhelming amount.  There are always folks attracted to "Superpreachers."

But those numbers will dwindle.  When those "Superpreachers" are shown to have clay feet, their flocks disperse.  It has happened before.  It will happen again.

But it's not just with the "Superpreachers."  It's also with the "SuperChristians."  When I post this label, I am caricaturing--which is not necessarily helpful, but somewhat necessary in this case.  What do I mean by "SuperChristians?"  Those Christians who willfully try to tell everyone just exactly how to live their lives; what everyone should do; what everyone should say.

Yours truly was there not too long ago.  In some ways, I'm still there, although I've received a major jolt--although I'm not sure whether or not it was God's way of humbling me completely.  There may still be more to come.

Before I went through burnout, I thought it was my job to tell folks what they should be doing.  "You've got to be a disciple!  You've got to make things happen in your life!  You've got to treat your neighbor in a certain fashion!  You've got to walk a certain moral standard!  You've got to try and implement the teachings of Jesus!  You've got to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God!"  Yeah, I did that.  I even tried it, and I failed.  My clay feet crumbled when I had worked diligently to lead my congregation through a decision made at the national church level.  I wanted to avoid losing members over the ordeal.  I wanted to keep folks from feeling like they couldn't worship with others who disagreed with them.  I tried to carry the congregation through it and keep them together.  Didn't work.  Within a short period of time, we lost several folks who I had spent a lot of time and energy working with.  The effect brought me to my knees. 

It's taken quite a bit of time to find healing, and that healing coincided with a hefty dose and reminder of the reality of grace. 

I know now it is not my job to hold a congregation together.
It's not my job to make people behave.
It's not my job to make people do the things Jesus called us to do.
It's not my job to make people put money in the offering plate.
It's not my job to tell people what they should or should not say.

It is my job to proclaim the Gospel.
It is my job to tell folks what God has done for them.
It is my job to imitate Christ to the best of my ability--even though I fall far short.
It is my job while imitating Christ to show His love to others even when I disagree with them.
It is my job to stop trying to think I have more wisdom, more morality, more insight into what it means to live the perfect life and instead simply know Christ crucified.

If people hear the Gospel and understand God's love for them, then the rest follows.  I do not believe people will hear the Gospel if I stand before them and say, "Be like me.  I'm doing it right." 

I do believe people hear, "I'm broken.  Don't look to me.  Look to Christ.  His grace is sufficient for you just like it is sufficient for me."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

There are Certain Things...(Part 4)

Which put life into perspective.

Such things make you think really hard about reality and how you put into practice the faith of Christ.

A Family Affair

One of the huge blessings in my life the past two years has been taking a week off following Christmas to visit with my parents and go hunting with my dad.  Prior to last year, it had almost been 10 years since I'd taken the time to hunt with my father, and after last year's trip, I decided to make it a yearly occurrence.

There is something wholesome about the relationships you foster with your parents and grandparents, especially as you get older.  After wading through the early years, the torturous teens, and the know it all college years, a person finally gets to the point where he or she truly realizes the wisdom one's parents and other relatives have.  I personally am enjoying the time I get to soak in their wisdom and listen to their stories--and realize just how much I am a product of their teaching and rearing.

This was really rammed home once again as my dad and I talked about our teenage years.  I personally didn't do much of the party scene whenever I was in high school.  Didn't drink.  Didn't do drugs.  Didn't sleep around.  No judgment on my peers who did--there really wasn't much at all to do in the town in which I grew up.  That scene just wasn't for me.

I found out that my dad was very much the same way.  He didn't engage in much of that activity while growing up either.  And it even went further.

Confession time: I have never been too good with reading those little hints members of the opposite sex send my way.  I don't pick up on flirtatious cues.  I don't notice such things--at all.  In order for a gal to get my attention, she's got to literally smack me up beside the head (read: be so obvious about her intentions, I can't miss it).  My wife was pretty obvious when we started dating, and look where we ended up.  :-)

Found out my dad was exactly the same way.  "Sometimes a week or so would go by and then I'd realize, 'Gee, I missed an opportunity to go parking and make out.'"

The apple didn't fall very far from the tree.

Intriguing, to say the least.

But it goes further.  Lots further.

In my talks with my grandfather (mom's dad), I found out some very intriguing things as well.  Grandpa, in his years of pastoring, was happiest when serving rural congregations.  He gardened, hunted, collected rocks and Native American relics (two out of three ain't bad).  He also had quite the disdain for gathering at "clergy conferences" (see deaneries).  He was stubborn and hard headed about his beliefs and uncompromising when it came to his understanding of the Gospel.  (Good Lord, reincarnation happens before death!!!)

But it goes further.  Lots further.

I found out once from my grandmother (dad's mom) that my grandfather (dad's dad) hoped at least one of his grandchildren would become a pastor.  The lot apparently fell on me.  Is it any wonder several very formative faith stories include this family member?

My dad is also very, very spiritual.  He and the Lord speak regularly.  He told me the Lord said I would be a pastor one day.

In my opinion, one could look at these things in a couple of different ways:

1. Everything was completely planned out and I have absolutely no control over who I am and what I have become.  Everything is completely determined and free will is absent.  I am simply doing what others along the way decided I would do.  I am nothing more than a robot simply acting out commands programed into me by family, genetics, with a touch of God mixed in.


2. The influence of one's family cannot be ignored.  It shapes us tremendously, and it equips us in a certain fashion.  At some point, we have the ability to realize just how influential our families have been, and we have the choice to continue in that vein or change.  We have the ability to see and then say, "This is where I want to stay and who I want to be."  And when it comes to the faith we had passed down to us, we can say, "Yes, this is right." or "No, this is not where I want to be."

At some point, I believe every person must come to "know thyself."  Every person must become self aware in the sense that he or she realizes why he or she does the things done.  Every person must delve into asking "Why do I do the things I do?"  Such knowledge helps a person make better decisions; control impulses; and handle problems through thought instead of simple reaction.

We learn most of our ways of handling things in our families.  But eventually, we must make them our own.  Family affairs are just the beginning.  In life and in faith.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Foolishness of Grace

    St. Paul says, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

    When I was young, I stumbled upon Greek and Norse mythology.  I loved it.  I was enamored with the stories about the gods who lived on Mount Olympus or in Asgard.  I read about the exploits of Zeus, Hera, Ares, Hermes, and all the other Greek gods.  I loved the tales of the demi-gods Theseus, Perseus, Hercules, and others.  Their uncommon strength and power made me imagine that I too was stronger than others and capable of doing heroic things.  I’d imagine myself taking on 12 tasks that required all my great strength or battling mythic monsters.

    Or, I’d imagine myself wielding Mjolnir, the mythical hammer of Thor.  I’d imagine myself fighting frost giants and soaring into the air sending lightning bolts into my enemies.  I’d imagine having to deal with the mischievousness of Loki or overseeing all of the realms as did Odin.  These stories fascinated me.  Why?

