Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The evil one's tricks

You can be very serious about Halloween, or you can be light-hearted. I pick the latter, but I also suggest being careful about all of it, too.

Remember the story of Job, and how Satan played such a large part in his story.

The Bible says in the first chapter of Job:
6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” 8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

Fearing God and shunning evil is the best recipe I know for much of what passes for life these days.

Does that mean we are to shun Halloween?

Here's Satan's role in scripture.

a. He spends a great deal of time in the Job story.
b. He tempts Jesus in the wilderness.
c. He falls out of the sky in Luke's Gospel when the 70 go evangelising.
d. He binds the woman with the flow of blood for 18 years.
e. Jesus mentions Satan sifting Peter as wheat.
f. Satan enters Judas' body at the Last Supper.
g. He is used to explain many other New Testament things including a bit of dress-up himself as an angel of light.
h. Finally, he is the ancient serpent or dragon or devil in Revelation.

The guy gets around. But the thing all of us need to understand is that unless we give him the power willingly, Satan can do nothing to harm us and must actually flee at the name of Jesus. Still, Paul writes often about Satan's ability to tempt us ... "The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie,"

Knowing all this makes me nervous when I see images of Satan used in Halloween's fun-filled night. I don't reckon this is something one needs to be playing around with.

You know the drill: horns, a long tail, dressed in red. Satan. Devil. Beelzebub. Atlanta Falcons Coach Mike Smith. Oh, scratch that last one; I was just venting.

Here's the deal: Dressing as some being out of a fiction book or a comic or a movie is one things. Dressing as Satan, a real being, a dark angel who will be released from "prison" after the 1,000-year reign is another thing altogether.

My youngest grand son, Gavin, has the next four Halloweens planned. He has given this serious thought, and he has decided he will "be" a vampire, a werewolf, and a couple more things. This year he's Drew Brees, which given the way he played Sunday night is really, really frightening.

Tonight behind First Eunice United Methodist Church, we're having a Trunk or Treat on the church property, and we are expecting a massive crowd of kids. I wonder if they understand the difference in honoring a Satanic holiday and simply participating in a Fall Festival or Trunk or Treat? Probably not.

But there are differences, and it's not about the type of candy that is handed out.

I pray that we all understand this can be a serious matter. Paul writes, "And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved."

In the end, it comes down to truth versus lies. The Father of lights versus the angel of darkness (the lawless one). Power of good versus power of evil. Signs and wonders that point to Jesus, the Christ. Signs and wonders that point to a false Christ.

I hope we have not completely forgotten or dismissed our ideas of Biblical Satan.

Paul wrote in his letter to the budding church in Rome: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet."

Sounds like a plan to me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Joy comes

Coming down off the mountain with them, he stood on a plain surrounded by disciples, and was soon joined by a huge congregation from all over Judea and Jerusalem, even from the seaside towns of Tyre and Sidon. They had come both to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. Those disturbed by evil spirits were healed. Everyone was trying to touch him—so much energy surging from him, so many people healed! Then he spoke: You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding. You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal. You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.

When you rose this morning, how was your joy level? Did you prick your finger and test it? Probably not. But it is a good idea to think about it when you do rise.

In the eastern part of our country, people rose to the end or partial end of a storm. Flooding, lack of power in cold weather, etc., was their greeting. Could they see the joy that came with the dawn? Probably not.

Let me ask it this way ... when was the last time you gave yourself over to joy in worship. I mean simply laid it out there and allowed joy to wash over you like so much flood water? The Bible tells of such a time: When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres.

Simply filled with joy, they sang and they danced.

Friends, occasional readers, the odd blogster who found himself or herself here strangely enough, what God wants more for us than anything else, I believe, is joy. Joy that is a decision. Joy that is a past, present and future. Joy that comes with each morning whether the morning is a good one or not.

Let is be so for you today, no matter the weather, no matter the problems, no matter the degree of happiness you have.

Let joy come with this morning.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Can't we simmer down?

We are eight days away from an important event (no, not a new episode of your favorite television show).

Without comment, I offer up these words: "So the Lord Almighty sent me with this message for the nations that had plundered his people: The Lord himself will fight against you, and you will be plundered by the people who were once your servants." When that happens, everyone will know that the Lord Almighty sent me."

