Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Big Day

"On the Big Day, a fountain will be opened for the family of David and all the leaders of Jerusalem for washing away their sins, for scrubbing their stained and soiled lives clean."

Fridays were good when I was growing up. Fridays were the end of the school week. Fridays were game night, as football, basketball and baseball all wound up playing on Friday night. During those long, long hot summers, we even played our youth baseball on -- you guessed it -- Friday nights. Fridays were movie nights, on those rare occasions when I got to go to a movie at night. Fridays were special. They were big days, and bigger nights. Many times they were, well, perfect.

Sundays? Why Sundays were the days when my mother would drag me out of bed, spif me up and take me to church. Later, when the Saints came along, they were church and football.

But they weren't Fridays. Never were.

Imagine the greatest day you've ever had. A magnificent day. Weather good, with the heat perfect and the humidity visiting Alabama for the holidays. Sun, just right. You're with the one you love most, one or many. You're doing what you love most, a game, a movie, just grilling on the back porch or even just sitting in the swing. You're just deeply in love with living.

Imagine all that and ... wait for it ... you top that by a million.

That's the day when Jesus comes again, and the fountain will be opened that flows from the throne room and new Jerusalem comes down and life, well, life is so good that jobs are gone, health care is a thing of the past, stupid elected officials have no more to do with us and we just live, lonnnnnnnngggggg and prosper.

It's a perfect Friday, forever.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

God never tries to be us

What have you done by faith for someone else recently? Was it a success? Were you able to feel and understand the rightness of it all?

God tells the prophet Zechariah in the fourth chapter of the prophet's writings a message to give to Zerubbabel, who was to become the governor of Jerusalem and founder of the second temple: "You can't force these things. They only come about through my Spirit. ... Does anyone despite this day of small beginnings?"

It's enough to know that everything we do for God that is a success comes about because we are doing it with God, or perhaps even more clearly we are doing it because God is with us.

Paul asks in Romans 8, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"

God brags in scripture only when needed, but when He does, goodness it's good smack--talk. He is the one who does it all for us. As He tells Job in the 39th chapter a lot of things about his power, including 5 “Who let the wild donkey go free?
Who untied its ropes?
6 I gave it the wasteland as its home,
the salt flats as its habitat.
7 It laughs at the commotion in the town;
it does not hear a driver’s shout.
8 It ranges the hills for its pasture
and searches for any green thing.

God is God. We are not. God never mistakenly thinks He is us. We often think we are God. That is what separates us from the other.

 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels[a] shouted for joy? "

Who indeed?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Otherly invasions

I've been having trouble going to sleep lately. Last night, I was thinking about my youth while I tossed and turned and fought backache. I began thinking about playing Combat with my friends, or rather the sons on my parents' friends. Combat was a television show relatively popular at the time, and we had our play guns and we waged junior war.

The battle was played out in the unkempt front yard of the friends of my parents. There were dry, dirt ditches and such to flop into, and we would race to and fro to throw ourselves into a ditch or behind a car or whatever. I seemed to remember being very good at this for some reason. I don't, however, remember how we won the game or whether we used just our imagination for the battle or we took turns being the villain or whatever. I remember the chase, the diving, and the making of battle sounds with our mouths.

I think I was remembering this because I had been watching a television show the other night about still another invasion of earth. It came on after a movie about an invasion of earth. While I was watching the movie, a commercial came on about a DVD that has been released of a movie that was released earlier this year about, you guessed it, an invasion of earth.

The invasions have come fast and furious lately. Be they zombies (or is it Zombies?) or aliens or ghosts or monsters, or vampires and werewolves or kiddie witches and warlocks, something is always invading us. I've read there is a movie out there that has been filmed but had not been released about North Koreans invading thiscountry. Perhaps it wasn't released because the villains weren't universal enough. Now, if they were North Korean zombies from outer space who went to school to learn magic...

Everyone is always invading earth.Why do you think that is? Are we such dolts that we need invading as the sci-fi of the late 1950s seem to indicate. Do we need Godzillas ruming rampant?

Part of the reason for these movies/television shows is the coming 2012 end of the world thinking. We'll have to deal with that next year. But part of it, I think, is that we are all searching for something that will unite us, and that something has to be "other" because there is virtually nothing on earth that will do so. No matter our country, no matter our political or religious beliefs, when the aliens attack, we're ALL against them, even if (as in Transformer movies) the aliens all speak English. See, these are invasions of "the other," as defined by being something that is not of humanity. Despite all the things we disagree on, we are in the end human (even Democrats).

