Friday, September 28, 2012

Goodbye to some

Today is a special day for so many friends. Today, or this weekend, is the end of a grand old lady, as far as I'm concerned. Today is the last day for my home away from home for so many years, The Times-Picayune.

Oh, I know it will continue. Three days a week. I know it continues on a digital format (which by the way, can't they figure out how to show the prep stories in their entirety on an I-Pad?)

I could wax poetic about all the good times and all the good people, and that's all true. But what I'm feeling is for them, not myself. I chose to leave that life three years ago and I seldom look back. I pray they find that same sense of closure, though I doubt many will. The difference, I guess, is I chose and so many of them are not.

I could go on and on about that, but the bottom line is as a business, they have the right to hire and fire. Everyone knew that going in. Am I surprised they've done it the way they've done it? Absolutely. The how and why of who was retained and who was let go sometimes eludes me.

But that's fine. It eluded me when I was there. But for the ones who wanted to stay and couldn't, I pray they find something new to do with their lives, and I pray they find peace.

Those two things sometimes are the same thing. It happened for me, to me. I know then that it is true. That thing is a person named Jesus, and for those who know him, a little thing like a layoff is nothing. Nothing at all.

It's not the signs; it's the wonder

We had a Bible Study this morning. We're early into John's Gospel, and the question popped up about the first miracle, known this way because the writer of the gospel says it is the first miracle, "why did Mary react the way she did?" The secondary question is "Why was this party worthy of a Christ miracle."

Let me say that I did a piece a couple of days ago that cried out for attention and/or discussion and it go no attention and/or discussion. None. I'm down to twenty something readers a day, so I don't know how far this will go.

But this is a worthy question, I think.

It's a party. A wedding party. The culture was completely different than our own, but still, it's a party. They're drinking wine. Lots and lots of wine. And then it happens, they run out.

The host of the part will be completely embarrassed. what? What's the eternal, God-moment here? A party has been wrecked.

Is that worthy of a cellular change of water into wine?

We can talk forever about the theological implication here, but let's get down to the root of it all.

This is a sign, as John describes it. There had to be a beginning. This  is it. Thee had to be a first, this is it. Perhaps it's as simple as that.

Is it significant that it was a wedding? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Look, for me the last line of the passage is the one that is most significant. It reads, "He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him."

Far, far too often we need a boost to our faith. Things are going great since we decided to follow Jesus. Then, they're not so great and we begin to waver. I see it far, far too often. But we get just a little boost, like coffee in the afternoon, and boom, we're going again. Is that fair? Is that right? But it happens, correct?

The disciples had fallen head over heels for Jesus and his teaching. But there's nothing like a miracle to get the juices going.  Was that fair? Was it right?

Notice who saw the miracle first. The servants. Did we hear from any of them later? Were they at the cross?

It's not just the miracles that saves us. It's the man named Jesus. That is the point, after all.

Oh, it could have been a wedding for one of Jesus' sisters, and Mary would have felt responsible when the wine ran out. And Jesus being the oldest son would have been responsible, as well. Could have been. We don't know.

But it was a first. Is it on the degree that we would have come out of the shoot, miraculous guns ablaze? Probably not. But it's a first. There had to be one.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The net grows heavy

This I found in the red letters of  the 13th chapter of Matthew's Gospel this morning (for those keeping score at home, that's the words Jesus spoke):

"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind. When the net was full, they dragged it up on the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicket people from the righteous, throwing the wicked ito the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnasing of teetch. Do you understand all these things?" "Yes," they said, "we do."

Getting a handle on this is difficult. I've bowed to the knowledge that I can't save myself, eternally or in this life. I've surrendered to the fact I need God's mercy, and grace to survive. I've given myself over to the love that Paul writes about so, so eloquently in the 13th chapter of his letter to the church in Corinth.

Then I come across this language, and I'm frightened just like I was when I was eight years old and folks talked about hell. The devil was someone or something with horns and a tail and hooves and apparently a real desire to wear read all the time. Scared the, uh, heck out of me though bits and pieces of the smouldering embers of hell stayed on me apparently.

The words in this teaching are scary, and I read nothing about the devil doing anything at all. In fact, it is the angels (those lovely little beings with wings and such and glowing pixie dust and you have your ideas of angels, I can have mine)
Look at the language slowly, thinking not of end result but how one gets there...

The sorting of the fish

the throwing away of the bad

The fact that there are indeed "bad" ones

The unusual language of angels coming to do the sorting

wicked versus righteous

fiery furnace as a destination, not the more common language today of hell being a separation from God.

weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who are in that fiery furnace, which is what gave me the nightmares in the first place.

I could go on and on about the theology here. Certainly there is much talk we could do about the separation of good and evil.

This teaching comes in a series, with parables about wheat and weeds, mustard seeds, yeast, the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl, and the fishing net appearing as a boxed set, as it were.

The end result of the teaching is that there is a separation at the end, with good going and evil, hypocritical, bad (whatever the term) going somewhere else. There is a price to be paid for actions, a destination for those who buy and sell short. The devil is the culprit in the wheat and weeds parable. Our own choices seem to be the villains in other parables. And Jesus is the teacher, using what is described as parables to explain things hidden "since the creation of the world."

Tough stuff for the children to learn, we see.

I think it is beneficial to see that at the understand of this teaching, in Matthew's way of splicing these together, Jesus is rejected at Nazareth. The teaching is too difficult. The way of living is too hard. The yeast permeats, the weeds do grow, and enemy does come or the seed being planted is not growing, and the only answer anyone has for any of this is to simply give up, doing away with the teacher as well as the teaching.

But let's take just a second to look at just this parable, since it is the one my eyes were attracted to this morning.

First, the net (which is the Kingdom of Heaven apparently) is thrown into the water and catches fish OF EVERY KIND. Isn't that interesting. The Kingdom is so enticing that it drags in fish over all kinds, makes. The net isn't a special kind of bait. It is a device that simply drags the water top to bottom and brings them in.

Now, if we take the metaphor out even more, that the net to me becomes the Church. That being so, then it is worth noting that the Church is supposed to drag the water and take in people of all kinds. We are not selective. We take the drum with the catfish. We take the redfish with the, uh, cod. (My understanding and knowledge of fish becomes an issue in the illustration at this point. I've run quickly out of fish.) 

Then, according to the teaching, the good are kept and the bad are thrown away. The drum is tossed. The catfish is mealed, so to speak.

It becomes very interesting at this point, for we are also told not to judge, so the Church can't be the entity that is doing the throwing away. We have no real capability of deciding that which is good and that which is bad, for that would mean judging, which Matthew 7 tells us is a sin. So it is not in our job description to do the separation. We, of course, haven't had a handle on that through the centuries.

Who does this judging? Who is responsible. In this parable, it is the angels, in this teaching. Other teaching says it is Jesus. Still other says it is the Father. The end result is, however, no teaching has us, the Church, the body, the bride, the followers of the Way, Christians doing the judging. Paul says, at one point, that we can throw out those not doing good, but we'll let the majority rule here, particularly in terms of this parable.