    Because of the power these gods wielded.  They were powerful.  Nothing seemingly could defeat them.  They conquered in battle.  They had their way with less powerful beings.  In fact, the idea of a god taking on human flesh was not unique to Christianity.  The Greeks had myths about such things happening long, long before the faith called Christianity or the birth of Christ.

    But there is an important difference between Greek mythology and Christianity–a very important difference.  Nowhere in Greek mythology does a god come to earth in self-sacrificial terms.  Nowhere in Greek mythology or Norse mythology does a god come to earth to offer himself or herself for the sake of others.  In almost every case the gods come down to partake of something they desire for themselves; never do they come down for the sake of the world.  And they certainly do not die for the world.  The gods of Greek and Norse mythology are all about power; rarely do they ever come to serve, and they certainly do not die for us.

    This is one of the reasons the message about the cross was seen as absolute foolishness.  No one would believe that God would come to earth and die.  No one.  The Greeks had their myths, and their gods didn’t die.  The Jews believed in an Almighty God who was one; who was immortal; who was beyond the earth; who was all powerful; and that God would not die either.  It was humankind who had to work hard to earn the favor of God.  We had to strive to do the right things or face God’s wrath.  That was the way things worked.  It was the way things had always worked.  To claim anything else was utter foolishness.

    I mean, who in the world would ever think that God would take on flesh?  Who would ever think that God would take on mortality?  Who would ever think that God would impose upon Himself such limitations?  How dare anyone thing that God could catch a cold?  Or have to feed Himself?  Or have to have parents who cared for Him as an infant changing His diapers?  Who would dare to think that God would suffer from heat exhaustion, or hunger, or thirst?  Who would dare to claim that God suffered pain or sadness?  Such things were almost beyond human comprehension.

    And it would be utter foolishness to claim that God would die.  God doesn’t die.  God is immortal.  God is all powerful and all knowing.  Such a being is beyond death–beyond the limits of our physical capability or incapability. 

    Push that a little further and try to grasp the idea that God would die so that humankind might live.  Now, we’ve entered into a whole new realm.  This idea is so far-fetched, it’s quite amazing.  But is it?

    Just this last week, I was asked by one of my children, “Dad, why did God die?”  Yeah, try answering that question for a five year old. 

    I responded, “Let's pretend for a minute.  Let's say that Daddy told you not to drink Dr. Pepper and play with his Kindle at the same time.  But, one day, you decided to do that."

    "I'd NEVER do that!"

    "I know, but let's pretend.  Let's pretend that you did anyway, and you spilled Dr. Pepper on my Kindle. 
The Kindle got broke and wouldn't work anymore.  Could you fix it?"


    "Who would buy me a new one, then?"

    "I would."

    "Do you have any money to do that?  Could you buy it for me?"

    "No.  I couldn't."

    "But someone has to pay for it?  Who else could pay for it?"

    "You could."

    "That's right.  I could, and I would.  But I would still have to pay for it.  If something gets broken, it has to be fixed, and somebody has to pay for it.  If you can't pay for it, I can, and I can forgive you.  That's what God did on the cross."


    "Adam and Eve broke the relationship with God."

    "How'd they do that?"

    "They didn't listen to God, and they didn't trust God."


    "And when they didn't listen to God and trust God, it allowed all the bad stuff to happen in the world.  It allowed death; it allowed pain; it allowed sickness.  It was bad.  And the punishment had to fit the crime.  Adam and Eve couldn't fix it.  We can't fix it.  Adam and Eve couldn't pay for it.  We can't pay for it.  So, who had to pay for it?"


    "That's right.  God."

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all 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 so that the world may be saved through Him.

    And here’s the icing on the cake.  God died and doesn’t demand that we change.  God died for you and me and then says, “I have shown you how much I love you.  I have prepared a place for you.  Now, it’s up to you how you choose to live your life.  You can continue to do the same things you did before.  You can continue to rebel against me and seek your own self-interest above the interest of your neighbor.  Or, you can spend the rest of your life in thanksgiving for what I have done and seeking to love me and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

    What foolishness!

    Imagine God saying such a thing!  I mean, in our society today, we know how it really works.  We have to pass laws restricting people.  We have to come up with all sorts of punishments to make sure people fear breaking the law.  If you step out of line, well, then you will face the consequences.  Keep people in fear, and they will toe the line.  Force them to care for one another.  Force them to pay to take care of the poor.  Force them to buy certain cars and light bulbs.  Force them to respect their neighbor’s property.  Keep them fear-full.  It’s the only way to make change happen.

    You certainly cannot allow them freedom.  You certainly cannot love them first and expect them to change because of that love.  You can’t expect them to change because someone would be willing to serve them and love them first.  That is utter and complete foolishness... those who are perishing.  But for those of us who have experienced the grace of God; for those of us who know the message of the cross; for those of us who know Christ died for us and freed us from the wrath of God; this is how we Live God’s Word Daily.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

10 Things You Can't Say or Do or Believe or Whatever While Following Jesus

I've seen this article 10 Things You Can't SAY While Following Jesus numerous times.  There's a couple of others this particular author has written in the same vein of thought.  There are other bloggers who have given their lists of things Christians should or shouldn't say as well.  Most of the battles we fight in the name of Christ center on the things we are SUPPOSED to DO or SAY.  By God, if you say these things or do these things, then you aren't a Christian!  Well, at least that's the implication.  Because, even though not explicitly stated, the logic goes:

These are 10 things you can't say while following Jesus.
If you say these things, then you aren't following Jesus.

What is at the heart of these lists?  What do they really promote?

Yours truly sees them as another incarnation of works/righteousness.  Yours truly sees them as attempts--sometimes good ones--to come up with a list of behaviors which if followed will draw people to the Church; will draw people to God--if others see us behaving in just the right way and saying the right things, then they will come to believe in God and our pews will be full and we will have another Great Awakening in the American Christianity.

If we do the right things, then we will receive the blessings.

But that's not how it works.

You see, I'll give you a quick 10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus--all taken from Jesus' sermon on the mount.  Let's see how well you do in mastering this list:

1. You can't be angry with a "brother or sister."  (Matthew 5:22)
2. You can't look at another person and have sexual thoughts about that person.  (Matthew 5:28)
3. You can't swear.  (Matthew 5:34)
4. You can't resist an evildoer (murderer, rapist, mugger, etc.) (Matthew 5:39)
5. You can't have any hatred toward someone you consider an enemy.  (Matthew 5:44)
6. You can't be imperfect. (Matthew 5:48)
7. You can't let anyone (including the IRS) know you've given to charity. (Matthew 6:3-4)
8. You can't save up wealth (for retirement or children or anything else.) (Matthew 6:19)
9. You can't worry. (Matthew 6:31)
10. You can't seek anything but the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33)

How's that?  Did you do well?  Kind of puts all those other top 10 lists to shame because this list is straight from the Master Himself.  And if you are like me, you haven't accomplished a single one of them.  You may have a few moments from time to time of accomplishing them, but invariably, you will break each and every one of them over and over and over again.