What a novel concept. Something that we're all either for or against. In that moment, we are unified. Sadly, there is almost nothing that falls under those categories any longer. Eons ago, the church, the universal church, got together and scrapped some creeds into existence. We've been picking them apart ever since, with denominations as rampant as alien invasions. Heck, in the United Methodist river I'm swimming in, we have a book of discipline, but recent judicial verdicts clearly show that the book is much more a set of guidelines than rules. We are apparently able to break clear rules at a whim.

In the Message's translation of Zechariah 9, I read one sentence that stands out. It says, "The whole world has its eyes on God." It says that of the return of the captives to Jerusalem after captivity abroad. But what a lovely thought it is. All eyes on God. The emphasis is on ALL. It is an otherly concept at best.

The Bible says that one day ALL knees will bow to Jesus. It will be the point of ultimate unity. Till then, the only thing that can unite us, apparently, is wistful imaginative invasions of "the other."

Monday, June 27, 2011

The church of the whattheheckother

In the book The Transformational Church, I read this: "There can be no renewal, revival, or rebuilding without a vision for an an experience of the all-consuming, all-illuminating presence of God." That's the message of the a book written much earlier, the book of Zechariah, a prophet of Israel.

Church, whether evangelical, mainline, Catholic or whattheheckother, must be, seems to me, about God.

As I've walked this path of ministry lo these many 13 years or so, I've done so at small churches. I'll finish this ministry in, oh, seven to 12 years, at a small church. It seems to me, however, that doesn't mean a church that isn't transformational.

In the eighth chapter of the prophet Zechariah's writings about the rebirth and rebuilding of the Temple, you read this: "Old men and old women will come back to Jerusalem, sit on benches on the streets and spin tales, move around safely with their canes -- a good city to be old in. And boys and girls will fill the public parks, laughing and playing -- a good city to grow up in. ...Do the problems of returning and rebuilding by just a few survivors seem too much? But is anything too much for me? Not if I have my say."

It must be about God, no us. We are small at our churches (if the criteria is anything less than 100 is small) and we don't have enough money it seems. Does that mean this is the end of all things? Not by a long stretch.

Is anything too much for God?

God continues in that chapter with "...things have changed. I'm taking the side of my core of surviving people. Sowing and harvesting will resume. Vines will grow grapes, gardens will flourish, dew and rain will make everything green. ... From now on, you're the good-news people. Don't be afraid. Keep a firm grip on what I'm doing."

Small? Yeah. Capable? Yeah.

Be the good-news people out there.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Churches into vacant lots

I'm thinking that most of my readers, who have been very inconsistent of late, are church-going folks. I'm also thinking that they think that probably is quite enough religion, thank you. But I'm also thinking they're wrong. Look what God said to those people who were in captivity in what had been Babylon: "4-6God-of-the-Angel-Armies gave me this Message for them, for all the people and for the priests: "When you held days of fasting every fifth and seventh month all these seventy years, were you doing it for me? And when you held feasts, was that for me? Hardly. You're interested in religion, I'm interested in people. ... God-of-the-Angel-Armies said then and says now:
'Treat one another justly.
Love your neighbors.
Be compassionate with each other.
Don't take advantage of widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor.
Don't plot and scheme against one another—that's evil.'

The United Methodist Church in Louisiana just raised $1.2 million for the poor, it has been announced. Guess what? It's not enough.
Our churches are feeding 45 persons outside the church on Mondays. It's not enough.
We pay our apportionments and our pastor though the payment of each is a pair of hands around an old neck that is squeezing life out of the church.

When it is enough, you might ask? Never, I might answer.

We are to help the widows, orphans, visitors and the poor constantly, routinely. Loving our neighbors isn't something Jesus came up with on a whim. It's God's wishes. GOD. You know, the big guy in the sky? This is the plan. Help. Someone. Today.

We're not called to simply worship, though we are certainly called to do so. We are called to be of SERVICE. Not a church service. SERVICE as a verb, mind you.