I read a Facebook entry lately from a United Methodist minister that accused one of the presidential candidates of being a liar, and accused anyone who would vote for that candidate of being stupid. I reacted at first in anger, being one of those who would vote for that candidate. Then, over time, it began to dawn on me that this is so far beneath us, this type of Facebooking, that we should look inside ourselves and ask for forgiveness.

Where and when did it become appropriate for us to act like this? And by us, I meant, well, all of us.

If I disagree with you, where does it say that I can call you all sorts of names and be completely reasonable about it?

I totally disagree with some things one of the candidates has said and done. That does not make me stupid, no matter what you think. It makes me opinionated, which last time I looked, was even okay with God, much less the constitution of this country.

If we don't figure a way into some sort of common ground, some sort of way to attack the problems all of us are in, we're going to all sink.

The scripture from Zechariah continues: "At that time many nations will come to the Lord and become his people. He will live among you, and you will know that he has sent me to you."

If God comes to live among us, what would He think?

Friday, October 26, 2012

He's bacccckkkkk

Perhaps you saw the story:

Edin Alexander, a Harvard neurosurgeon, nearly died four years ago when a ferocious E. coli meningitis infection attacked his brain and plunged him deep into a week-long coma. Brain scans showed his entire cortex -- the parts of the brain that give us consciousness, thought, memory and understanding -- was not functioning. Against all odds, Alexander woke up a week after being stricken. But he believes Holley was right: He wasn't there. Deep in coma, his brain infected so badly only the most primitive parts were working, Alexander claimed he experienced something extraordinary: a journey to Heaven. "My first memories from when I was deep inside: I had no language, all my earthly memories were gone," he said. "I had no body awareness at all. I was just a speck of awareness in kind of a dark, murky environment, in roots or vessels or something. And I seemed to be there for a very long time -- I would say years."

So, there. He has, of course, written a book called Proof of Heaven, which, of course can't possibly offer proof because, well, proof isn't much of what God is about.

The bottom line for God, as difficult as it is for some to understand or believe, is this: If you have proof, you don't need faith. For whatever reason, God has chosen faith as the mechanism we use to reach Him.

If it were me (and we should all be thankful I'm not God), I would ...

Come down and holler at both candidates for president "straighten up and help folks;"
Come down and walk the holy ground of the Temple Mount and say, "get over it you guys. I am."
Come down and heal someone, anyone, and tell all the "faith" healers of the world, "See, that's how it's done."

But He is not me (again, see above). He works in mystery and fog. Paul tells me one day I will see clearly, but for now, I see wisps.

Did the good doc go to heaven? I have no idea. Perhaps God wanted a message sent, and certainly he uses people to do that.

But more likely ....

I'll let your faith fill in the blanks.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Techno glad

We live in a special time, don't we? Some new gadget, some new tech, is released nearly every day. If you can't afford to buy something today, wait 24 hours and an improved gadget will take its place. Stand in line for hours on end to get something that will be out of date in three months is not the best policy as far as I can tell.

Did you know they check the oxygen in your lungs (body, etc.) by putting a device on your index finger? A little plastic device, snuggly placed on my finger, told every nurse that I was pumping oxygen at a 93-96 percent level. On my FINGER. I never got, nor apparently will ever get, to 100 percent. I didn't ask but I reasoned that if I came in at my normal (by school standards) 86-89 level of testing I would be in some difficulty. So I crammed, putting the little oxygen cord in my nose for a couple hours before the time I would be checked.

Heck, it ain't putting a thermometer in front of a wall heater so we could run a temperature long enough to get out of school, but it's close. If they had given me a chance to study, I promise I would have done better. But who knew there would be oxygen testing in the first place?

Of course, this being a religion blog and all, I never wrote any of the above.

Our church now has a device on its Website that allows on-line giving. One click, and the tithe you've struggled to decide on is rocketed (somehow, someway) to somewhere that somehow puts itself into our on-line banking.

And I thought counting money was hard.

The fact we can put a robot on Mars and take it for a test drive, shooting pictures through hundreds of thousand of miles, is amazing enough. But the fact I can shoot a picture with my I-Pad and it instantly be seen on my I-Phone is stunning. I'm continually adding apps to my I-Pad not because I need them, but because I'm fascinated that they do what they do. Me? I'm working on tying shoes properly.