Why would this teaching be difficult? It seems that the separating would be done by an outside entity, therefore making it much easier on us all. I ain't got to keep score, in other words. It further seems that the net is dragging in all of us, so there is no work to be done on our part there, either. Our biggest challenge seems to be to say in the water.

So why is it difficult?
From two viewpoints, I believe.

First, suppose you're the one told to throw out the net. Suppose you're told that the net will be completely inclusive. All those persons you've been seeing thinking would never be in your place of worship are dragged in just like all those persons who look like you, think like you, act like you. Then suppose you also have to accept all those "others." Finally, suppose you're not even going to be to help with the judging of who gets to stay and who is thrown out.

Let me say that simply wouldn't go over well for some, particularly the religious who were hearing this teaching for the first time.

Second, suppose you're the one who supposes themselves to be righteous because you have spent your lifetime "doing" the right thing in your eyes, mind and heart. Then suppose the net pulling in the fish drags in good fish and bad fish alike. Then suppose you are told that the separation of those will come at the end of time (not nearly as quickly as you would like). Finally, suppose you're told that the dividing line won't be how you've done the law but instead how you love your fellow fish.

Again, let me say that wouldn't go over well for some.

So all those persons the teaching of the Kingdom of God drew in as Jesus began his ministry were not to be found by the time the cross became an issue.

Know anyone like that today? Know everyone like that today?

Bottom line: It's still scary teaching after all these years, and I haven't seen a guy with a tail and horns in decades.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Would they recognize you?

It has intrigued me for some time, and a question at a meeting I attended last night brought it back.

In Luke's Gospel, we read of Peter's denial: "54 Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. 55 And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. 56 A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him." But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said. "A little later someone saw him and said, 'You are also one of them.' Man, I am not! Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, 'Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean."

My question has always been, how did they know? The girl saw Peter and said he was with Jesus. Well, a lot of people had been with Jesus earlier that week. A little later, someone SAW him and said he was one of "them." Later still, a man noticed this Galilean.

How did they know? Did Peter wear a name tag:
Jesus follower
ex-John B follower

Jews for Jesus

or even (it's a big name tag, okay)
Pre-Roman Catholic
Pre-Methodist, United or otherwise

At the meeting last night, the question was posed (and I paraphrase badly I suspect): Does all this make a difference? What difference does the saving witness of Jesus Christ make in your life, your vocation?

If you're a doctor, does knowing Jesus change the way you operate (so to speak)? If you're a beautician, does knowing Jesus change the way you view your job? On and on. Does knowing Jesus change your viewpoint on, well, everything?

At the meeting, I thought it was a pretty good question. Later still, I thought it was a terrific question. This morning, I thought it is THE question, worthy of discussion and thought beyond one night. It branches like little inlets and such of the Jordan River, from the top of Palestine to the Dead Sea, meandering and wandering like Bedoins in search of some worthy water in a parched land.

One question ... does knowing this man Jesus, someone who lived 2000 years ago in (as George Lucas would say) a land far, far away mean anything at all to how you live today in Louisiana, or England, or Russia or wherever you're reading this? leads to another, a cousin, a brother or sister.

I'm not talking about what believing in this man means to your eternal destination. Separate issue, I suspect. I'm talking about whether someone who doesn't know you or doesn't know you well can tell you know this man Jesus, and if so, what is it about him that comes shining through in your life, even as much as knowing Jesus came through the life, the demeanor, the mannerisms, the work, the play, the spiritual life, the physical life of this man we know only as Peter/Cephas/Simon Peter>

A branch of the Jordan opens to ...What does your knowing Jesus look like in your life on a Wednesday morning?

Or to ....Is there something, anything in your life that is different because you have met, have become to know, or even know well this man the world has come to recognize as Jesus of Nazareth?

Or to ... Does knowing Jesus change you?

I'm not necessarily talking about your ethics or your morals, although you might give some of that as your answer. But I am talking about how knowing Jesus affects how you vote, for example; or how you accept change that is more or less what it should be. Or how knowing Jesus affects how you look at those who are mentally challenged, or those who live below the poverty level. Or how knowing Jesus changes how you look at abortion or homosexuality. And if it does change how you look at these issues, do you see them through the eyes of Jesus of the Bible or do you view these issues (as well as these people) through your own eyes that are affected by what you think Jesus would have done or said or felt?

See, it's complicated. We try desperately to make these things become black and white, but the grays, oh, the grays.

A sliver of water beacons ...Does knowing Jesus affect the way you parent, or change the way you view school, or dissolve the way you view those less fortunate than yourself?

A large inlet leads to .... If you were at the fire on the night they took Jesus away, is there something about the way you live, the way your talk, the way you view things, the way you talk that would lead a young woman or two men to associate you with Him?

Into the main body of the River ... Do you walk like, talk like, think like, love like Jesus?

That , to my way of thinking, is essentially is what being a disciple of Jesus Christ who is trying to change the world looks like.

Of course, they recognized Peter, and still he denied Jesus. Looking the part, sounding like the part, even trying to be the part doesn't mean we have made it. It just means that for one small moment in our lives, something noticed what we've tried so hard to produce...a life the looks like Jesus.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Finding the light means searching in the dark

Saturday afternoon, Mary and I took some time to go through the trailer. I found shoes I haven't worn since the last trip to the beach, complete with the sand that left the beach with me.

We found things that we had completely forgotten existed, including a neat flashlight/radio that would be even neater if we could find the plug-in for it. I suspect that electricty wound empower (my word of the day) this device moreso than even gravity does the frisbee we found tucked away on a sandy floor beside the bed.

Still, the flashlight will run via hand-cranked charger if we can find some lunkhead who will crank it by hand for hours because he (or she for that matter) doesn't know where he put the charger.

We have flashlights of every kind, make and size in the trailer. We have this one great big one that when turned on is similar, I suspect, to a star going supernova. Shine this baby on the ground and ants run for helmet and kevlar armor, with tiny puffs of smoke trailing their little ant automobiles. It takes a week-long charge to turn this on for, oh, 10 minutes or so. But when it's on, the sun isn't necessary. Once we turned it on on a cloudy day in Florida and the clouds were next seen in Wisconsin.

We have another that is the equivalant of the old oil lanterns, only with batteries. It takes eight of them. Eight D batteries at about a hundred bucks each or so. The batteries last for, oh, about four minutes. We never remember to buy new ones, hence the lantern is as useless as my check book. Another lantern-looking thing needs a big ol' battery that lasts a lifetime or so. Unless you need it, then apparently a lifetime isn't all that long anymore.

There was a period of time after Hurricane Katrina when I couldn't go through a Home Depot or a Lowe's without purchasing a new flashlight, lantern, device. When my wife, Mary, began to take them away from me, these hand-turned charging devices, it gave a whole new meaning to the term "cranky."

