Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Answerless question

There's little left I haven't done in my life that I would like to do. Something about visiting here and there, Hawaii, Denver, the nation's capital, back to New York after 40 years or more, maybe Turner Field in Atlanta.

I probably won't get that much of that, if any, done. Money. Time. Stuff prevents.

We all set goals, and I have accomplished most of mine. That means either I've had a rich life or I set my goals too small. Probably the latter.

I've never been comfortable, though, settling. I still reach toward perhaps unobtainable ideas, strainable notions, desireable moments.

The thing that causes me to rise slowly on stormy mornings and stay awake on windy, warm nights is the notion that there is something I could do or could have done to bring someone to Christ. To introduce Jesus to someone who surely has heard of him but seems to insist they don't NEED him.

As main-line denominations slide into oblivion like yesterday's tang, which they've been doing for decades but I didn't know because I spent some of those decades outside not only the main-line denominations but the church itself, I have read and thought and pondered and mused about what I could do (little me) to help stop this denominational devastation.

My answer keeps coming back ... nothing. If I hadn't been touched by God at the lowest of life's moments, where would I be? The church didn't reach out for me. I reached out to Christ. The church happened to be where I discovered he was staying while in town.

I read within the past month that a plan to be an inviting church, bringing people into church to dinners and things is the way to go. So I put together an impressive plan for hunks of honey to give to our community which will draw them in like flies. I'm reading a book now that says clearly people have stopped making church the focal/social point of their lives and that dinners and such are so happy days and the Fonze isn't home any more.

What to do. What to do?

We can turn to scripture and pray.

The Bible says David sat down one afternoon, a cool day full of hope and goal-setting, and pondered what his young life might bring. He wrote this: "I'm thanking you, God, from a full heart. I'm writing the book on your wonders. I'm whistling, laughing and jumping for joy; I'm singing your song, High God."

That's the plan, Sam.

There's a huge part of me that simply says, tell me what to do as a pastor, as a leader of my church, as a Christian whose one assignment by his Messiah isn't to create a mega situation in the mini local church I find myself at but IS to make disciples, that one endangered species left to accomplish and I'll do it. I understand that mostly what I want not in the brief time I have left is to bring people to the same bewildering, difficult, easy, meaningful completely human relationship with that same Messiah. That's it.

Well, that and another Super Bowl win, but I digress.

I've bought plans from big churches, who mean well and sell products well, both inside the denomination and out. I've pondered every single day about what we should do next. I really have. I've looked at what would work on me, the worst of sinners in direct competion for the title with Paul.

We'll have our committee meetings and we'll put me and others to task about not having the right numbers, numbers of confessions of faith and such. We will. Man I want to be on top in that.

And in the end, it comes down to one thing. If we all knew what worked, we really would do it. I don't know any pastor who isn't committed. There are some who are more talented than others, some at preaching, some at leadership, some at just caring. But I don't know any who were called who simply don't want to succeed. Who have made it a passion to let their churches meander and fall away.

What I've seen, amazingly, is some work harder than others and their churches flounder because of where they are located and what resources are available. Some are content with their place in the world and yet there are newcomers flowing in like living water. And we all sit down and marvel. What does this mean?

The Bible says: "God holds the high center; he sees and sets the world's mess right. He decides what is right for us earthlings..."

Ultimately, I think it means God has more to do with this than any planning we could do. I think Louie Giglio was the right guy at the right time with the right skills in the right place. I think God used him right there, right then.

Paul and Barnabas were starting a new church in much the same manner as did Rick Warren out in California except that Paul up and healed a man who was crippled. When the folks around saw the man jump up, they went nuts. Nary a committee meeting was planned, nor any meals slipped onto the schedule for potluck.

Nah. They began calling the two men gods, calling them Zeus and Hermes. We might call them Rick Warren and Adam Hamilton today. Or whomever the next TV and radio flavor might be.

A budding mega-church was born.

But what Paul said next interests me most. He said. "What do you think you're doing? We'e not gods. We are men just like you, and we're here to bring you the Message, to persuade you to abandon these silly god-superstitions and embrace God himself, the living God. We don't make God, he makes us, and all of this -- sky, sea and everything in it."

We're not gods. We don't make God with all our great talents. I've done the mailouts, and got no response. I've done the newspaper. I don't have money for TV, but if I did, I wonder if it would turn things the way they say it must.

Fact is, we don't have the answers. We barely understand the questions, all of us, from bishops to the person sitting in the same seat in the same pew at Christmas and Easter.

We simply want to know, what's next? What do we do? How do we overcome even the lack of ability to introduce the one person who loves us most to a world that truly has forgotten him?

If I had the answer, I would share it.

And I wouldn't even charge $49.95.

Monday, November 29, 2010

God laughs

Job cries out, "I'm convinced. You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans."

Isn't it interesting how we plan things? We talk them through, we work on them, we even pray about them waiting for God's blessing on what we've thought of.

And God laughs.

Job cries out, "You asked, 'Who is this muddying the water,ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?'I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head. You told me, 'Listen, and let me do the talking.
Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.'"

I plan our services as best can be planned. I write and edit and quilt sermons together and am mostly prepared each week. And then yesterday the truck goes kabloewie. Electrial system goes out as I'm on the way to the first church. Power steering no longer works. I'm almost in a ditch. After panicking because my plans have gone awry and my timing will now be off, I thought later, what if I hadn't gotten there? What if I hadn't been able to slowly turn the truck around and make it home? What on earth would the church have done.

And God laughed.

Job cries out, "I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I'm sorry—forgive me. I'll never do that again, I promise!"

Planning is something that can get us into more trouble than trouble. We need to allow for the Holy Spirit to be involved, give Him room to move.

I made it to church, both of them, and wonderful worship was had by most if not all. And in the end, as I pondered, it had nothing to do with me or my wonderful plans. It had everything to do with him.

God is good.

And he laughed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


The book of Job is famous for many things: the betting arrangement between God and the Devil, Job having the patience to absorb tremendous punishment from life, losing everything over time, his friends and even his wife saying he must have done something to bring this on.

But seldom is it used as a funnel for faith. Today I'm preaching a funeral and I'm using Job as a symbol of hope.

Look at what Job says WHILE things are falling apart: "I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God..."

Some say this is the oldest book in the Bible, yet, there is Job saying he knows his redeemer lives. Knows. Lives. Not will live some day in some future. Lives.

Oh, to have that kind of faith today when things go poorly. To have that kind of faith when things are near the end. That's what we long for, strive for, hope for.

In the end, Paul tells us, three things remain: faith, hope and love. And of these three, love is the strongest. I would argue, however, that without the first two, we live what can only be described as a difficult life without much to look forward to. Hope, that certainty that exists as faith without seeing, is what we have in our back pocket when things get their worst.

Job knew. KNEW. Job knew his redeemer lives. I hope so do we all.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday indeed

I don't do black Friday, but maybe that just's me. In my world, half of them are black anyway.

I don't relax when watching my favorite team. I bleed. Often. Win or lose. But maybe that's just me.

I don't act the way most folks do, but that has to just be me.

I am not thankful enough, loveable enough, loving enough, helpful enough and all of that lies on me.