The rest of the passage in Zechariah in the Messages says this: 11-13"But did your ancestors listen? No, they set their jaws in defiance. They shut their ears. They steeled themselves against God's revelation and the Spirit-filled sermons preached by the earlier prophets by order of God-of-the-Angel-Armies. And God became angry, really angry, because he told them everything plainly and they wouldn't listen to a word he said. 13-14"So [this is what God-of-the-Angel-Armies said] if they won't listen to me, I won't listen to them. I scattered them to the four winds. They ended up strangers wherever they were. Their 'promised land' became a vacant lot—weeds and tin cans and thistles. Not a sign of life. They turned a dreamland into a wasteland."

Serious? Yea. Scary? Perhaps.

The fact is God turns churches into vacant lots all the time. No one is immune. It's your serve......

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In search of a Noah

Did you see the report? "An hour outside of Amsterdam in Dordrecht, Netherlands, a ship is under construction. But this ain't your typical sailboat, bub. Johan Huibers is building a full-scale replica of Noah's ark.Yes, that Noah's ark. And Johan, an expert builder, isn't skimping on the details. The ship, which he's been constructing for the past three years, is built to biblical specs. Johan culled information on the ark's size and shape directly from the good book. In the end, the ship is four stories high and the length of a football field. And yes, it's seaworthy.

The result is an incredibly impressive ship, especially considering it was realized simply by a man with a dream--or, perhaps, a nightmare. Johan dreamt that Holland suffered a great flood. The next morning, he woke up determined to start preparing for that worst-case scenario."

Let's go back, way back, for just a moment to Genesis. The Bible says that God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil -- evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.

Wonder how He feels today? Wonder if He even feels sending Jesus was worth it all?  Is there anything going right? Unemployment figures? Check -- worse than expected. Housing sales? Check -- down, down, down and down again. Wars? Check. Hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes? Check. Check. Check and check again.

But God, in the end, said this: "I'll never again curse the ground because of people. I know they have this bent toward evil from an early age, but I'll never again kill off everything living as I've just done."

Whew. Rainbows still glow. Peace can still reign. Maybe there's truly a Noah out there somewhere who can calm the beasts and bring us to safety. Maybe so.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The whew of forgiveness

Remember when you were a kid and you (inevitably) did something? Remember when you were forgiven by your mother or father? Whew. How great that felt, did it not? It was like, for a few moments, you felt peace that you couldn't get any other way. Now, it didn't exactly keep you from doing it again, but it felt so good for just a few minutes.

Truth is, there are things I've done all my life that I wished I didn't do, or hadn't done. Things that keep me from being the perfect person I sometimes wished I could be but clearly am not. I know grace covers my actions, but still, I wonder how I can be better. Psalm 32 speaks to this: Blessed (happy) is he whose transgressions are forgiven, who sins are covered. Blessed (happy) is the man whose sin the Lord doesn't count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit."

There is only one way, really, to exercise that forgiveness, obtain that forgiveness.  Actively turning to God is the way toward restoration.

Psalm 85 speaks of restoration:
1 You, LORD, showed favor to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins.3 You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger.

God forgives. It's that simple.

That's what He wants to do. That's what He wills. "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more," he tells us in Isaiah.

Can you forgive yourself? Can you get rid of those sins? Can you slow them down, make them come less often, even have them go away? God can and will help us all.

And, whew, it will fill better. Ask Him now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Better is one day in his house

Better is one day in your courts, better is one day in your house...the contemporary praise chorus goes. In Psalm 84, the Message translates it this way, "One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I'd rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin."

I hear from time to time reasons people are absent from church on Sunday. "They had people in town," I hear. "They were travelling," I hear. And on and on.

I have had people come to things on Saturday and then miss Sunday worship. I simply have to say, I don't understand that.

Better is one day in your house...

Worship is never perfect. I certainly am not. I certainly don't lead as well as one would want. My choirs are not great. Our music isn't always wonderful.

But worshipping God is, or should be, the highlight of the week. It's better than a few minutes on the beach, better than a kid's baseball game, better than working on the car, better than cutting the grass, better than a thousand relatives visiting. It is. God is in the house and even if the house isn't packed, God is there. Why wouldn't people want to be there?

One can only reason that they don't think that is true. They don't think God is there.

How sad I would be if I didn't have Sunday worship.

Now, one can argue that one can worship at home, and one might reasonably make that argument some of the time. But not always. His house is his house. His worship, with many, is his worship.

Better is one day in his courts, better is one day in his house. Better. Not perfect. But better.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Only Him

Have you ever considered being unworthy of all your blessings?

Maybe it's just me, but I do it all the time. It's not humility blossoming in my heart. Nah. That probably isn't gonna happen. It's something more. Something different. It's simply seeing truth for what truth is. I'm unworthy.