Eventually, however, the light came on, and I began to understand how little I really, really needed a new flashlight/radio/garage door opener/can opener/dog back scratcher. No matter how much they said I did, in fact, need one.

We had more at one point before it became evident that it would never, never be dark enough in our own little corner of the world to need quite so many of these to light up our own little corner of the world. So, we began to sell them off one little light of mine at a time, obviously keeping the best. Perhaps if we had worried as much about keeping the chargers ...

In the months that followed that awakening, we began to give or sell away our little points of lights. In the interim, I've thought a lot about the treasured sayings of Jesus in conjunction with tales of light. Jesus lived in a world and culture in which childen were thought of with the same love and reverence as were cattle or sheep, in other words without care or love at all. The same could be said of the way the world in which he lived expressed themselves about women. Children and women were anything but first-class citizens. In fact, they weren't really classified as citizens at all.

It was a dark, dark world. It was a world without love, without compassion, without humility.

Into it came this man, a man about whom the world as a rule thought little,till the light forced it to. But John's good news says "The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it."

Talk about a mission statement.

In order to clarify things, Jesus himself later was quoted as saying in the good news of this writer John, "I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darknes, because you will have the light that leads to life."

It was a dark, dark world. Deadly, cruel, without justice and a stranger to mercy was this world. God sent the light to this world. The light. A beam of love, a flash of mission. The light began to shine, in moments, then in minutes, stretching into years... three years.

But strangely, if you really ponder things, the world around this flash attack of love-giving light only got darker. In other words, a streak, a peck, a finger of life-giving love hit this area known as Palestine, and a few began to worship, began to bow down, began to get it.

The rest? Heck, eventually they killed the light itself. Or they thought they did.

Glorious in heaven, beyond the ability of anyone to paint or photograph or even describe, the light came to earth with a plan, a marvelous color-filled plan. Tell the world about the light, and the light would splinter onto all the world.

It still, still hasn't happened.
Darkness did all it possibly could to extinguish the light.
It threw water on it, only to discover dashing the "light" with water is the best thing one can do.
It set fire to it, only to discover that a spirited flame is essential to the light of the world in the first place.
Darkness tried to push the light aside, put it under a table, cause a storm to pop up around it, surround it with persons who knew all sorts of rules, knew the rule of law like the back of its hands but knew nothing of the rule of love, and even -- eventually -- nailed it to a tree.

Despite darkness' best shot, the light continued to shine. For a while it was a sliver of light, put away in a tomb of darkness. But the sliver broke free, climbed a hill to become a beacon, continued to be the houselight on the hill above the rocky sea, continued to be the answer to the questions darkness tried to hide behind. Eventually, the light would circle the globe, like the flame before an Olympics.

Is the world covered in light? No, not yet. Maybe never.

"I am the light of the world," The Word said. The darkness shrank, like water before the world's largest towel.

It is a dark, dark world. Jesus was (and is) a bright, bright light.

THE light of the world.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Powerless from where I sit

The Bible says, "Lord said to his people, "I scattered you in all directions. But now, you exiles, escape from Babylonia and return to Jerusalem. Anyone who strikes you strikes what is most precious to me."

The second portion is what is vital, I believe..."Be silent, everyone, in the presence of the Lord.. for he is coming from his holy dwelling place."

Seems conclusive to me. The minor prophet Zechariah is writing what he believes to be words of prophecy.

Look, none of us have the "proof" of anything, if we're truthful. We don't know what Thursday will bring, much less what six months from now will sing and shout to us. So, therefore, we don't want to upset the Lord our God. Do we?

Till then, we wait, and watch, and if possible, we will be silent and we will look into the eyes of the silent...

"Long ago I gave these commands to my people: 'You must see that justice is done; and must show kindness and mercy to one a other. Do no oppress widows, orphans, foreigners who live among you, or anyone else in need. And do not plan ways of harming one another."

That's the plan within a plan. Have you something better? I do not. I will see that justice is done. That's the plan: Trust him, watch those who live among us and do not plan ways of harming one another. I have no Lego's, no better ideas. So, I wait, for you. I'm not powerless but I can see powerless from up high.

Peace, brothers and sisters...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Come, Lord Jesus, Come

I've written this blog three times, losing two previous versions, like useless investments. I don't mind, strangely enough, but I do want to finish this one.

This morning, into the gray I wandered. It was foggy, gray as country creek silt, as I left to begin the Bible Study. I left the parsonage about 7:15 a.m., driving off with a remarkable Jesus riding with me. I parked a half-block or so from Cafe' Mosiac, Eunice's coffee house, and walked into the shoppe, making an order before wandering into the back portion of the shoppe.

The Bible study we had was wonderful, but nothing like the man Jesus who touched us this morning. I left Mosiac about 8:30 a.m., drove back to the church office, and finished my coffee before the sun drifted higher in the sky.

I worked on a capital campaige brochure, remembered this blog needed finishing and thought of the Sunday sermon that also needed finishing.

It has been a long week's final day, this Friday, and as I picked up a Bible from the desk, it drops open to the end of the book -- literally.

The words are these: "He who testifies to these things says, "yes. I am coming soon."

The red lettering ends.

The next words are not in red, nor are they in quotation marks. They say simply, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of tdhe Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.

And the Revelation ends.

Jesus touched us this morning. He will touch us again, soon, when he returns.

It is enough. He is enough. I've written it again, and again, and again ....
Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Let the people of the Lord get up and worship

Have you ever given thought to what you're going to do in worship this coming Sunday? I mean, have you planned your own worship?

I'm not talking about being part of a worship-planning session. I'm not talking about planning what the sermon will be or what the music will be or when you will say the Apostle's Creed in the service or what the prayers will be like and when they will be said.

I'm asking if you've given thought to your personal worship plan. Or do you simply show up, pull a bulletin from an usher's hand and do whatever it tells you?

 In Nehemiah 12, the prophet thinks things through, and he prepares for the children of Israel to worship. And, by golly, they do -- worship, I mean. An incredibly complex worship service is held for the first time in this fashion in more than 70 years. Imagine that. You've heard of worship, been told of worship, but you haven't exactly done it, for many of them, in your lifetime. Oh, for some of you that might not be hard to imagine after all.

Stop for a second and see it in your mind: two enormous choirs lead people to give thanks for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, for returning to their homeland, for being able to worship in the land of their fathers, or their God. The choirs walk in along the top of the recently built walls, one from the right, one from the left, singing Awesome God, I imagine. Okay, I made up that last, but it would be similar.

The choirs meet in the middle, and pour themselves into the Temple, together. A man named Jezrahiah leads the choirs, and they made a joyful and plentiful noise without microphones, headsets, guitars, or even written rehearsal plans. They just walked, and they sang .... TO THE LORD.

They did all this because they felt the Spirit of the Lord moving them into an open and wonderful manner of worship, though they hadn't "done" organized worship before. The scriptures read, "I (Nehemiah) followed them (the choirs) on top of the wall, together with half the people -- past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshannah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. ... The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God." Oh, the joy of walking past those gates and into the house of God.