But there is good news this Black Friday: A year ago I retired from the newspaper industry and I've made it so far. It's been the most incredible year. I've lost two pets, gone to Israel, gained a ministry, written a book that was started just about a year ago and will be published not through my own talent but through the belief by others in that talent. I've gained a son-in-law, and my wife has gained a job.

God has been so good. So I wonder why I'm so bad?

Paul said of this notion, "The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life."

Wow. No matter how bad I am, and I argue with Paul that I am the worst not him, God sent his son to die for me. It makes me feel all the better -- and all the worst.

I am the reason He died. Those nails were mine. That cross was mine. That crown of thorns was mine. Why oh why can't I get it?

God so loved the world that he allowed Jesus to be a part of it. He so loved me that he allowed me to be a part of the world. Therefore, He allowed Jesus to be a part of my world.

Sinner saved by grace. That's all I am and all I will always be. It's enough.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

We get to decide

Today we pick out one 24 hour period to be thankful.

Seems so small, doesn't it?

I met with four persons yesterday at an asssisted living home and we talked about being thankful, about fighting depression by being thankful, about simply praising God as an avenue out of the pit of loneliness.

When I finished, one got on to me for leaving so quickly.

This notion of being thankful is directly proportional to how we see the circumstances in our life.

If we view them darkly, as Paul says we see through a clouded glass, we will be less thankful than if we view them as being good. Seems clear. It often isn't.

The Bible says of being thankful: "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts."

No matter how much we try, we don't decide or help or correct or make our own circumstances. They are what they are, sometimes decided by whim and sometimes by God himself. But we do have control over how we react to our circumstances. We can be thankful. We can not. Praise? We decide. Admonish? We decide. Thank? We decide.

Get the picture? Today of all days?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snake no longer in the grass

Ranking right up there with terrorists running lemonade stands on the corner near the public elementary school, comes this story:

The snake dangles 49 feet off the ground, tail entwined around a branch. Suddenly, the animal rears up and launches, flinging its body toward the forest floor.

In other reptiles, the leap would be suicidal, or at least an invitation for broken bones. But the snake in question is a Chrysopelea paradisi, one of five related species of tree-dwelling snakes from Southeast and South Asia. When these snakes leap, it's not to nosedive; it's to glide from tree to tree, a feat they can accomplish at distances of at least 79 feet.

Perhaps you read through that. That distance was at least 79 feet. 79 FEET. Let me make that more clear to you. That's about three first downs in football. That's an NBA three-point shot PLUS

What no one knows is exactly how these reptiles manage to fly so far without wings. Now, a new study finds that the snakes' amazing aerial abilities may all be in the way they move.

Not snakes on a plane. FLYING SNAKES.

If I found out snakes were credit thieves I couldn't be more scared. If I found out snakes were capable of mimicking me, I couldn't be more terrified. If I found out snakes were capable of opening back doors, coming down the hallway and without switching on the bedroom lights, capable of sneaking into our freaking beds without once waking us, well, I couldn't be more HORRIFIED.

FLYING SNAKES, the story reads.

F-L-Y-I-N-G S--N--A--K--E--S.
Snakes that fly.

So one of my few escape routes from a snake excursion, climbing the nearest tree, no longer is viable. The dang snake can just FLY up and be waiting for me.

The Bible says God told that slimy, rotton, snake-smelling, belt-looking snake,"Because you've done this, you're cursed, cursed beyond all cattle and wild animals, cursed to slink on your belly and eat dirt all your life. I'm declaring war between you and the Woman, between your offspring and hers. He'll wound your head, you'll wound his heel."

Unless, of course, THEY'RE FLYING around hurting your HEAD.

The changes this could wrought in our world are astronomical. What's next, deep-water swimming giraffes? Desert-dwelling catfish?

What's the world coming to?

The story goes on to say that these snakes are smart enough to LEAP, to plan to LEAP, to come up with a reason to FLY that doesn't include taking a bag.

But there's nothing really to worry about in the long run. By the time the U.S. Government gets ahold of these things, puts a full-body scanner over them or pats them down, the snakes will have forgotten why they wanted to fly in the first place.

The Bible says of this, The ground will sprout thorns and weeds, you'll get your food the hard way, planting and tilling and harvesting, sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk, until you return to that ground yourself, dead and buried; you started out as dirt, you'll end up dirt."

That's the Bible's take on our future...getting food the hard way, working the fields, harvesting, sweating in the field from dawn to dusk until you return to the ground yourself. You end up as dirt after beginning as dirt.

More like groveling; that's been my experience, anyway.

The turkey in us all

This year will likely produce the biggest box office of all time on an unadjusted basis. Moviegoers have already shelled out $9 billion on tickets and two films, Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3, have each earned more than $1 billion.

But that doesn't mean 2010 didn't have its share of failures. Topping our list of the year's biggest turkeys is Jonah Hex. Based on a graphic novel, the film starred Josh Brolin as a disfigured bounty hunter and Megan Fox as a tough prostitute. Not even fanboys could get behind the film, which scored a scant 13 out of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes. The film earned back only 24% of its estimated production budget of $47 million at the box office.

While Josh Brolin continues to get work (he'll next appear in a remake of True Grit), the film's failure won't help Megan Fox's career. The actress has yet to star in a successful film outside of the Transformers series, and she was recently kicked off of that rich franchise.

Of course, there are other turkeys. In Staten Island, N.Y., This year will likely produce the biggest box office of all time on an unadjusted basis. Moviegoers have already shelled out $9 billion on tickets and two films, Alice in Wonderland and Toy Story 3, have each earned more than $1 billion.

But that doesn't mean 2010 didn't have its share of failures. Topping our list of the year's biggest turkeys is Jonah Hex. Based on a graphic novel, the film starred Josh Brolin as a disfigured bounty hunter and Megan Fox as a tough prostitute. Not even fanboys could get behind the film, which scored a scant 13 out of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes. The film earned back only 24% of its estimated production budget of $47 million at the box office.

While Josh Brolin continues to get work (he'll next appear in a remake of True Grit), the film's failure won't help Megan Fox's career. The actress has yet to star in a successful film outside of the Transformers series, and she was recently kicked off of that rich franchise.

There are more than one kind of turkey, though. In Staten Island, N.Y., there are turkeys roaming the streets (those thugs). Roaming the streets and getting into everyone's garbage; not becoming garbage, mind you, but turning the cans over.

It's not enough my pension has disappeared, my bills have grown like a baby rhino, but turkeys can't be hemmed in. What a bunch of turkeys we are.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Mark's Gospel says of children: "He (Jesus) took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

And ... "People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Sunday was Christ the King Sunday in the Church calendar. I invited the kiddies to the front, where I was going to talk to them about "King Backward," making the point that Jesus was a king, but he did everything just about the opposite of what earthly kings do.

I asked the kids, "What do Kings normally wear on the top of their head?" There was silence in my little circle, and, well, in the church. Seconds passed. Long, long seconds of quiet.

Then Rocky, a three-year-old, looked into my eyes and said, "hair," quietly but with purpose.

I repeated the word so the rest of the congregation could hear and everyone, including Rocky, burst into laughter. "HAIR" he said. "Kings were hair on the top of their heads. Couldn't argue that, much, though I did point out that eliminated me from kingly discussions seeing as how I had so little hair.

