Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Living life in the middle

I think there are plenty of things that make life difficult. Perhaps the one that stands out for me is the inability to live life in the middle.

I am roller-coaster bound most times, most days, many nights. Momentum sweeps me up, and I roar. Then, somehow, someway, I crash. Been doing it all my life. Expect I always will.

This morning I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep till about 5:45. I woke again after a couple hours, hours of struggle, and I feel wasted.

Last week, we sat outside at night in the back yard of our new parsonage, new to us anyway, and started up into a startling bright sky it not being full moon and us living in a town now for the first time in a while. I remember saying how blessed we are to my wife, Mary.

Today? I'm wasted. Don't want to do anything today. I'm suddenly reminded that it's been more than a year since we've gone away on even a short vacation. I'm suddenly reminded that I really in the long run don't have a plan, an agenda, as someone asked me about last night at a first worship meeting. And I'm suddenly reminded that no matter how young I feel or how young I project I'm living in my 60th year of existence.

My agenda? Well, to bring people to Christ? How? If I knew, really knew, the way wouldn't I already be doing it daily? It's the great mystery, I suspect. All we can do is our best, use our gifts and graces as best we can, and pray like the dickens.

But today? I'm wasted. I have a Rotary Club meeting to go to in Kinder, one in which I have no idea what I'm doing there or what I can bring to the occasion, but I'll go because they expect me to. Even though I'm wasted.

Perhaps living is best done in those moments when we have to try the hardest, work the most, to get something out of the day. Perhaps that's when those blessings we all want to continue every day sneak up on us.


But today? I'm wasted.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Aren't we past this?

I don't even know where to begin with this one. Maybe you heard about it, maybe you didn't. If you did, you didn't believe it still possible. If you didn't, you won't believe it is still possible.

 The First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, Mississippi refused to marry a couple simply because they were black. National outrage over the event is simmering but the people who were discriminated against, Charles and Andrea Wilson, are doing their best to get on with their lives. They had their wedding planned for months in advance, and it was just mere days before the event was to take place.

They had already sent out invitations to family and friends, some of who were traveling long distances to see Charles and Adrea's wedding. The Wilsons said that the pastor of The First Baptist Church, Stan Weatherford, called Andrea Wilson and told her he would be canceling the wedding. When asked why Weatherford allegedly replied that, "he would be fired if he went forward with the ceremony" and that it was a decision made by the congregation as a whole. Crystal Springs residents are not surprised by this, especially J.C. Wells who has owned a barber shop near the church for over 30 years. He says, "First Baptist Church, I remember a time that they wouldn’t even allow blacks to come in the church." Charles Wilson wants to know one simple thing. "On the policy that First Baptist Church gave us, the first line read, 'A wedding is a Christian ceremony.' Where is the Christianity in that?"

They might not be surprised by this, but I am astounded. I am astounded that we're still living in that age.

But should I be?

I went to a clergy dinner for an entire district of the denomination in which I am a pastor on my birthday Friday. Apparently there are no African-American pastors in our district, for there were none there at the event. I am not even aware if there are any African-American churches in my district, but surely, surely there are.

Some have said that the most segregated hour in American life today is the 11 a.m. hour on Sunday morning, meaning church hour. I can't argue that.

But someday, maybe, we will fix this. The story about is news because it's Mississippi or it's Mississippi so it's news.

But are we any better? Really?

I see plenty of African-Americans not very far from my new neighborhood. In five Sundays I've had none come to our service. In fact, none have come to any of my three churches. In fact, only one black woman in six years of service to two churches in the Covington area came. She moved soon after we arrived.

I have grown up in a mostly white United Methodist background, and I am uncomfortable about it to this day.

Maybe someday, someday we will fix this.

But I doubt it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Do what he tells you to do

As many of you know, I'm doing a sermon series (beginning August 6) on Biblical Leadership called Raising Leaders, Creating Followers.

As I did research, I narrowed the field of leaders I wanted to concentrate on in scripture to four. There are many, many more, but I chose four because I like doing series that are confined to a certain short length of time, four or five, and I like doing series that are essentially confined to a month's worth of Sundays.

I then looked for specifics: I chose Nehemiah because in my judgment any leader in the Bible (besides Jesus whom I eliminated early because one can't be a better leader than Jesus and I wanted human fallible leaders in my mix) begins with Nehemiah. Then I chose Moses because I wanted to discuss my worst leadership quality, delegating and counting on others around me. Next I chose David for I wanted to talk about the fixation the modern church has with age. Finally, I couldn't get away from a discussion on leadership without talking gender issues.

There are a few women in scripture I could pattern this on. I thought about Rahab, Esther, Ruth, some New Testament women, even the woman judge Deborah (what a leader she must have been to head up the nation in a time when women weren't valued very highly to say the least.)

I chose, however, one of my heroes in scripture, Mary the mother of Jesus. Why? Because she led without leading, a trait that most will never notice nor harness.

From many examples, I chose this one:

Here's the deal. There was a wedding. Mary was there. Jesus and his disciples were there. There was partying going on, with smiles and laughter handed out every bit as much as was food and of course wine.

Then, the wine ran out. The partying folks were about to get unruly. The embarrassment of whomever was throwing the wedding bash was about to be beyond measure.

Mary, still but somewhere in her 40s, then took charge.

She went to her son, and dare we mention that he is the Son of God, God himself in our theology, and she said to him, "They are out of wine."

There was no plea. There was no bargain. There was no pushing nor pulling. Just a straight statement of the situation. "They are out of wine."

Jesus, who we didn't mention was God himself in our theology, says, "You must not tell me what to do. My time has not yet come."

In other words, this 32-year-old man, human in every way but God himself in every way, says to his mom, "I can't do anything about that. That's not what I'm here for. It would be a waste of my time to show my power at this time at this place for this purpose."

God himself says that.

Mary says, not to Jesus, not to his disciples, not to anyone else that truly matters here but instead to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

In other words, she hears Jesus, but in her gentle manner of leadership, in the way that she must have told him to come in when the sun went down, in the way she would have told him not to play with so-and-so because he is too rough, in the manner she would have told him not to skateboard in traffic (okay, I might have exaggerated a bit), she told Jesus what to do without telling him what to do in front of his disciples and everyone else.

As Jesus called his disciples, got prepared for his ministry to begin, did all that he knew he had to do to set things in motion for the most important moment in history, Mary stood by and said nothing, I suspect. The facts concerning Jesus and his mother at this point aren't many. But what we see here is that Mary understood leadership to be that which is said without saying it.

I spent 25 years in management, ran four different sports departments, hired and fired, and what I learned from all of it is if you lead people, there will come a time when you have to admonish someone without embarrassing them in front of the rest of the staff.

Mary, a woman in a time when the entire gender was treated as if it was cattle, a time when divorce could be had by simply wanting it, a time when one could beat a woman in public for little or no reason, a time when a female child could be left on the side of the road simply for being a girl, commands God himself but never actually demands anything from him.