It wasn't the planning. It wasn't the singing. It sure wasn't the instruments, for they had none.

It was the praise. Personal and piercing. Deeply moving and equally guilt-filled. Worship that settled somewhere in the hearts of those who watched and heard two choirs becoming one, doing the best they could to birth a God-filled moment into human existence. In the book of Ezra, describing the same worship service, the writer says, "While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites -- men, women and children gathered around him. They too wept bitterly." 

There are some who will tell you that the responsibility for crafting and defining a church's worship mission rests with the pastor or pastors, the elders or deacons or whomever is in church leadership, or perhaps the worship leader or leaders or even the musicians.

I believe, however, that good and proper and meaningful worship comes straight from the pews with the heavy, heavy emphasis on our God being worshiped. The Apostle Paul wrote, "There are different kinds of service in the church, but it is the same Lord we are serving."

I hear from time to time this statement, or one like it: "I didn't feel anything today in worship." Or, "I still felt hungry when this service was over." Or, "I believe I will take my family somewhere we can be fed by the Spirit."

Friends, friends, friends. We are not to be fed or even led in worship. We are to feed the living God with our worship of Him. It is not, or never will be, about us. Only about Him. Anything different and we've missed the mark, and missing the mark is a fine, fine definition of SIN.

Nehemiah 12: 43 reads, "And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard from far away." It wasn't the practice, the routine, the merry men. It was worship from the heart.

Open the doors of the church and let the sounds of praise be heard, friends. Stop all this stone faced worship. The frozen chosen must thaw because the love of God is so warm.

The scriptures continue, "At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, first fruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites."

In other words, things were going great because God was great. They gave what they had because He had given all He was. They brought their tithe, they gave on top of that (even more), they sang their praise, and the people rejoiced, dancing into the wonderful evening in response to the wonders of God.

Nehemiah closes this wonderful book with these words, "Remember me with favor, O My God."

And let the worshiping people of the Lord all say, Amen.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

God grinned again

Jonathan turned 27 a while back. The birthdays seemed to be coming much more quickly than they once did. Seemed like two a year or so was the norm now as he headed quickly toward his 30s. Jonathan graduated in a little more than three years of college, from West Virginia in the beautiful hilly college town of Morgantown, adding some night courses into the normal load. He wasn't in a great particular hurry; he simply loved to learn. In the learning was the longing, and the longing was strong and powerful. His major was education. He wanted to give back the teaching he had received, tit for tat. He was what some would call a hopeless romantic in those terms. He loved to teach.

That was six plus years ago, that graduation day, back when he had long, black, curly hair that dominated his forehead and slid to his shoulder. He was thinner then,  a question mark for an angular body, full of energy and quite fit. He even loved to run, taking long paths that helped him clear his head and his body on summer nights and even winter days.

He took teaching jobs, when he could find them. This whole recession thing was difficult on anyone, particularly on teachers.

Jonathan made friends the way some bake chocolate chip cookies ... with warmth and tender sprinkles of love, but even befriending principals and other leaders in his new New York City home left him with no full-time position. Not in the private school arena, not in public schools, not in elementary, middle school nor high school. Like a squirrel dabbling in winter wanderings, Jonathan looked and looked and looked and came up empty. No job. No way. No how.

He couldn't teach. Instead, he made Venti Vanilla Lattes and Carmel Fraps and served heated bagels to the crowds that poured into the coffee shop. Three times a week. Four hours at a time. That was all the work he had found. It wasn't enough to sustain him, or anyone. No money. No benefits. No help. No hope.

Taking a break one Thursday afternoon as summer slid out of time and tune , and Fall danced in with hues of brown and orange, all whipped cream and pumpkin spice.

Jonathan was drinking one of his own concoctions when she walked past. He tried to remember her name, but could only come up with Margie or Margarie or marvelous or some such. She caught his eye, smiled shyly. Jonathan grinned back at her. She went into the building, ordered a black coffee (one of those people who still did such things) took the full, hot, aromatic cup in seconds and paid in cash, another in a long line of strange and wonderful things that sat her apart.

She walked back out the building, toward Jonathan, who was sitting outside the entrance to the shoppe at a table shaded by a large elm that towered over the umbrella, the table and the sidewalk. Smiling all the while, she surprised Jonathan by asking if the seat next to him was taken. Though he had followed her with his eyes the whole time she was ordering and being served, he couldn't have been more surprised if she had asked him to join her on her space ship for a quick jaunt to Mars.

"Uh, no. No it's not," Jonathan said, the smile washing onto his face from surprised brain to shocked heart. "Please, please take it if you want." He stood, hitting the cast-iron table with his legs as he stood, rocking his coffee cup and spilling some of the latte. He pulled the iron chair back from the table, and she sat. "My name is Jonathan. And you are...."

"I'm thirsty," she said, laughing as she sat. Jonathan blushed, regretting again his inability to remember her name or find the right words to say.

"I'm Maragan, Maragan Holly."

"That's an unusual name, Maragan, I mean."

"An aunt's name, I believe," she said. "Is unusual bad?"

"No. NO. That's not what I meant. What I meant is, uh, it's not bad it's nice. Nice. That's what I meant to say."

She looked deeply into his brown eyes,  an explorer in search on new lands, then glanced at what Jonathan was reading. "The Bible, huh? Seems a bit out of place, huh? At a coffee shop in New York, I mean."

Jonathan's smile shrank, but he said politely, "Why? It's a fine day to read a fine piece of writing, don't you think?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be insulting in any way," Maragan said. "My dad is a minister, by the way. United Methodist minister, in the Midwest. I grew up reading the Bible. I actually love reading scripture. I have since my confirmation class years ago. What are you reading?"

"The 77th Psalm," Jonathan said.

"That's an unusual piece. Would you read some of it to me?"

Jonathan cleared his throat, fighting fear and shyness.

"Sure. I was on the 12th verse. It says, 'I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. Your ways,k O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.' I was just thinking about how great God is."

"Yes, He is. He really is. I've just moved up here from Columbus and I thought getting a job would be easy with so many jobs available," Maragan said. "It took me two weeks. But even if I hadn't been able to get a job, I would still have praised Him. But still, God is great. He really, really is."

"What do you do?"

"Me? Oh, I'm a teacher."

Jonathan drew in a quick breath. This darling little woman who had such an interest in him for some strange reason was a teacher.

Just ...
Like ...

"Yeah. Me too. But I can't get a teaching job to save my life," Jonathan said. "Except at this place, which I guess is where we've seen each other."

"You're a teacher?"

"Yeah. I am. Really. Well, I would be if I could get a teaching job. I was an Education major.."

"Look, I teach over at St. Paul's Middle Schoo, and I'm pretty sure they're going to have an opening for the second semester after Christmas. I would be happy to recommend you, if you don't mind."

"Mind? I would love to teach there. Or anywhere, for that matter. That would be awesome."