Does this mean you don't follow Jesus?  Does this mean if you were able to actually do these things, people would be attracted to God through you?  No.  Not in the least.

Christianity isn't about what you do or don't do!

Wait.  That needs more emphasis.



There, I feel better.

Christianity is about recognizing that we miss the mark.  We don't have all the answers.  We don't measure up to the standards of Jesus.

Yet, "God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."

This is the core of what Christianity is about.  It's about grace.  In fact, when you know you don't measure up, it doesn't surprise you that you say the wrong things; you do the wrong things; you miss opportunities.  You realize you are sinful; you realize your weakness; you realize God uses that weakness to ram home His message of grace.

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

If you wish to get caught up in all the 10 Things You Can't Say While Following Jesus or the 10 Things You Can't Believe About Christmas or the 10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus, then I'd suggest you've missed the point about Christianity. 

Rethink grace.  Rethink God's love for you.  Then ponder how you may be called to share that love with others--without lists but instead with a Leader you are called to imitate.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Conversation with my Son

He's five, mind you.

Sunday evening, my son and I drove to meet my wife and my daughters in Brenham.  They attended a birthday party by invitation.  The boy and I got to hang out and do guy things: shoot guns, bows and arrows, play video games, and then ride in my Mustang GT.

On the way home, Kevin, Jr. asked, "Daddy, why did God die?"

Five years old.  I thought to myself, "O.K. hotshot.  Get your way out of this one."

"Kevin, let's pretend for a minute.  Let's say that Daddy told you not to drink Dr. Pepper and play with his Kindle at the same time.  But, one day, you decided to do that."

"I'd NEVER do that!"

"I know, son, but let's pretend.  Let's pretend that you did anyway, and you spilled Dr. Pepper on my Kindle.  The Kindle got broke and wouldn't work anymore.  Could you fix it?"


"Who would buy me a new one, then?"

"I would."

"Do you have any money to do that?  Could you buy it for me?"

"No.  I couldn't."

"But someone has to pay for it?  Who else could pay for it?"

"You could."

"That's right.  I could, and I would.  But I would still have to pay for it.  If something gets broken, it has to be fixed, and somebody has to pay for it.  If you can't pay for it, I can, and I can forgive you.  That's what God did on the cross."


"Adam and Eve broke the relationship with God."

"How'd they do that?"

"They didn't listen to God, and they didn't trust God."


"And when they didn't listen to God and trust God, it allowed all the bad stuff to happen in the world.  It allowed death; it allowed pain; it allowed sickness.  It was bad.  And the punishment had to fit the crime.  Adam and Eve couldn't fix it.  We can't fix it.  Adam and Eve couldn't pay for it.  We can't pay for it.  So, who had to pay for it?"


"That's right.  God."


Monday, January 20, 2014

Behold the Lamb of God!

    John the Baptist cried out, “Behold, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

   Recently, I watched a debate on Youtube between an atheist philosopher and a Christian apologist.  The conversation was fascinating as these two gentlemen outlined their reasons for belief and non-belief.  Particularly fascinating was one of the arguments the philosopher made against Christianity.  I will paraphrase what was said and will not get the quote exact.

    “I don’t find the idea of taking another’s punishment too satisfactory,” the philosopher said.  “Let’s say we travel back in time when caning was considered a legitimate type of punishment.  We know that’s pretty barbaric now, but let’s just ride with it for the sake of argument.  Let’s say a boy gets caught doing something in a class, and he is going to be caned for breaking the rule.  There is a girl in the class who decides she can take the punishment and that she’s been good enough for one reason or another.  She tells the teacher she volunteers to take the boy’s place.  The teacher, for one reason or another, doesn’t care who he canes, so the teacher accepts the proposal.  The girl gets caned for the boy and everyone is satisfied.  That doesn’t seem like too compelling an argument for me.”

    Unfortunately, because of the limitations of the debate, the Christian apologist isn’t allowed to respond in full.  He only gets one statement in, “Arguments from analogy tend to fall short.”  I wish he’d of had more time to expand on that thought.  I’d have loved to hear his response.  Because I’d love to hear how it matches up with my own.  For if I were engaged in that debate and had the opportunity to follow up on the philosopher’s comment, I would have said thus:

    I actually agree with you that your analogy isn’t exactly satisfying.  It doesn’t grab one’s attention too well, and it certainly makes a mockery out of justice–at least in the form in which you presented it.  But I will hold your analogy.  I won’t change the basic story.  I would simply like to add to it.

    Let’s add the fact that the girl in the story has loved the boy who was caught breaking the rule for a long, long time.  For years, she had a crush on him, and she willingly made her intentions known to him.  She told him over and over of her love.  She would make him gifts.  She would help him at various times and places. 

    The boy was rather wishy-washy.  At times, he would welcome the girl’s advances.  At times, he would reciprocate her love.  But more often than not, another girl would catch his attention, and he would go flying off.   He’d come back from time to time, and the girl who loved him always took him back hoping he’d stay with her for good.  Yet it never seemed to take place.  The boy never could fully commit to the girl. 

    The girl’s friends mocked her.  “You could do better.  Forget that boy, he isn’t good enough for you.  Give up on him.  Find a better boy.”  But the girl refused to do such a thing.  Even though it made perfect sense to find someone else, her heart was consumed for love of this boy.

    And so, when the boy was caught and would suffer caning, dreadful thoughts entered the girl’s head.  She couldn’t bear the thought of her love suffering all that pain and agony.  She couldn’t bear the thought of him having to go through that ordeal.  She volunteered to take his place.  She pleaded with the teacher until he relented.  “But I won’t take it easy on you,” he said. 

    “I wouldn’t expect you to,” she replied.

    When her friends found out what she would do, they thought her absolutely mad.  “Why in the world are you doing this?  Why would you put yourself through all that pain and agony?  You are certifiable!  He absolutely, positively isn’t worth this.”  Others just shook their heads in bewilderment.

    “But I love him,” was all the girl could say.

    The boy, for his part was quite leery of his impending punishment.  He wasn’t altogether sure he could withstand caning.  He had bragged to others about how strong he was and how he’d never scream or cry out.  But he had seen others caned.  He knew how even the strongest would end up screaming in agony begging the punisher to stop.  Dread started to fill his heart as the day drew nigh for his sentence to be carried out.

    But then, he heard the news.  He would receive no punishment.  Someone had volunteered to take his place.  Sighs of relief, but also a new sense: a sense of wonderment.  Who would take his place?  Who had volunteered to receive the punishment due for him?

    The day of the sentence came, and the boy heard the cries of agony as the caning took place.  The smacks of the cane resounded through the schoolyard.  Soon, it was class time.  All the students headed to their respective rooms, and when the boy entered, he saw the girl sitting hunched over in pain.  He saw the red streaks of blood seeping through her shirt.  He then knew who volunteered to take his punishment–the one who had professed her love to him time and time again.  A love that he had played and toyed with but had never fully reciprocated.

