Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Let the light shine

In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven. -- Matthew 5:16

1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “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. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." -- Matthew 6: 1-3

The disciples sometimes get a bit of a bad rap. We think they must have been exceedingly dumb because they didn't seem to understand much of what Jesus was telling them until He had been crucified, resurrected, and the Holy Spirit had come to live in them.


On the one had they were told to let that ol' light out, shining for all the world to see. Then, apparently, they were told to keep that ol' giving secret.

So, what's it gonna be?

I believe what the difference is in these two teachings is the attitude of the giver, the one shining. Jesus is talking about why one gives, why one shines, why one is righteous.

If one is doing all that to be seen so that one can grow in the eyes of the beholder, well, that's not acceptable. If one is doing it to be seen so that He might grow in the eyes of the beholder, well, that's good.

The problem is, I feel, that the experience is so very similar. It takes discipline and years of maturity spiritually to see and make the difference, neither of which the disciples had at the time. What to do? Let the same Spirit that changed the disciples into apostles fill our being.

Then shine on, my friends, shine on.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The unplanted seed

In Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen (I'm not making that up), deep inside an Arctic mountain where only lowly lichens thrive, the seeds of wheat, cabbage and 4,000 other plants lie frozen and dormant, on call for catastrophe. If nuclear war devastates and mutates plant life on the Earth's surface, the underground Nordic Gene Bank could help replenish the world with the undamaged germ plasm of crucial food crops.

They've hidden seeds against the worst of all worst.

Seeds are an important part of living, I guess then. They were an important part of teaching to Jesus, too.

(Jesus) told another parable to them: "The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field." -- Matthew 13:31

I've acquired seeds over the years. A bag of them, in fact. I keep the seeds sheltered. Out of the sun, you know. Out of the heat. I keep them not because I suspect there will be war or economic Armageddon or such. I keep them because I'm afraid to plant them, for if I plant them, my goodness they could grow. And if they grow, what would be the outcome?

I have love seeds. I'm afraid to give all I have to a Lord who gave all He had because, well, then there would be no me.
I have worship seeds. I'm equally afraid to plant worship seeds because if I worshiped as I would like, then congregations could turn out to not like me.
I have leadership seeds. Same as worship.
I have forgiveness seeds. If I planted forgiveness seeds, and they grew to the point where I forgave all those folks who aren't like me, or who don't call me, or who don't do what I would have them do, then what? The next thing you know I would be loving, and then what?
I even have a bag of those hard to find trust seeds. If I took them out and scattered them into the wind, oh, what would we have at my churches? Or if the wind took them and both sides of the aisle in Congress would take hold of them or even that dreaded building of White in Washington. Trust is such a divisive element, I keep those seeds hidden even from myself, which is a hard bag to do.
I have healing seeds, I have warmth seeds, I have compassion seeds, I have service seeds, I have children seeds, I have education seeds, I have Bible seeds, I have even, even the hard-coated soft heart seeds.

All unplanted for I fear the worst....growth, revitalization, resurrection.

Bags and bags upon bags sit in my shed, in my garage, in my washroom, in my stealthy spots in my life, waiting for sunshine, rain and most importantly the day I will plant them and watch the most important seeds of all grow: the seed of faith.

Monday, February 27, 2012

No generation without hope

I'm in the middle of a five-week sermon series on hope, the object of which I believe we're starting to lose, as a nation, as a generation or two or as a world. Hope is hard to find these days. Nothing I've seen from any of the presidential candidates is making me feel a bit more hopeful than the other.

Then I read this: roughly half of all Spaniards between 16 and 24 are jobless, the highest level among the 17 nations that use the euro. It's a devastating picture of blighted youth that threatens to distort Spain's social fabric for years to come, dooming dreams, straining family structures and eroding the well-being of a rapidly aging population. The staggering jobless figures - 48.6 percent for Spaniards between 16 and 24; 39 percent for those ages 20-29 - hold dire consequences for a country that grew accustomed to prosperity on the back of a property boom that collapsed in 2008.

In Greece last week, that country continued to face political turmoil over a sovereign debt crisis that has embroiled the country for almost two years. The Greek government said it would hold new elections in the face of massive demonstrations against a new austerity package that was approved on Sunday in exchange for a European Union-International Monetary Fund bailout. Under the austerity deal, Greece will fire 15,000 public sector workers this year and 150,000 by 2015. The minimum wage will be reduced by 22 percent, and pension plans will be be cut.

You name it and it's bad. This nation is fighting (and losing) the jobless battle, and we go on at the Oscars and such as if things were as good as they ever were. And they're not.

And yet we don't turn to the one who can help, the only one who can provide hope.

Looking into hope in all the wrong places, I found these words in the book of Job, the book most closely tied to human suffering and it's attempted explanation.

The Bible says, "13 “Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
14 if you put away the sin that is in your hand
and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
15 then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.
16 You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.
17 Life will be brighter than noonday,
and darkness will become like morning.
18 You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety.

Because there is hope still in this world, all the other stuff doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is where our hope comes from.

The Bible also says, "I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth."

No generation is lost, if it turns to the Lord. No one is helpless if they take hold of the hope that comes from God. No one.

Read more here:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Proclaiming His greatness

David appointed some of the Levites to lead worship in front of the Covenant Box, and they blew horns of trumpet and sang the first contemporary worship song:

"Give thanks to the Lord, proclaim his greatness; tell the nations what he has done. Sing praise to the Lord; tell the wonderful things he has done. Be glad that we belong to him, let all who worship him rejoice?

When's the last time you sat in your room, sat in your car, sat on your deck and simply gave thanks to the Lord for more than a 30-second breath prayer? When's the last time you admitted that all you have is nothing compared to the riches of the blessings that God has given you?

I'll admit I forget from time to time. I'll admit that I look around and wonder just what it is that I have. Then I see a wonderful, loving, caring wife who is far more admired and loved by two congregations than am I. I know I have healthy, loving children and grand-children who seem to abide me. I know I am mostly healthy, although I'm not sure about the mostly all the time.

I realize I am given the honor of leading worship each week, of proclaiming the word of God as best I can. I know that I am able to go places and help those who are in need far more regularly than others.

I am blessed. I read something yesterday about one should always remember where one was when the Lord lifted them out of their situation. I can never forget that without the Lord there is little question in my mind that I would be dead. I would be penniless. I would be without all those blessings I mentioned before.

Therefore, I give thanks to the Lord and I proclaim his greatness.

How about you guys?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fruit bearing

I was leaving the church Sunday and a dear, dear old friend of mine said, "It's good to have you back. You're always gone somewhere, to prison, to a retreat, somewhere."

I saw her yesterday morning for the Ash Wednesday services and told her I might be gone alot, but I would always be there for her where ever I would be.

But that sentence has stayed with me. At first I felt bad about it. Then after thinking more, I felt extremely good for I've been pondering this notion of "having fruit" quite a bit.

The Bible says of it, "9 We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,[a] 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience ..."

We should be fruit-producers. We should produce fruit. If we haven't done anything for God this week, we've probably not done much about fruit producing and if we have not, then we're not doing the will of God.

So, I continually look to see where my fruit is. There have been times I've been fruitless. There have been times the fruit was so ripe it needed to be picked immediately.

But through it all, I've tried, tried mind you, to produce good fruit in the good work. The key, I've finally figured out, is doing good work in God's time with God's help. Otherwise you're just digging in the ground.