There aren't many examples of women leading men in scripture, but I would suggest that every time you see it happen, it is an extraordinary woman who does so.

A lot is made of Paul's writing that women should be silent in worship, but not nearly as much is made of how often it seems he had women lead in the planting of a church.

Esther preserved the Israelites in a time that simply being a Jew was a death sentence.
Ruth preserved love in a family where the blood-line proved to be Messianic.

On and on women show not only worth but leadership qualities.

Mary says, "Do whatever he tells you," and in saying so, basically tells us that she knows who he is, what he's capable of, and who she is, too.

It is worth noting that when persons went to the tomb to put spices on Jesus' body, it was women who did so. It was a woman that Jesus appeared to first. It was a woman who went to the disciples to tell them that Jesus was alive. It was a woman who spread the story of resurrection. It was a woman.

To me, the entire gospel is shouted in this little descriptive sentence. To me, we learn that Jesus is real and the answer to all that is so very wrong with humanity because we have not done what Mary told us to do.

To me, Mary's message still rings through the halls of history, right to the heart of financial crisis, to the heart of addictive behavior, to the heart of loss of love and to the heart of sin itself.

"Do what he tells you to do," is or should be the mantra that stands out beyond all other sayings in scripture. WWJD should be preceded by a drawing of Mary, not because of the theology of a perfect woman, but because Mary understood the necessity of following this man she named Jesus.

"Do what he tells you to do," is the essence of leadership. If you want to be a good leader, even a great leader, one must learn from someone greater. He is that one. I believe that leadership blossoms from Him.

Summing all this series up, leaders have passion about their mission, leaders equip others to help then delegate important matters to them, leaders come in all ages, sizes, looks and finally leaders come in all genders.

Leadership isn't just about who is in charge. Leadership is about who puts a charge in us.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

God sees the leader in you no matter what others see

Leadership is organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal. I'm beginning a four-part series on Biblical leadership the first Sunday in August. The past two days have been a start on that series, from my reading and my research, looking at Nehemiah and the passion it takes to lead, then at Moses and the fact that leaders need followers to lift them when the going has gotten too tough.

Today as a prelude or promo for the third part of the series, I want us to look at age restrictions to leadership.

When I was in my early 20s, I would interview athletes who were about the same age as I was, I always thought I would be much better at the task when I got older. I'm not sure that was true.

A leader is a leader, from young to old. Those traits are seen at an early age and they only get more prominent as the leader grows. The clearest example in scripture, I believe, is that of David -- the boy king.

In 1 Samuel, David is called by God to be anointed to take Saul's place as king after Saul is rejected by the Lord. Samuel, the prophet, goes to Bethlehem to find the new king. God says to Samuel, "Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king."

Long story short, Samuel goes to Bethlehem and goes through several sons of Jesse looking for the person who would become king. None would do. Till one last son is brought out of the field where he is watching the sheep.

So lies the tale of how David became king of Israel. The youngest. The thinnest. The least likely of them all, and he becomes king.

This happens before David meets Goliath and his destiny of being a giant killer is set.
This happens before David meets BFF Jonathan.
This happens before the great moments of David's life even are glimpses in his mind's eye.

The Lord says to Samuel, who can't believe David is the once and future king about David's brother Eliab: "Don't judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected (Eliab). The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

The Lord picked a little, bent theologian terrorist named Saul to become church planter Paul.
The Lord picked an old, childless couple to be the parents of a nation.
The Lord picked a stuttering murderer to lead his people out of captivity.
The Lord picked a fisherman to build his church on.

In each case, the key to the sentence is "the Lord picked." When the Lord is involved, no matter how it looks, things go smoothly.

I saw an item yesterday on Facebook in which there were two photos. On the left, a tattooed man with tats all down his arms and such gave the impression that he was a motorcycle gang member at best. On the right was the same guy wearing a white doctor's coat. The words said something to the effect that we never know if the guy holding our lives in his hands might be the guy we wouldn't want to invite to dinner.

People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

David was "the" guy in the mind of God. He served in Saul's court. He took down the greatest challenge to the Israelites in battle with just a sling and some rocks. At one point before he became "king," David had 600 men following him. He was a leader among leaders, the best of the best.

Why? I suggest it was because he understood why he was successful. "Don't be selfish with what the Lord has given us," David told his men. "He has kept us safe and helped us defeat the band of raiders that attacked us. ... We share and share alike -- those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment."

Leadership, Biblical leadership, understands first and foremost that God is on the throne.

"Lead me by your truth and teach me," David wrote in the 25th psalm, "for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my h ope in you. ... the Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands."

Samuel and the family of Jesse saw a young man who smelled like a sheep. God saw a king.

Don't let anyone sell you short. Who you are and what you're capable of remains between you and God. You might have but a few stones to throw, but with God leading the way, those stones might change the world.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Raise your arms in victory

I'm working on a four-part sermon series on leadership, Biblical leadership, and today's second part delves into that word (and deed) that is so difficult for me. The word, the action, is delegating. In the 17th chapter of Exodus, Moses faces some of the most difficult decisions of his tenure as unelected leader of the Israelites.

It's one of the most fascinating of word pictures. Moses is standing on the top of a hill, holding the stick that God had told him to carry. The Israelites could see him, a living half-time speech, as they marched out to fight a group of folks called the Amalekites.

Their leader, Moses, had led them to a winning streak unlike any other perhaps in history. Just days earlier, Moses prayed to the Lord quite earnestly, "What can I do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me." Had the "people" known Moses felt this way, I suspect the stones would have been flying.

But the real, honest to goodness leader, God the Father, Jehovah, the Lord, told Moses, "Take some of the leaders of Israel with you,  (Notice the plural) and go ahead of the people. Take along the stick with which you struck the Nile. I will stand before you on a rock at Mount Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for people to drink."

Along with a variation of early sweet tea -- water from a rock -- God answered the question that always goes before Him and us, which is, "Is the Lord with us or not." Sticks hitting rocks with the result being water flowing like Yosemite's steam baths is a substantial answer to the question.

But the war had just begun, as they say. The Amalekites came and attacked. Moses got his leading man in this way-off Broadway production, Joshua, to fight back. "Pick out some men to go and fight the Amalekites tomorrow. I will stand on top of the hill holding the stick that God told me to carry."

Lots of stick holding. Lots of hill climbing. Lots of orders for battle that don't include "send in the cavalry," or "let's bomb the Amalekites out of existence," or even "let your snipers pin them down." War was sticky back then. You marched, you raised spears and such, and men fought men.

The battle raged, again as someone known as they said. Moses, Aaron and Hur were at the top of the hill that proved to be a frame of the battle's portrait. As long as Moses kept his arms raised, the Israelites won. When Moses put his arms down, the Amalekites won.