    At this point, I would pause for dramatic effect.  I would shift in my seat and look at the audience in full.  Then, I would continue letting every word sink in:

    That boy now has a choice.  A very important choice.  He can simply walk away from the situation.  He can thumb his nose at what that girl did for him and continue to do the same sorts of things he did before.  Or, he can truly recognize this girl’s tremendous love for him.  He can recognize the pain and suffering she undertook for him simply because she loved him.  He can recognize he didn’t deserve what she did for him, and he can ponder all those times he let her down by playing with her and then chasing after other girls.  He can realize his wrongs and then spend every day giving thanks to that girl for what she did for him and committing himself to loving her as much as she loved him.

    That kind of love has a deep affect on people.  It’s the kind of love God has for you and for me.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that all 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 so that the world may be saved through Him.

    “Behold!  Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

    Jesus took your sin.  Jesus took your place.  Jesus took your punishment.  How you respond is how you choose to Live God’s Word Daily.  Amen.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

If They Found the Bones of Jesus (Part 2)

Further thoughts about why I would cease to call myself a Christian if the bones of Jesus were found:

Christianity is not a system of morals.

Let me be very careful here.  Christianity does have a moral component.  There is no doubt about that.  We are called to live a certain way individually and corporately.  We are called to a high standard of living with one another.  Jesus outlines this very, very clearly.

But much of what Jesus taught was not new.  Even the command to love one's neighbor as one's self was quoted from the Old Testament and is found in some form or fashion in just about every world religion and culture.  Many of the great moral teachers taught the same thing as Jesus.  In fact, this is one of those arguments used by atheists to diminish the Christian worldview.

If Christianity were just one more attempt to teach the world morality, then if they found the bones of Jesus, I could easily continue to call myself a Christian without any sort of intellectual problem.

But Christianity goes much further than simply being a moral system.  It goes much further than simply being a system of justice.  Christianity is about God's reconciliation of the world unto Himself.

Without the resurrection, the proclamation of Christianity falls short.  There is no reconciliation.  There's just one more dead wanna be Messiah.

Without the resurrection, we are still under the Old Covenant with its legal code.  Either become Jewish and work to follow the law or one is screwed.  And then those sticky questions arise as to whether or not one can be a gentile convert to Judaism or if one can only be a "God-fearer."

Without the resurrection, grace is essentially null and void.  It's right back to works/righteousness.  And hey, I've already figured out, I don't even come close.

Without the resurrection, I'm toast.

Might as well enjoy what I can.

But if Christ is raised from the dead...

Well, that changes everything.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

If Someone Found the Bones of Jesus

Recently I read and heard a few comments regarding whether or not one would continue to be a Christian if "someone found the bones of Jesus."

Interestingly enough, most of the commentary I read/heard said, "I would still be a Christian."

I pondered this deeply.

Would I still consider myself to be a Christian?

No.  I wouldn't.

My life would change drastically if I found out that Jesus was not raised from the dead.

I would find a better paying job.

I wouldn't give to the church anymore.

I'd do less giving to help my fellow men.

I wouldn't concern myself so much with what was happening to others.  I'd be looking out for myself, my family, and the people I liked.

I wouldn't concern myself as much with trying to be a "better" person.

I know the responding argument.  "Don't you want to be a good person for the sake of the good?"

I've read too much.

I've studied too much.

If there is no God, there are no universals.  If there is no God, there is no ultimate good.  Nietzsche was right.  Some folks might want to deny this, but, really it's true.  The reality for us--if there is no God--is that we will all end up dust at one point or another.  Several billion years from now, the planet will be burned up to a crisp.  Whether it happens sooner or later, it matters not.  Might as well enjoy life while you are here and indulge.  This is all there is.

I'm not the only one who feels this way.  St. Paul put it clearly and succinctly in his first letter to the Corinthians:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied...

 If the dead are not raised,
‘Let us eat and drink,
   for tomorrow we die.’ 

Paul was a realist.  He knew what the resurrection meant.  It meant everything.  Without it, he said the only response was "eat and drink for tomorrow we die."

The resurrection changes everything.  Without it, who cares?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

There are Certain Things...Part 3

Which put life into perspective.

There are certain things which make you really, really think about the faith which you purport to have.

Internet Arguing

I really should stay away from internet message boards.  I really should.

You see, I suffer from an interminable desire to be right.  I suffer from an interminable desire to get the last word in.  I suffer from an interminable belief that I have the rhetorical skills and debate ability to sway anyone and everyone to my particular perspective.  I suffer an interminable belief that if everyone just listened to what I had to say, then everything would turn out for the better.

In face to face conversation, these desires and beliefs get beaten back into submission.  I am rather able to handle myself.

But when I get into an internet's not necessarily pretty.

And if I engage someone who is just like's downright nasty.

Such a thing happened recently as I engaged a particular person on a Lutheran message board run by Thrivent.

The guy was just like me: arrogant, brash, thinking he had all the answers, thinking he knew exactly what was Lutheran and what wasn't.  Any wonder why we ended up clashing?

We met head on in a discussion (read argument, fight) on the Third Use of the Law.  If you are really kind of sadistic and enjoy delving into Lutheran theology which evolved out of the Reformation, you can read all about it in the Book of Concord

Basically, the argument boiled down to whether or not a Christian has any free will in following the commands God/Jesus give to us or whether or not we are mere "puppets."

There are some purists who believe every good work is done exclusively by God and humans have absolutely no say so in whether or not we can even do a good work.

The logic is pretty straight forward:

If we are capable of doing good works (following the Law), then we could do enough good works to save ourselves.  If we are capable of saving ourselves, we have no need of Jesus.  Not needing Jesus nullifies grace and God's action on the cross and renders it needless.  Therefore, we cannot do any good works ourselves and everything that is good is done exclusively by God and not by ourselves.  We have no control over the good works we do and no free will.

If you actually took time to read the Book of Concord piece, you will see that orthodox Lutherans reject this thought.  They (and I) believe there is no good work we can accomplish which will attain salvation.  In fact, when confronted with the good works necessary to live the life God demands--i.e. the Law, we recognize our sin and our need for the Gospel (the second use of the Law).   The first use of the Law is a curb on sin--if I break the Law, then I will be punished.

The Third use of the Law comes after one knows one is saved by grace.  One then engages following the Law not because one wants to obtain salvation or fears punishment--such a thing is no longer necessary--however, one follows the Law out of obedience to Christ in joyful thanksgiving for what He has done.

Boiling it down in other words (hopefully understandable and not too heady):

We have no free will as to whether or not God saves us.  We cannot influence Him with any sort of goodness.  God takes care of our salvation.  Period.

We do have free will to reject that salvation AND to engage in doing good works for God's sake and not for our own.