Jesus said in Luke's Gospel of children, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do."

If the foolish are made right by their child-like faith, then Rocky leads the way for all of us. He leads in faith, in goodness, in righteousness and in mercy.

"HAIR," kings were on top of their head.

Wouldn't argue it even if I could.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The walk of faith

Jeremiah the prophet was quite the manic-depressive in his day. Reading just a bit of Lamentations makes me well up, as well. Jeremiah must have bled the prophet's self-insurance dry, taking the HMO for all it was worth.

Sentences like, "I am one who has seen afflicted under the rod of God's wrath."
Sentences like, "He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation..."
Sentences like "though I call and cry out for help, he shuts out my prayer."
And especially like, "He shot into my vitals the arrows of his quiver; I have become the laughing stock of all my people, the object of their taunt-songs all day long."

The writer here appears to be completely devastated by God's actions. But amazingly, as the writing continues, the writer remembers the faithfulness of the Lord and praise breaks out ..."But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

"The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."

This pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth, higher and higher, lower and lower. The writer here sees God as being good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him and sitting "alone in silence" will bring a good result.

What are we to make of this?

"It is good for one to hear the yoke in silence. The Bible says, 'I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, 'Do not close your ear to my cry for help, but give me relief. You came near when I called on you; you said, 'Do not fear."

First, the walk of faith has ups and downs. Oh that we could make the pathway straight. This morning as I meditated on what I would write, I saw John the Baptist kicking rocks out of the way of the Son of God as He walked the path of righteousness into Jerusalem. Mark says that the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ is this: See, I am sending a messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way; the voice of one drying out in the wilderness: Prepare teh way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

John was a fore-runner of the Christ. He came to proclaim the one who would come after him. John did, exceedingly well.

Second, the walk of faith is a marathon, certainly not a sprint. In the Old Testament, the pouring out of God's Spirit is sometimes a sign or a means of God's salvation. Here in the initial stages of Mark's gospel, John calls the people of God to repentance -- not just a feeling of regret but a whole new way of living.

Third, the walk of faith is powered by God the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit and washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, the Son of God, this man named Jesus.

That's who we are and whose we are. It gets no better than this.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Burning off the gray

How amazing it must have been to be called by God to prophesy to his people. Take Amos for example. One of the first of the writing prophets, and he was good, very good at it. Amos proclaimed that "worship without justice is unacceptable to God."

Tough love, huh?

In the seventh chapter of his writings, Amos calls out repeatedly to God for help. Twice he writes, "O Lord God, forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small." Twice the Lord God answers this way, "It shall not be."

Then God gives Amos a prophesy that will stand, one of the more famous of visions in scripture: "I saw the Lord standing beside a wall that had been built using a plumb line. He was using a plumb line to see if it was still straight. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?”

I answered, “A plumb line.”

And the Lord replied, “I will test my people with this plumb line. I will no longer ignore all their sins. The pagan shrines of your ancestors will be ruined, and the temples of Israel will be destroyed; I will bring the dynasty of King Jeroboam to a sudden end.”

Get that? Amos has a press release that basically says the places of worship in Israel are going to be destroyed.

Now, I'm not the sharpest tool in the tool chest, but it seems to me that a prophet saying the places of praise, the windows of worship, the avenues of allegiance, the setting of sacrifices being closed down, being destroyed isn't quite the message most prophetic folk would give. In other words, I'm in charge of this church and it's going to be destroyed. It's not the greatest bit of encouragement.

The sanctuaries of Israel will be laid waste...

Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary....

Then and now it seems to me the Lord is fully capable of doing whatever needs to be done, whenever it needs to be done, however it needs to be done. God created -- man, woman, child -- the sanctuaries and He watches over them, but his point to Amos was the plumb line will measure the "correctness" of his people. How right were they? Just how good were they? He calls on Amos to deliver the message.

I firmly believe (as the subject of my new book God on the Line) that God calls us, me, you, every bit as much as He called Amos and the like. He calls us, he equipts us, he sends us. That's the method. We are all ministers (prophets) as it were, with a singular mission ... to bring Christ to the world.

Amos gets the message that there are consequences when one mixes worship with injustice and he delivers the message, humbling himself and speaking. Throughout the written book of Amos, God's destruction of Israel is at the forefront. Then, at the end, God gives hope to his people.

"But also on that Judgment Day I will restore David's house that has fallen to pieces. I'll repair the holes in the roof, replace the broken windows, fix it up like new. David's people will be strong again and seize what's left of enemy Edom, plus everyone else under my sovereign judgment." God's Decree. He will do this. "Yes indeed, it won't be long now." God's Decree. Things are going to happen so fast your head will swim, one thing fast on the heels of the other. You won't be able to keep up. Everything will be happening at once—and everywhere you look, blessings! Blessings like wine pouring off the mountains and hills. I'll make everything right again for my people Israel:

"They'll rebuild their ruined cities.
They'll plant vineyards and drink good wine.
They'll work their gardens and eat fresh vegetables.
And I'll plant them, plant them on their own land.
They'll never again be uprooted from the land I've given them.
God, your God, says so."

God's people made terrible mistakes, sinned awfully, and they were punished for those consequences.

But God will restore. God will revive. God will reveal. God will raise them up.

Makes a cloudy, foggy day bring with sunshine, doesn't it?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The optimism of a single word

We live in a world where three-year-olds are killed by gunshots, where 20-year-olds die of cancer, where people shoot photos of dead rappers and put them on the internet and they create a stir of excitement.

It is not the world God created nor wanted.

The prophet Habakkuk wrote (Message), "God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, "Help! Murder! Police!" before you come to the rescue? Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? Anarchy and violence break out, quarrels and fights all over the place. Law and order fall to pieces. Justice is a joke. The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head."

Habakkuk clearly had the belief that evil had won, that the Lord had given darkness its day. He accuses God of not listening, not acting, not caring about this, his, situation, about his world that had gone so wrong.

It is such a temptation to do that today, isn't it? With our out-of-control spending and the joblessness that strikes so near, and the daily shootings in our area and whatever terrible trauma you can think of.

But Habakkuk waits for His God, and waits and waits, and finally he decides -- in some of the most wonderful of language -- that he will trust God NO MATTER WHAT. The word THOUGH is his key to peace.

He writes in the third chapter of his prophecy/lament,

"Though the cherry trees don't blossom and the strawberries don't ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
and the cattle barns empty,
I'm singing joyful praise to God.
I'm turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God's Rule to prevail,
I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer.
I feel like I'm king of the mountain!"

Though...things stink
Though...bank accounts shrink
Though...tomorrow forecasts as grayer than gray.

The amazing thing here is that God hasn't answered him, hasn't charmed his way back into Habakkuk's dreams and plans, hasn't spashed him with rainbows and puppies. But the prophet gets it at this point. He gets that the past is gone, but God holds the future in his hand. He simply affirms his trust of a God who sometimes IS silent.

But If we hold our love and our trust away from God UNTIL He does something, what good is our faith at all?

We attended an ecumenical Thanksgiving service last night, Mary and I, and the Baptist preacher talked about how Paul felt in his letter to Timothy.

Paul wrote, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.
15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all."