I'm no Patton, but clearly it would seem to me that someone should have run up that hill and made sure those strong arms of Moses never raised again. Just me. Just my strategy. If those arms even start to go up, I'm, uh, doing some heavy-duty shall we say "chopping." Two arms to go, sirs. Uses frequently in battle, but otherwise not in bad shape.

Clouds of dust were making it harder for anyone to see Moses, but still he raised his arms. Pain and suffering of battle were making it more difficult by the second to see some man off in the distance doing the wave -- by HIMSELF. The hills were alive with the sound of everything but music. When someone said they were "armed" for battle, who knew this is what they meant?

Moses raised ... the battle flowed.
Moses lifted ... the battle raged.
Moses stood with two ol' appendages appending.
And the Israelites fought on.

Finally, with his arms growing weary as a mule at the plow, Moses began to fight the urge to say, "man, let someone else raise their arms. I'm flat-out done here." With the battle about to be won or lost depending upon the feelings of one man, Moses figured out what most of us have known just about all our lives.

No man is an island.
No one can go it alone.
No band can make sweet, sweet music if the band leader is off on a hill by himself.

Raise your arms in surrender if that's the case.

If followers are the necessary ingredient for great leadership to command the battle, then one must, must delegate.

When Moses' arms grew tired, as all arms do, Aaron and Hur brought a stone for him to sit on, while they stood beside him and held up his arms, holding them steady until the sun went down. In this way, scripture says, Joshua totally defeated the Amalekites.

Perhaps that's why to this day the forces who march into battle are called the "arm-y." Or perhaps not, since I made that up.

Here's the point: With a livid battle going on all around us, it is absolutely imperative that we turn to others rather than standing alone. When we're tired, we have to turn to Him. When we're lost, we have to turn to him. When we're about to lose it all, we have to turn to Him.

Is it better to have someone win the battle in the name of someone else or have someone LOSE the battle in our name? Let's put it this way: Does history record the Amalekites winning battles in the Palestine area or does history record the Palestine warriors winning the battle against the Jews and the Israelites disappearing from history's books?

Moses, up on a hill, arms raised with sweat and dirt and the desire to drop his arms and call the Amalekites in, and then those arms falling like the Israelites one by one. Moses, up on a hill, arms being held by Hur and Aaron like they were big ol' steaks on a grill as the battle swung toward the Israelites.

Which would you prefer?
Which was the winning moment?

We win because God in our weakness is strong. God lifts our arms in victory. God lifts our victory because in moments of weakness we who hate to turn to anyone but ourselves MUST turn to him.

God plus willingness plus where else could we turn but to you equals victory.

Leadership part 1 says you must be passionate about what you're trying to do. Passion is not a bad word.
Leadership part 2 says you must use every thing, person, gift that God has given you toward the accomplishment you're attempting to achieve. Delegate is not a bad word.

Tomorrow: Leadership part 3 looks at the role of experience versus youth through the eyes of David, King of Israel.
Friday: Leadership part 4 looks at how leaders never give up despite what they see in front of them.

If you're in the Eunice/Kinder/Iota area, come see us as we explore what it means to lead a church, a home, a business, a school room, according to God's holy word.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A passionate lot at best

Take a moment at lunchtime or dinner later or even Wednesday morning's breakfast hour to read the first chapter of Nehemiah.

The key parts are these:
1) Things weren't going well in the province of Judah, the walls had been torn down, the gates had been burned.
2) Nehemiah was so moved when he heard this, he cried. He was passionate about the place he had grown up in.
3) He mourned he was so passionate.
4) He fasted he was so passionate.
5) He prayed to God to hear him, forgive him his sin, asked God to bring him home, asked God grant him success.

When is the last time you were so passionate about, well, anything, that you did all of the above? So passionate you did, well, any of the above?

Have you had a moment recently where you prayed for success rather than pray for help afterwards?

I'm researching a sermon series on leadership, and what amazes me more and more is how the great leaders of scripture had one thing in common, and along with a God who loves them deeply,more often than not the thing they had in common was how passionate they were about whatever it was they were attempting to do.

Bringing God's people out of Egypt? Moses was passionate about it to the extent he needed help just holding his arms up.
Slinging a rock at a giant called Goliath, an early WWE champ I think? David was passionate about it to the extent he called on the God of gods to give him victory.
Going to a tomb where her Master surely was lying? Mary was passionate about Jesus so much that she spent a tear-filled weekend waiting to put some spices on his body before the tomb was sealed forever.
Rebuilding the walls of his hometown? Nehemiah was so passionate about it, he quit eating till the walls came tumbling up again.

Passion. Not the lurid kind, but the kind that won't let you stop till what you've started is finished, then it gives all the glory to God the Father, God the Son and God the Inspiring Spirit.

The Bible says Nehemiah prayed: "O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands..."

That's the kind of prayer I want to pray in our sanctuary on Sunday mornings; that's the kind of preaching I want to say, the kind I want our people to hear. I want to have to calm them down just to get a word in edge-wise. I want passionate leaders. I want passionate followers. I want passionate worshippers. I want to not only get an Amen, I want to have to wait for them to get tired of saying them.

I once talked about that in front of some congregants. One woman said, "Well, that's just not us."
Amen, sister.

It's not.

But it can be, and it should be.

We have escaped the beheading we all deserve. We should be passionate about our thankfulness. That's just us, should be our battle cry. We should be passionate creatures till He comes in final victory.


Monday, July 23, 2012

The Ten Commandments of Encouragement

Someone asked the legitimate question, "where is the hope?"

It is a legitimate question. It is, in fact, THE question. Where there is no hope, there is no, uhg, hope indeed. When finances are funky, health is horrendous and joy is like a freshly cut jugular, bleeding like pouring rain, where do we turn, where do we go?

The Bible says that things are never really forfeit: "God brings death and God brings life, brings down to the grave and raises up. God brings poverty and God brings wealth; he lowers, he also lifts up. He puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, restoring dignity and respect to their lives -- a place in the sun!"

It's Monday, and though the sun is shining, those of us on the half-filled side of things know that rain is just around the corner.


He rekindles burned-out lives.

Isn't that the answer we're so desperately, desperately hoping for? HOPING for? Isn't that ironic?

Jesus came for a variety of reasons He can explain to you far better than I can. But in a land where hope was dying like a calf in the desert with only a few sprigs of grazing available and no water to speak of, there he came.

As part of the conclusion to a five-part series I've done to introduce myself and our ministry to the new churches I'm privilege to be a part of, I've written a Ten Commandments of encouragement (and hope).

Here tis ...