A full reading of Martin Luther's writings exposes this, and he summed it up in his work "Concerning Christian Liberty."

"Here is the truly Christian life, here is faith working by love, when a man applies himself with joy and love to the works of that freest servitude in which he serves others voluntarily and for nought, himself abundantly satisfied in the fullness and riches of his own faith."

We are no mere puppets when it comes to the acting out of our faith.  We can choose good.  We can choose evil.  We can reject God's grace and walk away from Him.

I know I'm right about this.

But a lot of good it did trying to actually discuss (read: argue/fight) it.

Not too many people actually change their minds because of a discussion on an internet discussion board.

It's pretty stupid to continue to try.

I should probably stop posting.

Not likely.

Like the moth to the candle....

Monday, January 13, 2014

Identity Crisis

I believe the culture we live in likes ambiguity.

I believe the culture we live in does not like certainty on one level--even though it craves it on another.

In some ways, I think the culture we live in swings back and forth between the extremes.

It wants something certain to hold onto, but when it finds someone or something that believes it is certain, it will try to rip it to shreds (See Robinson, Phil.)

I understand why there is motivation to keep ambiguity.  History is replete with examples of people and groups who believe they have the absolute truth, and they use that certainty to do great harm to others.  Without certainty, at least as the hypothesis goes, folks won't harm others.  Of course, one must then ask the question: should one be absolutely certain that having ambiguity is a good thing?  (See the trap?)

Setting this aside for just a moment, let's talk about identity.  How does one "know thyself?"  How does one know one's own identity?  Can anyone be certain about one's identity?

Personally, I hope one can.  Individually, we must have some certainty about who we are and what we believe.  I am Kevin Haug.  I was born in Texas.  I am a pastor.  I am a Christian.  I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of all.   I believe it is through Jesus we have salvation.  I believe Jesus is the only way to salvation.

A few of these things are innocuous in and of themselves.  A few of them could get me in trouble depending upon which circles I travel in.  I am certain about all of them.  Do you see me going around bashing people who don't believe in Jesus?



Because of another certainty: Jesus says, "Pray for your enemies.  Bless those who persecute you."  Jesus also asks His followers to imitate Him.  While I'm not quite as far along as Jesus is, Jesus died for His enemies saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

At the heart of my faith is someone who died for others who really didn't like Him, and if I am certain I am called to do likewise, then I can't, in good conscience, bash someone who doesn't believe as I do.  I am called to love and forgive them.  Certainty is not a bad thing.  The things you are certain about can be.

Why all this talk about certainty?

I believe people are attracted to people/institutions who have a very defined identity.  This means, they are certain about who they are, what they believe, and what they are supposed to do.  Of course, these identities differ from person to person and institution to institution.  There's really nothing wrong with that until people and/or institutions start damaging others over those differences.

People/Institutions begin having serious problems when identity is lacking.  Institutions are particularly vulnerable when they seek to accommodate all people and all beliefs.

I think this is part of the larger issue in the ELCA, the denomination of which I am a part.  If you read through our social statements; if you read through many of our decisions as a church; if you peruse the dialogue held by people; you will NOT get a sense of a shared identity.  You will NOT get a sense of this denomination knowing with any kind of certainty what we believe and profess.  Oh, you might get one or two things that we agree upon--I don't know of any ELCA pastor who doesn't adhere to the statement "Jesus is Lord."  I don't know of any pastor who minimizes the importance of the Sacraments.  I don't know of anyone who minimizes the concept of grace.   But the devil is often in the details.  Try to deduce what it means that Jesus is Lord.  Does that mean universal salvation for all--even those who reject God?  There will not be uniform answers.  As per the Sacraments--commune the unbaptized as Christian tradition?  Again, no uniformity.  The relationship between grace and works--do we have free will?  Again, lots of play here.

Even in some of the basics--we adhere to the three ecumenical creeds and to the Lutheran Confessions, but practically, we don't.  There are more than a few articles in the Confessions we don't follow.  Our practice does not meet our stated belief.  That's problematic.

Need any sort of proof that we in the ELCA don't have any sort of common understanding of at least one particular belief:

Heaven and Hell

I don’t know that the ELCA has an “official” theological position on heaven or hell other than the Lutheran church affirms the power of the resurrection for eternal life. - See more at:
I don’t know that the ELCA has an “official” theological position on heaven or hell other than the Lutheran church affirms the power of the resurrection for eternal life. - See more at:
I don’t know that the ELCA has an “official” theological position on heaven or hell other than the Lutheran church affirms the power of the resurrection for eternal life. - See more at:
I don’t know that the ELCA has an “official” theological position on heaven or hell other than the Lutheran church affirms the power of the resurrection for eternal life. - See more at:
I don't know that the ELCA has an "official" theological position on heaven and hell...

I think it's fair to say that the ELCA's "official" position is that heaven and hell exist.

So, what is the person who actually asked the question about whether heaven and hell exist to think? 

I know what I would think.  I would think, this denomination doesn't know what is believes and what it doesn't believe.  It doesn't know where it stands.

A far, far cry from the Reformer of whom the church takes its name.

It's a problem.  A big problem.

No common understanding translates into no common identity.  No common identity leaves those who are looking for answers as to what we believe quite confused and unsure about where we stand on anything.

And we wonder why the denomination is fading fast?

Be a Witness

    Long ago, when I was in high school, I actually had the privilege of having my dad teach me Algebra, Physics, Chemistry, and Pre-Calculus.  I know I am biased, but my dad was a very good teacher.  I learned a lot from him.  But there was one thing which rather upset me at the time.  Dad wouldn’t help me with my homework at home.  If I had a question about anything, I was required to go to his class during study hall.  He just wouldn’t help me at home.  It was rather frustrating!  Why would my dad do this to me?  Why would he make me go to study hall to get help?  He was right there!  It didn’t seem fair. 

    But, let’s think about this for just a moment.  Let’s think about why my dad did what he did.  Let’s think about what is and isn’t fair.  And let’s think about it by asking this question: Did Jesus need to be baptized?  Ponder that for just a moment.  Did Jesus need to be baptized?
    The obvious answer is “No.”  I mean John the Baptist is blunt when Jesus shows up to be baptized.  John looks Jesus straight in the eye and says, ““I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 

    Jesus is God incarnate–the fully human, fully divine Son of God.  God doesn’t need to be baptized–at all.  God doesn’t need repentance or the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus is blameless before God and before humanity.  There is no need for him to go through this process.  At all.  Yet, Jesus shows up to be baptized by John, and Jesus makes John go through with it.  “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”   Why does Jesus demand to be baptized? 

