Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rob Bell and salvation

I might as well join the hundreds of bloggers and thousands of twitters with an opinion on Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins, in which he postulates there is no hell because a God who loves his children would never send them to eternal torment.

Let me begin the conversation by saying that clearly there is a separation taught by Jesus. "All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Separation is not a question. So therefore, one must consider where one is separated into.

Jesus taught, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. "

That one used to scare me considerably lest I accidentally say the word fool.

But clearly Jesus taught the doctrine of hell, if one can believe that is Jesus' words that are recorded, as Bell must not.

I know many persons who have the problem of putting the most loving person who ever lived, this Jesus, into the category of the one who sends people to eternal torment. I get that. But do we get to decide our own theology or do we take what the book gives us and live that? I think that is more Bell's question and than anything else.

This I know, though. Romans 10 says this, "If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Added to that statement is no dialogue about heaven and hell, abortion or homosexuality, even murder or whatever else you can name. Declare, believe and you will be saved.

See, all this is about Jesus. It's not about deep theological thinking.

Jesus. Saved.


Let's simplify and believe, why don't we?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Well done

It is a dark day, this day. I need lights on as I write at 7:30 a.m.

I guess it's as good a day as any to talk about a dark subject, this thing we call death. I must admit, early on, that death frightens me. I don't dwell on it, because I know my Lord defeated death long ago. I really know that, not think it or believe it. But still, I fear death because, well, I love those around me so much even if I don't see my family as nearly as I should.

I am older, perhaps twice as fast as I once was, by the day. Aches. Pains. Surprises of aches and pains, like the chest pain I awoke with today, fill my mornings. I get things going in the right direction about an hour into the day, and for the most part I survive the rest of the day.

I find myself watching info-mercials about fixing bodily aches and pains far too often. I wonder what it would be like to be 10 years younger, 20 years younger. Death is a companion I haven't invited.

And I await that day when I am too old to wonder any longer. It's coming, like the proverbial train through the tunnel toward me.

Jesus, on his journey to Jerusalem to die for all of us, knew when he would die. I've wondered whether that was a blessing or a curse. In any case, he knew, and he did it anyway.

Then three days later, he rose from the dead. Death was beaten, badly, like a No. 1 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament these days.

Before that, however, he told us something we can use this dark morning as we contemplate death. He said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe* in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?* 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also."

I read those words at every funeral I officiate at. They speak to me of a hope that nothing else can give. This hope extends to all who seek it.

I believe this morning that dear Adrian has that hope. She has passed  onto that place where there is more than hope, where Paul talked of the ability to see clearly that which we see through a dark glass currently. She has no pain. She has no fear. Death has been beaten, once again.

Death is something to be respected, even feared, but with Jesus as our Lord, we must never be troubled. Instead, we can look forward to that day when we hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

It's coming.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Joyful, joyful, we adore thee

A great friend reminded me yesterday of the merit of reading a Psalm a day and meditating on it. Seems I'm stuck in Psalms 119 so I will continue there.

David wrote, "Oh, how I love all you've revealed; I reverently ponder it all day long."

I've had discussions lately about what is reverent, especially in worship. I have a tendency, apparently, to use humor during the service, and there are some who feel that is in error.

So, I'm working on trying to be as joyful as I can be without being irreverent. That might be a chore for me.

What is reverent to you, the reader? What can and can't you do in worship? I love to sense the Spirit in worship and dry worship isn't Spirit-filled worship to me. Truthfully, I don't feel the Spirit through liturgy. Perhaps it is to others. We differ, or so I'm told.

I know only this: "Every word you give me is a miracle word -- how could I help but obey?" God sends His word out and it never comes back void. And when David danced before the Lord, God thought enough of that act to include it in scripture.

Today I hope I'm filled with joy enough that someone might notice. I hope that I'm Spirit-filled enough that someone might see the Spirit dancing in my eyes. I pray that all of us are that shining city on a hill.

Reverent is as reverent does, I guess.

Monday, March 28, 2011

His own hands

I'm deeply involved in the Psalms right now because I'm tired. When I'm tired, I try to turn to the source of peace that helps me the most, and it is in the Psalms most of the time, though Philippians is a close second.

In the past seven days, I went to prison with all the emotional landmines that had, came back to have an emotional board meeting, started leadership training that centered both on my own shortcomings and the shortcomings of the execution of our plans for the church, drove 3.5 hours each way to speak 20 minutes about some young and some not so young persons considering ministry goals and then had an exceptional worship service yesterday despite my shortcomings musically one more time.


Then I read, "with you very own hands, you formed me; now breathe you wisdom over me so I can understand you. When they see me waiting, expecting your Word, those who fear you will take heart and be glad. I can see now, God, that your decisions are right."

Understanding just how wonderful God is, how wise God is, is the first part of the communicative process with a supreme being. The second part is understanding him on a second level, the level of relationship. Just knowing He is there isn't enough. Demons, the Bible says, know that. But having a relationship with him is the more vital move.

Pray. Even short prayers that seem to have no consequence. Pray.
Read. Even short bursts of scripture, taken in context, are better than none.

As we all grow nearer that moment of death that will come to us all, can't we understand the necessity of having a relationship with someone who loves us so much that He will be on our death beds with us, lying there, pushing the hair out of our eyes, rubbing our cold or warm foreheads with a loving hand?

"With you very own hands, you formed me..."

The energy begins to flow in again.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The animal that can't be captured

When we feel life is easy, we're mistaken. It never really is.

We talk about stained glass heroes of scripture and their closeness to God, but in reality, they had more than their share of problems. It was not their closeness to God that anointed them to do things that were captured in the best-selling book of all time. No. It was their closeness to God that carried them through all the stuff that they went through. Stuff just like all of us.

I'm learning. I really am. There are people everywhere who want nothing more than to stop whatever small successes someone else might be having. I get it.

But the problem is God is a big God. God wants all of us to love each other.