1.     When we sit down to do our to-do list each day, we will intentionally look for ways to commend effort. We will see that someone’s effort is more significant than results. If we’ve seen someone trying, we will begin to learn how to say, “I really appreciate what you’re trying to do here. We need commitment from everyone in this church; from youngest to oldest; from newest to everyone who has been here all their lives.”
2. We will build on strengths, but our weaknesses are significant because God works best when we present him our weaknesses. What gifts has God given to each of us? What can we do, what ideas can we have that no one else has? We will clothe our refrigerators with ideas for ministry, writing down very idea that pops into our heads, calling our pastor and encouraging him by letting him know what we’re thinking.
3. We will show our faith in people by understanding each of us has good genes, being a child of God and all. Therefore, we can do absolute miracles. Our pastor said he gives us permission to do them.
4. Mistakes will not be viewed as failures, but as strands of spaghetti. We will throw ideas for strands at the wall. If they stick, they’re done. If they slide down the spiritual wall, they’re not ready yet but they will be one day. Spaghetti types include all areas of mission in our community, such as perhaps a single moms Bible study, or a coordinator for a men’s prayer breakfast for the second Saturday each month. We’re boiling here, is it done?
5. By encouraging at every opportunity, we will take away the stigma of failure. Our failures will be celebrated once a quarter with a time of fellowship called “The effort dinner.”
6. We will encourage each other by pointing to those who have read the Bible from cover to cover. We will not put our names on projects. We will point out the theme of the Bible isn’t you will be blessed, but you will struggle before you win in the end. We will encourage everyone by pointing out we win in the end.

 7. We will encourage, stimulate and lead our people, but we will not try to push them. This is a spiritual marathon not an ethical sprint. We are spiritual Kenyans capable of running miles upon miles on empty with but one or two words of encouragment needed to fill 'er up.
8. We will encourage, but we will not stimulating competition because even winning does not always encourage. We are not in this to beat the Baptists. We are in this to beat the devil out of the devil. That’s our only competitor.  We are favored by three points at home, I'm told. We are members of the Luv Dat nation.

9. We will encourage because success is a by-product of encouragement not its aim. Anyone can be encouraged by success. We will encourage even when we're down because that's the hard part. Fun is the result of encouragement. Laughing is the result of encouragement. Singing is the result of encouragement. Dancing is a product of ants in our pants.

10. We will make disciples of Jesus Christ by encouraging others to seek the only answer to the human condition, which is stinky at best. We are the diaper-changers of humanity, with encouragement the Pampers. Making disciples is helping people develop the courage to be imperfect and not only not worrying about it but not even noticing.
11. We will encourage people to find out not only what they like to do in church, but find what they’re good at even if they don’t particularly like doing it. No one particularly likes loving their enemy, but we will encourage everyone to do so, even if (maybe especially if) the pastor is the one they don’t love easily.

12. We will give not give responsibility and significance only to
those already responsible and significant. We will encourage our people not only to not own a pew, but to move around to sit next to people they don't know, don't look like and/or don't understand easily. We want everyone to participate in worship, in evangelism, in mission-work because they are the same thing.  Therefore, we will constantly look to get our newest members involved in our oldest committees so that we can lead rather than gossip.

13. We will encourage everyone to remember that optimism is contagious. We all caught it at one point or another before we were inoculated. It is encouraging, therefore, that we have 13 commandments in the space for 10.

It's okay if you steal these for use in business. I encourage it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

All the air has escaped the football

It is 5 a.m as I begin this tome. I've been up since 4:15. Not awake, but up. I've been awake all night. Don't know why, as usual, but it did storm enough to upset the dogs, with popping thunder and boisterous lightening for a royal night-light.

With my dear wife, Mary, in Woodworth, La., for a United Methodist women's four-day meeting, I've been alone with the dogs and feline warriors. Mary's love, Breesy, the dauschand who normally does not like me much (hate, hate, and more hate), loved me so much last night with the storm approaching he timidly walked up the steps to the bed and slept lying next to me, snarling something about loving the one you're with.

I tell you all that to tell you this: I got up, made coffee, and went to the Internet to read some good early morning news rather than stare at the frequently lit ceiling. What I got instead was news that was flat-out disturbing. Just when I thought CBS' television show Criminal Minds, which is about the FBI's behavioral unit profilers (think serial criminal per week), couldn't get any dumber, any weirder, any staler, sordid life took over, matching and unfortunately surpassing fiction.

Let's take a few stories in order of my reading.
1) As of this minute, there are 14 dead after a whack-job opened fire at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in a Denver suburb theater. At least 50 others, as of this writing, were injured. Someone bought a ticket, collected his weapons went to the movies, combining the Batman and a ruthless, murderous very real and deadly joker.
2) Police have linked three July stabbings of homeless people in the Los Angeles area to one suspect who left typewritten "death warrant" notes at each crime scene. The third signed letter was found at a stabbing early Thursday morning in Hollywood and was similar to letters found at two previous stabbings in downtown and Santa Monica, Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith said. Police are asking for the public's help in finding a person of interest. All three victims are in their 50s and were stabbed in the back in the early morning hours as they slept, Smith said. The victims survived, though one remains hospitalized, police said.
3)They're blowing up Israelis for no reason other than they are Jews. Incredibly, that's not the news. What is news is they're doing it all over the world, relishing being able to feed on their hatred in countries other than Israel. Iran, the apparent villain, is going to the trouble of finding Israeli tourists and killing them as they have the audacity of living and vacationing at the same time. Hate exists like grains of sand in the Middle East, and it blows hither and yon, landing on whom it will. The answer? Somebody has to take revenge. Somebody always has to seek revenge, mind you. When the shrieks of the dying are more prevalent than the cries of the newborn, life isn't life. Existence in those areas is like the moments you put your hands over your eyes while watching a slasher flick. It is not life, it is survival at its most difficult.

I could go on and on, but I need more coffee and less messy thoughts.

We talk alot about fixing our problems in this country. Yet the world circles and circles the sun and nothing EVER changes. We invent and we innovate and we make it easier to make it easier and yet, and yet dadgumit, nothing EVER changes. The biases change, but the reasons for the biases never does. And we certainly never FIX the problem.

As an example, we have two presidential candidates, the country is falling apart at least economically and the only thing our candidates and the parties they represent want to do is ravage the other guy.

Do either have a clue about fixing anything? Nope. Do we have an idea about how to make things better? Nope. Don't be fooled. Neither has something called a workable idea. Neither.

They're just certain the other guy will do even less than they will. Nothing EVER changes. Both sides are convinced the policies that they've evoked for three decades are the ones that we must try again. So we plaster together some old parts and tell anyone who will listen that THIS TIME the plane will fly. And Icarus flies too close to the sun every time and his wings ignite every time and he falls to his death every time and every single crappy time losing is the only reward for those gullible enough to watch the plane rumble and belch down the condemned runway.

So, let's be sure and try it again, and this time let's cry out for change we know won't happen.

The badness that runs rampant still is running rampant. The sadness is still sad. The madness still mad, and the joker screams, "Why so serious?" as our scars begin to bleed again.

Bad gets worse simply because every leader we know is more interested in their own attempt at the flight. Would getting together for a legitimate attempt to fix the dang plane, the dang runway, the dang engine, the dang ANYTHING, be so bad?