Though I have sinned,
Though I was a blasphemer
though I was insolent
Though I persecuted his people.......

God had mercy. God heard. God acted or perhaps he didn't even act, but I understand anyway.

The two books of the Bible have several things in common, but the word THOUGH is first and foremost. Both men realize that their job is to praise God, THOUGH, things are not good. Paul realizes that he was the worst of sinners, THOUGH, God still loved him, saved him, rescued him. Habakkuk realizes that his circumstances can never dictate his response to God.

We live in a terribly evil world that is getting no better, only worse.

Though our leaders don't lead,
though our pensions are gone,
though our health insurance won't pay for even a doctor bill,
though our grandchildren live 55 and 150 miles away,
though our house isn't our house any longer,
though our paycheck barely pays for the bills each month,
though our bodies are wearing out and full of pain,
though our eyesight and our memories are fading,
still we will wait on him and praise our God for he forgave us, he saved us, he rescured us from the muck and the mire we had created, giving us mercy and grace we didn't deserve.

That is trust. Sometimes it is all we have. Always it is all we need.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wisdom is as wisdom writes

Ah, today is such an easy one to write.

In today's local paper, a clever op/ed writer named James Gill has much to say about lunacy.

He writes (among other things):

"It no longer makes sense to suggest the creationists are making a laughing stock out of Louisiana. They have just lost a round in Baton Rouge -- stop the presses! -- and, besides, they have been comprehensively upstaged by Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore. It just isn't fair to mock some simple soul who believes Darwin was a hoaxer when learned prelates can forgather to confront an outbreak of demonic possession."

He writes: "How deluded creationists are is not easy to tell, for they keep shifting ground as the courts block their attempts to proselytize in the public schools. Some 30 years ago, when the Louisiana Legislature passed an unconstitutional law requiring evolution to be counterbalanced with Genesis, true believers would tell you that God created the world Oct. 23, 4004 BC."

And he wrote: "When the Education Department drafted rules for implementing the act, and proposed to ban "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind," the creationists raised holy hell. BESE was only too pleased to do their bidding and scotch the rule out. No doubt the creationists now figure they will fare better back before BESE than when they were trying to lean on the advisory council, but maybe the advisory council vote signals that the tide has finally turned against them. Or maybe eight of the council members had been possessed by demons. There must be a logical explanation somewhere."

Very funny, huh? Love the demonic mention, after setting it up earlier in the column about Catholic bishops trying to increase the number of qualified exorcists. Loved the logical explanation reference. Loved the holy hell line. Very funny, this James Gill.

I could write a rebuttal, but apparently I'm a looney tune when it comes to believing that God created humankind. Apparently it is absolute lunacy to believe that God created without randomness. Apparently I'm nuts if I believe that there was a void and God filled it with life.

Despite there being no evidence whatsoever that God DIDN'T create or even logical evidence, reasoned evidence that God DIDN'T speak this world into being, Mr. Gill, a British scholar obviously with all the known answers, speaks as if he has that evidence.

And anyone who believes differently, well, their IQ is below the cost of a happy meal.

Do all Christians believe the same about this text known as Genesis? No. Do all scientists believe without question that creationism is ridiculous? No.

If Mr. Gill's point is that creationism shouldn't be taught in school, according to American constitutional law, perhaps that might be true. Creationism might be best taught in another environment, like say, the home, the church, the weekly meetings of informed minds (of which Mr. Gill would be invited, but obviously would not attend). But to say without question that anyone who believes that God created this world is infantile, that's a bridge too far.

In the beginning, there was only God. James Gill wasn't there. His educators weren't there. His scientists weren't there. Period.

Paul, a foreigner of great intellect as well as Mr. Gill, said of these op/ed columnists: "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”;[a] 20 and again, “The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile."

God must chuckle about our self-proclaimed wisdom.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Teen commandments

Got teens?

I don't. But as pastor of a church in search of those fabled creatures, I did some research recently and came across what one mom lables the ten commandments for teens.

A short list goes like this:

1. THOU SHALL NOT GASP. When your teen is talking to you, you may hear things that are gasp-worthy. Resist the impulse.


3. THOU SHALL NOT BELITTLE OR DISMISS. It's too easy for us to brush off the issues that concern our kids. Supposedly, adults have "real problems". Not true. Remember what it felt like to be in 8th grade?

4. THOU SHALL TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO BUILD MY TEEN'S CONFIDENCE AND SELF WORTH. This may not mean what you think it does- like pouring on the praise. There is a place for that absolutely.

5. THOU SHALL NOT TRY TO FIX EVERYTHING. Allow your teen a safe place to fall after a difficult situation.

6.THOU SHALL NOT TRY TO BECOME MY TEEN'S BEST FRIEND. Your kid has friends, they need parents. They need boundaries to feel safe.

7.THOU SHALL TRUST BUT VERIFY. Check up on your kid's whereabouts occasionally and make sure they are where they say they are.

8. THOU SHALL STAY INVOLVED. Get to know your teen's friends. Talk often about sex, alcohol, drugs, internet safety, relationships and self esteem. Even "good kids" with good grades ARE having sex, drinking and smoking pot. Grades are not always a barometer of high risk behavior.

9. THOU SHALL BE A GOOD EXAMPLE. Just because your teen may physically look like an adult, does not mean they are mentally and emotionally. They are watching everything you do, and are using your behavior as an indication of what is ok and what's not. Kids do as you do, not as you say.

10. THOU SHALL NOT BELIEVE THY TEEN WHEN THEY PUSH YOU AWAY. Kids want you to care. Do not believe claims of "It doesn't matter", "Don't worry about it", or "No one else's parents are going."

Now, her list is not bad, but there needs to be another one. Something like this:

11. Thou shall understand that God loves them.

12. Thou shall make every effort to attend youth meetings, youth gathering, youth trips, youth church.

13. Thou shall put no facebook before thy God. No myspace. No skype. No text. No email. If there are others, fill in the blank.

We are losing generations to churches across the denominational map. We shouldn't. Parents need to understand that though their teen is bored out of their gourd, they say, they still need to be dragged to church. Church members...you need to understand that the push to make the music, the worship, the preaching more accessible to younger people is so they won't be bored and won't drop out when they reach 20.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dough rises

Anticipation is a thankless word. Oh, waiting is such a dastardly idea. I have nothing that resembles patience, and therein lies the rub.

The Bible says in Malachi, "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight -- indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. But who can endure th day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?"

Today is a strange day in the neighborhood. It's dark outside, so dark I must turn on the lamp on my desk to see my Bible. It's been raining most of the night, a slow,deliberate soaking rain as the too warm weather begins to change again toward what I hope is a cool, dry Thanksgiving.

We're at that time of the year when plans are made for family get-togethers and we wait for the holiday pageantry and worship. It's all in the waiting, you see?

In Luke's Gospel, the disciples began to understand what was happening around them. We read, "16-17They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful—and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, "God is back, looking to the needs of his people!" The news of Jesus spread all through the country. 18-19John's disciples reported back to him the news of all these events taking place. He sent two of them to the Master to ask the question, "Are you the One we've been expecting, or are we still waiting?"