And Jesus prayed in this manner on the last night of his life, "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

He said he prays that all may be one. Oh, that it would be so.

But change, that animal that can't be captured, is tough for some folks.

I get it. I do.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Joy enters singing

Aren't we in a wonderful time?

Oh, the economy is still in the dumps and we're dumping military arsenal's on other countries and all sorts of downer stuff.

But it's gonna be 80 degrees with sunshine and a little breeze and a little humidity and God is chirping outside my window this morning. So let's try an experiment.

Drop what you're doing and praise God this morning.

David did it this way: On your feet now -- applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter. Sing yourselves into his presence. Know this: God is God and God, God. He made us. We didn't make him. We're his people, his well-tended sheep. Enter with the password, "Thank you."

That being the case, let's do that this morning.

Seek out all that you feel thankful for, and thank Him. Thank Him for life, breath, family. Thank Him for the joys of your life, not the happinesses, and for the learning experiments we call sorrows.

Thank Him for this morning and the work of the day. Thank Him. Bring joy as your currency and pay the piper for the chance to dance one more day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Getting out the guns

There are many like me who simply can't understand. We can't understand what it is like to live in parts of New Orleans today. A man in prison told me that he "prayed to be put in prison" because he had children and he wanted to be alive to see them grow up. Imagine. He wanted to go to a safer place, so he prayed to be incarcerated.

Imagine having to get up every day not knowing if this is your last. Imagine having to keep wary eyes open in case someone rushes you and begins to spat out bullets from a previously hidden gun. Imagine worrying that night will come and with it more chances for hits. Imagine never being able to tell anyone about your fears because if you "rat" you will most certainly increase the chances of your being shot.


Then imagine what the introduction of love does to that living system. Imagine what a dose of Christ, a real dose of Christ from people who will become the hands and feet of the Messiah will do to a system that is littered with bodies and cloaked in fear.


This morning lift a prayer to a community that knows fear more than it knows Jesus. Imagine a city on a hill, cloaked in warm light from the one who is the light of the world, shining into the dark hearts of the deadly town.


Then imagine that you, me, us, might be the vessels that begin to pour this love into the community. A hot meal here. A prayer with hands gripped, not in death grips but in life grips, white and black, poor and middle class. A day spent cleaning a neighborhood. A night hushed by love.


What should we do? What can we do?

Psalm 99 in the Message says: God rules. On your toes, everybody! He rules from his angel throne -- take notice. God looms majestic in Zion."

Bless his name. Shout to him. Ask for inventiveness, intensiveness, inspiration.

Christ conquered the world. Can't he conquer violence?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sing a new song

I woke up this mornin' with my mind, stayed on Jesus. Really. I fought through those moments when things aren't so perfect, when the emotion of a prison ministry weekend seeps away. So, when that happens, I turn to the Psalms for some praising. Let me show you how this works.

In pain physically?

Sing to God a brand-new song. He's made a world of wonders! He rolled up his sleeves, He set things right. God made history with salvation, He showed the world what he could do.

Things not good financially?

He remembered to love us, a bonus To his dear family, Israel—indefatigable love. The whole earth comes to attention. Look—God's work of salvation!

Hurting emotionally?

Shout your praises to God, everybody! Let loose and sing! Strike up the band! Round up an orchestra to play for God, add on a hundred-voice choir.

Hoping for more, but settling for less?

Feature trumpets and big trombones, Fill the air with praises to King God. Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause, With everything living on earth joining in.

Life is tough. No doubt about it, but God is a God of passion, of joy, of hope. His song is one of redemption. Let today be one in which all our minds are stayed on Jesus.

Let ocean breakers call out, "Encore!" And mountains harmonize the finale— A tribute to God when he comes, wen he comes to set the earth right. He'll straighten out the whole world, he'll put the world right, and everyone in it.
(From Psalm 98, The Message)

Monday, March 21, 2011

The prisoners set free

He came to us broken, as they all do, a black man with large-shoulders from uncountable days of weight-lifting, with an oval face and oval brown eyes and a small, thin smile. Not too old, but old enough to be sharing space in a correctional institution that does little to correct that I could see.

We were there because of that word I use a lot, it seems, our calling. We came to minister because, of course, we are well-adjusted Christians and THEY are not. If they but knew who we really were when we arrived...

At the beginning of the three-plus day retreat, they are broken, beaten spiritually and emotionally, lonely, mad, and just about any other emotion you can think of.  But those emotions are hidden, because weakness is a thing that can never be shown. Just can't. Ever.

I've learned that for all the reasons they come in the first place, that they come is the big thing.

That we had come was as amazing to them as it was amazing to us, certainly to me, perhaps the most selfish of the lot.

The man told us that in the yard, that massive holding area prisoners are allowed into to play sports, lift weights or mingle outside their dorms, or on the walk, that concrete area they traverse when allowed between twin yellow lines, they put up silent, tall walls, barriers, to feelings. Everyone is kept out. It's the way they must live if they are to survive their "down" time. They must put away those emotions, turn themselves to blocks of ice, blocks of stone, forgetting what they did as best they can and even forgetting who they were, forgetting their families, wives, children in some cases.

Man. Just forgetting. Though inside, they really, really can't. But outside, just putting on an iron mask and a cement facade, well it's as if a light blue shirt with the maroon word I N M A T E stenciled on it vertically is a curtain.

They're hardening hard hearts, I guess. You don't want to offend. This isn't Angola, but Club Med isn't in the offering either.

As he came to talk to us, he told us about that being the way they must live. Then he said, with the salt of perhaps unwanted tears sliding down to the corners of his lips, "But in four days you guys tore all that down."

He said it with almost a degree of disdain, and certainly with surprise, but ultimately mostly with a joy he could not begin to understand, a new degree of peace he couldn't possibly explain. Believe it or not, I really, really know that feeling.