"Consider it done," Maragan said. "In fact, if you're not too busy right now, why don't you walk with me over to the office. I'm just sure you can nail this job opening."

Jonathan looked at her: tanned face, thin body, freckles in all the right spots, blue eyes the size of quarters with the radiance of a full moon. He thought briefly about the Psalm he had been meditating on: "I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord..." Jonathan took a sip of coffee, smiled at Maragan again and thought, "She doesn't even know me, doesn't know what I've done in the field, doesn't know anything about me at all yet she is willing to go out on a limb for me."

They rose, together. The first afternoon in what would become a powerful professional relationship that would eventually turn to a loving relationship.

God pushes, and pulls, and we wind up in places we never meant to go only to find that He was manipulating the strings. Free will is certain. God's power is as strong.

God grinned, grace flowed and mercy came a running.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Maybe next year

The Lord said to his people, 'I scattered you in all directions. But now, you exiles, escape from Babylonia and return to Jerusalem."

What is your Babylonia? What is your Jerusalem?

It comes to me that the other night I was telling a story and I talked about coming home. What I meant was coming back to the place we're living in Eunice, La. What I said, though, was home. My, my. How things have changed in our lives.

What is your Babylonia? What is your Jerusalem?

When we were in Israel, I toured the Holocaust museum. It is a moving, deeply emotional place for us Gentiles. I can not imagine what it must be like for Jews to walk through this place.

I was particularly touched by a sign that told the tale of how Jews would always describe the future by saying, "maybe next year in Jerusalem," meaning where ever they were, maybe next year they would meet in their home, Jerusalem.

Lately, this notion of whether or not the United States would continue to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel is a mute point, really. Because it simply is. It will always be home to those of that nation, of that faith. It is in their very DNA, this notion that Jerusalem is where they will go, where they will stay.

I submit that is the very feeling that is in our own DNA. We are called home by a God who is fixing the table for us, in the lingo I grew up with. We are being called to the place where we should want to be so badly that we will overcome our mistakes that try to keep us from there, overcome by simply believing in a God who died for us.

That notion is a difficult one for many, but truth is often a difficult thing to hear. Jesus came, he died, he returned ... home. I believe that with a core that can't be dissuaded.

That calls me home, like the most wonderful lighthouse beacon of all time. I hear it, see it, taste it, feel it. It is what keeps me going sometimes, when the life isn't all that glamarous or beckoning. When I'm tired and I've been less than successful, the notion that there is a place where the swing and the rockers are on the front porch just waiting for me is as wonderful as cold watermelon on a warm summer's evening.

I, like Paul, so long to be with Jesus that it is tangible. I know I have things left to do on this earth. I know I would desperately miss my wife and children and grandchildren and granddogs and grandcats.

But ... home. Home.

Maybe next year in heaven.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The story of the least

There's this house, a house on the Eunice-Iota highway.

The grass around it is neatly trimmed, at about half an acre around it I imagine. The house is painted white, though a new coat or two sure wouldn't hurt. It looks tattered in places, it being wood and all.

The roof is tin, and I can just heart the rain battering it this morning, tap, tap, tapping like ravens on the ceiling.

There is a television antennae, like the type you used to see in the 60s. One wonders what could possibly come from it?

We drive past it four times a week, twice going, twice coming. Once early Sunday morning, once coming back a couple hours later. Once on Mondays, before the light of the sun begins to wane, once coming back when it's near dark and the sun sets ripe orange behind the house to the west.

I've never seen a car there. Never seen a light on in the house. I wonder what the story is. For three months we've driven past this house and seen no life.

It makes me wonder if there is any. Is this house a remnant of someones good past? Did the owner die and the children refuse to sell it because they have so many memories wrapped up in its little rooms?

I don't know. I have no idea what its story truly is.

But I notice.

The point, hidden deeply within these words, is how often do we drive by her, walk past him, and never see or hear or feel them, the lost, the least, the worst and the best of us all? What is their story? What drives them? What has hurt them?

Are they battered by sunset and sunrise? Are they adrift as night overcomes the blank, dried out fields of their lives?

Will we ever stop and ask? Will we ever know what their story is?

I have this annoying new habit, annoying to myself anyway. I can be watching an old movie, as I did this weekend when Close Encounters came on, and I've got my I-pad in my lap and I wonder whatever happened to...

This time it was the kid in the movie. Turns out he appeared in a few movies, then lost contact with the viewing public. Rumor has it he is an investment banker. I wonder if he watches when Close Encounters comes on? Does he remember the days of the shoot? Does he ever wonder why his career came to a close so early?

If only I could bring myself to do the same with those around me; just notice when they're sitting, walking, driving, or even in my pews. The least, the lost, the hurting are all around us. We just have to notice.

What's their story?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bucking the truth about a diet

Here's the deal: I go hither and yon (just like writing that) to find new things to write about. You might have thought these things were just from the brilliance of my mind. You would be wrong. There is absolutely nothing brilliant about my mind at all. I'm absolutely sure about that.

But to find you a proper topic each morning, I must think. To think, I must drink ... er, coffee that is. One of the great losses we felt when we moved to Eunice, La., a couple or three months back was there is no Starbucks in this town. Though a recent travel magazine described our fair town as "one of the great unknown delights" in this country -- in the COUNTRY -- it has no Starbucks. No CCs. No PJs. Heck, even when we were in Israel we saw a Stars and Bucks. But nada in Eunice. I should open one on the side. Call it Billybucks or some such.

But after diligent research, we found a place called Cafe Mosiac. Wonderful name. Good coffee. Had a Bible Study there this morning. Talked about the Gospel of John's prelude. Wonderful group of men talking about what Jesus means to them.

And, uh, there was coffee. Good coffee. Vanilla latte coffee. Nice stuff. I came home rather early in the delightful morning and had, uh, more coffee.

So when I came across the following story, I was as pleasantly surprised as a man who discovers a couple thousand bucks in his pants pocket.

The story read, "Christine Hall didn’t join an expensive weight-loss program or sign up for a meal-delivery service to help her lose nearly 80 pounds. In fact, she never even goes to the grocery store. Instead, as she lost the weight over the last few years, almost everything she consumed has come from Starbucks. A law librarian with two jobs, she gets her meals from the Starbucks right near work, where employees have cheered on the 5-foot, 4-inch Hall as she’s gone from weighing 190 to a trim 114 pounds.
She eventually lost 40 pounds, enough to become an altruistic kidney donor in a 32-person kidney swap in November, 2010. She kept going, losing about two pounds a week at the beginning, and sometimes eating as little as 876 calories in a day."

In case you didn't read it all, it's a STARBUCKS diet.

I went to the gastro guy yesterday and got a good checkup. He kicked the tires, rotated a couple and said I might, uh, consider losing a bit of weight. The nurse before him mentioned something that I've heard of but not tried. I think she called it exercise or something like that.

But not once did they mention this new fangled diet thing. I think they wanted to cash in on the trend but hadn't invested just yet. They didn't let me know anything about it. I suspect they will.