The question today isn't necessarily are you waiting, but what are you waiting for? Have you put off something that the Lord has placed on your heart and in your mind? Have you stalled when you should be going forth? Or are your running ahead of God, pushing your agenda upon Him instead of waiting for His word to become clear?

This whole waiting thing is difficult for me. There is no waiting to be found in me at a DNA level. I want change to come, quickly, because I detest going through change. I can't wait to get to the other side of change.

Jesus said, "How can I picture God's kingdom? It's like yeast that a woman works into enough dough for three loaves of bread—and waits while the dough rises."

I, we, are the dough. We've been worked upon by our Master. Can we wait till we rise? Can we? Will we?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The reality of Bible-vision

What is truth?

It's an easy question, really. It's about reality, you know, that fake stuff we watch on television, versus reality, that which truly is life.

I ate sugar free-fake honey this morning and drank some milk that was lwo carb, low sugar and basically fake. We eat carb-less bread, fake spread and some kind of spaghetti that is not real, too.

So when I read the following story, I knew I was living in a fake world.

One of Entropia's wealthier players has sold off his interests in a "resort asteroid" for an eye-popping $635,000.

The seller is Jon Jacobs, also known as the character 'Neverdie'. He originally purchased the asteroid in 2005 -- eventually converting it into the extravagant resort 'Club Neverdie' -- for the then-record price of $100,000. For those keeping score, that's a gain of over $500,000 in just five years. In nerdier terms, that's an ROI of 535%. Match that, Citibank.

And we're not talking about Monopoly money here. Launched by Swedish developer MindArk in 2003, Entropia Universe features a real-world, fixed-rate currency exchange that works just like chips at a casino: players trade real cash for in-game funds called PEDs (Project Entropia Dollars), which can at any point be redeemed back for real, spendable cash -- minus a transaction fee, of course.

Real money for a fake asteroid.

Seems about right.

The Bible actually has a lot to say about truth. We merely ignore it.

It reads in Proverbs where wisdom language discusses truth often, "The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words."

Truthful witness by a good person clears the air, but liars lay down a smoke screen of deceit.
Proverbs 12:16-18 (in Context) Proverbs 12 (Whole Chapter)
Proverbs 12:19
Truth lasts; lies are here today, gone tomorrow.
Proverbs 12:18-20 (in Context) Proverbs 12 (Whole Chapter)
Proverbs 14:25
Souls are saved by truthful witness and betrayed by the spread of lies.
Proverbs 14:24-26 (in Context) Proverbs 14 (Whole Chapter)
Proverbs 15:14
An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth; fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies.
Proverbs 15:13-15 (in Context) Proverbs 15 (Whole Chapter)
Proverbs 16:6
Guilt is banished through love and truth; Fear-of-God deflects evil.
Proverbs 16:5-7 (in Context) Proverbs 16 (Whole Chapter)

But my favorite discussion of truth comes in the last hours of Jesus' life. Pilate is talking to him, trying to figure out if he is a criminal or just nuts, and he asks him, ""So, are you a king or not?"

Jesus answered, "You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice."

38-39Pilate said, "What is truth?"

Then he went back out to the Jews and told them, "I find nothing wrong in this man. It's your custom that I pardon one prisoner at Passover. Do you want me to pardon the 'King of the Jews'?"

The most amazing of conversations with such a peculiar ending. Did you notice it? Jesus doesn't answer the question, perhaps the most important question we could ever ask.

We live in a world without truth, a world without wisdom that is stock filled with lies and knowledge.

Politics is run by lies and we don't know who is going to get us out of this situation we find ourselves in.

But this I know: Jesus answered the question earlier and we paid no attention. He said, "I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life."

Therefore, there is truth in the world after all. We need merely to listen and obey.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Donut of shame

Did you see this the other day?

Twinkies. Nutty bars. Powdered donuts.

For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.

His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most -- not the nutritional value of the food.

The premise held up: On his "convenience store diet," he shed 27 pounds in two months.

For a class project, Haub limited himself to less than 1,800 calories a day. A man of Haub's pre-dieting size usually consumes about 2,600 calories daily. So he followed a basic principle of weight loss: He consumed significantly fewer calories than he burned.

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal. He now weighs 174 pounds.

Oh, the ramifications.

Since sometimes in my 20s, I've battled a weight problem. I go up. I go down. I get, uh, bigger. I get smaller. On and on and on. And when I enter those convenience stories, there they are. My nemesis. Powdered donuts. Oh, the beauty of them all. Those little round holey bits of pleasure.

And now...they're diet food. Whoadthunk it?

Finding something in the Bible about powdered donuts is difficult, I'll admit, but I'm not weak. I discovered the 39th Psalm which says, "I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will keep a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence."

That's the way my wife Mary and I have lived for most of this year. We measure carbs with every meal. Good ol' white bread, the fount of my every blessing, has gone the way of John Wayne. Pizza, my favorite food? Have the find the right carb count and it must tasted like cardboard with a bit of tomatoe sauce on it. And on and on.

Then comes this report, from a NUTRITIONIST mind you. Not some quack. Not some bimbo. From a guy, you know, a scientist, a mind, a guy who knows. Who lost 27 POUNDS.

Dare I sneak out of the house some evening and go to Clyde's up the street and walk in, where the cameras can't see me, and grab 10 bags of those little wicked tiny but sweet powered donuts? Dare I?

While pondering, I happened to look down further into that Psalm and I read, "Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is."

Seems about right. One donut in, one day gone. Don't know that's worth it. So I'll stay away.

It's not pounds that is my problem. It's doing the next wrong thing. "While I mused," David wrote, "the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Peace of mind indeed

Last night we had an hour discussion about the fear of losing our possessions, our money, based upon the parable of the rich fool from Luke 12. We talked about the difference between being prepared (hoarding, saving, making sure your money is safe and sound as they used to say) and trusting in God.

The parable reads this way: 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Nowhere does it say this man was unethical, immoral, sinful necessarily in his actions, yet God calls him a fool. Why? The mistake he makes is the pronoun...I, I, I, me, me, me, my, my,my. His preparation, his own personal preparation without relying on God, is his mistake.

This morning when I fired this baby up, there was an ad on the Yahoo home page with a rainbow coming from a car to a young couple with the worlds, "peace of mind" as the ad theme. In other words, Toyota (of all car manufacturers) is the way to peace of mind.

Let me preface this by saying, I had money over the years and I spent it. God has never let my needs not be met. Never. But my wants have overtaken me time and again. That's just a fact. I have quit on money and I don't necessarily miss it, although I do miss the Times-Picayune health insurance. But I digress.

I wondered about all this over morning coffee, then opened my Bible to Psalm 90, which I'm told is a psalm of Moses.

It reads: 1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3 You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
4 A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:

There is clearly an insignifacance to life that can't be denied. Bill Gates might have changed our culture by deciding everyone could and should have a computer in every office on every desk in every home, but he will die just like me, one day. Compared to the majesty of our God, who created mountains and streams and even Bill Gates, we are nothing. Nothing. That makes our possessions, our worries, our concerns less than less than nothing.

Peace of mind is not a new car, for most of us can't afford one. So if we buy one, we go farther into debt. If we go farther into debt, we have less peace of mind, not more.