Where's your fruit, readers?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Father of Lies

As I prepare to deliver ashes to a sinful lot in about an hour, I am provided with this by the news again:

 Rick Santorum on Tuesday stood by comments he made in 2008 about Satan attacking the United States, telling reporters here that he is going to “stay on message” and continue to talk about jobs, security and “taking on forces around this world who want to do harm to America.” The three-year-old speech is getting renewed scrutiny after several Web-based publications circulated audio and text of his remarks over the holiday weekend. Speaking to a group at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., Santorum said, “This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war at all. This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies, Satan, would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country: the United States of America.”

Let's see. The reason this is a story is because people, certain people, believe this shows Santorum to be a religious nutcase. Though he might be a nutcase otherwise, Biblical teaching is pretty clear about this. The Father of Lies has his sights on all of us, in the world. Whether it be a good, decent, powerful, influential country or not. That does not make one a nutcase. That makes one a reader of scripture.

This notion that good and evil doesn't exist is a quaint one. But Jesus wasn't so quick to dismiss this one we call Satan.

Jesus said of the Father of Lies, 22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

That was said to point out that he couldn't be both good and evil, but that last sentence speaks so much toward what is happening in this country that it can't be dismissed outright.

When we get tired of beating ourselves up over religion, maybe we'll go on to trying to fix what ails us. Until then, Satan wins.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Religion warfare

I read this and pondered:

Troops on the U.S.' largest base in Afghanistan have inadvertently burned Qurans and other religious materials, triggering angry protests and fears of even larger demonstrations as news of the burning spreads.The books were mistakenly thrown out with the trash at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul and were on a burn pile Monday night before Afghan laborers intervened around 11:00 p.m., according to NATO and Afghan officials.
By the morning, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside of Bagram and on the outskirts of Kabul. Some shot into the air, some threw rocks at the Bagram gate, and others yelled, "Die, die foreigners." Many of them were the same people who work with foreign troops inside the base. At one point, apparently worried that the base would be stormed, guards at the base fired rubber bullets into the crowd, according to the military. They should leave Afghanistan rather than disrespecting our religion, our faith," Mohammad Hakim told the Associated Press outside of Bagram. "They have to leave and if next time they disrespect our religion, we will defend our holy Quran, religion and faith until the last drop of blood has left in our body."

Clearly they believe differently than do we Christians, but I wonder why they believe so strongly and yet we are so non-passionate about our faith. We struggled to even talk about it, as a new friend told me the other day. She said that in the North, no one talks about their faith openly. I wonder how the Great Commission is followed then.

What should be our methods of showing a passionate love of  Christ? Should we? Is it up to the individual or do we get pushed by the leadership of the church into being missionaries to the ones around us who do not know Christ?

Makes you wonder if the "religion wars" have already been lost by our own lack of effort.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Arrows deep

Ah, the familiar. I'm back at my desk, back at my computer, back at my keyboard. Back scratching for something to write about that would help, interest, provide the masses.

Let's look at something new for me that has no current bearing on my life. Let's look to Lamentations. You know the book probably less than most.

In the third chapter, the author, probably Jeremiah, writes this: "He (God) drew his bow and made the  the target for his arrows. He shot hit arrows deep into my body. People laugh at me all day long: I am a joke to them all. Bitter suffering is all he has given me for food and drink."

Understand that Jeremiah was writing about the fall of Jerusalem. He was in less than a good mood throughout the writing.

But still...

Have you ever felt that God was in the process of essentially wasting you? Have you blamed God for anything lately? Have you even wondered what God was up to?

The answer to your longing is this: Lamentations ends with Jeremiah writing a prayer to God. "Bring us back to you, Lord! Bring us back! Restore our ancient glory. Or have you rejected us forever? Is there no limit to your anger?"

The answer is, of course. The Jews were brought back to Jerusalem. They are there today.

God is a faithful God. If the Jews had listened to Jeremiah before the Lamentations, perhaps they wouldn't have seen Jerusalem fall.

What needs to fall is our lives? What is it that needs to be taken from us? What is keeping us from ultimately being ALL God wants us to be?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Feel the blessings, pick up the cross


6;23 A.M

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."

My covenant group made several pledges last night. You know the kind: we'll get together once a month for the next six months as an accountability measure. We'll do what we said we were going to do.

Personally, through clinched teeth, I pledged to find for myself a spiritual director, to make a great effort to rise earlier in the morning and spend time alone with the one who created me, and, uh, to write the next book on my agenda, a tome about the faith response to Hurricane Katrina. That is something that has attracted me for some time, and I mentioned it the other night as we talked about things we hadn't done that we wished we would.

So, I'm stuck.

Then later in the night I made a statement that might have a huge effect on Mary and my future to someone who has at least a portion of that future in her hands. It is something we have talked about, but saying it and meaning it, about picking up our cross and literally following, was flat-out scary. But I said it, it's done.

Amazingly I slept the sleep of the blessed. I didn't toss and turn and though I'm still sleepy (as I've been all week) I feel energized. And today we go HOME.

But first, first, let's look at what it means to each of us to actually pick up our cross and go following Christ.

We do that without knowing, or even guessing at, what constitutes our next moves. We do that without dreaming whether that future is brighter or less so. We do that without making lists of things that are good and things that aren't and getting into those continuing arguments about our checkmarks on those lists.

No, we simply say, "Jesus, whatever you want, whatever you need, whatever I can do with you as my co-pilot on this flight, I will do it."

As the sun slowly creeps over the trees that circle the lake at this retreat center, with lines of pink fighting for life among the deep, deep blue and edges of gray, I am satisfied. I am gratified. I am blessed.

Can you hold your cross high above your head and shake it at the same sky, the same sky that Abram saw, the same sky that David saw blanketing a huge obstacle, the same sky that Jesus saw above a bloody cross that hurt him far more than our own?

Can you?

Let today be the day we recognize that your wonders never cease. Let today be the day we simply fall before dirty, bloody feet and wipe them clean with the tears of the justified, the tears of the saved.

This is my only blog of the day, but know this: My prayers are with you as we begin again the journey. May his Spirit be with you as you contemplate the next obstacle that Christ will lift you above even as your body says you can't possibly make it.

Pick up that cross. Fight the urge to sit it back down. Fight with the blood-line of the Savior pulsing in those aching arms. Pick it up. Go forth. Go on. Go till you can't, literally can't take another step, then let Jesus make that incredible difference.

WE CAN, we can, do anything and everything through Christ who not only strengthens us, but helps lift the weight of that cross.

Tired? Sure. Weary? Without question. Blessed? Absolutely, no doubt this morning, no matter the foe, no matter the battle, no matter the circumstance. Blessed indeed.

Please take from me my life when I don't have the strength to give it away to you, Jesus.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

And are they yet alive?

3:30 p.m.

The question wase simple but it struck me hard. How are you with forbearance?

Let's begin by saying I've probably heard more spoken Greek this week than just about all the weeks of my life combined. I'll further confess that those who throw in Greek words (and the Greek there says ...) always have made me feel as if the speaker wasn't trying to clarify so much as to show how little I know about the New Testament and life in general. I'll still further confess I've done that very thing. It really, really sounds like I'm smart when I say it, though I couldn't read a sentence of Greek if there was a gun held to my head and the only way of escaping is to diagram the 18th verse of the third chapter of Colossians, which by the way is perhaps the most important sentence in all of scripture. (See, that will make you look it up and discover the Greek says ...)

That said, the idea of forbearance (according to our lecturer Dr. Bob Mulholland) was (IN THE GREEK) this notion of meeting the person we're bearing with exactly wherever that person is. Not changing them the instant we meet them into something or someone they're not simply to meet our agenda is the idea. If you were to meet me without knowing me (which I guess would be the meeting part, wouldn't it?) you would instantly know that not only do I not know any Greek except Gyro, and I don't know much of anything that would fit the concept of scholarly in any category. If I were to tryout for Jeopardy, I would fail "SPELLING YOUR OWN NAME" for all dollar vallues.