I'm unworthy of my wife of 26 years, whose birthday was yesterday. She volunteers and works herself into a tizzy, and does so with no concern about herself. I watch and admire and am flabbergasted.

I'm unworthy of my children who without question are all better parents than I was. Their children, for the most part, are well-mannered and well-behaved and know they are loved. Is there more to it than that?

Mostly, though, I'm unworthy of God's love. I do little to help him, less to love him. But there He is, day after day after day, loving me, helping me, blessing me. He helps me at my worst and calms me at my best. He never lets me down, even when I can't see where He's leading me (which, frankly, is most of the time). He is the reason I found Mary. He is the reason I found life.

But I'm unworthy of it all.

Seems to me, though, that being unworthy is kinda the point. There was nothing I could do to become worthy of these blessings, no way I could become worthy of this life.

Only Him, friends. Only Him. That's the point.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The compartments of death

I never knew John when he was vital and young. I knew him as a white-haired man with a smile and a bit of a limp. He was hard of hearing and yet he seemed to be one of the ones who "got" my jokes from the pulpit, or at the least he laughed a lot at the right times.

He was a sweet-heart, in short.

Pastors have a lot more to do than I ever imagined when I was pondering becoming one. I didn't know really what life would be like, but I never imagined the sheer depth of it. Look, I believe Jesus conquerored death. I believe we will be reunited with our loved ones, those who believed Jesus did just that, and that death is not an end but a wonderful beginning.

Having said all that, dang if it doesn't get hard sometimes to share the grief that piles up like flotsam at the end of a river flood. It gets to you, eventually, whether you are seemingly impervious or not.

Tomorrow we bury John. Tomorrow those smiles will be relegated to the ground. Tomorrow we say goodbye for a while.

But the family, oh the family must endure.

I'm using these words from the 116th Psalm: 15 Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful servants.

What wonderful words. What wonderful expressive words.

They speak to death, to failfulness, to serving, to being precious with the Lord and being in the sight of the Lord.

What more could we want?

Well, just a bit more time I would suspect. Just a bit more. One more smile. One more laugh. One more moment.

It's precious to die with the Lord. It hurts like heck those who are left.  It's just the way it is.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today's vital church

I've recently spent some time in thought about what we're being told as United Methodists. The Council of Bishops has studied the fact that UM churches' attendance and membership are falling like snowflakes, or in some cases like torrential rainstorms.

They've decided this:

congregations show that high-vitality churches consistently share common factors

that work together to influence congregational vitality and are characterized by the prevalence of:

Effective pastoral leadership including inspirational preaching, mentoring laity, and effective management
Multiple small groups and programs for children and youth

A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services

A high percentage of spiritually engaged laity who assume leadership roles.

Okay. I get it. It just doesn't describe either of my two churches for the most part. We do have a mix of traditional and contemporary worship services, but with limited budgets and musicians, it is what it is.  I believe perhaps we have a higher percentage of spiritually engaged laity who have assumed leadership roles than most churches because we're so small, everyone effectively is in a leadership role of some kind. I'd like to think we have inspirational preaching, but that's not really for me to say. I doubt, however, my mentoring abilities sometimes and my leadership abilities at others.

It's the multiple small groups and programs for children and youth that is the killer. We don't, have them I mean. If we did, we'd have bigger churches.

What to do?

There is no question that the UMC needs to change. We are too old, too white, too tired in many cases. But what do we do with churches that are still in need of pastors? Do we throw them out? Through people like me out?

That's what will be decided in the next few years, I'm afraid. In the meantime, I'm going to do whatever I can to offer the gospel to a world that needs it now more than ever. Our churches are going to try to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We're going to serve the poor, the tired, the infirmed as best we can.

If that's not a vital church, what is?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Disagreeing peacefully

At what point in our lives did we reach the stage that if we disagree with someone, we are haters? Has it always been that way or has things changed over time? Don't know. But I know that if we have legitimate disagreements, we are more than persons of disagreement today, we are stupid, morbid haters.

The subject? Doesn't matter. You name it and it's applied. I read it daily on this device we call facebook. Today, for example in the local newspaper, we read this letter to the editor: I can't believe what is before our state Senate to vote upon soon: the illegal display of the fabled Ten Commandments on our Capitol grounds. ... If our leaders decide to tell the world that an "imaginary man in the sky" is more important than the U.S. Constitution, we've got major problems. What would be next, throwing virgins into volcanoes?"