Now, for me to go on the diet properly, apparently, I must go to a Starbucks, hence the name Starbucks diet. To do so I must invest in the $50 per gallon gasoline that is coming. But it will be worth it, I suspect, as I drop 50 pounds or so even as I go broke putting gas into the car. I must travel to either Lafayette or Lake Charles for my diet to work.

I can't wait to begin. There's a future for me. This might add 15 or 20 years to my life, not to mention keeping me awake for the trip back to Eunice.

I will even order multiple lattes while I'm there. I'm certain that will make me lose the weight even more quickly than one at a time. Perhaps even some whipped cream. Of course, the lattes will be of the skinny variety.

And I might order ...

Food? Oh, it's a food diet? The diet is about eating food at Starbucks?

Uh, they sell food at Starbucks?

Who knew?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The best of goodbyes: The call of God and his will

The Apostle Paul was saying goodbye to friends when he wrote this: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

A little man, I imagine, talking to a scribe or writing himself with quill in a tired, aching, arthritis-filled hand is telling a group of people who would never again see him goodbye. Just saying, so long.

When I came to Christ, I mean really came to Christ and not attended church because my good Mama made me, I wanted more than anything else to find that will of God everyone talked about. Seventeen years have passed, and if I get up on the truthful side of the bed in the morning, I'm still seeking, searching, demanding, waiting on that will of God to present itself.

However, Paul, this little man I imagine, leads me there more than most.

He continued in what someone decided would be the fifth chapter of his letter to a church (it's the people not the building remember) in Thessalonica, which is just down the road from Kinder I think, "Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything."

I believe that more than most that is what we're called to do. Let the Spirit (capital, capital, capital) lead us. I'm a UNITED Methodist, which means I've let go of the Spirit's gifts as if they were indeed very, very hot, but truth is I long for the Spirit to lead me down the country pathway toward prophecy, toward, uh, Spirit language and such. But in the meantime, I praise Him in the storms of life and keep going.

Paul tells them (us, me) "Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through." Good versus evil? I'm just trying to get up, do my job (a Sean Payton reference in a religious column), and pray that God brings someone, anyone, one to Christ through me, by me, with me.

I lift my eyes unto the hills, and my help pours forth through Paul's words: "May your whole spirit (little s, little s), soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."

And there I sit, again placated. I'm not all that sure what God's will is for me today, but I am sure, absolutely sure, that he is faithful and he will call me once again. Therein lies my joy, my prayer, my thanksgiving. And if that is God's will, I've found what once was lost. Again, and again, and again.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wondering as I wander

A guy I knew died. I guy I worked with back in that life some called journalism died. He wasn't the first I've known to die. He, unfortunately, won't be the last. We're getting older, as the days wane and the pain flourishes like spring flowers.

But it, his death, sends me into a spiral of thoughts, into memories that collide with consciousness. God forgives, and God forgets, the Bible says. Me, not so much on either, I'm afraid.

I remember the time Mary and I went to his house, and the laughter that emerged. The time we worked on a story back when I was something I'm now not. The time ...

The time ...

The time seems to be spiraling out of control at a much faster pace than I remember when I was young.

I spend a great deal more time driving these days, wondering as I wonder, slapped down in a land of $3.79 a gallon of gas, which is detrimental to my pastor's budget. But it is what it is. Bible studies here, there and everywhere.

I wonder as I wander, thinking back to that moment of truth when I reached out for Jesus and he reached out to me.

My travels from and through places like Kinder, Elton, Basille, Iota take me hither and yon, and both the truck and the car we own have issues now that I might not be able to afford to fix and they're getting as old as I feel. But all this traveling gives me plenty of time to think, to ponder, to muse. It ain't all a bad thing. I think about who I was, who I am, who I might become ... where I'm headed, where I've been. All those moments and choices that led me to exactly where I am. I wander, all the while wondering.

Today, I'm more stationary. As I begin to write this, I'm listening to Pandora radio, the Brandon Heath version, and they're playing one of my top five hymns. Ironically, Jadon Lavik is sing a modern version of an ancient song, Come Thou Fount, and the most delicious line comes on ... "Prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love. Here's my heart, take and seal it ..."

Even as the sound eeks away from me, I wonder as I wander. Thoughts come pouring out, like a fall of water from mountainside on a clear fall afternoon.

There's busy-ness all over the church these days, with two rounds of Girl Scouts coming in for meetings, wedding meetings, exercise meetings, youth group meetings, meetings about meetings int he true Methodist manner, even electricians putting in new electrical boxes outside, city workers moving an old glass case out from inside. Rattlings all around. Newness in our busy-ness, freshness in our business.

I wander to a weary NIV Bible sitting on my desk. Paul is telling me that we are simply more than we are. "...we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose," and I reach out to the words as if they were flotsam on the ocean.

I wander into his thoughts and back out again, looking for a place to land, like a conquistador looking for the new world.

I wander into this thought, "if God is for us, who can be against us?" And I wander back out again, looking for a place that I can rest.

Today is the middle of the week. There are three sermons and two more Bible studies to go, and my thoughts are like love bugs on a windshield pinging and pinging unto death and I wander back out again.

Till I rest in Romans 8: 37: "... in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."

I long to rest in this fact, that more than the wandering and the longing and the extensive wondering is the resting ... in Him, by Him, most assuredly with Him.

I know that the coming of the end, my mortality looking squarely back at me in the morning mirror, is filled with shadows. I see nothing clearly at this point, as Paul tells me, but one day I will. I will stop looking back and start looking ahead, and even the loss of friends will no longer seem so monumental.

There is much to be conquered, and it will be according to scripture. But I rest for the moment, knowing that with Him I can do all things, and without Him I'm just filling up the car with extraordinarily priced gas.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What's the Word?

In the beginning ...

The Bible, of course, starts there.
The Gospel of John starts there.

Where do we start with the power and relevance of scripture?

I began, there's that word again, a Bible study in Kinder last night with the first 18 verses of John's Gospel, some of the most encouraging, well-known, important words ever constructed. It was good to be back in a Bible study, though teaching four a week, my new schedule, might be a tad nutty I've come to think.

But I taught this last night and I was moved to think, ponder, reflect again how wonderful and powerful these words truly are.

In the beginning was the Word (logos)... John tells us just how important his prelude is going to be. This is "are you ready for some football" at the opening of Monday Night Football before they went crazy and banned it. This is a foreshadow of the importance of what is to come.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God ... Wow. The Word was with God in the very beginning. The Word, then, must be pretty darn important, for the earth, the things of the earth, the things above the earth were not.

And then the most incredible, most improbable, most impossible, but most meaningful words of all.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

So what's this Word?

Of course, we know he was talking about this man named Jesus. But what on earth must his early readers have thought, especially those who did not know the story?

How about those who don't know the story today? Those who choose to not believe the story today? Those who simply can't grasp the story in all its fullness today?