Peace of mind, then, dang sure isn't a new car and the next bill to come. Peace of mind comes from contentment which comes from the Lord. Contentment is being happy with what you have and not wanting more. Plan and simple.

peace of mind, indeed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From the brink

I cancelled a doctor's visit for today that was set six months ago. I cancelled it because:
A) I feel pretty good overall other than constant back ache that this doctor couldn't do anything about
B) I can't afford to go because I have, uh, inadequate health insurance.

I'm not particularly worried about B because of A and because I can't believe God would allow me to fall through the cracks of a weird situation such as, uh, inadequate health insurance.

I read this, as an explanation:
11-17 Train me, God, to walk straight;
then I'll follow your true path.
Put me together, one heart and mind;
then, undivided, I'll worship in joyful fear.
From the bottom of my heart I thank you, dear Lord;
I've never kept secret what you're up to.
You've always been great toward me—what love!
You snatched me from the brink of disaster!

David rote that as, my Bible tells me, a supplication for help against enemies. But it's also a bit of a servant's prayr for protection, protection from the big, ol' bad stuff that comes against us. The Psalm acknowledges that we can't seem to do this straight walk on our own, but with God's help, we are of one heart and mind.

I think that is without question true for most of us, certainly for me. As I age, the body withers, the mind doesn't recall what it once could, but it still, with God's help, can help someone find this God who sought me and found me and snatched me from the brink of disaster.

He wouldn't do that and leave me there. Insurance or no insurance.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's foggy in America

The fog rolled in this morning in a massive wave. It's warming up in the area, from the frigid nights we had this weekend, and the end result is fog. Fog thick and unmoving in the trees. Fog above the cars in the drive. There is even a dense fog advisory. Fog nestled in till morning's end and the sun burns it away.

I thought about the fog this morning.

I thought about how much it reminds me of how we see what the world has to give us, about what America is seeing today.

I have friends who insist that Republicans must be rednecks. I have friends who insist Democrats must be demonic. I have friends who don't know or care. I have friends who think there is no hope.

And the fog grows deeper in the marshes.

I only know what I see, feel, touch, taste, and what I see is a country that is listing like a ship rolling in heavy seas. I feel lost sometime trying to understand what the future for my grandkids will be. I touch new technology and celebrate, but the taste the deficit we're leaving and it is putrid in my mouth.

Where are the true leaders? Where are the heroes?

The Bible says this: "We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!"

I'm sure there are ones who might read this out of curiosity and turn it away because it's one of those "religious things." But the fact is that religion is not what I propose to solve our problems. No. I propose a leader, a method, a way, a truth, and a new life. That leader is the man named Jesus and he is the only way. Truly. Really.

When I am in with Him, in with the vine, staying close to him in prayer and in deed, I am successful in whatever I attempt. When I am not, it doesn't mean I don't succeed as the world sees it but it does mean I am never content with it.

To be content and consistent and to succeed in the best of things, this country, this world needs Jesus. He is the only answer. Really.

The Bible also says, "Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” 14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone."

It's foggy this morning in America. Here a little while, then it's gone.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A grand opening

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.

Let this day be a day of prayer and supplication. Let this be the day I get it. Let this be the day I see you.

Oh, but that we could call on him and He would come to us. Oh, that the hills would ring with the sound of his coming.

Instead ...

A cigarette causes more than cancer at a Columbus, Ga., Waffle House. According to Columbus police reports, Shemkia Wingfield lit a cigarette inside the Macon Road restaurant. That's when another woman asked her to put it out. The altercation became physical when Wingfield threw her cigarette at the woman, then two other women, Beatrice Willis and Candace Bryant, jumped on the victim. The brawl continued out into the parking lot where police found the victim with minor injuries.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to see you. I want to see him lifted high, supported by the love of my heart.

Instead ...

This world never seems to get it. Never seems to want to get it. My tower of refuge and strength is Jesus. How others get around that is a complete mystery. All the earth should be shouting to the Lord as we speak.


The Bible says that one day all will bow to the name of Jesus. Wouldn't it simply be easier to explore what that means today? Before things get out of hand completely. Before we go down roads we can't return from. Before the violence and the anger take its toll?

In the Message we find these thoughts in the Psalm 35:
9-10 But let me run loose and free,
celebrating God's great work,
Every bone in my body laughing, singing, "God,
there's no one like you.
You put the down-and-out on their feet
and protect the unprotected from bullies!"

Then ...

17-18 God, how long are you going
to stand there doing nothing?
Save me from their brutalities;
everything I've got is being thrown to the lions.
I will give you full credit
when everyone gathers for worship;
When the people turn out in force
I will say my Hallelujahs.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jobless but trusting, the only way to be

This week was another hugely difficult trial for some old friends.

When you spent 34 years developing friendships in the field of journalism, it's difficult since that field is taking blow after blow. Friends are being laid off and being laid low by, what, a career field that is akin to a mine field.

My friends have reached the age and the pay scale that they are prime candidates for their employers to simply let them go or phase out their positions.

How do we, as believers, handle such matters? You work and you work and you get better and in some cases darn good at what you've chosen to do with your employment life and suddenly, the world caves in on you. What do you do with that, emotionally and mentally?

Paul, who was a fine, fine theologian before being knocked off his high horse on the road to Damascus, knew a thing or two about such matters. He was proceeding with his career, when his career path literally changed in a second. From then on, he had to come up with new ways of doing new things. He knew only one thing with certainty: God could be trusted.

Paul (or someone who followed Paul's teachings) wrote to the Hebrews, "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd."

The apostle Peter, who knew a thing or two about career changes, wrote, "Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ's sacred blood, you know."

There's merit in the one door closes and God opens another thinking. There really is. In the Old Testament, David wrote, "Pile your troubles on God's shoulders — he'll carry your load, he'll help you out. He'll never let good people topple into ruin."

Jobs gone, trust God. Lives changed, trust God. Depression common, trust God. Money troubles, trust God.

The greatest of authors, God himself, said this in the Psalms, "If you'll hold on to me for dear life. I'll get you out of any trouble. I'll give you the best of care if you'll only get to know and trust me. Call me and I'll answer, be at your side in bad times; I'll rescue you, then throw you a party."

Sometimes it is an effort just to hang on, to hold on, to keep trying one more day. Sometimes we wonder just how this could have happened. Sometimes we're so down we can't help but see up.

When we do, there He is. Call him and he'll answer.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Let your lungs expand with praise

Ever felt that God had forgotten about you? You know, things aren't going good, your check book isn't worth the paper it's printed on, your stack of bills are enough to keep your house heated if you set them ablaze.

Seriously. Forgotten you. Things were swell, then they weren't, and no matter your prayer life, no matter your spiritual disciplines, no matter your scripture reading, no matter the intense reading of That's Life (I threw that in there, but you get the picture), you can't find God. You feel a hole, and even chocolate and ice cream can't fill it.

Some call it a time of spiritual dryness, and surely it is. But for some it's more than that. Some find that time, which many if not most of us go through, to be similar to the time the Israelites spent away from Jerusalem, from their land. Dispersed. Deported.

It's like having a home, a place where your kids were born and raised, a place where you know each nook and cranny with intimate knowledge,(there's the place Carrie slipped and split her knee, there's the place Shanna broke the vase, there's the ...) and you're forcefully removed from it for a period of time with only a promise, that thing we find so hard to make into reality, of ever going back.