Let's see if we can come to an agreement peacefully. Jesus said give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God's. He didn't seem to have that much of a problem with government. Wasn't that big of a deal to him. Didn't interfere with worship as He saw it, though it should be noted he didn't see anything called separation when talking about life and religion. Walking with God the Father was foremost on his mind.

But I wonder what he would think, does think, about Ten Commandments statues and legislatures making the No. 1 agenda Gay Marriage when the country is falling apart all over financially and, well, otherwise.

God allows us to choose sin. He does. Many have great problems believing that, but he does. The problem comes when those who don't believe think they are so much more intelligent that those who do. I say again: if I have the cure for cancer in my mind and in my actions, would I not want to share it with others? Would that be wrong? Now, those who don't want to be cured have that choice to make. But why would you shout at me for wanting to help? Why would that make me stupid, morbid or a hater?

I believe the Bible says that homosexual actions is a sin, no more so than pride or lying or an enormity of things. It does not mean I hate homosexuals or prideful people or liars, being at time prideful and having lied, uh, a time or two. It means I believe what the scriptures say. It does not mean I know everything that went into the writing of those sentences or what was on Paul's mind in the early part of Romans or in 1 Timothy. I only know what it says, or at worst I know what I think it says.

We all have difficulty with getting along on an enormity of subjects. But until we stop calling names or making fun of the other side or whatever the separation device is, this nation will not progress.

That "imaginary man in the sky" is love, first and foremost. If I want to believe in him, I must attempt to be of love myself. That's the beginning. That's where we all must start.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Will of God

A short course in God's Will for us...

I believe God wills me today to do something good for someone else. God wills for me to look outside myself, to give what I can to whom I can in every way I can, to paraphrase John Wesley. God wills that I sacrifice, the more the better. God wills that I care, because He does.

God does not will that I suffer, that I be filled with pain and loss, that things are going to go poorly for me today. I do not believe that God wants bad for any of us, only allows it to happen, then ensures that we can learn from it and take good from even the worst of all situations, even the death of a loved one.

One of my favorite verses is this, Romans 8:28:  "28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose."

This theological idea that if I have faith God will give me all good things is at best ill-thought. Clearly there are very faithful people for whom things go very poorly. Clearly even those with the strongest of faiths die, their prayers for healing crumpled away like used notebook paper. But that verse doesn't say that. What it says is that God works in all things, the good and the terrible, to turn them to good.

When we lose a loved one, God is there to sooth the pain. When we have the pain itself, God is there to help us through even if we can't see or feel the change in the hurt. He takes us through it.

Paul said at one point we were to rejoice for suffering, but I believe he meant we were not to rejoice in the suffering or while the suffering was going on for I haven't met anyone who would say, "Thank you God for giving me this illness." But what he meant was thank God for the opportunity the suffering might give us to show the glory of God.

In the 8th chapter of the Book of Romans, it also says, "37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. "

More than conquerors. Never separated from God's love, shown to us through Christ Jesus.

That's God's Will. That we experience His love through His Son.

Take it and go out into the world, my friends. Love someone today.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The scale of life

Life as I live it:

Air conditioner to the parsonage went out. UGGGHHHH. House is an oven.
God has blessed us with a 24-foot travel trailer that we've slaved to buy for four years now. Slept well under air conditioner in trailer. God is good.
Took two loads of clothing and canned goods to tornado victim relief at a church near here. Goo is good.
Drove through the area touched by storm to get there. Trees and houses clipped like a paper cutter went through there. UGGHHHH
Had a session with area pastors to pray together set up for 9 a.m. God is good.
One other pastor showed up. UGGGHHH.
We prayed for each other and our churches and our community. God is good.
We began a food delivery system today to about 39 homes in the community. God is good.
We had basically three familes show up to deliver. UGGGHHHH.

It seems to me that the sheet of UGGGHHHs usually is longer than the ones that we can easily say God is goood in. None of that matters. God is good even in the UGGGHHHs is the story of the Bible. That I can't do enough good on my own is the other story of the Bible.

To the ones prayed for, to the ones with clothes and canned goods than had none, to the ones with hot red beans and rice who needed them, God is good all the time. How many UGGHHs we had to go through to get there is meaningless.