My answer is not a pretty one for me. I don't forbear well. This week has been a forvearing challenge for me. I've met some wildly wonderful people who have all excelled at being themselves. Me? I've tried my best to fit in. And in my mind, I've done a lot of trying to change them so that I'm not the dullest particular tool in this shed. I've failed. In all the ways what I am is unimportant, I've tried to make the resume better than it is. Bet you didn't know that I'm close personal friends with most of the writers on the best-sellers list? Yep. John Grisham and I are practically neighbors.

Anyway, Dr. Mulholland was teaching us about the 13th verse of the third chapter of Colossians. That reads in the ESV "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony: Other translations say in wisdom as the closing words. Still another reads, "binds everything togewther in wholeness." Dr. Mulholland said something about the antecedent of the female form of the pronoun which and that it being an elementary mistake that Paul wouldn't have made the word that preceded it was clearly incorrect and what does the love there refer to and of course it refers to the Christ and that's what Paul meant and something about the fact we should all understand that or simply leave the country.

At least I think he said that.

I, of course, was having another of those mini-strokes at the time that began somewhere around the use of the word antecedent. I had an antecedent named Elsie, my father's sister, and she lived in Florida. That's all I could think of for a moment. Then it dawned on me that was my AUNT Else, not antecedent and I had no idea what an antecedent was, and then I wondered how was knowing what that word meant going to help me feed hungry children around my church in Covington, and I wondered if there were antecedents around my church in Covington, and small chunks of brain began pouring out my ears.

All I could think of was why wouldn't Paul have simply written THE CHRIST if that's what he meant instead of LOVE. This clearly was a trick by the liberal conservatives of Paul's time. Or was it the conservative liberals? You can never be sure about those tricky folks.

I smiled after a while because for the first time in a while, I felt so "disciple-like." Clearly, like Peter and John, I wasn't getting it. I needed Christ to walk through the Wesley Center's closed doors, show me some scars on his side, head, feet and hands and say, "Are you an antecedent for me?" To which, of course, I would say nothing at all, for I didn't know what that meant.

It should be clear thatmy forebearance level was seasonably low. I was trying to make Dr. Mulholland fit my preconceived notion of what we're doing here. I was trying to make Dr. Mulholland fit my idea of study. In fact, I was trying to make Dr. Mulholland represent all my resentments about the seminary versus course of study, elder versus local pastor argument I've lived much of my clergy life.

Two days ago, for example, I was listening to a dear colleague, an elder who used to sit on the board of ordained ministry was talking about remembering me from our meetings. He was telling someone else about this as I listened and somewhere in the discussion, he described the local pastors and elders as being "us and them."

I'm amazed after all this time that elders almost always describe the relationship of the "orders" as us and them and I never heard local pastors do so.

I never talk about clergy and laity as us and them. I never talk about United Methodists and any other denomination as us and them. I never even talk about Christians and non-believers as us and them. I've just never seen the point.

We're all in this big bag of donuts together, seems to me, and I'm just trying to find my way home. I'm not in any way saying that Dr. Mulholland was separating the sheep and the goats, was in any ways dividing the seminarians (which by the way was his whole life for more than half his life) from those who didn't go.

What I am saying is that in terms of forbearing most of us in the room, he forgot that many if not most if not everyone but Dr. Mulholland didn't have the faintest idea of what an antecedent was.

Or maybe it was just me.

Bottom line is this: In trying our best to meet everyone where they are, the biggest hindrance is not knowing where they have been. It takes time to do so. Perhaps that is why the word that directly precedes bearing in the ESV translation of the 13th verse is PATIENCE.

Goes to show you: If one is loaded for bear, one must then shoot with patience (long-suffering).

10 A.M.
I believe Rich Mullins said that forgiving what had been done to you was tying the hardest know. He, therefore, began with the simpler ideas of Christianity.

This morning we've pondered the idea of forgiveness, looking at who needs it, who can give it and how much one can give. Like a vessel filled with hurt, the only way to drain that hurt is to forgive. Forgiveness, it seems to me, is the straw that does not break the camel's back but is one that helps heal it as that burden that threatens the wellness of the camel's back is lifted.

Jesus said he would take those  burdens from us, but I believe in the long run that there is a pattern we must follow before he takes those burdens, those sorrows, those pains.

Nehemiah 9: 17 tells us that "they (the Israelites) refused to obey .. but you are a God of forgiveness."
Psalm 103:3 tells us, "He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases."
Matthew 6:15 tells us, "But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins."
And Luke 23:24 tells us that Christ from the cross itself said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

I have hurt people in my life without meaning to. The intentionality is not the question here. The hurt is.

For those actions or inaction, I ask forgiveness from those wounded souls that I love.

The specificity of those actions is not the question here. The hurt is.

For those actions, or inaction I pray that they will forgive me.

The reasons for those actions or inaction, for my ability to make a phone call that would lift or a letter than would encourage or for a visit that would change a day, the desire to be forgiven is not the question. The fact I've been caught in actions that were wrong is not the question. The fact that I have not reached perfection or holiness or even a degree of forgiveness with even a God who loves me from womb to casket and beyond is not the question.

The question is can I forgive so that I might be forgiven. The answer simply must be yes. I ask for forgiveness from friends and former friends who gave me all they had and I forgot the beauty of it. I ask for forgiveness from family who know me in my depths and in my heights and in my longings and my achievements. I forgive those who have done the same.

I ask for forgiveness for all those inattentive attempts at listening where my voice as no still one to be heard. I ask for forgiveness for not knowing what was on the hearts of the ones I loved, but instead cared much more for my own desires. I forgive those who have done the same.

And I ask for forgiveness for that part of me that still needs to be chipped away at till the false self is no longer there. I ask for forgiveness (and direction and guidance) so that as the prodigal I come home with a sense of wonder and awe, so that as the older brother I stay home with a sense of duty and achievement and I ask for forgiveness as the father of both sons so that I am filled with a cup of grace that runneth over. I forgive those who have done the same.

I have wronged some. I am sorry. I have not loved. I am sorry. I have not been the church to the world in need far too often. I am sorry.

This sorrow is real as the darkness that comes in the evening, and it is as unsustainable as my efforts to walk daily for my health. I am sorry, but it ends with forgiveness. My guilt is washed away with the blood of the lamb.

Therefore, please forgive me. I need this forgivess to go on, but it is up to the ones who have been hurt to decide. I can only forgive and ask for forgiveness in return. The rest is up to the other, the one I have hurt in small and large ways.

Let this day be a new beginning, and let me be a new creature (again, and again, and ...) until I get it right.

7 A.M.
Ephesians 1:13 -- And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving  you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.

This morning, as we continue the week-long quest to be spiritually reborn, reformeed, reconsituted, I begin by looking at the good news that was given to me, that good news being my understanding of the Gospel, the Gospel itself and my being given the Holy Spirit to help me understand how to live now that I have this good news.

It is clear that my level of education and even my level of understanding, wisdom, and knowledge isn't what it is for many who are here. I'm no seminarian, and even if I was, apparently, my understanding of some of the concepts we've been taught and.or given is not what others have. At one point yesterday in a lecture, my inclination was to say, "sorry, I'm not at all sure what we just said."