Another young white man, who kept telling us, as if the sound of the prison bars slamming shut wasn't enough to remind us, they were all criminals. He then said, "I saw one man, the biggest man I've ever seen, who I've known about three years and didn't even know talked, man, he was crying his eyes out, dude."

But all of them were wrong.

Nah. We didn't tear down their walls. We really, sincerely, didn't.

God did. If by some small miracle of the blogging world where a new reader happens along onto this missive and doesn't believe there is such a force in the universe, read this slowly. It is impecable, uncontestable, viewed and drenched in truth.

God dipped his finger, not unlike that wonderful painting, toward men who perhaps had never felt loved by anyone in their lives, and He loved, loved, loved, loved until the loving was as warm rain cascading down.  God slipped in while we were eating, and wiped a tear. God tip-toed in while we were singing and raised hair on the back of necks. God danced among prisoners and set them free, free for the first time in years for some, decades for others, the first time ever for many.

Nah. We didn't. We really, sincerely, didn't.

He did. We were mrerely the incredibly fortunate ones who were allowed along on the ride. We were the long-snappers on the football team, with a small job however important.

When someone holds your hands and you ask them to repeat the sinner's prayer, or what you can remember of it because it's so rare these days you get asked to help someone to pray it with you, you know the Spirit of the Lord is among you and he. When tears really do fall down like a river's falls, (and they are yours) you know the Spirit of the Lord is among you and them. When your breath is quick and your heartbeat at its max and the smiles are as analgesic to the mountainous aches and pains, you are pretty darn sure that the Spirit of the Lord is among you and them, and then suddenly there is no you and them, there is only us.

For just a moment, you know what Peter felt. Paul felt. The great apostles of Acts.

When the church was made up of different colors, different ethnic backgrounds, different economic backgrounds, different thoughts and feelings (and yes, few women). When people came to Christ and believed for the first time. And the church grew and grew. This weekend, so help me, I think the church universal grew.

You look out and around and suddenly you are dancing like David and joy and love are the table condiments. Whew.

Then someone, ah, someone always has to bring up that question. You know. The question. How long will that great emotion last?

Don't know. Don't really care. They went their way. We went ours. Life began again.

But for this morning, dark as the heart of the sinners we all are, let it be about what God gave and we will see in the long run what was received. Is it any different in the free world?

I was looking for a particular verse when I came across these ones that were more to the point in the Message: "So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out."

Inside the prison, out. Not outside, in.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Heading to prison

This is an interesting phenomenon.

As I've grown tired of writing, and down because I can't make headway into readers of the blog world, my readers have gone away. I had six page bites yesterday. The fewest ever.

Makes me wonder what's going on.

In the next three days, I'll be at RCC, a correctional institute (prison) in Louisiana. I ask that the readers who are left pray that someone come to Christ during this period and that we are all safe. This is a wonderful, wonderful program, Kairos, and it needs your prayers, as do I.

I think the Devil is playing with me, and he knows how easily he can turn me. A few bad knocks and I'm down. This morning, for example, I arose early (since I can't sleep anymore because of back pain and now shoulder pain), and when I did, I couldn't lift my shoulder without intense pain. I've placed a heating pad on it and I'm ready for prison, though hefting boxes of cookies might be too much. We'll see.

Jesus said he came to set the prisoners free. I wonder, sincerely wonder, which of us will be the prisoner and who will be set free this weekend. There's a great, great chance that I will be encouraged and freed to write again come Monday morning. There's a chance I'm not.

It's difficult to be Jesus, I've discovered.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


So I was reading today, looking for something to amuse my many readers, when I came across the recipe for perfect toast.

You read that right.

We've lived long enough to reach the stage that someone looked long enough to find the perfect recipe for toast.

I was thinking yesterday about how someone had spent their whole life trying to make a better razor. Someone had spent their whole life trying to take the fat out of milk, and someone had spent their whole life trying to make a better comb and a better brush and a better car and on and on and on.


I never made a better anything. Never. I bought some of them, and found them to not be quite so much better, but I never made a better anything.

This comes to me as I've been pondering leadership lately. I have deduced that I spent 25 years being a manager, but I've never been a leader. I've always wanted to be, still do in fact, but I've never led. I've been a good follower. And as a manager, if something needed done that wasn't being done by the many, the few (me) would do it. But I've never led.

Leading, it seems to me, is the better toast. It is saying what needs to be said without worrying about the outcome, good or bad. It's showing the way, when the easier way is more acceptable.

Seems to me we have few leaders today. That's the type of person you would follow to, as they say, the gates of hell. Few strike me that way. Obama might have at one time, but all I've seen is the gates of hell since.

Jesus, is strikes me, is the greatest leader we've ever seen. He never worried whether what he was saying was accepted. He never was concerned about being liked. He was anything but politically correct. He was everything we could have wanted in a leader. And we killed him.

The lesson learned there is not that leaders get killed. It's that leaders are remembered. More than 2,000 years later.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What can we do?

I was watching some of the reports about Japan and I rememered Katrina, one more time. My thoughts were these: Katrina and its aftermath were a drop in the ocean compared to what Japan is facing and has faced. How does one go through something like that? How does on sustain itself, when all around it is chaos and woe.

I have no answers. They don't come this morning. They aren't out there for me, I'm afraid, and thus they're not there for you.

But I remind you that God is the God of the Japanese as well as the American; God of the tusnami as well as the earthquake as well as the flood as well as the hurricane.

And God is on the throne.

Why? I can't help you.

Who? I can.

Psalm 11 reads: When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
4 The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD is on his heavenly throne.

I have no answers, but I knew He does. He is saddened by what is happening, moreso than any of us. Our prayers must continue to glide toward Heaven while gliding out toward Japan.

It's all we can do right now.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Asking why

We're knee deep into the Lenten season now. Those of us who grew up with no idea about the Christian calendar have never felt the deep connection to Lent that some around me now feel. To clarify for those who don't feel it now, Lent is a season, the season before Easter, of deep reflection. It is a season of sacrifice. It is a season of determination, as I preached Sunday. It is a season in which we should look at who we are and remember whose we are.