God is good.
All the time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My bucket

Ah, I must admit that the idea came from my reading and researching another idea, but it stuck like Band-aids. What is your Christian bucket list? You know, the list of things you want -- even so far as to need -- to do before you die? From a Christian perspective.

I'll do 10, as I have things to do this morning that include thinking, so this is my top 10 things I would like to accomplish before I head home.

10. Go on Paul's journeys, particularly to the still surviving town of Ephesus.

9. Go on a missionary journey that creates churches along the way.

8. Bring someone to Christ who develops his or her own ministry.

7. See the greatest of God's creation: The Grand Canyon, Hawaii, etc.

6. Pray the sinner's prayer with my children and/or grandchildren.

5. Return to Israel for a month of slooowww visitation.

4. Play music with Third Day for just one set.

3. See Christ coming in the clouds.

2. Spend a day with Max Lucado.

1. Join hands with Mary and walk across the River Jordan, hearing God's voice say "Well done, my good and faithful servant," and seeing Frankie and Jesus walking toward us.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Aborted love

Admittedly, it was late in the day, late in the what had been a hot, dry, business-filled instead of spiritual-filled conference. We had been in our seats at our tables, with a sheen of sweat on our foreheads, for what seemed like 40 days and 40 nights when we considered the petitions. Ironically, I thought these two petitions were cut and dried. I didn't think the voting would be close. I was right. The voting wasn't close. The petitions were cutting, and they were as piercing as the shining tip of a double-edged sword.

Both the petitions sought to eliminate endorsement of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights (, which the petitions and the petitioners say misrepresent the UMC. "The RCRC, as a pro-choice organization, clearly supports abortions for the state function of birth control."

Petiton 1 resolved that the General Board of Church and Society of the UMC will "withdraw immediately its endorsement and approval of (the RCRC) and any other organization or group that espouses abortion as a response to regency as proscribed by the BOD 161J. That was brought to the body by Ross Genger on behalf of Athens UMC, Shreveport District.

Petition 2, brought to the body by Connie Wasson on behalf of Benton UMC, sought to present a petition to the 2012 General Conference that the partnership between the General Board of Church and Society and the RCRC be severed.

Both petitions were presented on yellow paper, an ironic nod to the color of fear. They were, however presented, about one of the most fearful of topics -- abortion.

I thought they would both pass. I was wrong. Badly wrong.

According to the petitioners, RCRC does not oppose late-term abortion, advocates for abortion for any reason, has mounted a campaign against all who do not share their views and has increasingly since its founding in 1973 moved away from its original purpose and now advocates positions inconsistent with the Social Principles of the UMC.

My wife, Mary, and I voted and sat awaiting the results so we could move a minute or two closer to being out of Centenary's Gold Dome, a minute or two closer to I-10, I-12 and home.

When tallied, the RCRC and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries were still in business together. Wait. What? What just happened. Surely, uh, come on. Surely we didn't just vote these petitions down. Right? What. Wait.

I was as stunned as if I had taken a baseball off the front of my forehead. That so many in the room were open and honestly in favor of, at the least, abortions in case of incest or other very, very difficult questions. How could this be, I silently asked myself?

Mary? She wasn't so silent, as she packed her things and made ready to go. She had waited for the yellow brick road and now that it was a 'fait accompli.' She said, at the least loud enough for neighbors to hear, "I'm sick, just sick to my stomach." A degree of shock invaded her little circle of life. Mary wanted to know how professing Christians, who favored life in all its meanings and meandering paths, could be in favor of ending an infant's life. "Does that make any sense?" she asked as she hammered things into her bag like a person making time. A vein on the side of her throat bounced with the words she spoke like a teenager at a Justin Beiber concert.

Look, I can't speak for women's bodily function rights. I don't think I'm trying to. What I can speak for is the civil rights of an unborn child who is fighting to enter a big, ol' bad world that doesn't particulary want him, primarily because I was once one of those. I was born prematurely, at the beginning of the seventh month, and given up for adoption by a teen-aged unwed mother who was approaching donating a child like he was a bag of canned goods. That action changed my life, shaded my life since, well, since I would never know this young woman, never know who was my father, never know what life in that family might have been.

That action defined my life, at least until I accepted Jesus. That action caused a downward spiral of wanting to fit in, of desparately wanting to be a part of something, of wanting to be accepted and loved by those persons who one would think would automatically accept and love.