So be it. What I do understand is that God saved me, picked me up from the gutter, cleaned me as best could b e done, sent me b ack out onto the streets so that I could tell someone the truth of the Good News. Do I have the vocabulary to express that in seminarian terms? Nope. So be it. What I have is a genuine affection for others, and I pray a way of simplifiying the way to look at what the heart hopes to express rather than just the mind. Oswald Chambers, in ther reading for today, wrote, "God does not give us ovecoming life; He gives us life as we overcome...if we will do the overcoming, we shall find we are inspired of God becuase He gives lfe immediately." Oh, what joy in life we will have if we but live as if we have joy.

The rest? False selv es and contemplative prayer that leads to self-examination that leads to something I'll discovered today perhaps is just as they say so especially in Louisiana, just lagniappe.

Am I all I can be in Christ? Nope. Will I grow closer to him? Yes, over time. Will I try to grow closer? You've read the efforts, and by the way, you'll hit 10,000 hits on the website sometime early this morning and I'm greatly appreciativ e of you  efforts as well. You're at least part of the reason I do five days a week. Keep reading.

See you after breakfast and a lecture....

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Before our own altars


3:40:  Let me first say I hope these musings of what we've done here have been, are being, helpful. They are assignments as it were, thoughts and expressions developed from morning and afternoon lectures.

Let me briefly pave the way for you to study Paul's letter to the Colossian church. I'm trying to condense a rather lengthy passage of scripture and an hour-long lecture into a readable piece of material. Please bear with me. Save this, bookmark it and read it at length when you want to.

Paul is telling a church, filled with folks he's never met, about what it means to have the true self, Christ's cross as it were, as opposed to the false-self. This church had attached itself to the idea that works-righteousness was the true life of Christians. In other words, if you do the right bunch of stuff, you get the right result. Give me some rules with my three-course dinner and I'm fine, thank you.

In the second chapter, beginning with the 20th verse (I'll use the NIV here) through the middle of the third chapter, we read, "20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.THIRD CHAPTER 1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."

I could go on and on, but let's stop there and say this: Paul was clarifying  basically that since you have died to the spiritual forces of this world with Christ, why are you still trying to follow the lists of good behavior of that same world? And since you were raised with that same Christ, why are you not putting to death all that earthly behavioral thing?

I'll condense it further. Why are you trying so hard to look Christian, and when are you going to start allowing God to let you BE Christian?

Get rid of the rule-book. Pick it up and toss it, or at the least pick it up and let it be a coffee table book rather than a daily way to live book.

Years ago in one of my first jobs in journalism, we would sit in the office and have trivia contests based upon the baseball rule book. In other words, we studied the rule book daily. I knew many kids who knew almost all the rules of the rule book yet couldn't play a lick, and I knew many kids who knew almost none of the rule book but could play wonderfully.

Paul is telling these Colossian people to get rid of the religious false-self (that which would have us stop handling, tasting and holding things). He is saying start concentrating on becoming truly healed by God of our broken sexuality and our tendency toward violence.

Stop putting on human rules that simply limit the joy of Christian living without being beneficial ward the goal of heavenly eternal living and start letting the gifted of God play well together in fields of grace.

We are all in that field of dreams together by the way, Paul writes. Gentile (Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and the like), Jew, Muslim, Wican, etc. Whether male or female, whether black or white, whether young or old. There is one rule and one rule only that applies: Crucified with Christ. Raised with Christ. Saved by Christ, through Christ, because of Christ. Though that seems to be plentiful, it is one. That one is, of course, CHRIST.

10:10 a.m. -- Self-examination, or as Ignatius of Loyola described it, the daily examen of consciousness as the way to discernment.

He prayed, "God, my Creator, I am totally dependent on you. Everything is a gift from you. I give you thanks and praise for the gifts of this day."

Last night in a circle our Covenant group began slowly and finished with flourish as we talked about the gifts God had given us.

One slender quiet woman from Shreveport showed us her incredible gifts of creativity that produced painting, molding, building of artistic expression. In a word, her gift is hand-made, hand-held beauty. She humbly shared with us what she has seen in mists of inspiration that only she could see. We were blessed.

One man, a displaced New Orleanian, a brother of the storm, read us a song he had written yesterday that gathered its theme from rescue (he has two rescue horses). We were ble3ssed.

One clergyman told us of a dream he had hand the night previous in which anger molded and directed his actions, quite unlike his reality. His truth and clarity and honesty blessed us.

And I told the group about the work before me. I told them hesitantly and our leader wondered why I hid my talent behind the fear I wear as cloak. I never answered him, really. So that's what I've decided to examine this morning, that 1 1/2 hour period last night.

I hide whatever talent I have  because like the Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz once said, I fear failure more than I'm motivated to succeed. I don't like to show my writing talent just in case someone thinks I don't have any. I'm almost ashamed of what I'm capable of doing, and just typing that sentence hurts me. If I was to discover that no one liked my writing, it would absolutely criple me. It is my image of myself. I AM a writer. It's not just what I do. It is who I am. Rightly or wrongly, I write. Started with a worn and beaten typewriter at my aunt's house almost a half-century ago.

Today I'm motivated by the small number of readers I have more than the possibility of having millions. In other words, I would find reasons to be unhappy if I was the No. 1 blogger in the country, but I can't even get the Louisiana Annual Conference website to pick up the link to my blog so clearly I'm not that good.

I pray these musings help someone, but I'm convinced they could never do so. In essence, I'm a New Orleans Saints football fan in all thats deep meaning. In other words, I prepare myself for losses so much so that I convince myself the loss is inevitable. In self-talk sessions that bleed discouraging words like a suicidal wound on the wrist, I tell myself that the work is not good enough so often that eventually the work is not good enough in reality.

Ignatius asked of himself to reflect on the Holy Spirit's actions during his day: "Holy Spirit, I believe in yur work in time nd through time to reveal me to myself. Please give me an increased awareness of how you are guiding and shaping my life, as well as a more sensitive awareness of the obstacles I put in your way.

It dawns on me like a dreary revelation: I AM THE OBSTACLE HE HAS PUT IN MY OWN WAY. I. ME.

I am asked to examine his presence in today's events; his presence in the feelings I experienced; on his call to me; and on my response to him.

I am asked to tell him what event I most want healed.

That it easy, for me this morn.

Today, friends, I ask the Holy Spirit to heal me of my self-absorbed actions, of my inability to believe not in the Holy Spirit of whom I have great respect and belief but rather my inability to believe in myself. I ask God's Spirit to heal my false-humility and yet I ask Him to give me a natural and normal self-image that doesn't include my unnecessary desire to be loved me all.

Let today be the day He heals me of all false, harmful images of myself. Let today be the day I am brought more deeply into the kingdom's walls. Forgive me of my sinful actions of the previous day, o Lord. And let today be the day I begin a more forceful, meaningful, cleanly walk with you.

8:40 A.M. -- After a startling good breakfast during which we could see the sun fighting to slice its way through the fluff we called clouds, a morning in which we broke not only our fast from food but also fast from sound (talking and such), I read the news this day (uh, huh).

Among the items was this: Iran trumpeted advances in nuclear technology on Wednesday, citing new uranium enrichment centrifuges and domestically made reactor fuel, in a move abetting a drift towards confrontation with the West over its disputed atomic ambitions. Iran has been resorting to barter to import basic staples as sanctions, imposed over its pursuit of nuclear activity seen in the West as geared to developing atomic bombs, have spread to block its oil exports and central bank financing of trade.

I began to ponder our world. In the minutes I had remaining before the next lecture at this Spiritual Formation Academy, I pulled out my very worn copy of My Utmost for His Highest, and today's devotional asked the question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Uh, wow and then some.

Author Oswald Chambers makes this point ..."How many of us are willing to spend every ounce of nervous energy, of mental, moral and spiritual energy we have for Jesus Christ? That is the meaning of a witness in God's sense of the word."