I know, I know that followers of the Way, those persons we've called little Christs or Christians since there was some sort of tent revival down Antioch way a couple thousand years ago, will win in the end. I've read the previews in that book called Revelation from that living, breathing Word of God.

But till the end comes, till our brother Jesus stretches a couple of toes out of well-worn sandals and proudly puts them back onto the world his Daddy created by simply making a sound, till the Christ comes again, returning to a world that is crumpling like a teenager's first car fender in the heat of this modern idea of hell, till the Galilean fills the sky and instantly changes morbid night into slap-happy day, we're like Paul, beaten, banged up and looking for a bit of thorny flesh relief.

We're losing our children to culture wars we haven't figured how to start to battle.
We're losing our seniors to our financial spending wars of the past 30 years.
We've lost the good ol' days, and Andy and Barney are where we long to be.
We've lost space, never going where no man has gone before.
Truth is, we've lost the most important thing possible in the process. We've lost hope, it dying somewhere down this long, lonesome highway, while we partied with the newly 401-K free, pension lost retirees.

Heck, our homeless have to suffer not only having no place to lay their tired and dirty heads to sleep at night but also suffer from real, solid icy fear that can't be negated by all the locks on hearts and doors in existence. Safety stopped being safe 40 years ago when the lights went out in Mayberry, when the lillys were gilded in Petticoat Junction and those hillbillies in Beverly HIlls lost their hedge tfunds.

The sun still is trying to find its way into the already steamy sky this morning, rising like water-less lakebeds in the midwest of our land. Hopelessness is driving some beast called a hybrid to a job that pays half what it used to for gas that costs four times what it used to.

A man in his 80s says it's halftime in America, but we know he won't see the fourth quarter and it really, really wouldn't matter if he did. The football has lost all its air.

So... Dirty Harry, go ahead and tell everyone the right message: Last one to leave, turn the lights out. Motel 6 just went out of business, like all the others. Too many murders behind their closed doors.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

And Jesus wept

George was an everyman kind of guy. You know the type: quiet, shy perhaps, willing to keep his mouth shut no matter what was said to him or even about him in his presence.

He never complained. Never fought back. Took everything that was ever done to him with the proverbial grain of salt.

You know the type: willing to take it when none of us could.

Till his wife got sick. They had been together, husband and wife, friend and lover, for 37 years. He was definitely his yin to her yang,  his night to her day, his black to her white. They were connected in all ways, though they could be as opposite as any. They fit like a well-worn glove and an old hand.

Till they got that diagnosis. Weeks went by. Chemo set in like a heavy rain season. George took Nancy to the doctor with regularity. His insurance began to wane, money started flowing out of his own pocket and when a year had passed, Nancy had wasted away to the size of a heavy broom, had lost her beautiful blond hair and most of her will. George watched his life savings disappear just as quickly.

He spent so much time caring for, nurturing his wife, he lost track of and the money to pay for the mortgage on the house they had bought eight years earlier when they had sold their home, their magnificent home of 27 years and moved to a smaller one. Now? George was in over his head.

Then Nancy died.
George lost the house, and didn't give a rip.

Even Margie, the dachshund they had owned, or rather been owned by, for 11 years started to grieve so much she was lethargic and seemingly sick. But George had no money for a vet, so whatever was wrong with his graying dear friend would have to wait.

Life, as George viewed it, sucked, a term he learned from his grandson who said it about near everything.

He lost the house, but didn't care. He and Margie moved in with his oldest son. He had a bedroom to himself, but that felt like it was all. His son and daughter-in-law had a young child, the house was filled with noise, and Margie was scared to death of the kid.

Sleep went first. He would lie down around 9:30 p.m. when his body said it couldn't go much further, but by midnight, lying in "their" bed, he would get up and fix a pot of coffee as strong as he could make it and drink it. He would get so tired in the middle of the day, with little he could or wanted to do, his eyelids would droop, but sleep would only come in a quantity of a minute or two before it would all come back to him, particulary when the kid climed up in his lap without warning.

Margie sat by him, or at his feet, through it all, though his son and daughter-in-law really didn't like dogs. God forbid she would have an accident. But George had already decided if they say Margie must go, he would go even if it meant living on the streets. Thirty five years at the local factory meant nothing to this world.

George and Margie felt as if they were on a lifeboat on an ocean of tears. Every day was an exercise in survival, not living.

Then one day, with little to do or think about, George decided out of the blue to go to the church that was near his son's house. He had seen an advertisment on the TV. They said if you're hurting, come to First United Methodist Church in the town. They promised lively music, deep worship and healing for all. He didn't care much about the music and didn't know anything about worship. He had been to church as a kid, but who hadn't.

He put on the suit that he had worn at Nancy's funeral and trudged out the door, shocking his family and even Margie who sat by the door till she was run back into George's room.

He sat at the back of the church, which reminded him of a basketball arena with crosses instead of baskets, a knot on a very, very big log. No one greeted him. No one smiled at him, even when they did this thing they called passing the peace. He felt no peace. He felt no warmth. He felt nothing, just as he had for months.

They sang songs he didn't know, they greeted each other with 100-kilowatt smiles, they said things they called creeds that he didn't know or know how to find. they passed the plate, wanting money he didn't have, and at the end of the service even took up a love offering for a kid who was going to camp, a kid wearing designer shirt, pants and some shoes he reckoned cost more than a hundred
 bucks.  The preacher's sermon was fine, he guessed, but it was about some time 2,000 years ago when Jesus somehow according to that preacher "defeated death." George didn't know what that meant, since as far as he could see, Nancy was still dead.

The service ended. He trudged out the door, wondering why he even came. He walked the half-mile back to his son's house. That afternoon he popped the top on a bottle of Ambien he'd been given to help him sleep after Nancy's death. He looked at Margie one last time, and swallowed one by one the pills that he thought would give him relief. Tears ran out the side of his eyes as he wished he could take Margie with him, and he hoped that what that preacher had said about seeing our loved ones again was true. Margie would love to see Nancy again, he reckoned.

Finally, he slept. Alone except for Margie who lay across his chest and grieved so much she died.

The church had a potluck that evening for all its members. His son and daughter-in-law had George's funeral in the church four days later. It was the first time they had been there. Margie was buried in the back yard.

And Jesus wept.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Playing the cool tunes

I feel like a local disc jockey this morning. Ahem. Ahem.

This goes out to all those who got up this morning feeling emotionally hung over. This is your morning drive guy, Hurtin-all-the-time, playing a few tunes for the spiritually tuned-out. Hey, how about for all your listening pleasure, it's David from a cave singing Psalm 142...

"When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me. Look to right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to you, O Lord; I say, "you are my refuge."

Whew. The man can write some lyrics, huh? David, from a cave, that was. Well, you may need a better pick me up than that. I'm pretty sure I do. How about some hip-hop from Babylon? This is Isaiah, that hit maker from Palestine, telling us some good news in the A.M. from beside the river.