I grasp that there are varying opinions on abortion. I grasp that one can disagree with conviction. I acknowledge there is an emotional tie to this many of us can't seem to get past. What I don't get, however, is the idea that Jesus would say send the little children to him unless they are inconvenient toward the birthing process. Don't see that at all. Don't get it.

How Christians could argue FOR this is beyond me. It truly is. If that makes me backward or foolish, so be it.

I try my best to get along with most folks, with the possible exception of those drivers in the right lane. But on this issue, above and beyond any other, I must make my stand. I speak for the unborn child. I speak for the soon to be born child. I speak for those who think they know the issue far better than do I. I speak for those who have done nothing to anyone else but who would be 'killed' under these sections of the discipline.

Lord, I pray for those children whom we would discard. I pray for the mothers of those who seek to be heard but are being snuffed out. I pray for those who would signal we've reached the crest of the hill and started back down in a state of defeat. I pray for those who know Jesus, but don't want to know him more. I pray for the little children.

Let them be heard, Lord. Let them be heard.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sweating to the real oldies

You can't see humidity, but it takes no genius to know it's there. I can't see humidity, but clearly it affects us in a tangible way. I can't see humidty but when it is high, you can see my shirt and know that fact is real. Sounds a lot like worship of the most high God..

Worship is those moments when the curtain is pulled back just a bit and we are inches closer to Him. Worship is when our songs drift lazily into the sky and bring the reign of God showering down. Worship is that time when we are closest to the one who loves us most and we get to tell Him how much we care.

Worship is when God shows us in a tangible manner, even if we still don't see Him.

Last night, as we brought canned goods to the middle of our worship area, symbolically putting a dent in hunger in the world, I felt Him like the humidity was felt all day. I've been in worship that was more emotional, certainly, but the combination of emotion, up-lifting songs (Awesome God made an appearance), meaningful sermon (Jesus' favorite word? "Go") and the offering of canned goods and pledges by Churches to give to the poor in a definitive, concrete manner made it all come together for many of us.

Worship is that time when the veil is ripped minutely and we see into the throneroom enough to know God is there. Doesn't happen every week, no matter what we call Sunday mornings. Oh, but that were true.

But when it does. Man, when it does. Luke said it made those Pentecost persons seem drunk. Heck, even United Methodists move a bit.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

18 again

Today we vote on delegates to general conference. In other words, today we vote on people who will vote on issues. Today I vote for the first time after having been a pastor for 12 years.

Amazingly, I don't feel all tingly.

But still it is an historic moment. Let me explain. Local Pastors such as I are the people who didn't go to seminary, essentially the equivalent of grad school or even med school for preachers, pastors, ministers. I went to something called Course of Study, which although it means extremely well, is not the same thing as three years of school. It's not. I get that.

But once both of us get out of whatever, the job is the same...except they get to vote and we did not, till today. They wore dark green badges and we wore light green. They were made to feel more of a part of the whole and we were not. Till today.

Today we take one more step toward feeling like we're part of the whole; we feel as if we've been included in everything, though we have not been.

Though Peter, James and John did not go to seminary, they were always made to feel as if they were part of everyone else. We were not. Till today.

Now, we still can't be a part of the whole in that we can't be voted ON. But we can vote. I plan to exercise this option well, studying and such, before I vote. I plan to make the best informed decision I can. I plan to be a part, as much of a good part mind you, as I can be.

You don't get to be part of something for the first time often.

So I will vote, as if I were 18 again.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The key

This morning on Shreveport local television, they showed a photo of a little girl who had been bitten in the face by a local pit bull in January.

It looked as if she was bitten in an almost perfect replicant of the injury our youngest who was bitten by a German Shepherd when she was six years of age.

Scary? Yeah. Both times were scary.I was almost scared into a coma by Carrie's injury.

I think I can speak for many parents when I say, "I would rather be hurt or even killed rather than have any of my children hurt of killed. I would take their places, willingly."

It is one thing, however, to sacrifice for ones we love. But what about sacrificing all for those we don't even know? Yeah, it's harder, maybe even impossible.

But that's exactly what God did for us through Jesus. He stepped up and took our sins on his back. He bled and died for us. He wound up sacrificing all, his life, his future, his moments of memories. All. For us.

Stop and think about it this morning, during the day, ripping away headlines during the evening. He sacrificed everything for people he didn't even know. What a way to give it all, friends. What a sacrifice. What a way to go out.