I call that any day that ends in a y.

I have so many faults that they are now on sale at E-Bay. But one thing I do not claim as a fault is my ability, no my necessity, to look at who I am and how I got here. It's almost a plague. Another addiction,

As with coffee in the morning, I look at what I have done and what I could have done with great regularity. Doesn't everyone? Well, I've discovered that, no, not everyone does.

So there's this season, this Lent, that is up to the task.

The Bible has more to say about reflection that one might thing.

In Proverbs, it says, "1As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart." Wow.

It says in Ecclesiastes that one who is happy seldom reflects. "Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart." Wow. Wow.

And in Paul's words to his student Timothy, he writes, "Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this." Wow. Wow. Wow.

Reflection isn't merely what comes back at you from a mirror. Paul even takes a shot at that. He reminds us that we can't even count on that. "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known," he reminds us.

Reflection is what we call looking deeply into ourselves, our actions, our thoughts, our opinions, the why of the formula.

Reflection is asking ourselves, "Why did we do what we did when we did it to whom we did it to?"

We don't always get the answers. I'm continually asking why, but not always getting the answers for why. I want to know, but I don't always probe properly or ask the right questions. Or sometimes, perhaps, I really, really don't want to know the answers.

It is good for us to ask why we do things. For it is only in the asking that we have a chance to change what it is we do. Clearly we all need to make changes for we all fall short of perfection, Paul tells us time and again.

Look deep at your sins this Lent. Look deep at the cause. Look deeper into the solutions to those causes. More often than not, that solution will be spelled J-e-s-u-s.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Seeking something worth praising

Everyone who loving is bon of God and knows God. Whover does not know love does no know God, for God is love. 1 john4:7b-8

In a moment of confessin, I say what I suspect many have said over time. I'm a jerk. A part-time jerk, I hope, but certainly a jerk at least some of the time. I'm a jerk to my wife, the sweest, gentliest, loving PERSON i've ever met. There is nothing she won't do for others.

But me? I try to fix thinga, systems, even people. Not because I'm superior. Lord know, I'm not. But I try to fix things out of an inordinat amount to guilt and thankfulness. I was saved. I stress out trying to return the favor,

Today our reading from Scot McKnight's book 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed  is sinple in its reasoing. See God's face. I did that and wrote about it last week and complely turned the week around. I was having a chore-filled week and suddenly blessings flowed down like icecream down the side of a bowl.

Stealing from myself, I noticed this last week: "Today, my friend, is a perfect day to actively seek the Lord. Go after Him. Praise Him first, but go after Him second. The Bible puts it this way, over and over: "Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."

There's the constant notion that His face is what we seek. What if we see it? Moses got a glimpse and his face shined like reflective silver.

David wrote of it this way: "My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek." And again, 'Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."

Moses said of seeking God, "But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him."

And there is this idea: "Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name;

"Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."

McKnight says the face of the Lord is love. True. It's lovely enogh that we're still searching for it, just to sing praises to him. Whew. Must be somthing. Notice that the previous line reads, "Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!" Just the act of seeking is enogh to bring down the house with rejoicing.

Today, let us seek him.
Today, let us get closer to him, with him.
Today, let me be bathed in God's love, dried off in God's grace, clothed in humility, and sent forth to sacrifice as did Jesus.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The final frontier

This morning I'm reminded that everyone counts the same. Rich folk. Poor folk. Educated folk. Drop-outs. Everyone counts the same.

I was reading the newspaper, and I saw numberous stories about the state boys basketball tournament. The interesting thing to me as I pondered who is my neighbor from Scot McKnight's book 40 Days of the Jesus Creed,  is the way every game starts. Every game begins with the same score, 0-0, with both teams having the same opportunity to do well, with both teams counting the same.

Then as the game goes along, the teams separate themselves until one team counts more than the other.

This, I'm afraid, is the way we live. We all start with the same score, then as life continues, we separate ourselves by race, gender, culture, finances, religion and everything and anything else we can imagine. We are separaters, we humans.
But Jesus came to us to pronounce this as a wrong method to evaluate things. In the eyes of Jesus, everyone is equal. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Seems simple until Jesus tells us that our neighbor is whomever we come in contact with, even an enemy. In the eyes of Jesus, since everyone is our neighbor and he tells us to love our neighbor, it follows logically that we are to love...everyone. Even that jerk down the street.

But Jesus. There's that guy on the corner who smells and hasn't taken a bath in what appears to be a very, very long time. His hair is messed up and his clothes are ragged and he's carrying a sign that says he will work for food but clearly he isn't capable of doing much work.

Love him.

But Jesus. There's that person of Middle Eastern lineage. Comes for coffee, black, every day at Starbucks. Who comes for black coffee at Starbucks? Clearly he must be a Muslim. He might even be a threat, a terrorist or something. He's just so, so, well he's so different.

Love him.

But Jesus. My brother hasn't spoken to me in 15 years over the dumbest of things. My brother was so wrong about, well I can't even remember what it was. But it was something dumb. Always was. My brother was always doing and saying the dumbest things. To apologize to him would be, well, it would be for lack of a better word, dumb.

Love him.

But Jesus. I came into church and there was a, I can't describe him any other way, a stranger. And he was sitting in my pew in my seat in my pew and everyone was looking at him but he wasn't getting the message at all. I asked him to move, and I did it real gently, too. He looked at me like I was the stranger. He didn't move, just went back to staring at the bulletin like he didn't know what we were going to do. Well...he wasn't wearing a suit and tie and his hair was in real need of a cutting and he had the gall to look at me like I was the stranger. Me. My family helped build the church. My daddy's name is on the cornerstone. And we do the same thing in the service every week. It was like he had never been before. Why would we want people like that in our church?

Love him.
Love them.
Love them all.
That's what our Lord and Master said. That's what he says.