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'"

That's my man. There ought to be a song called Our God Reigns. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet. I dig it. I got me some sandals this morn; I'm singing some good news. How bout you, good friends? You singing some good tunes? Are your bad times getting better? Before we go to break, let's look at what our man Isaiah once sang about this guy who was kinda like you and me, if you know what I mean. Just an average Joe, a common Paluka. A regular guy, if you get my drift. Here's Isaiah on the Suffering Servant here at your home of the hits, WWJD-radio....

"He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering."

Well, now, I remembered that as being a bit more upbeat instead of a downer ballad. What can we say about this morning that hasn't been said? Well, well my ladies and gentlemen, my little Christs out there in spiritual land. Let's go to break now and hear some advertising that might make you smile. This is your hit-playing BT-man on WWJD-radio.

Laden with a heavy burden?
Why not turn to the answer to the social condition of all mankind?
Today and everyday, turn to the one who said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." No money down, no money per month. Just give up that burden to the one who promised to take it. Here at Grace Incorporated, we promise that you will save and be saved by the very grace extended to you by our founder. Call us today at 1-800-heavenwaits. Don't wait, you never know when the CEO might return.

That's Grace incorporated, friends and enemies. I've got a few minutes left on the clock before I sign off and take my trip into the ol' clouds. How about a call from one of your listeners?

Uh, Hurtin-all-the-time, my name is Sheila, from Pascataway. I was just wonderin out loud kinda thing. Is smoking, texting and driving at the same time a sin? I've got a, uh, friend, yeah a friend, who does that sometimes.

Sheila. I don't know if all that's a sin or not, and I don't know if it sends you to Hell in a busted up handbasket, but I know where ever you're headed, you'll get there a whole lot quicker if you smoke and text while driving. I think it's a law that you gotta have at least one hand on the wheel and at least one eye on the road, if you know what I mean, and I believe you do.

That's all the time we have today. Gotta go, gotta go. Be safe. Be sure. Be protected. Be loving. We''ll head on off to promised land with a new tune from this young Rabbi from Galilee. Remember, it's not how you begin but how you end. Toodles. Shine some light on me when you get a chance. It gets pretty dark up in here. Here we go. Roll em Baptizer...

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let you light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The scales of justice weigh heavily

I've stayed away from this subject for the entirety of its news run, but I finally found a way to approach it from the standpoint of religion, or at the least, ethics.

Let's examine ourselves in these categories:

1) Does one sin (call it mistake if you will) negate a lifetime of good?
2) Does the degree of sin (call it error or even law-breaking) negate the degree of good?
3) Does one "incident" of bad judgment weigh-down the judge's scale when there is a life-time of good choices on the other side?
4) Finally, do sins of omission out-weigh sins of commission, in other words does allowing sins to happen in our lives by not doing something equal the sins in our lives that we actively do?

Let's examine these questions through the lives of two men, who happen to be in the newspaper this morning, Penn State long-time coach Joe Paterno and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

Paterno is the winningest college football coach. He spent almost 50 years winning games at Penn State University, raising money, doing things the "right" way in terms of recruiting and such. His legacy, before 2011 was secure in every way. I've never met the man, but I've known persons who knew him and they all say he was an outstanding man. Yet, apparently he knew and at one time employed a man named Jerry Sandusky, a pedophile, who sexually abused children. He apparently knew this and did nothing, according to a report, to stop it. The nation now wants a statute of Paterno taken down for his sins of omission. Paterno died last year without every saying those words that are so hard to say, "I'm sorry."

Vick was convicted of dog-fighting a few years back, slaughtering and torturing dogs that would not fight at one point, but he served his time and is now the beneficiary of a second chance, and a huge contract. He has written a book acknowledging his past, but moving on. He even has begun a new clothing line.

So, where is the point? I guess it's this in terms of our questions. The Apostle Paul fairly was adamant that there is no degree of sin. His entire thesis about grace needed for our salvation, through faith, is that if one would be governed by what he called the law, the Mosaic law, part of which is the Ten Commandments, one would be governed ethically, morally, spiritually by it all. In other words, if you're in for a penny, you're in for the whole thing to mix my metaphors gleefully.

One mistake, one error, one problem, one boo-boo, one grievous choice, one simply little sin is just as big as, well, murder and the like. One mistake thus equals all the good one has done because one can never do enough good.

Thus everyone needs a second chance. The grand question becomes how does one get one? Upon that, C.S. Lewis wrote, lies the difference in Christianity and every other religion.

Jay Paterno, Joe's son, said on ESPN the other day that this one bad moment shouldn't negate his father's long, long legacy of good. The sad but clear fact is it does. It always does. One affair equals a half-century of happy marriage. One lie equals a political career of telling the truth.

And one letting a pedophile operate under your nose or one slaughtering of animals equals every football game ever won. In fact, in my mind it more than equals it.

Do I forgive them? Certainly. I must, or I do not understand what Jesus talked about. That's the scales of justice I must operate with, because that's the forgiveness that's been given me, whose sin is equal to Paterno's or Vick's.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hero worship

Let's just examine ourselves this morning:

Who was your childhood hero? Teen idol? What attracted you: Strength? Beauty? Smarts? Coolness? Hero worship is an interesting thing to examine, and I believe it tells us quite a bit about our personality, about our inner desires even.

I'm going to try to make an illustration from two sets of "heroes" this morning, Marvel Comics heroes and DC Comic heroes.

Earlier this year, we had Marvel's The Avengers, which became the third-higest money making movie in history. This week, we have DC's The Dark Knight Rises, which features the Dark Knight himself, Batman. These characters live in distinctly different worlds.

For the uninitiated, Marvel and DC are the two largest publishers of comics over the last 70 years. DC was the first major publisher, but it was originally known as National Allied Publications in 1935. Their greatest acclaim comes from inventing the modern version of the superhero with Superman, who was followed quickly by Batman. Other notable characters include the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and The Flash. For the purposes of this article, Vertigo comics, an imprint of DC comics, will be left out because they are not part of the DC universe.

Marvel comics have existed in one form or another since 1939, but Marvel was not a major player until 1961. That year, the legendary Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wrote the Fantastic Four. Soon after, Lee, Kirby and Steve Ditko became the veritable golden geese, creating Spiderman, Daredevil, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the X-Men and the practice of yelling “Excelsior.”

Marvel’s characters undeniably beat DC in terms of quantity in high-end characters. You can count the number of DC A-list heroes on one hand before you start scrapping the bottom of the barrel for mistakes like Aquaman and the Wonder Twins. Marvel, on the other hand, seems to have an endless parade of fan favorites, each with their own unique qualities and interesting quirks that make them relatable to us all. Peter Parker struggles to pay the bills, the Hulk has anger issues and the X-Men are discriminated against every day.
DC and Marvel tie in terms of comic quality.