How would this world be different, or even would it be different, if we were to take this message to Iran: We love you and would love for you to join us in our quest to make this world be peaceful again. Would you please consider using your advancements toward a peaceful nuclear program?

Chambers asks, "God has left us on the earth -- what for? To be saved and sanctified? No, to be at it for him." In other words, what are we planning to do this day for God. Not with God. No devotional reading. No prayer time. No visiting or even having dinner with. No. What are you planning to do FOR him.

Are you willing this day to be different than you were yesterday? To be changed so that you can be an agent of change? To help rather than be helped? To love rather than be loved?

This is monumental it seems to me because these are fundamental changes that could, could mind you, change the fundamentals. The Iranians (and all those faceless Middle Eastern persons who know of Jesus but do not know him at all other than what they see in us and for the most part do not like, deserve our utmost for his finest. I worship at HIs altar, not my own, this morning, I pray.

In a room of almost exclusive whiteness, in a room almost exclusively of one culture, that altar is hard to find, but it exists. Let His will be done.

7 A.M. --

The darkness of the days continues, though there was a brief moment Tuesday afternoon where the sun stuck it's great head out and smiled down at our meager efforts to find a joyous God. This morning my body is proclaiming it a peace-free zone, as aches and pains from walking are surfacing like angry monsters from 10,000 feet below the surface.

But here I am, seeking answers to as-yet imposed questions. I turn in the scriptures quite randomly this morning to Ezekiel's journal of affairs and I read this, "Therefore you prostitute, listen to this message from the Lord...Because you have poured out your lust and exposed yourself in prostitution to all your lovers, and because you have worshiped detestable idols, and because you have slaughtered your children as sacrifices to your gods, this is what I am going to do...

While I congratulate myself immensely for having done none of those things as did Israel (the recipient of the prophecy of Ezekiel), I stop to ponder and I wonder as I wander.

I've lusted, as Jimmy Carter so famously insisted, in my heart and certainly in my mind as I've tried to direct God to do my will, not his, in terms of job offers and appointments and such. I've sought out detestable idols of money, fame, fortune even while I've told everyone how poor we were because of my decision to become a minister full-time. Thus I've slaughtered figuratively my children and grand-children at the altar of my own choosing.

If we take the time, and that's about all I have to treasure in the silence of this retreat, we can certainly see those times when we, every bit as much as dear ol' Israel did fall away from God instead of seeking after his face.

We wanted so much more. He gave us all we needed.

Thus we fall, and we fail, and we falter before our own altar. And so begins the day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I hear you


10 a.m. --
This morning, after our prayer session and breakfast (love those biscuits from, uh, somewhere) but before we began our lecture on contemplative prayer, I looked down to my hand for some reason and I was shocked to see that my wedding band was not on my finger.

I was immediately aware that on Valentine's Day of all things I was suddenly naked in a manner of speaking. I was also acutely aware instantly that I had no way of knowing how long that had been the case. Perhaps it had come off months ago or minutes ago.

I was also almost as immediately aware that somehow I should have known. How could this expression of love that I had worn for all these years be gone without my knowing it? Am I that clueless? Can I possibly be that insensitive to the love I feel for this woman I've known as spouse for nearly three decades?

The lecture this morning was about listening to God. Taking the time to feel God's intention. Being molded not by my intercessory prayer as well-intentioned though that might be.

I heard this: perhaps our real task in prayer is to attune ourselves to the conversation already going on deep in our hearts.
I heard this: God is closer to us than our breath.
I heard this: Jesus was aware his mission was possible only as long as his relation with Abba was nurtured.
And I heard this: Contemplation is gazing with the eyes of the heart, letting ourselves get lost in adoration, in wonder, in allowing our soul to look upward to God in admiration.

Today I pray that my adoration for God be allowed to be. TO BE. To change, grow, mature. I pray that I find peace that is inexplicabel and that this dawning day with all its (still) grayness be simply another possible journey toward wonder.

At the breakfast table today, sitting with our bishop, an elder who is responsbile for this retreat and a Baptist gentlemen from Virginia who is simply seeking a deeper walk with Christ, I took baby steps again toward understanding more completely what my relationship with Jesus is or should be. But it is back here in my room, staring at my netbook, contemplating what I'm saying to God and what he is saying in response to me that I am indeed closer.

I acknowledge and confess that I spend too much time trying to MINISTER to others instead of spending any time being MINISTERED to by the God who loves me more than breath itself. I confess that I'm learning, still.

GOD: Haven't heard much from you lately, Billy. You okay?
ME: Yes, uh, sir. I've been doing stuff for you.
For me?
Yes, God. I'm one of your ministers, pastors you know? I preach and teach and I, I...
I know, Billy. I'm the one with your name in the palm of my hand.
How's that work, by the way? Is it like a tatoo? A piercing?
No, piercing is another thing entirely, but I know a little about that as well. Anyway, do you listen much to me anymore?
I'm sorry. I minister so much that I get tired. And when I get tired, I, uh, fall asleep when I listen. You ever do that? Uh, I'm sorry, forgot who I was talking to. I don't think you get tired, do you?
Tired physcially? No. Don't have much of a problem there. But I get tired of, well, tired of things.
What kind of things?
I get tired of people doing things in my name. I get tired of people misinterpreting what I've told them, of not listening at all when I speak. I get tired of people coming up with their own rules and saying I put them in the tablets I gave Moses. I get tired of, Billy, I get tired of religion.
I thought that was your family business.
That's what you've been taught by someone besides me.
But worship...and prayer ... and evangelism ,,, and missions and ...
Let me stop you right there. All those things are important. But without me working in you, those things are just words. Someone once said that I'm love. I gave that to John, I think, I'm love. Well, that's about as true as anything. I'm love, in worship. I'm love in our prayer time together. I'm love when you're evangelising (sharing good news). I'm love when you're building someone in real need a house. I'm love, Billy. I love talking to you like this. I love talking to you in your Bible. I loved talking to you when my Son was wandering all over Palestine. I love talking to you. But what I've learned over time is that you really, truly don't like listening.
Do you think we'll ever learn, Lord?
Sure. Sure. Most folks learn to listen to me when something big happens, something dire. But I strongly prefer not having to work through tragedy or suffering. I'd just as soon talk to someone on a birthday or after they share the first kiss with the one I've managed to get them together with. I'd love to talk to someone on the day they have their first child or even when their sports team finally wins a championship. But what I've seen, Billy, is that most folks don't have time for me on those days. The good news, really, is I have lots of time and loads of patience. I'll just keep waiting for them to come to me and shut up for a second. Then I'll share. And then they'll listen.
I hear you.
Do you really? Really?

Monday, February 13, 2012

A look at our selves, false and otherwise

As we concluded the day's lectures at the Academy of Spiritual Formation's first day, we were asked (and you get to come along for the ride) to ponder this:
In the light of the meaning of "glory" (the deep inner nature that defines a person -- God), what does it mean to glorify God?
What has been the deepest hope of your life?
Where do you see evidences of the False Self in your life?
What is God calling you to now?

I found it amazing that as I begin a five-week sermon series on Christian Hope this Sunday, I find myself at a five-day academy whose first day is dedicated to Christian Hope. Amazing, huh?

I was taken by the fact that our lecturer pointed out that Christian Hope is not about eternal destination. That, Bob Mulholland said, is a by-product. Instead, Mulholland said, our hope is that we will become Christ-like.

And that is my deepest hope. I am a sinner, still. I fall, not necessarily daily any longer, but I would say that every other day is about right. I fall to different sins, to ego and pride and to looking at things I shouldn't look at or feeling things I shouldn't feel or putting that false identity front and center.