Love is truly the key.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bad news in the morning

I got a call about 6:30 a.m. yesterday. I was terrified to answer. Calls that early are almost always bad news. It was, with the mother of a dear friend having died. That got me to thinking about all the things that we're scared about that have no real meaning or substance.
We're scared of bad news coming via phone calls. We're scared of calls from an "unknown caller." We're terrified of lightning on a clear night and we're scared of massive thunder on a cloudless afternoon. All of these things have one thing in common: they point the way to something coming.

A friend told me about the strange color of the sky just before a tornado was formed and touched down in Bush, La., about 10 days ago. "It was the weirdest looking thing I'd ever seen," he said. Though small on the scale of destruction that this spring has had, two houses were destroyed and 30 damaged. It's not paranoia if there is someone really watching you, and it's not bad fear if the signs point to something that truly happens.

Jesus said this about looking about for those signs in Matthew, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

In other words, be ready, but not fearful.

David said it this way, "Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever.
7 They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD."

If indeed we trust Him, then the fear of bad news, of those early morning phone calls and on and on, will be blanched from our system.

O, come Lord Jesus, come. That's the good news of the day (at 5:51 a.m.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Bad to better

Ever have one of THOSE days? You know, the kind where everything goes haywire? From the moment you arise until things fall apart so much you can't sleep? Yeah. Me, too. Yesterday was that sort of day. Things were bad early, were bad in the middle, were terrible as I tossed and turned and tossed some more for good measure.
Today? I'm so sleepy I can't see. And a dear friend called this morning to say another dear friend's mother passed away.


But here's some things you can do. When things go so badly the tally starts to build up, think of what Jesus went through for you, for me, for us.

Isaiah describes some of the activity. He wrote, "Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression[a] and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.[b]
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth."

He was beaten. For us. He was led like a lamb to slaughter. For us. He was cut off. For us.

Makes a bad day of little circumstances have some perspective, huh?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Everyone's talking bout the weather

Let's see:

Warmer oceans may be causing jellyfish swarms from Japan to Florida, ruining vacations, stinging swimmers, foiling fishermen. Millions of the giant ones.

Tornadoes strike in New England. In NEW ENGLAND. That happens about as often as, well, someone from New England is elected president. Terrible, horrific tornadoes have struck towns and cities in the Midwest and South all too frequently.

Heavy sandstorms are wracking Baghdad.

It was 99 in the New Orleans area yesterday. On June 1. JUNE. It's rained once in the past two months and on that day tornadoes almost carried us all away.

And a French sociologist declared the Smurfs to be racist, which has nothing to do with weather but it simply another sign that the end of the world as we know it is upon us.

Is it the end, or just a weird spring? Well, both. Clearly things have been, uh, unusual this spring. In California, there was a frost in April. Temperatures in the Bay Area were 15-20 degrees below normal in May. The winter across the country was much colder than normal, with record snow falls that are now producing record melted waters. There's a drought going on in the South, even as flood waters are going down. It's not just us, either. April temperatures for central England were the warmest in the entire 353 year record which stretches back to 1659. There has been less than 20% of normal rainfall over large parts of England during both March and April. Soils are now exceptionally dry and river flows very low for this time of year.

Do I have questions? Yep. They're beginning to form.

Do I have answers? Yep. Just one, though.

The Psalmist says: "For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne."

Do I know why folks are dying from the weather? Do I know what to say when a lifetime is wiped away in 10 minutes? Do I have answers for those who worry about what the weather will do next?

Nah. Nah. Nah.

But I have a friendship with the one who does. That's all trust is, in the long run.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Embracing suffering

The hardest thing about being a pastor is sharing the pain that folks feel. Visiting them in the hospital or at their homes and seeing how they feel is such a difficult chore at times because one of the things you learn quickly is how to care. No care, no connection. No connection, no pastoring. No pastoring, well you might as well not do this.

But it wears you out, frankly. Checking week after week with persons who are seriously ill is difficult. I wish I could do so much more, but I can't. Prayers, holding hands, lifting spirits? Sure. But I can't fix anything, it seems.

But here's a secret I think most should hear about. You don't have to be a pastor to do any of this. In fact, Jesus calls us all to be his hands and feet.

Let me read what Jesus said to his disciples about what they were to do, or be about. From the Message's reading of Luke 9, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat—I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?"

We must embrace suffering to be of any good to our Lord. No one says it will be easy, because it's not, but on this side of the River Jordan, it's what we're called to do.

Join me, please.