Picking and choosing whom we love is so very wrong. It's wrong on so many levels. If we are allowed to pick and choose, there's a great, great chance we would never choose someone of another color, or another culture or another denomination even. We would choose those who are like us. It's the way of humankind. We come together with like-minded, like-featured people.

Certainly this whole stranger business would be a complicator. We seek peace, not complications.

Thus loving all is a challenge.

I'm headed back to prison next week, back to a table filled with residents and one lay person and me. I'm back to listening and loving, as the Kairos motto goes.

Implicit in that instruction is to love those we don't know, those who didn't come up the way we did possibly, and those who did and wound up in prison all the same. The motto is wonderful, though, because it doesn't say "love those we have common ties with." Or "love those who are outgoing and believe like we do." Or "love those we connect with."

You go into prison with the one idea rolling around in your head. Love them all. Love those who are there to make fun of Christianity. Love those who came to eat cookies and nothing else. Love those who are searching for greater meaning in their lives and say they found it in Mormonism or when they became a Muslim. Love those who killed, stole, beat and even those who would do it all again tomorrow if they could.

Love them. All.

Simple message.

Hard to do.

It's the harder knot to tie in all of Christianity. Beyond morals. Beyond ethics. Out beyond our white picket fences of righteousness is the act of loving our neighbor with no hope of reward. It's like the final frontier of Star Trek.


It might take beaming up into a new mindset to do so.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Give God our Calendar

I was sitting at a fast-food restaurant (should we actually still use the word restaurant in the same sentence as fast-food?) drive through recently. I had ordered my dabble of food -- burger, fries and, defying logic, diet Coke. I was waiting, again defying logic for one should not have to wait for fast-food, when I thought, as I often do, about God. I spend more time thinking of God in my car that I do in my office. I often ponder why that is.

I had not thought of God on this day in a while. I began the morning with fairly intense and certainly sincere thoughts of God. I asked for protection and for direction, for I've learned that as the sun rises each day so does my need for God's direction and help and will. I'm lost without Him, I've learned, so the need to call on Him is there every bit as real as my need for the diet Coke to balance the horrendous amount of calories found in the burger and fries. But as the morning drifted by, my thoughts of God did the same. No longer was He first and foremost. He was stuffed in the middle of form filling and call making and visitation planning.

Even as I did my sermon preparation, looking up various passages and illustrations -- doing so quickly of course so that I could begin writing, the part I like -- I didn't actually think about Him all that much. No, I pull Him out of my back pocket for the big things, like where did all the money in the savings account go or should I go see a doctor about my aches and my pains and if so, which of the aches and pains should I go see the doctor about? Should I make a list of pains, like the 1-through -10 pain list that I've never felt I have gotten right. How does one tell the difference between a pain score of four as opposed to a six? Should one?

Anyway, this all came back to me this morning as I read Scot McKnight's second day of 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed.

The notion of "loving God with every ounce of our being" is a quaint one. How does one go about doing that in a world that has so many distractions? Even sitting in the fast-food line, one has so many "thought" options. How does one put God at the top? McKnight says that to "love God this way means to offer to God all that we are and to enjoy God's presence." Whew. That's a chunk of loving. But it is what He calls for, so we just dive into a creek in which we do not know the depth.


I think we begin with intent. Even with all that is going on that threatens to steal minutes (seconds?) from God, our intention is the place we begin. Seek the Lord's face is an expression I have come upon that sums it up for me. To seek the face of God means we have moved closer to Him. It is an expression of intention. It means there is some action going on, even if it is small. It means we are trying.

After intent, I believe we must plan. I've discovered over time that without my scheduling book, I'm as lost as a man without a GPS in a city without street markers. I have PDAs and other scheduling material, but my good, ol' book is important because it is another sign of intention. I have to take it out of my notebook and I have to find a pen, and I have to write it down. It takes a plan, and it takes intent. I have to mean it, and I have to go through the same process to start my day, each day. What does this day bring, I ask myself as I go in search of the scheduling book. With our relationship with God, it's the same. My intention is to grow closer. My plan is to seek Him, through a real prayer life (Lord, help me find the scheduling book), and through planning time with him.

Finally, after becoming intent and cobbling together a plan, there is work to be done. I'd love to say that my time alone with God is as easy as Sunday morning coming down, but it's work. It's like taking my wife to one of those self-described chick flicks. I get to enjoy the previews before the flick, but that's about it. Nothing blows up in the whole movie, so for me, what's the point? I'm not equating time spent with God being about blowing things up, but I am saying that it takes intent, a plan and then the ability to work the plan. I plan to spend 30 minutes with him tonight, so I must take that 30 minutes away from all the other things I might do this day. I work the plan, intentionally, not accidently.

Should it be simpler? Probably. But for me, this is what it is.

I love God with all that I am, but all that I am is a scattered, messed up and messy human. My organization needs organizing. So, I must come up with ways to wipe the schedule clean. For me, that's not as easy as it might be for others. But that 30 minutes, by the action of the Holy Spirit, can become an hour, or maybe this day it's 15 minutes, or whatever. I schedule down time, but I let the Holy Spirit move in those minutes, as well.

Loving God, McKnight says, is giving God our heart, soul, mind and strength. I would add to that giving him our calendar.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Let the journey begin

Did you miss me?

I thought not.

Yesterday Mary and I were in the woods. We spent the greater part of the day listening to the tap, tap, tap of rain drops diving bombing the trailer. Well, the tap, tap, tap sounded more like boom, boom, boom but you get the picture. We were going under. So when there was a moment in which the drops didn't fall, or at least when they weren't being blown by the wind, we scooped up everything, stuck it somewhere under the rainbow and we skee-dadled out of Percy Quinn State Park. We were supposed to come home today, but we -- did I mention -- skee-dadled, which is the Hebrew for got the heck out of Dodge, which is the Latin for Status Quo which is the Greek for themesswe'rein.