Paul, Mulholland said, did that on occasion as well. Paul said we have all fallen short of the glory of God. What he meant, I learned this afternoon, was that the image, the nature of God that is His glory, is what we are all hoping against hope (as Paul wrote in the fourth chapter of Romans) to discover in us. But we all fall short. We all fall short of the nature of God. We are not, therefore, perfect in terms of glory, or nature. I fall short.

That would be my deepest hope today. That is why I'm here, in Woodworth, that goes beyond continuing education points and any other reason. I pray that the nature of God would over time begin to replace that false self I've tried so desperately to have removed.

Mulholland asked the question (and I ask you dear reader), "if we are going to lose our self (as Jesus suggests we do), what are we replacing it with?" Ponder that this evening. You might not be at a physical spiritual retreat, but turn off the television, find a Bible, read some of the scriptures on glory (Col. 3:16; Col. 4:3; Col. 1:25-27: John 1:14; John 17:5, etc.) and ponder the question.

I've always seen those types of questions so meaningful because they point me to a position in life that I know I must obtain, but like Paul in Romans Chapter 7, that's who I want to be but that's not who I am. Yet.

As we head toward evening prayers, toward evening discussions, toward evening silence, I look for that glory of God in a new, fresh, crisp, different manner. I pray you do as well.



Our questions to ponder...
Where in your life and work do you have "too much of a good thing, too many logs packed in too tightly?"
What do you know about breathing space? What practices do you use to help you build open spaces between the logs?
How do you decide which logs to burn and which to lay aside?
What warmth and light want to emerge from your fire?

I'm staring out a sliding glass door onto the lake at the Wesley Center in Woodworth, La. It is gently firmly raining right now, and there is no edge, no horizon to the sky. There are no clouds, no spacing of blue and somber gray. It only is, if  you know what I mean. The sky has been assaulted by water, like a dam overflowing.

I've been told to ponder, so ponder I am doing, and what I've discovered on but the first whole day of replenishment is that I don't do spiritual replenishment well. To do that well, well, I would have to stop, to step back, to let go, to let my mind very purposefully stop. No next sermon. No next sermon series. No next bill to pay. No next hospital visit to make. No calendar to calendar.

I'm not saying I'm incapable of being lazy. No, not at all. I'm built that way naturally. What I do is nowhere near manual labor, and it never has been. I'm a writer, pastor, thinker. No bricks have been laid in my life.

But what I'm saying is that stepping back and letting the logs have separation per the question above, or letting work be separated from life or life from sabbath simply doesn't come naturally to me. Does it to you? Are you able to let the natural rhythm of day and night replicate peace and tranquility in the manner that Jesus did? Have you learned at some point in your life to take time to be, uh, holy? Have you found a place to be in the moment? Have you a place at all?

Mark 6 tells us, gently, to rest. Like a dog set to track, Jesus says, "Find it."

"The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour (doesn't that sound familiar to me, by the way) and told him all they had done and taught. (LOOK CAREFULLY AT THE NEXT SENTENCE, VERSE 31 IN MARK 6) Then Jesus said, 'Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile. He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn't even have time to eat."

Instead of having a party to celebrate the magical ministry tour of the apostles, apart from Jesus, the Messiah says basically, let's go off by ourselves and do, well, NOTHING. Let's find some quiet, dig a spiritual hole where we can place all our spiritual baggage, where we can bury all our spiritual pain, where we can get rid of our ego and pride and stuff that gives us such terrible spiritual back aches. Let's sit back and absorb. Let's separate the logs some so that when the fire is stoked, the explosion of worthy of God's big bang.

Have you done this lately? I suspect not. I know that's why I'm here. Not to find myself. I've got plenty of myself. No, I'm here to find more of Jesus, in that quiet place where the Messiah is King of Kings and perhaps most importantly is Prince of Peace.

We're in a silent period at the retreat again. I'm in my "hotel," and the only noise is my typing, the occasional gulp of my fifth cup of coffee this morning and my chewing on some fine peanuts. Oh,  and the heater is pumping some warm dry air into the room.

I'm thinking deeply about that rain falling, so soft, so gentle, so cold and so much of it. The rain is helping me slow down for I do not want to run out into the cold, dampness to return to our "chapel." In other words, without the help of the rain, I might never have gotten into this room and simply stopped my busy-ness to think about the sabbath God wants us all to take.

What about you? Do you find time during your day to rest, stop, think, ponder? Jesus tells you and I some simple but direct information: "Let's you and I go off b y ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile." Let's rest. Let's be quiet. Let's be silent, in fact.


I poured myself a cup of coffee that steamed as if it were fog coming off the moors this early morn. I squeezed some honey into the cup for reasons I'm unaware since I never do that. It simply seemed the thing to do.

We had been silent since 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, at the end of a long, long day. I had preached at two churches, two sermons, driven then from Covington, La., to Woodworth, La., about 31/2 hours. When we finished our second bit of worship of the evening, we walked up stairs to our rooms in blessed silence. The day, the evening, the first time of worship, communion, teaching, and discussion before silence was done.

I awoke during the night with a terrible throat, a cough, that scared me and kept me awake for an hour. Still, I awoke mostly refreshed, though the coffee put a dent into the sleeplessness as well.

I read these words while sipping the coffee: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. ...By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible."

Part of what this retreat is about is dividing into covenant groups. My group has some very interesting persons, among whom are a couple of liberals whom might not normally be ones who would spring to mind as coffee mates. God has a sense of humor about such, I think. Our "politics" and our "theology" I don't think would mesh normally. But here we are, with a cold north wind and drops of rain blowing in, and covenant time scheduled within the hour.

The assurance of things hoped for is what we're striving to achieve today. We're going to have worship, in song, in psalm, in prayer. We're going to talk about things that interest us and motivate us. We're going to seek those hoped for things. Why? I think it's because none of us believe we've gone far enough down the road of salvation that we still don't need to stick out our thumb and get a ride or two. That's the assurance we seek, that God, our Father, our adoption-minded, agape-oriented parent still wants to run down the road to us, gathering us as prodigals all, and letting marvelous barrels of love come pouring onto us.

That cleared my hurting throat, dried my damp shoes and prepared my heart and mind for some grits and some bread of life. That's assurance, by any other name.

I will be writing at numerous times today, so grab it as many times as you choose.

Friday, February 10, 2012

How deep is your love?

Okay, I've figured out something and that, my friends and casual readers, is something special. I've figured out, as I head on Sunday for a five-day spiritual retreat, that I'm perhaps more undisciplined than the retreat (and life in general) demands.

I have no, what they call in the book I was required to read that I poured through sort of, discipline. Never had it. Perhaps, only perhaps, never will. I can't rise early and work on my relationship with Jesus, though I indeed want to go deeper. I can't. I tried. All I really felt was sleepy. I can't fast. Again, all I really felt was hungry. I can't go deeper in my prayer-life though I really do want to.

So where does this leave us? Well, I'm apparently pretty good with the confession part.

Look, I'm being fairly whimsical about this, and I don't really mean to. But I looked back deeply into my past this week as I prepared for next week, and what I saw was total, uh, undiscipline. The reason I'm not a better guitar player is the hours of practice it would have required. The reason I don't sing better is the lessons it would have taken (and lack of voice, but that's another thing). Even the writing comes straight from whatever gift God gave me because I never really studied the how tos in school. I just wrote.

I love Jesus with whatever of my heart I can give. I serve with all that I know how. I do what I can, and I fail at much of what I try. But through it all, what I do is without true difficult discipline.