 DC has some of the most revolutionary and classic comic books in history, including “Batman: The Killing Joke,” which involves the Joker paralyzing Batgirl, and the “Dark Knight Returns,” in which an aging Bruce Wayne returns to his role as Batman. These stories were a lot more intense than other comics, and signified a step toward a darker, more serious tone in comic books than the happy-go-lucky plots of the past. Marvel currently pushes the boundaries of modern comics with events like Civil War, which consisted of the United States government instating a superhuman registration act, a modern spin on a post-Sept. 11 society, and critically-acclaimed titles like “Runaways” and “Astonishing X-Men.”

After two losses, how will our Marvel heroes survive this caped encounter? Licensed content comes to its rescue. Marvel’s movies have hands-down crushed DC in quality and performance. “The Dark Knight” stands as one of the best movies ever made of any genre, but not even that masterpiece can make amends for “Superman Returns” and a complete absence of a Wonder Woman, Green Lantern or recent Flash movie.

Meanwhile, Marvel has more than enough box-office clout. “Iron Man” was one of the biggest and best movies of the year it came out. The Spiderman series was a record-setting blockbuster monster, and the re-boot has done reasonable well. Thor and Captain America starred in their own hits. The Hulk struggled in its own movies, but was the star of The Avengers.

Comparing the two companies heroes is interesting to me. Marvel's heroes live in real cities and fight real problems. DC's heroes live in fictional cities and never seem to have a problem at all other than the current fight they're in. For all the realism of the Dark Knight, he still lives in Gotham City in a world that simply doesn't exist.

It's interesting to me that the battles featuring The Avengers were almost exclusively filmed in daylight. The battles featuring the Dark Knight are filmed in, well, darkness.

Marvel's characters are funny. Batman is a lot of things, but funny isn't one of them.

So, what' the point of all this? I think it says a lot about us as to who our heroes are. I also think Psalm 136 is a look into hero worship that points us to the proper place ... into the light instead of the darkness.

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good," the Psalmist wrote.
The response is "His love endures forever."
"Give thanks to the God of gods."
"His love endures forever."
"to him who alone does great wonders,"
"His love endures forever."

My hero? God himself.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A dog-eat-dog world

We are dog (and cat and you name it in the animal world) lovers. We have too many dogs and too many cats, but what can you do when you believe you should save pets as often as humanly possible from what we do to them and with them (shelters, etc.)?

Loving them, therefore, is difficult when two of them apparently have lost all love for each other. We have a 12-year-old who is apparently getting quite grouchy in her old age. We have a bigger younger model who won't put up with the 12-year-old.

They've begun a fight three times in the two weeks we've been in our new parsonage. We can rationalize that they are feeling misplaced, that they were traumatized by the move, that rainy weather has taken the pleasure out of this week, or they just don't like each other very much. But it's a problem. If there is any thought, just a thought, of a morsel of food falling on the ground, it's thrilla in Manilla, rumble in the jungle, MMA pay-for-view in Eunice time.

Brooms, hands onto collars, water sprayed, grandkids screaming, to quote another commercial, "here we go."

Pondering all this on still another rainy day of entrapment, I tried to put it into human perspective. Sounds much like, well, this country doesn't it?

Like someone once said: "Can't we just get along?"

The answer, apparently, is no. We can't agree on taxes, cuts or anything else. We can't agree on health care, fer it or agin it. We can't agree on the future, the past and the present is so filled with trouble we can't even try to explain it.

We're the Hatfields and McCoys, the Israelites and Philistines, the Middle East with no state line of demarcation.

What can we do? Everything. What will we do? Nothing. Heck even the daughters of college football coaches are getting into fights.

Jesus came to set the prisoners free. He never used the term "grace" once, but he lived and demonstrated grace every day. He did have much to say about forgiveness and love, even saying we should love our enemies.So, why can't we do that? Why can't we, those of us who are calling ourselves Christian demonstrate the love we've been given?

Some readers will say they are doing that, but if you read someone say that someone else's actions "disgust" them, I question that love or at least the demonstration of it.

The skies are dark today. Perhaps they will lighten again -- in this country, in this world. I suspect that won't happen figuratively until we learn to forgive, learn to love, learn to at least handle our disagreements without turning them into prize fights. It's a dog eat dog world out there, still.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Through the deep and through the flame

Yesterday I saw an item on Facebook that made me think, something I'm loathe to do. A person who has lifted me up when I've needed it, well, needed to be lifted up. I tried. Maybe I did what I tried. That's in the eye, and soul, of the receiver I suspect.

But this morning I saw a verse that seemed to speak to that same person, as well as myself. Let's see: "When you cross deep rivers, I will be with you, and you won't drown. When you walk through fire, you won't be burned or scorched by the flames." Isaiah 43:2

I know it's dangerous to steal a sentence from God to his people Israel, taking what was a personal line of conversation and applying it to all things us, but still, the sentiment is real and sure.

Notice nowhere does it say, "if." No ifs, ands, buts. Only whens need apply.

When we cross deep rivers, and I have figuratively.
When we walk through fire, and I have figuratively.

We will cross, we will walk, God keeps saying to us, and through it all, through it all, He is there.

The application is this: Life says we will have difficulty, no matter what the group of "theologians" who tell you that if you believe you will be blessed with all you can possibly imagine. Life says we will struggled. Life says we will sacrifice.

God says He will honor each of those, particularly those who sacrifice in the name of Jesus. There also will be times when we wonder if we've done the right thing, because the sacrifice and the difficulty and the struggle is so great. That's only human, I'm afraid.

What we do when that happens is not slow down, not quit, not even look for another way but remember, we will not drown, we will not burn. God is with us, even in the deep water, even in the furnace. Always. And forever.

That's the promise. That's the prosperity Gospel.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

By the time the Bible gets to Phoenix

"If loving God was a crime, I'd be an outlaw." Big Tent Revival

Maybe you saw the story. Most media outlets didn't do a thing, though the outlandishness of the story should have made blogs, websites, televised news, and what's that other thing, that out-dated thing? Oh, yeah, it should have made newspapers.

Recapping: A man in Phoenix (is there anything not controversial go on in Arizona these days?) who held weekly Bible studies at his home was arrested for having religious gatherings  that were against the city's building code.

Michael Salman was sentenced to two months in jail and more than $12,000 in fines. Salman, obviously upset by such goings on told a local Fox News radio station, "They're cracking down on religious activities and religious use. They're attacking what I as a Christian do in the privacy of my home."

Of course, Phoenix officials saw it differently. "Any time you are holding a gathering of people continuously, as he does -- we have concerns about people being able to exit the facility properly in case there is a fire," said Vicki Hill, Phoenix's chief assistant city prosecutor. "It came down to zoning and proper permitting."

Well, where to begin? This is just too easy, frankly, even for someone with limited ability to find sarcasm when one needs it.