It was a messy, messy day. Rain fell most of it. The dogs were terrified most of the day, what with wind pushing and pulling the rain and the dogs refusing to be a part of any of that.

It began cool and got warmer as time passed, though it was dark most of the day. All in all, it was a mess, which was the Greek for upacreekwithoutapaddle.

But we pressed on. We read for much of the day, while the day progressed toward Daylight Saving at a rapid, dark rate.

When we got the opportunity, we skee-dadled, or have I said that previously? My mind is soggy, as it were, what with dogs screeching discomfort and looking at me every second they weren't looking above my head toward the sky. There definitely wasn't music playing above my head. There was thunder and the rapid flash of lightning and the occasional rumbling,tumbling popping. It was skee-dadling weather, and that's never good.

Today begins our 40-day rush toward Easter. Forty days of pondering what we've done to deserve God's grace. Forty days to wonder why God loves us so much we let him accomplish the magnificent while we set out to wash the unwashable. Our sins, weighing us down at every turn, are very heavy indeed, brother or no brother, and we are in search of something or someone who can measure the unmeasurabe and see the unseeable and clean the uncleanable. God enters our lives duty bound in a way. He comes into our lives at a point that is unsafe for us; it's a point that is near death, near a point where we are remarkably near death, and yet He comes to not prevent death but to embrace it. He arms us with grace, that inexplicable substance only He can give, and we are forewarned and forearmed and for-given, and for the rest of our lives, long or short, we are cleaned and we are inexplicably saved.

It does not matter if it is 40 days or an eternity at that point. God has saved us. Bloody garments are white as snow. Forever.

Today we begin our death march to the cross. Jesus did so by "setting his face" on Jerusalem. We do it by setting our faces on Jerusalem. The paths will cross beneath the cross, and we will be set free indeed.

Oh, let the bells begin to ring, let the music began to play, let the choirs begin to sing. Jesus will cross the arenas.

We are free, set free by the Christ.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Balancing the scales

God spoke through Obadiah a Wword of warning in the shortest book of the Bible. He warned the Edomites: "For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations. As you have done, it shyall be done to yu; your deeds shall return on your own head."

Or, as we say in Blond, La., what goes around comes around. What you do comes back to you. The sweetness of revenge isn't only served cold. Sometimes it it is handed out delightfully warm, as in served quickly before the memory runs away away.

"Your deeds shall return on your own head," God says.

For every sin, every mistake, every battle or war, God remembers. He forgets the forgiven. In this case, God remembers Edom's blatant attack against his chosen people. Edom made the incredibly horrific decision to back Babylon.

How, you might ask, does this apply to our own lives?

First, trust God instead of chariots. Trust God when things are going poorly.

Second, the Edomites should have turned to God. Their mistake was an obvious one. Who you gonna call? God says, let me have your prayers. I'll handle it.

But in their lowest moments, they backed the wrong horse. God is letting these people know that even in the moment of Israel's greatest despair, as Babylon pilages and takes away His people to this new land, there is hope. But the hope is not in the hands of man. God is telling his people that not only is there hope, but that God will do unto others as they have done unto Israel.

Will that take away the sting? Actually, no. They still are taken away. They still have 70 years of captivity to go. But there will come a day when captivity is no more.Eve

"Those who have been saved shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord's."

I'm not sure that makes you estatic as you're being dragged in chains, but four years or so at least, it takes some of the sting away. Smile? Maybe. Laugh? Probably not. But in the end I sort of see a hidden but knowing grin on the faces of those Israelites. Every dog will have its day. Every d-o-g, now turned around backwards to spell g-o-d will have its day as well.

When the day begins poorly, G-o-d will have his day.
When the coffee is spilled and the day isn't going well,  G-o-d will have his day.
When the car won't crank, the mist falls on you and the car. G-o-d will have his day.
The tally is G-o-d one, everything else zero. The scales don't ever balance, but they don't have to. Believers have a tremendous ace in the hole. God's one is so much greater than everyone's one. In other words, G-o-d's one isn't balanced by m-y one. The scale isn't blanced at that point. But here's the key: Trust in Jehovah. The balance of the scales is out of whack, but that's okay, too. God is wonderful. His one is worth many of ours.

G-o-d will have his day. It's called the day of the Lord for a special reason. His day. Not our day.

Heard anything of the Edomites lately?

Didn't think so.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Where are we? Who are we?

I believe we've established over the past year and a half that this world is, uh, nuts. If not, read on...

"A 15-year-old boy was beaten and branded with hot metal after a confrontation with a 12-year-old girl at a party in Mississippi where teens had been drinking, authorities said Friday. Five people are charged in the case, including the 12-year-old girl. Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said Denise Randall, 46, was hosting the party in the east-central Mississippi community of Meridian last weekend when the victim bumped into the girl. Someone then called the girl's 15-year-old boyfriend. Sollie said the boyfriend arrived and held the victim, who was not identified, at gunpoint while he was beaten and branded with hot metal. The sheriff said the teen was branded in more than one place on his body with a piece of hot metal shaped like a letter of the alphabet. He would not say what letter it was or release any other details about the branding because of the ongoing investigation."

Now, the fact that Meridian is my home town only makes me more ashamed than I would have been anyway because I am a member of the human race, the same human race that produced those who did this.

But let's count the ways this went south. First, a 12-year-old girl has a 15-year-old boyfriend. Second, a 46-year-old is hosting a party for 12-year-olds and 15-year-olds. Third, the 15-year-old boyfriend was caught up in the emotions enough to brandish a GUN. Finally, someone drove the 15-year-old boyfriend to the party to apparently rescue the 12-year-old from the audacity of the victim's running into her despite the fact the boyfriend was carring a GUN.

Oh,    my,     good,     ness.

The world as we know it has come apart.

In Isaiah's prophecy, there is this wild chapter -- the 24th -- that seems to come out of nowhere. Nothing in chapter 23 leads into it, and Isaiah drops the image immediately following the prose of the 24th. This chapter is called Isaiah's apocalypse.