I remember when I couldn't figure out how to get "on" to the International Web (as I believe we called it). Now, I can't figure out how to get off it.

Makes you wonder if they could check the blood level in my sugar system by putting a thimble thingy on my big toes. Or could they enter an instantaneous introduction of caffeine into my blood with a little scratch of a device on my fingernail? Or maybe there is something like a 3-D, non-evasive strip that we could use to test for, well, anything. Maybe a Billy-ka-bob of testing, without pain, of course, where like the old litmus tests we simply place a strip on our arm and it tells us everything you could ever possibly want to know about the subject... age, oxygen, blood sugar, religious denominations, political parties voted for, hairline possibilities in 20 years.

And all that makes me wonder, what on earth did we do before technology kicked in, and kicked simple thinking out? Remember when you had to wring out clothes manually? Or get up and switch among the three channels the TV received? Or having to stop the car, pull out the map, fold it flat somehow and find where you actually were?

Remember when there as no app for that?

It's like that new television show Revolution. The power went off 15 years earlier on this show, so everything (I mean everything) stopped immediately. No lights. No cars. No phones. No computers. Not even a little mouse running on a treadmill so that we could send a text. Heck, remember when text wasn't a verb?

And wouldn't that be odd ... we finally find a cure for texting while driving, and we can't text at all? Everyone is walking, yet they're never out of breath of tired. Guns are outlawed, at least for the public, but apparently you can pick up a sharp sword on every corner in the new world. And why aren't the Amish in charge of everything, with their experience and all.

But I digress.

On last night's The Walking Dead, the heroes of the television show came across a group of men who had been prisoners since whatever happened to all the dead folks to turn them into zombies. The prionsers didn't know aht the world was like. The heroes began to describe a terrible, terrible state of the world. They said there was no world really, no computers, no cars, no anything. The look on these men's faces as each thing lost was mentioned was priceless. NO COMPUTERS? The look was devastated.

But the fact there were people, dead people, wandering around with one goal, to EAT YOUR FACE, didn't seem to faze them. "NO COMPUTERS? Wait, I don't think I can take this. DEAD WALKING FOLKS, well, we can handle that."

Yesterday morning I left the house with stabs of light slicing the cloud cover to the east of Eunice. The tepid morning temperatures were affected by the heavy humid air. I thought, as Mary and I drove to our first church service, of those times Jesus talked about the end.

He said, "immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give up its light; the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken."

He said, "at that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn."

He said, "They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. He will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."

As I drove, thinking over my sermon on Hope Matters, I watched the thick, living clouds ,bouncing againt each other like some of those little white mice in a maze, and I thought about what it would mean if Jesus came right then. I mean right THEN. Just parted those gray-white-blue clouds and peeked in with a smile the size of Kansas.

It would mean ...
No more tests for oxygen levels;
no more tech or tech folks or Silicon Vally running our lives;
no more apocalyptic televison shows. No televison, no more "future."

Only Jesus. Everything would be about Jesus. The elect gathered from the four winds. A great, great gathering of fried-chicken eating believers. Imagination no longer needed, no longer required. Wouldn't have to imagine what it would be like to have his face be before us, because, well, his face would be before us.

Surrounded by glory unlike any we've ever seen, felt, known.

"As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man."

Which would mean Windows 8 and Surface and Facebook, and Google, and  the mini-Ipad and IPhone 5 and you name it would be for naught. The lights would go out, because the light has come back.

 When that day comes, when we're staring at the sky as he hovers (I don't worry about explaining it, I just read it then pass it along), then gently beckons us to join him in the sky (where I'm assured my fear of heights will no longer be a drawback), we will shout, sing, tearfully cry "HALLELUJAH."

We won't need Photoshop, or IOS 6, or Microsoft office or Toshiba, Samyo, or Sony. All the Apples in the world will be fruit on a tree. We won't need anything because the All and All will have arrived.

Plenty of technoclads would need to have their oxygen levels checked.

 We won't need flashlights, because he will light up the new Jerusalem. We won't need guns because there will be no wars. We won't need tissue because we won't have colds, or tears, or dirty faces.

The world will have changed in an instant. So, will we have any need of oxygen on the Day of the Lord? Doctors will be out of jobs. Nurses will be without careers. Heck, morticians will be dead in the water.