The story goes on to say this battle has been ongoing since 2007. The Bible Study began with 15 persons. It has grown, the story says, to ALMOST 20. Color me surprised and beat me in the back yard with sugar cane I'm so excited. Twenty. In a building Salman constructed of almost 2,000 square feet in his back yard. Did I mention that it was 20 persons? Twenty committed Bible studying folk in a desert. Sounds like early Damascus. That ol' patriarch of the faith, Saul, can tell you about trying to put a stop to home studies in towns like Damascus. You have to be careful or you'll get knocked plumb off your high horse trying to stop those things.

Now, Salman should have done all he needed to do to conform to city rules and regs. That should have been no problem. Didn't a wise man once say that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar's zoning law and code information? Something like that, I believe. We Christians always should be law keepers not law givers, someone else wrote in that Bible Salman and his folks were studying.

But, well, come on. At one point in this battle over a Bible study, a dozen cops raided the place. Wasn't there some illegal aliens to roust or something that night?

I can't begin to imagine the trouble Salman would have had during the summer if he had threatened to have a Vacation Bible Study. Strip searches for Bible game awards. Billy clubs for craft participants. Water boarding instead of water slides.

Where will it all end? It's a slippery slope toward anarchy if we are to allow Bible studies to go on in homes. Don't believe me, look what happened in Ephesus, or Phillipi, or even Rome itself. One day this little guy named Paul came rambling through, taking beatings and such for his trouble, and the next day something called a church was established in somebody's home. From there, it was a few hundred years till the glory of the pagan Roman empire was nada. The whole dang thing was turned into a Christian nation.

So, you see how serious this is, these home studies of the Bible? Phoenix, in all probability, has established a task force on how to deal with such.

You know what they say ... by the time the Bible gets to Phoenix, someone will probably open it. Wished that were true everywhere.

"I would join the fight; they could not shut me down.  I would stand tall for what I know is right. Would you stand with me, for the world to see, when all is on the line? Would you be ashamed of Jesus' name, if loving God was a crime?" Big Tent Revival

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

De basement

            We had a collie once, named Sally.
            I loved Sally fiercely. She looked like Lassie, a prerequisite. She was loving. She could herd cows upon command. She was great.
            I was eight years old and in heaven. Sally, however, was female. She got in heat and dogs in the country came around. We also had a Chihuahua who was sure that he was a big dog. The Chihuahua got beaten up badly by a chow who was interested in becoming much more friendly with Sally.
            My parents looked the situation over and for reasons I still don't understand, they gave Sally away to people in town.
            Sally had done nothing but be a female dog. I loved her, but she was given away.
            This might be a stretch, but Romans 1 describes a God who does, did, the same thing: loved humanity fiercely but gave it over to its own sexual debasement. What is interesting about this first chapter of Romans, it seems to me, is that Paul could have talked about humanity's ego, pride, selfishness or any of a thousand other flaws and sins.
            Instead, it is sexual sin, vile passions, debased minds that he writes about.
            I understand that some of the reason for that is the audience he is writing to or for.
            What strikes me here is that apparently there reaches a point where God gives us away in a fashion. He gives us over to our own debased minds. In other words, God continues to love us fiercely, but if we continue to seek after that which is harmful to us, God allows it to continue.
            Don't know if Paul was trying to describe free will, but that sure sounds like it.
            I know from my own experiences, I try and try and try to be a better person, pastor, father, employee and inevitably I fail. Sometimes little. Sometimes big.
            I hope and pray that the difference is that I try and try and try. I don't think God will give me over to that debasement (as in you'll find my actions in de basement). As I accept His Spirit during and after my rebirth, I get better. The sins go away. The time between sins gets greater. My sin nature (wanting to sin as opposed to sinning sometimes unwillingly) disappears entirely.
            Romans 1:28 says that "and even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind..."
            The key is they didn't even want God in their knowledge. They didn't want to think about him. They didn't want to pray to him. They didn't want to allow his direction and guidance. His will was a thing to be discouraged, not welcomed.
            So, God allowed them to their own desires.
            Doesn't mean He didn't continue to love them. Didn't mean He didn't later offer mercy and grace that can't be explained.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Preaching is more than words on a page

I'm going to try to explain the inexplicable.It is only my opinion, biased as it might be, but I believe the facts bear it out.

Here tis: There is nothing on this planet, no feeling, no expression, no idea or action that compares to preaching when it's going well. It is, I believe, from God himself. I do not mean just the words that were written, thought of, expressed or acted upon. I mean the entire enterprise, from begining study, what some call exegesis, to the end of the preached sermon on Sunday. When God is in the mix, and I'll say it up front that God is not always allowed in the mix and when that happens, a preacher often knows it before-hand but certainly somewhere about in the middle of it all that notion comes to the forefront, there is nothing on the planet that is like that.

Let me give evidence. Peter was a fisherman, a gifted fisherman but a fisherman nonetheless. Of course, he traveled with Jesus for about three years and heard some wonderful teaching, but as far as I can see he never preached a sermon in those three years.

Then on the day of Pentecost, he preached.

He laid the sermon out as if it were a table setting. He cut the listeners to the quick with his fascinating and riveting description of Jesus, his friend, mentor, Rabbi, savior. "All Israel, then, know this: There's no longer room for doubt—God made him Master and Messiah, this Jesus whom you killed on a cross," he said. The listeners were stunned. Who was this Galilean who was storming the gates of hell to build a church?

They asked, "Brothers! Brothers! So now what do we do?"

38-39Peter said, "Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites."

With words from the throneroom of God, Peter challenged, moved, loved into being a church. A church...

40He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, "Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!"

They listened. Against all odds and against all of their heritage and their upbringing and their religion, they listened. Where Christ had been dismissed, Peter was listened to.

Why? Was it the seminary he attended and the teaching he learned there? No, he attended none. Was it the exegesis of the scriptures? No, we see no prior study. Was it his theological background? Did I not say he was a fisherman who became a second-occupation preacher?

No, the key to it all was the Holy Spirit came that day blowing hot wind into the words that came out of Peter's mouth.

And the result on that hot day in Palestine? "That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers."

See, no matter the preacher, no matter the message even, without God's Spirit being involved, nothing happens. Let no one tell you that it happens each week, either. If it did, we'd be building bigger and bigger and bigger churches instead of cutting the roles and shutting down the buildings we have now.

It's not about education, study, or even creativity -- although all are important. But a fisherman stood up and built the first megachurch...in an afternoon. We should never forget that message.

Sunday I felt that flow of the wind, and I'm grateful. Words came flowing out like water through a hole in a dam. Persons were moved, apparently, with those strangely unsettling accolades of a happy congregation coming back toward me. Two couples said they had been looking for churches and they loved what we were doing at this one and would be back. In the spirit of the Spirit, we were all moved, I believe.

But was it the sermon preparation, the education provided in eight years of Course of Study? I believe not. For whatever reason, and again I believe it truly doesn't happen every week, it happened this day.

To paraphrase a populare television commercial: I don't always drink from the living water, but when I do...