    Let’s turn to the opening statement of our second lesson from the book of Acts.  Peter is addressing the household of Cornelius–a Gentile.  Please remember in the context of this time, Jews and Gentiles did not mix.  They were like oil and water.  Jews considered Gentiles unclean.  Peter had just had a vision in which a sheet was lowered out of heaven with all sorts of unclean animals on it.  God commanded Peter, “Get up. Kill and eat.”  Peter replied, “Nothing unclean has ever touched my lips.”  God said, “What I have called clean, do not call unclean.”Immediately after this vision, messengers from Cornelius arrived at Peter’s door.  They said Cornelius had received a command to contact Peter while praying.  Peter went to the household.  When he arrived, he found a group of God-fearing Gentiles who were receptive to the message of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit brought them to faith.

    Upon seeing this, St. Peter addresses the people who had gathered in the house, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  Now, we usually take this text and run with it and talk about how God doesn’t show any sort of favoritism based upon one’s cultural context, one’s gender, one’s sexuality, one’s skin color, or what have you.  There is nothing wrong with doing such a thing, but I think we need to push it farther.  We need to push God’s impartiality all the way through.  Even to His own Son who came to live among us.

            Why was Jesus baptized?  God shows no partiality.

    Why did my dad refuse to help me at home?  Dad shows no partiality.  Not all the students could access my dad as easy as I could.  It wasn’t fair to them if he helped me at home.  Dad wasn’t going to show favoritism.

    God wasn’t going to either, and this has some very important implications–some very important implications.  How so?

    Well, let’s think just a moment about what things might have looked like if God showed partiality.  Let’s think just a moment about what Jesus’ life might have looked like if God showered Him with favoritism as the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.

    Do you think Jesus would have been born in a stable?  Not hardly.

    Do you think Jesus would have been raised in a rather poor family and been taught the trade of carpentry–a trade considered very, very low on the social totem pole?  Probably not.

    Do you think Jesus would have lived for 30 years in relative obscurity with no one knowing much about Him?  Again, no.

    If God showed any sort of partiality, Jesus probably would have been born in a palace.  He would have had the best of wealth and privilege.  He would have eaten the finest foods, enjoyed the finest drink, gone to the finest schools and had the finest clothes.  He would have enjoyed all the best things the world had to offer and never had to deal with social outcasts and misfits.  Life would have always been grand and marvelous IF, IF God showed partiality to His Son.

    But God shows no partiality.  God shows no favoritism.  Even to His Son.

    And so Jesus was poor, like the vast majority of the world’s population.

    Jesus had to work, and His hands were calloused from the labor of carpentry–just like most people in the world have to work.

    Jesus was surrounded by ordinary people who did ordinary things and who eked out their living.  Jesus never had a place of wealth and privilege.  He was just like the vast majority of people who lived.

    And Jesus was not immune to suffering.  “God shows no partiality.”  If God showed favoritism, there wouldn’t have been a cross.  But there was.  There was a cross.  A horrible, bloody cross that Jesus hung upon.  Just as we suffer, Jesus suffered. 

    But there was more to Jesus’ suffering because He did not carry simply His own suffering.  It wasn’t just His pain He bore on the cross.  No.  “This is my Son,” God said at Jesus’ baptism, “with Him I am well pleased.”

    God’s Son sent to reconcile the world to God.  Jesus didn’t just hang on the cross experiencing His own suffering because He took upon Himself our suffering.  He took upon Himself our shame.  He took upon Himself our guilt.  He took upon Himself our sin.  He took upon Himself our pain. 

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all 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 so that the world might be saved through Him.

    Just as God showed no partiality in how Jesus lived, suffered, and died, so God will show no partiality in salvation.  “Because He lives, we shall live also” and “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    This is grace without partiality.  For you and for me and for all who call upon the name of Jesus.  And we are witnesses to this Grace.  We are witnesses to what God has done through Jesus Christ.  We are witnesses of how God did not even show favoritism to His own Son.  We are witnesses to the God who is not above suffering, but who suffered like us and who showed us what the final word will be.

    Is this news worth telling?  Is this grace worth sharing?  Do others need to hear about the God who suffers with them and promises them hope?  Is there any doubt about what we are called to do?  Live God’s Word Daily.  Be a witness.  Amen.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Intellectual Snobbery

Let's take a trip back in time--500 years or so.

A German monk worked diligently to translate the Bible into the German language believing each person should be able to access the Scriptures and read that which was written there; interpret what was written there; learn to think about God's Word for him/her self. 

The powers that be felt that this would be a horrendous step.  It would lead to multiple interpretations.  It would lead to questioning of Church doctrine.  It would lead to division.  They were right.  Right as rain.

But that German monk pressed on believing that getting the Word of God into everyone's hands was much more important.  There not need be any mediator between God's Word and people.  No preachers.  No theologians.  No scholars or professors.  The Holy Spirit would lead people to understand God's Word handed to them in their plain language.

That German monk was not the only one who pressed to have the Bible written in the language of the people.  Others set forth to produce the Bible in various translation.  Some were killed for their actions--see Tyndale.  Again, it was the powers that be which tried to prevent such actions.  Only those "qualified" to interpret the Bible should go about that business.  The rest of the folks should just listen to those learned "qualified" and implement what they said.  Chaos would rule if everyone was allowed to get their hands on the precious Scriptures.

Well, chaos indeed did erupt.  Multiple interpretations have arisen.  Division has become the rule. 

But I would not trade it.  Not for a second.  I, as Martin Luther, firmly believe the Holy Scriptures should be accessible for each and every Christian.  I believe there need not be a mediator to interpret the Bible correctly for a person or for a group of people.  I believe people who read the plain language of the text in whatever language those folks speak can come to understand the Gospel; understand who Jesus is; and get a sense of what how they are called to live in relationship to the God of grace.  It is part and parcel of the Lutheran heritage to which I belong.

I will take the division and chaos instead of having a certain group have a monopoly on Biblical interpreation.


Sin.  Pure and simple.  Sin.  Human self-centeredness ALWAYS impacts how we read the Bible--from the most learned scholar to those who are barely able to read.  Sin creeps into our interpretive methodologies and leads us astray no matter how pure our intentions may be.  The corrective to such sin is the mutual conversation and consolation of the bretheren.   (Matthew chapter 18 outlines how this takes place in the Church.)   It is our holding one another accountable for our interpretations which keeps us on the right track--even if we don't like hearing it from each other.

Despite this, I believe there is a growing trend in my own denomination which sets scholarship back on the pedestal it once had before the Reformation.  There are those who constantly refer to what "the scholars" tell us the Bible means instead of beginning with the plain language of the text.

This is why, oftentimes, some clergy are confronted by people who say they don't "preach from the Bible."  Or folks leave certain congregations and say that the church in which they now attend "preaches the Bible."  It's not that one church preaches from the Bible and the other doesn't.  No.  That's not what  is being said.  What is being said is, "This church over here preaches from the plain language of the text; you, on the other hand, preach what the scholars say the text means."  There is a big difference.  In one methodology, a person can argue with you based upon what the Bible says.  In the other methodology, a person has to read the scholars and argue about what they say instead of directly arguing about what the Bible itself says. 