My advice: If those clouds part, and the Son of Man appears in the sky, take a deep, deep breath and let go of the last one you will ever need. Put the wine into new wineskins, cool the heat of Hell, and let Him take you away.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The air of new life breathed again

This morning, the leaves of the old oak in the front yard capture the depth and the breadth of the battle wage every humid morning of Fall and every heavy evening of Spring.

Water turned to wine. Check.
Dead eyes triggered to life. Check.
Ashes become blood, blood becomes bone, bone becomes strength to strength to strength. I've been born again; nothing becomes something. Check, check, check, check, check and check again.

The dead, stale, ragged, ugly intake of night is transformed to the very-much alive breath of life. Joy comes with the morning. CHECK.

Each morning, new. Each day, begun with energy. Each day, creation tapped like a cold keg, living water flowing from the throne.

Once broken beyond repair, we assumed, the mellow, warm song of Jesus is released into the clouds again, a Cardinal in search of a fellow traveler, and Oriole soaring, a Blue Jay's wings stretched.

And through it all, through it all, He is there. Here. In my life; riding the currents of despair as they are transformed into the winds of worship.

Oh, if our God is for us, then who in this world or outside of it could be against us? Who? Seriously, who?

In Hebrews' 10th chapter, we read: "The Jewish Law is not a full and faithful model of the real things; it is only a faint outline of the good things to come. The same sacrifices are offered forever, year after year. How can the Law, then, by means of these sacrifices make perfect the people who come to God?"

"We have, then, my friends, complete freedom to go into the Most Holy Place by means of the death of Jesus. He opened for us a new wave, a living way, through the curtain -- that is, through his own body."

Freedom. A faint but deliberate etch-a-sketch penciling of those incredible things to come. Sacrifices made. A living way pondered, sought and displayed.

Our God is a healer, a remedy, a big, ol' chapter in our lives that features cattle of thousands of hills and memories of millions of moments.

Jesus... Exclamation point on top of a miraculous past, serving as the wonderfully settling cherry as we load our lives with wonderful whipped cream and a billion bounties.

I'm sitting at Mary's desk this morning, a cool, dreary morning. The wind was just enough, just barely enough, to make a difference in temperatures, and it did, shoving away condensation like a Mustang's wipers attacking lost Lost Bugs. But as the sun struggled out of bed, with the light of a million mornings its companion, the stabbing needlepoint fought past limb after limb after limb till it reached me, inside of me, as unsettling as that might seem.

I was taken by it all, taken in by it all. It -- those smatterings of solid but mellow hope and monstrous but marvelous healing -- came home, to roost and to rest.

With complete freedom, the light roared, raced to shelter, opened a new wave, a living way of truth, through the curtain that had been its own body.  As the fog cleared, terrorized by the light of a world it could never understand, threatened by the light not of its own making, the varsity team awaited to play the game the junior varsity had scheduled.

In other words, the light of the world had come, and the darkness could do nothing about it.

Light raced darkness, and won as it always must in the battle against the world of the dark. Light wins. Darkness shrinks. That's the plan; that's the game. The sunlight struck the darkness, shattering it again, with the force of a hammer made of omnipotent substance. The darkness could not win. It would not. I never will.

And again hope pounces, offering as this fresh day dawns both adventure and opportunity. Ten thousand or more reasons are offered at the altar of sacrifice. We will win. We will shout. We will cry. We will win. That's the plan.

Isn't that what all this is about? Each day, new? Each day, hopeful? Each day, lovingly created, crafted, called?

Water turned to wine.
Dead eyes triggered to life.
Ashes become blood, blood becomes bone, bone becomes strength to strength to strength. I've been born again; nothing becomes something.

The dead of night is transformed to the breath of life. One more time. Feels new, refreshed, living ... for the very first time, in my life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My vision, my Lord

Everyone has their favorite hymn, I would imagine, and I'm no different. My tastes run from the very, very familiar to the modern. I love Chris Tomlin's work every bit as much as I'm moved by Charles Wesley's.

But there is something about the Irish lilt of Be Thou My Vision that simply keeps me coming back to it time and again. The music moves, the lyrics instruct and the overall impact is, well, impactful.