When John wrote these words, as I believe him to have done so, he must have been struggling mightily to understand what all this means. What did it mean for Jesus to have come, to have healed, to have raised the dead and then eventually to have died and been raised himself? What did it mean to the world in general? To his followers?

This is his answer. It is our answer. It is what we get up each day and pour ourselves in to. We are the ones who believe the Word was with and the Word was. Jesus, this fully human person capable of loving even his enemies, existed before birth, before time, before Adam. That's the premise. That's the thing.

That's John's Christianity. It must be ours or we have no beginning ourselves.

Monday, September 10, 2012

This Is Reality?

Somehow I found myself watching something called, I believe, Storage Wars. If I grasped the concept, storage bins that someone has left behind are auctioned off.

 Apparently the idea here is that you don't know exactly what you are getting, but you bid anyway. Sometimes you bid to make sure the ones bidding against you pay more money than they rightly should. Apparently three or four of the persons doing the bidding win all the auctions. Sometimes they make money. Sometimes they don't.

 This, somehow, is reality television.

 But I was drawn more to the commercials than even the bidding wars. Apparently there are Real Housewives in darn near every city in America. Watching these promos led me to believe that these Real Housewives haven't been real for quite a long time.

But there's more. There are Hog people, Duck people, Swamp people, Road Kill people, Honey Boo Boo people, Freakishly strange people, You mama wouldn't let you in the door if she knew what you do people, and on and on and on.

Where did we get here? How did we get here? How do we get out of here?

Tonight, for a small sample, there is Pawn Wars on the History Channel at 7 p.m. On the HISTORY Channel. On National Geographic Channel at 7 there is Locked Up Abroad followed by something called Alaska State Troopers. Other channels that night have Jersey Shore Gym: Tan, Look Back; Border Wars, Undercover Boss, Project Runway, Making a Model, What to Wear (followed of course by ), What Not To Wear, Lots of crashing going on...Bath Crashers, Kitchen Crashers, House Crashers and that every present Blog Cabin.

Then there are the above-mentioned housewives...New Jersey, New York, Miami and Los Angeles, plus Cult Murders and Deadly Men which I'm assured have nothing to do with a reaction to those housewives.

We are stuck in a serious, serious time of a lack of imagination. We are getting rid of newspapers, getting rid of serious journalism, getting rid of even the best of writing in books, and here we are with all these channels and nothing on TV.

Since the Saints have obviously mailed in this football season, there is nothing left for me to watch, which in the long run might be better for me, my churches and their congregations.

Although that What Not To Wear In A Swamp While You're Hunting Hogs and Stumble Onto Ducks might come in handy, huh?

Friday, September 7, 2012

The power of God, fiery though it is

"While I was looking, thrones were put in place. One who had been living forever sat down on one of the thrones. His clothes were white as snow, and his hair was like pure wool. His throne, mounted on fiery wheels, was blazing with fire, and a stream of fire was pouring out from it. There were many thousands of people there to serve him, and millions of people stood before him."
Daniel 7: 9-10

I believe we forget the power and, well, awesomeness of God from time to time. It is our greatest mistake.

I'll use a small, small example. When I was a senior in high school, I took typing. I had tried to do some typing in previous years, working on a "book" when I was 12 on an old typewriter my cousin owned. But I took typing not because I envisioned what would become a career and beyond, which I could not have had had I not learned to type, but because Penny Covington was in the class. I was a tad smitten with her at the time.

The most amazing thing happened. I learned to type; I never went out with Penny Covington that I recall.

Several million words typed later, here we are. To me, that's a God thing, a power that can't be described, though Daniel tries his best.

I believe that illustrates how this whole "plan" thing works. God did not make me take typing. God did not make me love to write. God did not make me write columns, stories, books. He did, however, help nudge me along. I believe those gentle nudges are from God every bit as much as Red Sea partings.

Look at your own life and see where if part A hadn't been somehow joined to part B, where would you be? That's this power thing in action.

Thrones are put into place. One sits down. Clothes are white as snow. Hair is like pure wool. His throne, mounted on fiery wheels is ablaze. A stream of fire is pouring out.

And many thousand stand there with millions looking on.

The power of God. Do you see it, still, in your life?

I'm a weak, weak vessel. I don't know what I'm doing much of the time. This piddling blog gets turned down by my own conference. I'm not even invited to a family picnic by my own peers.

Yet God somehow uses me. That's His power, certainly not my own.

Wonder where Penny Covington is?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Politics for once, but not as usual

Okay, let's get political for just a brief moment. I want to posit (just wanted a place to insert that word, which I don't believe I've ever used) my political problem.

I'm torn. Like a person who just can't figure out anything on his own, I swing toward one system or another, one question or another. Ultimately, I don't see solutions.

First, I've been a Republican I reckon since college, except when I wasn't, and there have been times when I wasn't, notably Carter, Clinton and even to a small degree Obama. I vote, it seems, for hope on occasion. Then hope dies, and I'm back wondering.

Maybe I'm just not smart enough to figure it all out, except when I do.

But here's what I wished I could find as a presidential candidate. Ultimately, I want fairness for all, I want someone to actually say what they're going to do, be truthful about it, and then do it. Give me a real plan for fixing all the many, many things that are wrong with this country. Let me decide. But quit stretching the truth. I know, I know. I'm idealistic.

I believe in the sanctity of life that begins in the womb and continues throughout life. I believe the church should be a responsible body that takes care of the poor children of the world rather than the government. So, I wish I could find a candidate that could figure out the way to do both, take care of the unborn and those who struggle so early in life. I suspect there is no one who can, or will.

I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, though I have absolutely no problem with civil unions. God allows sin, it seems to me, of all kinds. I won't, however, marry persons of the same sex because I see that as an entirely different matter ultimately governed by the Bible and my own denominational standards, and I can't for the life of me understand why marriage is a constitutional right of any kind. I wish government would stop butting in to religious areas when it suits it and then crying "separation of church and state" when it desires to.

I believe, again, that we have a moral and ethical standard to help those who can't help themselves, which include those who have been systematically impoverished and discriminated against. I believe Jesus would certainly feel that way. Government doing this, however, seems wrong, in my estimate. I don't believe in being made to give. I don't believe Jesus does that, either. I believe it should be voluntary. Call me dreaming, and you would be right.

I do not believe in the seeming non-truth that the ones who have been terribly successful in this country are somehow benefiting unjustly from the tax system. The ones who are making more than $250,000 in this country pay far more of the taxes, thus revenue, than anyone else. Do they get more tax breaks? Probably? Should we look at that? I guess. I know this...without more revenue, this deficit will only grow. We can't cut ourselves into a balanced budget. We just can't. Jesus spoke about how difficult it would be for a rich man (or woman) to make it into heaven, but he didn't say it was impossible. Heck, even Ted Turner gives away tons of cash.

But...are there social programs that we must take care of? Yes. I simply believe it is the church's responsibility to handle many of them rather than government's. The problem is the church isn't doing enough. That's on us.