To appeal to the scholars takes biblical interpretation out of the hands of the lay folks.  It also implies they are not qualified to interpret or engage in the interpretive process.  I recently read this in blatant fashion on a blog which I follow and which was later linked (in edited fashion) to the Living Lutheran website.   Mind you, I have no love lost for the preachers the author goes after.  But I take great umbrage with the following statement:

Powerful enough to actually believe that Living Proof Ministries would be an attractive name for a company that publishes “educational material” written by someone with no scholarly training in Biblical history or interpretation (that’s Beth Moore’s ministry outfit, in case you were wondering).

I need the living proof that she’s qualified to write material…

Let's travel further back in time.  Back to Jesus first.  Mark 6:

He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.

 Apparently, there were those who didn't think Jesus had the credentials to speak as He spoke.  He was not a recognized scholar, scribe, or Pharisee.  He didn't sit on the Sanhedrin.  The powers that be didn't like what He said.  It's no wonder.

Of course, after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples (apostles) and empowered them to preach and teach.  What were their credentials?  Were they "learned scholars" schooled in the ancient Hebrew and its teachings?  Were they teachers of the Law?

Not a chance.

Tax collectors.
Ordinary men and women.

These were the proclaimers of the Gospel.  These were the proclaimers of the resurrection.  These were those who became the earliest leaders of the Church--not because they had any sort of scholarly credentials, but because they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit!

As I read through the Bible...
As I look through Christian history and the Reformation...

I see no place for intellectual snobbery in the Church.  It's too damaging. 

This is why I fully agree with the above cited author's final comments.  May we all be able to say them truthfully:

Oh, and Father, forgive me, too.  This reluctant Christian is often just a little too proud in his thoughts.

So scatter my ego as well.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

There are Certain Things...Part 2

Which put life into perspective.

There are certain things which make one really think about this faith we are called to practice.

When to Draw the Line

I love helping others.

If you come ask me for help, you are almost guaranteed to get it--especially if it's your first time asking.

That's kind of standard here at the congregation I serve.

We have a Community Care Fund.  It was established long ago, and it was and is intended to help others within our congregation and outside of it.  We've had some very generous contributions to it, and so I don't hesitate when it comes to helping those in need.  That money is meant to be spent, and we do.  I cannot tell you how many people we have helped in the years I have been here, and it is gratifying to know we make a difference in the lives of others.

I've seen people break down in tears after receiving assistance.

And I've seen the other side as well--the people who take advantage of your generosity.

There comes a point and time when a line must be drawn, and it's hard to do so.

Over the span of three years, we have helped one particular lady over and over and over again.  Rental assistance.  Electric assistance.  Food.  Propane.

Recently, she was kicked out of her apartment for failing to pay rent.  She supposedly is about to receive disability.  She moved in with her mother into an old mobile home.

They ran out of propane.

They asked for help.  We did.

We got a call from the propane company shortly after we agreed to pay her bill.  The lady we were helping called them up and proceeded to chew them out because they hadn't filled her tank in what she thought was a timely manner.

My secretary apologized for the woman's actions.

I thought about this and then told my secretary, "Next time something like this happens, please respond, 'We aren't helping anyone because they are good.  We are helping because God is good.'"

It's the truth.  But if you read Scripture, even God has His limits.

Less than a month passed, and this woman returned asking for help filling her propane tank again.  She ran it dry.  Again.  This means the propane company has to run a test on her lines checking for leaks.  Again.  That costs extra money.  Again.

We know the mobile home isn't as air tight as it could be.  We know she'll run out quickly again.  Obviously, she doesn't know how to manage things either.

I told my secretary, "We won't fill the propane again.  We will buy some space heaters and help them stay warm."

The lady showed up to ask for money.  We told her we would buy the heaters.

"Don't you know they cause fires?  No thank you!"

Never had a space heater cause a fire in anything I've used them on, but I use them correctly.  Which is beside the point.

"We will not fill your propane tank.  We will pay $50 toward your bill.  That's it."

Anger.  Even after being helped numerous times with well over $1000.  Even with no questions asked before.  Even with knowing we were being milked at times.  Anger.

Maybe it's anger at knowing we aren't going to let her take advantage of us anymore.  Who knows?

Jesus said, "Give to everyone who begs."

Will do.

But I won't give away the whole shooting match.

We'll help, but we won't be taken advantage of.

Sometimes you have to draw the line.

There are certain things in life that help you realize this.

 *An interesting side note to my post yesterday followed up with this one.  My bishop wrote the following comment on my Facebook feed:  Nice. Ronnie, a member of my last church used to say, "Pastor I can't tell them that really needs from them that don't. And Jesus said to give to everyone who begs from you. So I do. I hope that's okay."

There is a definite difference in these two stories although they are linked by striving to help others.  In one instance, I knew nothing about those who were in need.  In this post, I know a lot.  There is a huge difference once you really get to know a person and how he/she operates.  

I think it is quite unfortunate that many congregations really never get to know the people they help out.  Building relationships is a major component of evangelism--with rich or poor; with those in need and those in plenty.  It helps us walk that delicate balance between compassion (feeding the hungry as per Matthew 25) and enabling (if one does not work, one does not eat 2 Thessalonians).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

There are Certain Things...Part 1

Which put life into perspective.

Such things make you think really hard about reality and how you put into practice the faith of Christ.

In a Matter of Moments

Just before leaving for a period of vacation and recuperation after Christmas, my wife and I took our kids shopping.  The money they received for Christmas was burning a hole in their pockets, and they wanted certain items.  Rather than fight the battle to wait, we had time, so we used it.

We stopped at Wal-Mart in Katy and after the kids found their hearts' desires, we headed to the checkout line.  As we were waiting to place our items on the conveyor belt, I overheard a mother talking to her daughter right behind me.  The girl wanted an item on the end cap and was pleading with her mother to get it.

Apparently, the mom wanted to purchase the item for the girl but was unable to, "What part of 'I don't get paid until Friday' don't you understand?"

The comment was rather heart wrenching to me.  I'm blessed enough not to "have to wait until Friday" to purchase special things for my kids.  I work.  My wife works.  Revenues are more than expenses most months.  Not everyone is as lucky.

I reached into my wallet at this point, took out a $20 bill and handed it to the woman.  "Get it for her and Merry Christmas."

The woman stared at me with a look of utter disbelief.  I mean, she was literally in shock.  "Are you serious?  Thank you."

"You are welcome."

It was then quite priceless to hear the woman try to explain to her daughter just why she could now have this item.  "Thank you," the little girl then said.

"You are welcome."

Even more priceless as we walked out of the store.  My eldest turned to me and said, "Daddy, that was really nice of you."

"Yes, dear, I know."

Moments later, as we approached our car, a young woman looked directly at me, "Maybe you can help me."

"What do you need?"  I asked.