The Israelites felt that way. But God was a speaking God to the prophets then, and to Ezekiel, he spoke: "But now I will return Jacob back from exile, I'll be compassionate with all the people of Israel, and I'll be zealous for my holy name. Eventually the memory will fade, the memory of their shame over their betrayals of me when they lived securely in their own land, safe and unafraid. Once I've brought them back from foreign parts, gathered them in from enemy territories, I'll use them to demonstrate my holiness with all the nations watching. Then they'll realize for sure that I am their God, for even though I sent them off into exile, I will gather them back to their own land, leaving not one soul behind. After I've poured my Spirit on Israel, filled them with my life, I'll no longer turn away. I'll look them full in the face. Decree of God, the Master."

I'll look them full in the face is God's way of saying I will never turn away again. I will see them, watch over them, be with them.

If you ever wonder just what the joy was when Israel became a nation in the late 1940s, it was that many of them felt God was loking them full in the face again. When Mary and I were in Israel earlier this year, I heard the expression, "Maybe next year in Jerusalem," at the Holocaust Museum for the first time. It resonated with me.

Maybe I'll see my kin next year. Maybe I'll feel whole again next year. Maybe I'll feel home again next year. Maybe ....

We live a pretty moderate worship life, you know, we Americans. Orthodox Jews, strict Muslems, they live a much more serious worship life. We come and we go to church as if it is something we love ... if there is nothing better to do at that time. Maybe God wouldn't seem so far away at times if we were as diligent about staying close to him, huh?

I think to Psalm 34, which is my sermon text Sunday, about a youngish David thinking about his relationship with his God.

David, chased by the King (Saul), living in caves, having been thrown out of his comfort zone at the palace, with reasons to feel God was far from him, wrote these words:

"1 I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise.

2 I live and breathe God;
if things aren't going well, hear this and be happy:

3 Join me in spreading the news;
together let's get the word out.

4 God met me more than halfway,
he freed me from my anxious fears.

5 Look at him; give him your warmest smile.
Never hide your feelings from him.

6 When I was desperate, I called out,
and God got me out of a tight spot.

7 God's angel sets up a circle
of protection around us while we pray.

8 Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see—
how good God is.
Blessed are you who run to him."

God far from you? Feeling down or destressed? David says, open your mouth and taste how good God is. Bless him. Praise him. Call out to him. Never hide your feelings. Let your lungs expand with his praise.

Maybe next year in Jerusalem; but this year in Covington, La., for certain. Let my lungs expand with his praise, whether circumstances are good or not. In fact, David says, if things are going poorly, if circumstances are stacked in the negative column against you, the thing to do is let your lungs expand with his praise. Praising Him, David says, is the key to YOUR joy.

Maybe next year in Jerusalem. Maybe.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wars and rumors of wars

Last night in a Bible study that was supposed to be discussing why we should not be fearful despite the violence in the world, we wound up chasing a fighting rabbit down the "war" hole.

You know, the easy to answer question about whether Christians could or should be involved with war?

I stood alone in the less than thrilled about war category. I stood alone in the I wouldn't have bombed Hiroshima category. I stood alone in the we should be careful about using large brushes to paint those who oppose whomever "us" is.

I'm not sure whether, upon further review, that was a good position to be in, this alone stuff.

War, and its tributaries (the scuffle, argument, debate, fist fight, gun shot, stabbing), is a very difficut question to explore. Our Bible study went far longer than normal, and my wife said at one point I took the air out of the room with what I said. Said I should have left it alone. She's right. I should have. But even talking about wars and fighting and such brings out the combativeness in us all.

Isn't all of it really about who is being right?

Our conclusions:

Clearly the Old Testament times were filled with war, and God seems to have had no difficulty telling the Israelites to wipe out entire cultures for his purposes. That whole smashing babies heads thing is one of the most difficult things to explain in all of the Bible.

Jesus comes along and seems to change everything, telling his people to do things like love enemies and turn the other cheek. He seems to be about peace, until you read the statement he made about not coming to bring peace to families but to break them apart.

The early church danced and sang its way to death in the coliseum.
Jesus accepted his fate despite the ability to bring down legions of angels. He also had Peter put away the sword. These incidents seem to lean toward the putting away the instruments of distruction, be they mass or otherwise.

We talked about wars in the Pacific, wars in the middle east, wars and wars and wars about wars.

In the end, we answered nothing really, instead being mostly tired. We were not the first to stumble over such tough questions. We won't be the last. Did we figure out just what a Christian should do or feel or think? Possibly, but more likely not.

It's not easy. Taking another's life is the most serious of debate topics. I am against it on its deepest level. I'm sure of that. But if my children's lives depended on it, I would ....

Jesus had a wonderful opportunity, as he discussed the end times, to comment (just as he had great opportunities to talk about abortion and homosexuality and all those things that seem to cause such fusses today in and across Christianity today) about wars.

He said this: 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom."

He said that, but what didn't he say? He didn't say, "But don't you participate in them." He didn't say, "But pray about them all or love those ones who participate or defend yourself when attacked or don't you dare strike first or any of those things." He didn't say, "Whack those who would whack you first." Didn't say it. As far as I can understand, didn't think it. So how do we? Really. How do we?

I tend to be a bit of a pacifist, and I don't like the thought of bombs killing kids and I'm particularly against any of the above simply because someone is of a different religion. How religion can be a tool of destruction or a reason for killing astounds me. But it is, and it has always been.

I don't have an answer when folks talk about saving ones loved ones by fighting or saving ones nation by fighting back or any of the examples all of us can give. I don't. I just don't. Anyone who says it's a simply thought, I wonder about.

I'll just throw this out, though. We extrapolate that God is against abortion because all life is sacred and that's a theme that runs through the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular. But we don't extrapolate that same message when it comes to the death penalty. We extrapolate that murder is wrong because it says that in the ten commandments, but we don't extrapolate that murder is wrong when it comes to war. At that point we say that is killing, not murder and start talking Hebrew syntax and such. I'm not absolutely certain the one killed cares that much about the differerence between murder and killing, though we say God does. Does He now?

The thing about all this that bothers me most is what it all says is that not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, but it seems that war is as well. That seems to be wrong on so many levels. If we can decide what is right and wrong on our own, what need we have the law of Moses? What need we have Jesus' teachings? What need we have morality and ethics? We simply decide what is right and wrong on our own and Bible be darned.

I remember in Course of Study, that which passed for mini-seminary for me, how astounded I was when so many held different beliefs about such seemingly fundamental things as virgin birth, bodily resurrection, rapture and Biblical things such as that and current topics like war, abortion, homosexuality. What I had figured was clear going in was not coming out. It's not a matter of intellect either. Reasonable, intelligent persons disagreed with MY position. I was astounded.

Maybe in the end that's what Jesus wanted. He wanted us to come not to agreement mentally but to some sort of compromise of the heart where the difficult issues can be talked about and some sort of understanding worked out.

And if that didn't work, he knew we would just fight about them anyway.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The only race worth running

Somewhere along the line, the local newspaper began letting others write their own or their friends or families' obits. I'm not certain of the reason, but I'm very happy about it.