The question came us last night in former President Bill Clinton's speech about what kind of country to you want to live in. He said, "We believe 'we're all in this together' is a far better philosophy than 'you're on your own,'" 

And I became torn immediately. I do believe that to be true. My difference, if this makes any sense, is that I believe that is the church's role, not government's. I believe we're all in this together, that what happens to one soul should be felt by all, that as in the early church we should be giving all we have and worshipping together. Again, idealistic, but I don't believe it is government's role to rearrange the distribution of wealth.

Again, that we're not giving enough, working enough, have been missional enough is on us, not on the process. But what has occurred is the church has been reduced in effectiveness as culture has taken a turn and the church is not doing its job. The church, ultimately, is a volunteer-driven body, and the body is taking care of itself, not the vast amount of unbelievers who exist outside the church.

If Jesus said all we had to do was love our neighbor, and we did that, oh, what a country, what a world this would be.

We have the money, we have the resources to change the world. But the world, and its politics, go on.

The bottom line is I don't believe either party or either man has the answers. That's what I've come away with. Somewhere in the middle is the answer. We're losing the ability to find the middle on any subject, compromise on any topic, talk about any item. We're almost hopelessly tangled.

It will kill us in the end.

Call me disillusioned. You wouldn't be incorrect.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Going back

A question I’ve been posing in a sermon series on The Church at our church lately is Why The Church? Why, if at all, does it still matter?
Scripturally, this all became important when Jesus said in Matthew 16: 18-19, “18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Seems rather important, huh?
I imagine I have readers this morning who are churched-going folks in this town who are saying, “of course it matters.” But the question is probably for those folks who are reading this whom don’t have a church, or attend so irregularly that they can’t even be counted among church going folks.
Is it really important, still? Last Sunday I told our congregation that three reasons the church still matters is because it is a privilege to belong to a church, it is a pledge we make when we join the church we’ve decided to participate in and it is a pleasure to come to church on Sundays.
If it’s not any of those things, well, don’t go. There, I said it.
I recall when Nehemiah and Ezra had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and Ezra had his first worship service, if you will. Ezra read from the Law. He “opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded ‘Amen! Amen’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
They did so because it meant something them. It was relevant. It was beyond dragging oneself up on Sunday morning and attending worship. It was WORSHIP.
Is that what we’re inviting folks to these days? Has it become rote? Are we inviting at all?
Let me put it this way. If someone were to say to you, “Hey, how would you like to go to church with me this Sunday?” would that make a difference, if you don’t have a church, or don’t attend regularly?
If someone said that to you this week, what would be your response?
Studies show that 82% of unchurched people would attend church if someone invited them! Yet fewer than 2% of Christians ever invite an unchurched person to come to church! Makes perfect sense to me.
My church, First United Methodist Church Eunice, has joined National Back to Church Sunday movement to help "Invite America Back to Church" on Sept. 16.
Last year, 7600 churches from 34 denominations participated in the national movement, and together they gave out millions of invitations to church. This year, FUMC Eunice is participating and we need your help! Let’s reach out to our friends, family and neighbors. People need to know that there is hope and a community of people like our church who will love them and do life with them.
Did you know that most people who have dropped out of church haven’t lost their faith in God—they simply fell out of the habit of going to church? Some moved, had a change in life circumstances, or had a falling out with their former church and simply drifted away. Most often, life just became too busy. This means many of them could be open to returning.
May we all join together in doing so this coming Sunday and beyond. and let’s see what happens in our community – together. Surprise me, us, with visitors everywhere. It will be worth it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Into the Lion's Den

"So the king gave orders for Daniel to be taken and thrown into the pit filled with lions. He said to Daniel, 'May your God whom you serve so loyally, rescue you."

Ever felt you were up to your elbows in lions? The rent is due and you're not. The pain is overwhelming yet the doctor can't even find the source. Your daughter or son isn't acting like your daughter or son and you can't find a way to make it better. Your husband or wife has suddenly lost interest in you?

Lions come at us in all shapes, sizes and methods.

The question is not whether the den will come. The den will always come. The question is what do we do when the lions notice we've been thrown in there? Do we sit down and cry? Do we simply wait for the teeth? Or do we wait on the rescuer?

I hope you know how I'm going to lean on this.

Yesterday was a bad back day for me, a good day for Mary and I. I worked, Labor Day be darned, on the next sermon, then the one after that and the one after that. Just putting things in place to be gone over today as I try to finish the five-part series on The Church and it's place still in our society. Then we left to go to Lafayette. We had a great lunch, then went to shop for our grandson Gabe's birthday, which we missed since we live three hours away and they still didn't have power on his birthday.

Still, my back hurt like heck. It dawned on me that I basically have two options apparently in the time I have left on this earth: I can hurt or I can take pain pills. Nothing that any doctors has done has eliminated the pain, so my confidence in their ability to do so is limited at best.

The question becomes do I wait for the teeth, or for the rescuer. I believe I will wait on that other person in the lion's den beside Daniel.  I believe I will count on this Jesus to keep me teaching, preaching and serving. And if the pain gets so bad I can't think, then I won't think. Though some would question if I think now.

My point is this: Counting on anything to save us by the Lord our God is at best risky, at worst foolish. There are worst things than back pain. I've seen them in hospital visit after hospital visit.

And by the way, though I really, really hurt, we accomplished all we set out to do.

Isn't that enough?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Unlaboring on Labor Day

I felt a sense of loneliness last week for reasons that can only be stated as for the first time I felt a real sense of change in my, our lives.

I do not have a newspaper subscription for the first time in my adult life, I believe. I did not rise Saturday morning to read about how the local high schools fared. Heck, I'm not sure the local high school in the little town  I now live even played Friday night.

Last week we had a storm, from everything I read on the Internet and everything I hear from my kids who were near the eye of the thing, but in the little town in which I now live, I heard almost nothing from anybody. I felt a disconnect that I suspect others in our churches did not feel. I wonder how this can happen.

I had a young woman hug me yesterday because she said what she loves so much about me is my sincerity. She said she loves that I don't mind appearing less that perfect. She meant that as a compliment. I only know that I can be little less or more than what I really am, which is still after all this time of walking with Jesus still a person who wonders what the heck he is doing.

I ponder if other pastors actually feel this way. There is a great, great part of me that hopes I'm not alone in this, as well.

I guess what I'm trying desperately to say today is this: The Lord was talking to Jeremiah once about what would happen after the 70 years of captivity of His people was done. He said this, "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you and will bring you back from captivity."

My life is defined by what I do not know, what I do not understand. It is that failure that keeps me going, that vulnerability that sustains my mission. I want only for those persons who are out there in emotional pain to find the one who not only eases that pain, but puts us on a course that will take that pain away. Our captivity to other things lessens when we allow HIm to show us the plans He has for us. If I didn't believe that sentence, I doubt I would be doing whatever it is that I am doing.

When I feel I'm not accomplishing that, I feel that all the Labor Days in the world won't make me feel a sense of accomplishment at my own labors.

Just what it is....