Part of it reads like this: "See, the LORD is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face
and scatter its inhabitants — it will be the same for priest as for people, for the master as for his servant,
for the mistress as for her servant, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor. The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The LORD has spoken this word.
he earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish with the earth. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt."

There's a couple very important images here. One, the Lord is going to devastate the earth. Two, the Lord will do this because human kind has defiled the earth, His laws, HIs statutes, HIs covenant. Finally, a curse will flat out destroy the planet.

Tuff stuff.

But you tell me ... when 12-year-olds are capable of calling their 15-year-old boyfriends who are capable of holding down a teenager and branding him with a hot clothes hanger, where are we? Really. Where are we?


The sheriff said the teen's injuries were not life-threatening.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Taking the mask off

Maybe it's something in the Kansas water.

First there's the church that protests the funerals of vets killed in battle because God hates America, they say.

Now a 12-year-old boy was described by friends as a wholesome kid who often volunteered at church, handing out bulletins, working audio and video equipment and helping other kids learn Bible verses. They said he showed no outward signs of family problems. Then, police say, the boy did the unthinkable, allegedly killing his parents and wounding two of his younger siblings in a case that has rattled this rural farming and ranching community of 3,700 near the Kansas border. Police say they discovered the attacks Tuesday after the boy called 911 to report a shooting. When officers arrived, they found the bodies Charles and Marilyn Long, who had been fatally shot. Two of the couple's children — a 5-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy — were wounded.

I guess my point today is that no one really knows what is going on inside of, well, any of us. We, as described yesterday, mask up. We hid the pain, the sorrow and even the, uh, unthinkable pretty darn well.

Here's the amazing part. The only one who knows us inside, truly knows us inside, is the one with the power to harm us the most.

Get it?

God knows us. I love the definition of confession is telling God what He already knows. That's true. He sees through our masks, through our deception and through the (again with that word) hypocracy.

When will we learn?

Maybe not until the masks come off at the end of the party we call life.

And then the television reports will shove a microphone in front of someone's face on the street and they will say, "He was so quiet" as they describe yet another killer.

Masks are not good, even at Mardi Gras time.

What most of us need is some good old fashioned accountability. What most of us get is some bad old-fashioned advice. Mask up. Keep it in. Don't let anyone know.

Take the mask off and fess up. There's healing in that.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Radical, but not wacko

There's a plague in our country today that places an entire segment of our population in jeopardy. It's an old plague, like those gray VW vans that litter junk yards. No Ebola or some such. But it's been dressed up in the Emperor's New Clothes and it threatens the good name of Jesus Christ. So, I must write about it. Must.

The big news where I'm from is about a pastor who was arrested at a local park with his hands in his pants. It's big news, I think, because he was a very loud and obnoxious fellow when it came to protesting gays celebrating at Southern Decadence.

The big news across the country yesterday was about the Supreme Court allowing protess outside of military funerals. "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the protesters from Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas have the right to demonstrate, no matter how distasteful, even painful, some find their message. The fundamentalist church has stirred outrage with its demonstrations contending God is punishing the military for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality. The protests are not linked to specific servicemen and women-only to the idea they represent our nation and government.

My, my, my things are achanging.

They introduced an I-Pad2 yesterday. I've not gotten my I-Pad1 yet, and possibly never will. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Yesterday the Volkswagen folks re-introduced a VW Van. My, my, my things aren't changing.

See a connection in the two news items? Boy, I do.  Actually there are two.

One, of course, is homosexuality and what Christians can do about it. It's an interesting subject, a painful subject in some cases, because it affects so many apparently in today's culture. It's interesting because Jesus never said a word about it. Nada. No direction whatsoever. The law had plenty to say. Paul wasn't shy about saying things. But Jesus? Nada. The question becomes, then, why are so many so up in arms about this sin while leaving so many, many others untouched in our squabbling. Why no signs in front of divorce lawyers offices? Why no signs in front of front of all the liars in our society? You get the drift.

But the main thing that connects these two incidents is the very real and harmful to Christianity and the church plague of hypocrisy.

Now, Jesus said nothing about homosexuals, but he had plenty to say about hypocrites.

Jesus said:  “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full."

Jesus said: "You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you"

Jesus said: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."

Jesus said: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence."

I could go on and on, but you get the drift. Jesus believed in an authentic way of living. He got riled more often about church folk who didn't live that way than anything else.

Someone asked me in a Bible study last night which was more effective, preaching fire and brimstone your going to hell manner or a loving manner.

I told them that Jesus showed more anger at church folks than he ever did against the non-churched. He never condemned those who didn't know the way of the Temple. But for those who did and didn't have hearts for the invisible, he had little patience.

The outside of the cup and dish have been washed clean by the pastor in the park and the church in Kansas. But their hearts? Oh, my goodness.

Listen, all of us have masks (the meaning of hypocrites when Jesus walked this earth). All of us have things in our closets that would upset someone if we let them run out of there. Maybe it's the sin of anger, or hatred, of bigotry, of spending, of whatever. Don't even get me started on abortion, which Jesus also didn't mention because, I believe, he couldn't reason that humankind would be so awful to contemplate that sin. We all have our issues and our problems.

Hypocracy, however, is a whole new animal. It's being outwardly one way and inwardly another. It wraps itself around not just our hearts, but our actions. Those actions are often creepy. When we're caught in the truth and it is so full of conflict with how we acted untruthfully, it not only reflects on us (as bad as that is), it reflects on the body of Christ. That's much, much, much worse.

I pray that someone who is struggling with their identity, with who Jesus is, doesn't hold those folks' actions against the body. I hope. I know better.

So the world goes on without the one thing that can save it because the world thinks us brazen, hypocritical and stupid.

Maybe we are. Ever wanted to not join a club simply because it would have you? If it would have you, how good a club could it be?

Maybe we all should ask ourselves what club have we joined.