St. Patrick was a man zealous for the things of God. As a missionary, he defied an Irish King's edict that restricted the lighting of candles on Easter Eve. King Logaire of Tara had decreed that no one was allowed light any fires until a pagan spring festival was launched by the lighting of a fire on Slane Hill. Patrick chose to honor God in spite the threat of death. King Logaire was so impressed with Patrick's brave devotion, he let him continue his missionary work unhindered. And that whole snake thing happened, but we won't go into that.

An 8th Century Monk, Dallan Forgaill penned the words to Be Thou My Vision, as a tribute to St. Patrick's wholehearted loyalty to God. Mary Bryne, in Dublin, Ireland, first translated the entire Irish folk song into English in 1905. Eleanor H. Hull converted the lyrics to "Be Thou My Vision" into verse in 1905.

That's the tale of the tale. But go deeper. Read the words again:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart ... tells me right away that the person writing this understands the sincere need to be led, which I believe is the basis for Christianity and the ingredients for a good life.
Nought be all else to me, save Thou art ...  reminds me of my need for complete dependence on a God who is my all and all (my favorite praise tune, by the way).
Thou my best thought, by day or by night ... in my good times, in my bad, He is the best I have.
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light. ... in a dark, dark world, the light of the world has come.

We could go on throughout the song, lyrics blazing a newly lit trail, but you get the idea. Dependence on a God who lights the way, who knows the way, who leads the way is our Way, Truth, and Life.

On the first day of the creation of a new church, THE new church, the Apostle Peter quoted scripture from the book of Joel: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams."

I believe I have been sent to FUMC-Eunice to make a difference. I believe my vision for this church is from God. I further believe that the church itself has latched on to that vision and is making plans and actions that will help bring that vision out of the dreaming stage right into the reality stage.

Just as along as we remember, "Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise; thou mine inheritance now and always. Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art."

That's an action plan that will succeed. Him first. All else second. His the vision; ours the action.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fit and fine; Our God's not dead, he's surely alive

The sun was still on break as we rose this morning, Mary and I, to a dark sky. The humidity was as high as the moon was low as we latched two antzy dogs to leashes and opened the door to a dark world. We are back, back walking, back fighting for life and/or breath.

After a quick walk that was only interrupted I guess by 30 stops each as the dogs explored each and every new smell on the block, we returned for coffee and newspapers (I-pad and Nook versions).

And as the sun got the alarm turned off and rose for another day of October heat, we prayed together, for each other, for God's will for us, for the opportunities to help others with the power of the Holy Spirit. We asked to be a blessing, and to have God's blessings fall upon us. These prayers were a continuation of prayers I had begun while walking the streets on a starry, starry morn.

Our God is not dead; he's surely alive. He's living on the inside, roaring like a lion. (Whew, that's some tasty, lifting, antzy-producing honey on those Eggos)

After sitting here, I opened the New Testament to Paul's second letter to his student, Timothy, and I found this flashing in neon at me: "I give thanks to God, for whom I serve with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did. I thank him as I remember you always in my prayers night and day. I remember your tears, and I want to see you very much, so that I may be filled with joy. I remember the sincere faith you ave, the kind of faith that your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice also had. I am sure that you have kept it also. For this reason I remind you that to keep alive the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control."

What a wonderful word from God, to Timothy, then to us. Let's break it down briefly.

Paul thanks God for, well, everything.
Paul thanks God for Timothy, praying for him (and others) day and night.
Paul loves the emotion Timothy has shown, particularly after being set aside for service by Paul's laying on of hands. (Wish we could hear more about that right here, but we're left to wonder)
Paul loves Timothy's family, and assures us that the path to faith begins in a home. Any notion of Paul not thinking women worthy of helping that path is swept away.
Paul again asserts that the Spirit of God lives in us, and lifts us from timidity into a life filled with power, love, and self-control.

For every self-help book you could offer as proof that lives can change on their own, I offer Paul's advice/letter to Timothy.

The plan: Prayers -- often without ceasing; being set aside (but not out of) the world; having loving, caring parents who will help guide the child (including a Biblical, Spirit-led mentor); surrendering to the Spirit of God.

You fire back with whatever. The Spirit trumps I'm Okay, You're Okay.