Now, one can wonder about why I read them, but that's a blog of another day.

Today, I honor those who write them, whomever they might be.

One I saw today reads, "She is survived by her three beloved canine children, Maddie, Susie and Looter, who will be lovingly cared for by her family members." It goes on to read, "the following quote is a wonderful summation of her personality: 'Life should NOT be a journey to the grave, with the intention of arriving in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways -- iced tea in one hand and chocolate in the other -- body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming, Woo Hoo! What a Ride.'"

Another read, "He loved crossword puzzles, fishing with his friends and spending time with his family." A loner who loved being with people. I know him well.

Still another read,"He was a loyal friend to whom he would give the shirt off his back. He will be remembered by all the lives he has touched. To the many friend she has left behind, he will be forever missed not as a friend, but as a brother." A brother to all isn't a bad way to be.

It's just a moment, a moment of newsprint that will be put in a book somewhere and placed on a shelf somewhere else. To try to sum what a person has been in the space of a few lines of type is difficult at best, terribly straining at worst. So often we look to try to say who they were.

The question then of the day is, "How do you wish to be remembered."

I'm pretty sure the first thing I would want is, I want to be remembered, period. After that, I would love someone to have noticed that I love certain things and have tried to do certain things and loved certain people and was loved by them in return. I loved certain music and certain sports teams and certain moments in time. I loved my family, and wanted friends so badly, canine, feline and human.

But what I want more than anyone else is for someone to have seen, not just noticed but to have seen without question, that I loved Jesus Christ and that love meant all the difference in the world. That who I once was was not who I was when I passed. I was a changed man, and it was quite intentional. I was a different fellow, and all knew it. I couldn't do a crossword if there was a gun to my head, but my body was used up in the pursuit of the lost.

Paul said of his end in a letter he wrote to his pupil Timothy, "You're going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They'll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you — keep your eye on what you're doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God's servant. You take over. I'm about to die, my life an offering on God's altar. This is the only race worth running. I've run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that's left now is the shouting — God's applause!"

I hope that anyone writing my obit will say something akin to "After much experimentation, he discovered that this was the only race worth running, and Turner ran it hard to the finish."

With one last chance to say something about the person before they're gone into the fog of history, what we did slips into a second-place behind who we were. I'm not sure that's the right way to see our lives. I pray that what I did was more memorable than who I was and that both of them fall behind whose I was. Put that at the top of the obit in bold, capital letters. BILLY WAS A SON OF GOD

This is the only race worth running. My friends, run it hard, run it the best you can, run it for the one waiting at the finish line. Run to the edge of the River Jordan, plow into the murky, deep waters, come up out of ther wet and wild with a smile a lifetime in the making, and say hello to the one who made it all possible.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A dry harvest

I must admit I dream of moments like these:

Jesus is putting his master plan together when he does this in the Gospel of Luke: "the Master selected seventy and sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he intended to go. He gave them this charge:
"What a huge harvest! And how few the harvest hands. So on your knees; ask the God of the Harvest to send harvest hands."On your way! But be careful—this is hazardous work. You're like lambs in a wolf pack. "Travel light. Comb and toothbrush and no extra luggage. "Don't loiter and make small talk with everyone you meet along the way. "When you enter a home, greet the family, 'Peace.' If your greeting is received, then it's a good place to stay. But if it's not received, take it back and get out. Don't impose yourself. Stay at one home, taking your meals there, for a worker deserves three square meals. Don't move from house to house, looking for the best cook in town. When you enter a town and are received, eat what they set before you, heal anyone who is sick, and tell them, 'God's kingdom is right on your doorstep!' "When you enter a town and are not received, go out in the street and say, 'The only thing we got from you is the dirt on our feet, and we're giving it back. Did you have any idea that God's kingdom was right on your doorstep?' Sodom will have it better on Judgment Day than the town that rejects you. ... "The one who listens to you, listens to me. The one who rejects you, rejects me. And rejecting me is the same as rejecting God, who sent me." The seventy came back triumphant. "Master, even the demons danced to your tune!"

When examining this moment, one notices a few things. There are no committee meetings about strategy planning, no powerpoint displays of what we will do next, no books to be read, no prayer circles even. But the thing I notice the most is that 70 went out and 70 were successful. Seventy?

This thing of church growth is a puzzler ot me. You come up with idea after idea, you research and come up with demographics that say so and so works and then you try so and so and it either works or it doesn't.

And then...somehow...70 becomes 12 becomes 11 becomes one at the foot of the cross.

This notion that we should be satisfied, even gratified, if one new person comes to our churches is a difficult one for me. If one comes, I think two could have. If two comes, I wonder where the other five was. If five come, what didn't we do that would have attracted 10.

And I wonder how Jesus felt when he looked down and saw his momma and one disciple? I'm fairly certain there were much bigger pains to be concerned about at that moment, nails and dying and all, but still, where did the 70 go?

I'm constantly worrying that not only am I not bringing in the many, I'm running away the few. That puts tremendous pressure on me, I understand. But the stakes are great, are they not? Could they possibly be any greater?

"The one who listens to you, listens to me. The one who rejects you, rejects me. And rejecting me is the same as rejecting God, who sent me."

Somehow I impose myself into that mixture, feeling the rejection way out of proportion. It is God himself they are rejecting, and that is so dang sad. Then I wonder if it's me that they're rejecting and they're fine with god. Bottom line is, THEY are rejecting, and it hurts my very soul to consider that.

God give us words, the workers of your fields, to say the right thing, do the right thing, be the right thing that helps us with the harvest. The harvest isn't going that well, as I'm sure you know.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Half empty

I live in a half-filled world. My cup is almost always half-filled. Sunday I was called on it. Someone said I was negative, and though I know it to be true, it still hurt like heck.

Seems I'm the reason my smallest church is not doing better. I "attack" it.

Perhaps that's true. Perhaps I don't look at the brighter side of things. Well, no perhaps about it.

After five weeks of preaching about inviting and preaching about changing things and bringing in new folks at the larger of my churches, we had 87 there on Sunday for a "black and gold" Sunday, with a "tail-gating party" of food after church. Most were estatic. I wasn't. All I saw was no new people, just more of the same folks who come some of the time.

It's hard to feel blessed when you feel you're not.

On top of being accused of being negative and "attacking" the other church, which has 24 folks on a good day, I wasn't exactly peppy the rest of the day and I'm not exactly peppy right now. Heck, even the ones I invited who said they were coming didn't. Clearly I haven't got all the answers. I have none of them, actually.

What to do?

I guess the thing is to do what I always do when I'm feeling particularly negative (which only a few readers know because I only have a few readers in the first place).

From the Message, the fifth chapter of Matthew reads in part, " 5"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought."

Therefore I guess I'm not blessed, because I have the hardest time being content with who I am, no more, no less. I really do. Being content with who I am, to me, means doing nothing. And I just can't seem to do that.

If one church has 24 and the other 87, all I want to do is bring in 30 and 100. I don't see the growth, I seen the slowness of growth. I don't see new faces, I see only a few new faces.

Do I wish I was different? I guess. Do I think I can change? Not really.

So I continue, one foot in front of the other while wondering why I even do that.