"I'm trying to get back to San Antonio.  I'm almost out of gas.  I have no money.  Someone gave me this gift card, and it has $3 on it.  I'm pregnant, and I can't wait here all day until someone comes to get me.  People are being rude to me, and I just need help."

Another $20.

"Thank you so much.  This will get me all the way home!  Thank you.  I've never had to do this before."

"You are welcome."

"May you have a blessed New Year!"

"You too."

My eldest: "Daddy, you're just giving money away!"

Me: "Yes, dear.  I am.  We are blessed.  Not everyone is as fortunate.  Whenever we get the opportunity to help, we should."

I needed to get gas for our vehicle as well, so I pulled over to the Wal-Mart gas station.  The young lady was there with her brother, and they had just finished filling up her car.  She saw me once again and filled in some of the blanks.

"I've never had to ask before.  I asked one guy, and he said, 'Get an effing job!'  I thought, 'I have a job.  I'm just out of cash.'  I couldn't believe how rude he was.  I can't believe how mean people can be."

I replied, "There's still some good ones out there.  Have a safe trip.  Is this your first child?"

Beaming, she said, "Yes!"

Small chit chat for just a few moments before she headed for home.

Unbelievable that someone could respond callously to another without getting to know that person's situation.  Unbelievable, but reality. 

In a matter of moments, I was out $40.  But it was a very small price to pay.  A small price to shock a working poor mother with kindness; make a young girl jump for joy; reverse an expectant mother's view of humanity; and, perhaps most importantly, show another young girl the importance of giving.  Maybe my other two children were watching as well--even though they said nothing.

Lead by example.  Others are watching.  Realizing this puts things into perspective.  All it takes is a matter of moments.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Hitting 40 and Still Learning

I turned 40 on Saturday. 

I didn't have any sort of emotional crisis.  The zero didn't bother me.  I haven't felt the least depressed. 

Life has been good, is good, and I anticipate it to continue to be good.

That doesn't mean there aren't some trials and tribulations or downs along the way, but I believe, preach, and teach that God is always active working in our lives to take those trials, tribulations, and downers and bring something good out of them.  If I believe such a thing, it is awfully hard to become depressed when being drug through the mud and the muck.  God will have the last word.  Period.  That word will be good.  Period.

I think continually learning helps me stay focused and hopeful about things in life.  This year provided several more learning opportunities which have nourished my mind and my soul.  As per tradition, I will list several of those things below.

1. Reemphasizing God's grace.  Perhaps this has been the most influential thing which has happened to me this past year.  Confession time: I got caught up in preaching the "Law."  For quite some time, I became quite convinced I needed to make Christianity relevant by preaching about all the things we needed to do as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Don't get me wrong, doing is important.  How we act and the activities we engage in say an awful lot about our core convictions.  But when you preach the Law, you will inevitably drive people away from the gospel.  You will come across as self-righteous and holier than thou.  No matter if you are preaching the truth in love or not--a good number will not hear this.  They just won't.  They will think you are out to get them.

Grace takes a different tact.  Grace begins with what God has done, is doing, and will do.  Grace begins with Jesus dying for us while we were/are still sinners.  Most folks know the world isn't right.  Most folks know they themselves aren't perfect.  Most folks know they cannot fix themselves.  Most folks know they cannot fix the world.  Yet, they desperately want the world to be right.  They desperately want peace and justice.  They desperately want things to function smoothly.  Grace invites us into the process of God's work.  Grace lets us know God has mended the relationship between us and Him through Jesus.  Grace invites us to contemplate this love which cost us nothing but cost God everything.  Grace then invites us to respond to that love not through fear but through willing obedience. 

"For God so loved the world..."  Take a look at all my recent sermons if you will.  You will find that phrase preached in each one for the last month or two.  You will continue to see it.  Grace is that important.

2. Recognizing what it means to be blessed.  "I didn't accomplish much in the eyes of the world, but the Lord and I are on pretty good terms."  So said my grandfather when my family and I visited him late last year.  I've dreamed of making an impact in the world.  I've dreamed of making a tremendous impact in the life of the church.  I've dreamed of leading a resurgence in the Christian life and being the vessel by which thousands upon thousands are added to the church.  I've dreamed of leading the growth of a congregation to where it swells and swells so that thousands worship every Sunday.  Oh yes, I have dreamed such dreams.

Perhaps I made those dreams too important.  Perhaps I've emphasized the things I want too much and did not spend enough time asking God what He wanted of me.  Whatever it was, there was always a sense of dissonance deep within me because I wanted all that stuff to happen.  Part of me still does, but it was beaten into submission by what my grandfather said.  "I didn't accomplish much in the eyes of the world, but the Lord and I are on pretty good terms."  Yes, because of His grace (see above), the Lord and I are on pretty good terms.  That's enough.  That's enough blessing for a lifetime.  Now, I hope to help others see that they and the Lord are on pretty good terms as well.  Grace.

3. Rekindling Relationships.   I won't delve into the details on this one, but I will say that I truly am proud of my wife, of our marriage, and our commitment to raise our children together. 

4. Learning to fish--A Child Shall Lead....   I like being outdoors.  I really like hunting.  Fishing was something I never really appreciated until this year.  Being spurred on by my kids to fish was something I never anticipated happening, but it did.  My eldest really, really wanted me to take her fishing before the end of the summer.  I did, and it has now translated into a family affair.  All the kids and adults in my household now have fishing equipment.  I am now excited about taking them fishing and have even been known to go it alone at times.

5. Learning to shoot--becoming a dead shot.  It's much more fun to hunt now that I am reasonably sure I will hit and kill whatever I aim at.  Changing rifles and really, really practicing on shooting made such a tremendous difference in my hunting this year.  I managed to drop 13 pigs with nearly every shot being a head shot--even at 200 yards.  There were a few shoulder shots, but that was because of bullets passing through the head and hitting another pig.  Such shooting would have been unheard of the year before.  Further evidence of becoming a much better shot came early in the year when I managed to hit a turkey in the neck with a hunting rifle.  Even my dad managed to compliment me on that shot, and dad is not easily impressed.  :-) 

6. Learning to Keep it Simple.  Every pastor should have to teach 3-5 year olds in Sunday School.  You cannot hide behind large theological terms.  You cannot hide behind scholarly methods of biblical interpretation.  You have to teach it straight and simple, and it's wonderfully challenging and freeing at the same time.

7. Learning to Eat the Right Portions.  I managed to drop 42 pounds by adjusting how I eat.  I downloaded a calorie counter and was amazed at the amount of calories I was putting into my body on a daily basis.  By becoming much more strict in what I ate, the pounds dropped off leaving me only 8 pounds heavier than I was when I attended high school.  Now, I am in maintenance mode staying within the proper range to stay where I am at.  The calorie counter and I now seem to be a permanent thing, and that's not too bad a thing at all.
I am sure there are other things I could list if I thought longer, but these will suffice for now.  I wish everyone a great year and that your learning might keep you young.