I know. And I believe God does to because scripture says He knows my heart, my being. How about you readers? Do you have the discipline to go deeper? Have  you tried? Will you try?

Next week (you read it first here) I'm going to rise at 6 a.m. and write to you my devoted ones. Part of it is I'm scared to not write for you might give up and I can't imagine that. Part of it is I'm going to use next week as a journal of the heart, mind and soul.

Take those steps with me. And if I have typos, remember, I'm sleepy.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Locked doors and hearts

This sentence sequence has always attracted me, astonished me, intrigued me...."It was late that Sunday evening and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Then Jesus came and stood among them."

Note what isn't there. No mention of Jesus opening that dang door. Did he simply appear? Did he make it through the locked door? Or did the writer simply forget to mention that?

In any case, I think the more important part of the sequence is the fact that the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors.

Frankly, I think my churches are doing the same. They, me, are not bringing new people in, and I wonder if it is because we've locked our doors to the non-believing public.

But it's not just that. We've, many of us, locked our own doors and even the doors of our hearts to Jesus. Oh, we say we haven't, but like me, we don't put in the time or the discipline to actually worship him or develop a deeper relationship with him. I'm going to a retreat next week to do that very thing, and honestly, I don't know that I can even do what they propose we can do. My heart is closed and I haven't gotten in the car yet.

I read this recently: "Many have suggested God respects locked doors and the heart is always locked from the inside with no handle on the outside. I suggest God will respect our choice without the locks, and, at the same time appear in our hearts to shine a little light through the windows of our minds—like sunshine comes into a dark room to make it brighten—unless we pull the shades. He won’t come live with us without an invitation, but He will knock in some unique ways. And when we’ve atrophied our will to the point that we no longer have the ability to open the door to Him, He will just appear next to us on the floor where we’ve fallen, if we call to Him for help."

Where's my key?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How to be saved once and for all

I looked down this morning and saw this notation from the writer of John's Gospel:30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

Amazingly, that's not even the end of that gospel.

I stuck on that little out-of-place memo for a moment. Let's see, the book was not written to punish, to make people act a certain way, or that anyone might be different than they are. It was written that anyone -- heck, everyone -- might have life in his name (eternally) by simply believing that Jesus is the Messiah, is the Son of God, is the promised deliverer, is the savior of us all.

That's so important because it means all the miracles were purposeful. All the teaching was purposeful. All the love that was transmitted was with purpose.

So that you, and I, would have life with Jesus.

For all the people who claim those who believe that want others to be something they are not (in all that the phrase might mean), you're not getting it.

In the 10th chapter of Romans, Paul wrote that  "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."

Nothing more, nothing less. John's Gospel points to that sentence in Paul's theological masterpiece. Anyone who has told you that you must do more than that is not reading correctly, in my opinion.

That's the purpose of the Gospel, the good news. Jesus came to save. You will be saved if your heart believes Jesus is the Messiah. Period.

Now, what a wonderful morning.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Love means so much more

I owe a gentlemen in a Kairos prison ministry these observations.

This is the story of the day from John's Gospel:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) me more than these?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.' He said to him, 'Feed my lambs.' [16] He said to him a second time,'"Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) me?' He said to him, 'Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.' He said to him, 'Tend my sheep.' [17] He said to him the third time, 'Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) me?' Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, 'Do you love (phileo) me?' and he said to him, 'Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (phileo) you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'" (John 21:15-17)

There's a lot here beyond what you read. In the Greek, the word Peter uses here is philio or brotherly love. The word Jesus uses is agapao or agape or unconditional love. Say it again. Jesus says do you love me unconditionally? Peter answers that he loves him as brothers love brothers. The third time Jesus asks, he uses the word philio, coming down to Peter's level because Peter couldn't come to him, couldn't love him more than that because we humans simply are incapable much of the time.

There's also the change from taking care to feeding but let's stick with love this morning.

Let's work the translations first.
Agape means the following: to be fond of, to love dearly; to love, to be full of good-will, to have a preference for, regard the welfare of: . . . to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it; a spontaneous feeling which impels to self-giving, the weak sense to be satisfied, to receive, to greet, to honor, or more inwardly, to seek after; to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard.

Phileo means the following: friendship, to be friendly to one; phileo more nearly represents tender affection; To love; to be friendly to one, to treat somebody as one of one's own people; to have love or affection for someone or something based on association; love, have affection for, like.". . . It would, however, be quite wrong to assume that [phileo and philia] refer only to human love, while [agapao and agape] refer to divine love. Both sets of terms are used for the total range of loving relations between people, between people and God, and between God and Jesus Christ."

Is there a difference, a quantitative difference in the kind of love Jesus was talking about? I'm not at all sure there is, but this I know: I fall way, way short of each of them much of the time.

I've walked the edge of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus supposedly was standing while Peter was fishing and first saw his Lord. I've stood in front of the rock that tradition says Jesus cooked fish for breakfast for Peter that morning he had this conversation with him.

And there are hungry people all around me this morning, and that hunger is for far more than bread. Some don't even realize their hunger or the focus of their hunger.

Can we begin to feed his sheep? Can we? This world is hungry for spiritual feeding, my friends. While we practice our indifference, his sheep go hungry.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How big is your God?

It was a simple question to a group of six kids at church yesterday:

How big is God?

The answers were charming: Humongous, one said. Giant, one said. Unmeasurable, one said.

Then came the answer of the day: He has two feet.

I'm not too sure where that answer fits in, but I know it was from the heart as well as the man. God has two feet. He also, the child said, has two hands.

In other words, in the child's mind's eye, God has human attributes. He has two hands and two feet.

How big is your God, I ask.

Let's put it this way:

Astronomers estimate that there are as many galaxies outside the Milky Way as there are stars in it. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, taken in 2004, imaged 10,000 galaxies in a cone of space so slim you could cover it with a grain of sand held at arm's length. Integrated over the entire sky, that would mean there are more than 100 billion galaxies in the visible universe, many with more than 100 billion stars each. According to Psalm 147:4, God calls them all by name.

I also asked the kids if you could measure God by time, pointing to a watch. They were unanimous in thinking that was not possible, though I wonder if they understood why.

Contemplating such things is humbling, but also raises questions. Can such a God as that, who watches over such a big, big universe care about little ol' me? It's important to understand the Biblical doctrine of omnipresence in answering this question. Learning that God is everywhere does not mean that part of Him is here, part there, and part in a distant galaxy, as if His love were spread thinly across all of space. No; omnipresence means that all of God is present at every place, at the same time.

I guess then the question rightfully placed is how big is YOUR God? Big enough to answer and big enough simply to listen, I would hope. Big enough to deal with your problems and big enough to deal with the big picture. Big enough to care, I pray.

Friday, February 3, 2012

No you don't

The life-long journey with the word no has taken me to many places both good and bad. Now, for example, I even live in NO (New Orleans). I've often lived in a world of no, though.

No isn't a popular word, I would imagine, for most folks. For me, well, it is a word that I've always had difficulty with. Saying it. Meaning it. I had trouble saying no to the kids. I had trouble saying no to things that could harm me. I had trouble saying no PERIOD.

Others are no different. I just read the report this morning of Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton who apparently has relapsed in his battle with alcohol. See, the biggest problem addicts have when you get right down to it is the inability to say no. I pray for him this morning.

This notion of no began early. In Genesis we read, "16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  Not is just another form of no, you know.

It is with great irony, then, now that I'm in the business of making disciples, and believe me despite my best prayer efforts to the contrary it still is a business, I have trouble with others saying no. To me. My flesh cries out in pain when I keep asking and others keep saying, NO.