Jesus? Have we sought to become Christlike, who would never carry signs and protest anything?

Or are we part of some wacko movement.

They're not one and the same, I promise. Oh, true Christianity is ragamuffin and radical and out there somewhere the foolishness of God meets the reality of the world. But wacko? We reserve that for nutjobs on the streets protesting while never looking at the inside of their own cups.

Times are achanging; and yet they're not.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Seeking His face takes effort

This morning I awoke as a sun the size of a Volkswagen crept above the tree line in the back yard wonderfully. I did last night's dishes while the sun bathed me in the light of the Lord. I prayed for direction and guidance today, another in a long line of days filled with temptation that only God can release me from. So I prayed that He watch over me, and, well, watch me.

What a wonderful month we're having. Oh, I know it's just the second day of it, but oh, what a wonderful month we're having. The weather is superb, if you don't mind a smidgen of pollen. Sunny. A light breeze. Cool nights, mild days. Even the humidity is down.

Today, my friend, is a perfect day to actively seek the Lord. Go after Him. Praise Him first, but go after Him second. The Bible puts it this way, over and over: "11 Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."

There's the constant notion that His face is what we seek.

David wrote of it this way: "My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek." And again, Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."

Moses said of seeking God, "But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him."

And there is this idea: "Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."

The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. Seek. Mostly seek his face. Seek Him.

Francis Frangipane describes it this way:

“There are certain times when the Lord calls us out of the routine of our daily lives. These are special seasons where His only command is, “Seek My Face.” He has something precious and vitally important to give us that the familiar pattern of our daily devotions cannot accommodate. During such times people are often delivered of sins that have plagued them for years; others discover a depth in their walk with God that leads to greater effectiveness in ministry and prayer; still others experience breakthroughs in their families and are used by God to see loved ones brought into the Kingdom.”

In thinking about this word SEEK, I sought the definition and one of the ones included was "to go to or toward."

Perfect. God is telling us to go toward Him, and He's telling us constantly. Seek His FACE.

What does it mean to seek God's face? What is in a face? If you pay close attention to someone's face you can see a lot of things. In their eyes you can see if they are at peace. In their countenance you can see if they are happy, sad, mad, scared, or indifferent. You can tell what they think about you. When you are seeking God's face you are seeking His heart and His mind.

"Come to me (SEEK) all who are heavy laden..." He tells us. He wants us to come to him, seeking him, attempting to go to Him in good times and in bad, when the sun is shining and when the son is not. Can we do this? Can we try?

Poor old Job, for all his troubles, understood some key elements of God-man relationships.

He wrote: "... let their flesh be renewed like a child’s; let them be restored as in the days of their youth’— then that person can pray to God and find favor with him, they will see God’s face and shout for joy;
he will restore them to full well-being."
Seeking His Face, seeking all of Him, all He has for us takes effort. You can not go to him if you are unwilling to move. And thus your flesh can not be restored if you are unwilling to move.

If we do move, there is something at the end of that rainbow: "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." - 2 Chronicles 7:14

To seek his face is to get out of our comfort zones, pick up His Word, pray a little more perhaps, see those invisibles around us who are hurting and GO.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

MaMaw's song

This morning I was going through a drawer, trying to find the password for the wireless in my office (never did, never will sign the phone onto the network apparently), when I came across a small card.

The handwriting on it was my mother's, who passed away on Dec. 23, 2006. She never saw me as a full-time minister. She never saw the (second) book I've written. She never saw me preach other than one time at her own church many, many years ago when I barely knew what I was doing (as opposed to now when I, uh, barely know what I'm doing).

But she knew this: "Read the book of John. It will be so easy to understand. Especially the second chapter of John. The whole book of John is so good. Mathew (cq) is another book that is easy to understand. You know I couldn't understand it if it wasn't plan, you know me. It will be easier for your because you and Beky (cq) are young. I am proud of you and here. Pray for me. Love MaMaw."

I don't know the circumstances of this note. I assume, though I could be wrong, it is written to my son, Jason, and his wife Becky, though there is the chance it is to my cousins.

But the fact is my mother, with her eighth grade education, nailed it. Whenever she wrote this note, and however it came into my possession and whomever it was written to, she nailed it.

I tell all the young converts I come in contact with, which to my surprise has not been nearly as many as I would have liked or would have thought I would come in contact with, that when you begin your journey, being it with the Gospel of John.

Easy? Well, no, not actually. This Word business to start things is actually quite intense in the first chapter.

I read the second chapter of John this morning, and I wish I could talk with my mother about it. The first half of the chapter is a description of Jesus at the Cana marriage. I wish I could tell her Mary and I were affirmed in marriage in Cana last year. I wish I could tell her I saw one of those large rocky vats where water became wine at one time. The chapter says they went on to Capernum. So did we. The chapter concludes at the Temple. So did we.

But I can't. Nor can I understand, on first glance, why that chapter would lead someone to Christ or even deeper into Christ, as I suppose this card was meant to do..

The second part of the second chapter is the strange early description of Jesus running the money changers out of the area in front of the Temple. It's strange because other accounts have this happening in the final week of Jesus' life, which actually makes more sense. If he made everyone angry just as his ministry was beginning ...

But my mother is gone and I'm left with a faded, messy card.

I ponder what she might have meant. I wonder why the second chapter.

I come to this conclusion:

Understanding John's Gospel or Matthew's or any one's is a matter of the heart more than the mind. It's a matter of choice rather than demand. It's a matter of longing rather than theology.

I choose to share chapter 3 and it's famous "God so loved the world" text, but my mother, somewhere down the road, chose to share a wedding, some water into wine and the Son of God himself saying get those cheating buzzards (my translation of the Greek) out of here.

A sharing of a marriage. A sharing of the bride (Christ's church). A sharing of who he would become..."20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” John 2: 20

It really is all there in that chapter. Miracles. Mania. Worship. Theology.

My mother, the scholar, the theologian, the grandmother who so loved.