Ask them to church. No.
Ask them to volunteer. No.
Ask them to join. No.
Ask them to prison ministry, to habit for humanity, etc. It's 24-hours of no.

Like Jonah, like David, like Joshua, like Moses, like so many, many others who said no at least initially when called by God, many if not most folks say no today. Church attendance is going straight downward because of one little word. No.

This week I've had four persons move membership from out church. Though I did not know three of them, it still stung. It is no, no, no and no. I know it is no-t about me, but still, no is like a flashfire coming quick and leaving a blackened area a while.

How does one overcome the nos of the world? Literally of the world. How can one become so dispossessed beging told no doesn't hurt, sting, bruise?

I assume one must begin to understand just how many nos Jesus had to face. Over and over and over Jesus had to have heard or felt or seen the crowds say no. He fed 5,000 plus. Five or so were there to watch him bleed out on the cross. What that must have felt like. The crowd said no. No I won't come. No I won't stand. No I won't love.

I believe that we can learn from Jesus that it how we react to the people saying no to us that will help determine how we live.

No tomorrow. No hope. No return. No, no, no. No doubt. No nonsense. No threat. No, no, no. No shoes radio. No looking back. No shirt, no shoes, no service. No chance, no way, no how, Dr. No.

It is just plain easier, now, to say no. No, I won't help. No, I won't go. No, I'm too busy. No. No. No.

That's why it still amazes me after all these years that when Mary was called to bear the baby that we would learn was named Jesus, she said yes. Every fiber of my being says that no would have been a perfectly reasonable response to unwed motherhood at a young age when that sort of thing would get you stoned.

So, if the most important question ever asked of a human was answered in the affirmative, how can I say anything but .... yes.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's all changing

Did you read the story about the weather?

That's because another weather phenomena, called the North Atlantic oscillation is playing oddball by staying positive and keeping the cold away from the rest of North America. About 90 percent of the time, the North Atlantic and Arctic oscillations are in synch, Halpert said. But not this time, so much of the United States is escaping the winter's worst. What's happening isn't just an inconvenience.
Trees and plants budding early may lose their chance to bloom when the inevitable deep freeze returns, said U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Jake Weltzin, who heads a national network that monitors the timing of spring for plants and animals. He said peach trees are budding in Georgia and in Oklahoma forsythia and daffodils have been out for two weeks now, adding "it's happening everywhere."

In other words, it's warm. This morning I awoke to a very warm, very foggy day. Halfway through the month of February, the forecast calls for nothing lower than the high 40s.

The point? Things are changing. They always are. But just like with everything else, it is up to us to make something of the changes.

The Bible says of change:
God does not.
We have the opportunity to.
If we don't change, and become like children, we will not enter the kingdom.

Change is both good and not so much. Change is something to be expected and accepted.

I've said many times I embrace change; I just don't like going through it. As I go find a short-sleeved shirt to put on to go out to meet the February day, it is worth noting that change is something politicians promise. See what that's gotten us.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A crisis of faith with Christ

One of the sadder words in scripture comes when John the Baptist is jailed, mere hours I suspect from his death by beheading. He, so sure of his cousin before when they came together one day at the Jordan River, is now questioning everything. It is a crisis of faith that John is dealing with.

The Bible tells the story like this in the seventh chapter of Luke ..."19 Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the expected one, or do we look for someone else?” 20 When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are you the expected one, or do we look for someone else?’ ” 21 At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind.  22 And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. 23 “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”

Wow. John the Baptist, Greatest human of them all according to Jesus, was questioning his own belief structure, his own faith. "Are you the expected one or did I mess all this up," John is saying. I believe he's thinking, "hey, I'm in prison and my cousin, the Lamb of God who came to save the world as I proclaimed him, is not running Romans out of town, is not acting the way I think Messiah's are supposed to act. And did I say, I'm IN PRISON? Did I back the wrong horse in this race?"

Notice that Jesus never answers the question directly, but simply gives his resume as if to say, is there someone else who could do all this? Isn't this the way a messiah would do things? Isn't this the way Isaiah said the Messiah would operate? Did you not read the prophecy?

In his book “Disappointment with God” Philip Yancey helps put a voice to the questions expressed in a crisis of faith that many believers are afraid to ask and takes us through to the stunning conclusion that despite the appearance of things God can be trusted with the end results. He quotes a man named Douglas: “We tend to think life should be fair because God is fair. But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life – by expecting constant good health, for example – then I set myself up for a crushing disappointment.”

But what does Jesus mean by that last statement? Jesus is saying, I think, happy are those who are not scandalized by me, happy are those who are not repelled because of me. Or to put it another way more clearly, I think: Just because I’m not doing what YOU think I should be doing, does not mean I’m not the Messiah. Happy are those who don’t get shoved away by who Jesus is.

Wow. You mean God doesn't meet our own expectations? Maybe ever? Then what's this Christianity all about?

John thought Jesus was going to be some sort of version of him -- outspoken, brash, coming to plow the fields of the sinners, making them repent on the spot by his guilt-producing statements. Jesus was a lot of things, but another John was not one of them.

Ultimately, Jesus’ identity as the son of God is not dependent upon us calling him that. He IS the son of God whether you or I or John the Baptist or Pilate or the sinner Saul before becoming the saint Paul recognizes it. Happy are those who don’t stumble over their own expectations of who Jesus is in light of what Jesus is doing.

Happy then are those who join the Kairos ministry and help prisoners feel the freedom that is belief in Jesus Christ.  Happy are those who serve in soup kitchens or nursing homes or in schools or anywhere the poor, the helpless, the least of these exist because they recognize that doing so is serving Christ himself. Beyond self-righteous church-goers with their white-picket fences and prayers that go no further than their own ceilings and their less than helpful religion lies Jesus on the mount or on the plain.

I've gotten in trouble before with alcoholics devoted to the very worthy Alcoholics Anonymous program because I have said from the pulpit that one doesn't get to worship the deity of one's own choosing, as the program declares. Jesus is the son of God no matter what we think or believe. God is Jehovah, no matter what we believe. We do not get to choose our own deity, for God is God. Or more rightly said, we can choose our own deity, but that doesn't make him, her or it God. We can worship a chair, but that doesn't make the chair capable of giving us peace.

A crisis in faith does not change who God is, nor what his word is saying. In fact when you step out of the boat and begin to walk on the muddy water that is a crisis in faith, it is Jesus who we must look toward. He doesn’t change, He doesn’t waver, and He is the Almighty God in the flesh. He has fulfilled hundreds of prophecies to prove it and nothing we fear or experience is going to change that.

So the question becomes, when you are in crisis (of faith, finances, relationships, health) where do you turn? I believe there is only one place, and that is the man known as Jesus. I further believe that is what Christianity does for the Christian along with giving him or her eternal life (what a bonus). Turning to Jesus in times of crisis is the only way to survive the crisis peacefully. That's the only way, that's the only truth and that's the only life I know.

I tried it other ways. It didn't work. Only Jesus.

TC Black writes, "I have been there, I have sat in fear and trembling even hating the questions in my mind thinking them to be unspiritual, and fearing them to be some secret proof that my faith was either not real in the first place or at least not as strong as it ought to be. Worst of all, I have feared that it was only me – and that no-one else has ever encountered a crisis of faith. That is a lie. The Bible’s pages and history’s record of saints is filled with men and women who struggled with faith but who found victory when they took their struggles to Jesus and immersed themselves in His word.
Blessed are those who don’t take offense in who they find out Jesus really is."

To that we must proclaim from prison cells, and hospital beds, and retirement homes, and work places, and school yards, and even from government halls a health and well-earned AMEN.