This day I pray for each of you, admittedly collectively. I've felt your prayers of intercession for my health in recent days. I've felt the power of the Spirit lifting me back into the Spiritual battles that are ahead. After assuring someone that things were going so well spiritually in our church that we would soon face attack, I faced attack and crumpled physically.

I'm back, raring to put the armor of God back on, raring to get well, raring to road.

Each day is a new battle. Each day the darkness of the world tries to overcome the pots of light.

But with prayer, the love of praying people around us, the love of friends facing the same battles, and with the Spirit leading the troops, the battle is not only NOT an impossible thing to win, it is faced with love and a lack of timidity.

Paul adds next, "Do not be ashamed, then, of witnessing for our Lord ..."

Why do we do this, all of this, for as long as we can, in as many ways as we can?

So we will be prepared for the battle.

Bring it on, then (cough, cough). I'm fit and fine. (Although Mary saying, "You're really doing this" as I rose 20 minutes till 6 this morning isn't the most confidence building statement about what tomorrow might bring.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Code blue, code blue

I sat the alarm for 6 a.m. this morning. I was going to begin the rest of my life by exercising, walking round the block, preparing to fight the good fight against what has ailed me. I was committed. Sure. Positive. Ready to goooooo.

The second time the alarm went off, at 6:15 a.m., I turned it off for good. I'll start tomorrow. Or the next.

The Apostle Paul was, is, one of my heroes. He planted church after church without benefit of demographic information. But what I take from Paul that is most important is his understanding that to be powerful one must be weak, that on the road marked with suffering, blessed by His name.

Paul uses the theme of weakness often.
"In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans," he writes.

Paul wrote of God telling him, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me.
It is the understanding of this theme, and the subsequent turning over what we perceive to be our strengths to him, allowing the control of our lives to be taken from us, pouring out the strengths that keep us from completely surrendering to him like water from a baptismal font that save us in the end.

You can't have a savior if you believe you don't need one. It's that simple, and that irrationally complex at the same time.

I'm certain a head-strong man like Paul had plenty of long one-on-ones with the Lord on walks and rides across the countryside. Heck, Jesus needed those times away from everyone on the mountainside for conversation, also.

There are times I forget my theological shortcomings and my less than glittering track record, instead looking about me and seeing some glint of the trappings of success and think way too much of my efforts.

Then, and only then, I'm afraid, I'm the one who is free falling from miles above the earth. Most of my landings, I'm afraid, are not nearly as graceful either.

I woke Sunday morning in the local hospital about 3:30 a.m. to a blaring voice coming at me like a runaway locomotive, shattering what had been very unfitful sleep.

"Code blue, code blue," I heard over and over.

I rolled over in my too small hospital bed that had been home since having landed in it on Friday morning with what proved to be pneumonia and the touch of COPD brought and did the one thing that I'm thought I could do in that situation. I prayed.

I thought, briefly, about rising from my bed, finding this room where someone had stopped breathing, and going to aide. My stupidity is evident even in the wee dark hours of the morn.

Now, I've heard persons who could lay down prayers like a roofer lays tile, meticulously with great thought and gifts of  word-craft. I've been moved by corporate prayers that were written days in advance, and I've been touched by tiny ones said in quick breaths completely off the cuff.

Me? I pray.  I pray. That's it. That's all. I'm honest. I apply what I know. I do what I can, leaving the bottle uncapped after allowing the words to pour out.

But in this instance, this little moment in a long life, I felt, uh, totally helpless. My prayers seemed as lifeless as I imagined this unnamed, unknown person to be. I shot, then aimed. I recoiled and tried again, hoping and hoping that I hadn't awaked God, that He was already on the job, that this saving but weak prayer wasn't what was needed to move the needle to life.

I prayed, urging the headstrong mule to pull against the plow and the concrete-like field of mortality.

This morning, as I began to write for the first time in a lifetime (four days), I thought about these lyrics from a song by Matthew West:

"I know that I'm not strong enough to be everything that I'm supposed to be. ... right now I'm asking you to be strong enough for both of us."

Lying on messy two-day-old sheets, on a pillow covered in sweat and turmoil, I stared at a ceiling that seemed to stop the prayers, acknowledging I was not strong enough for what He has called me to be. I'm apparently going to suffer in some for or fashion from these scars on my lungs forever. They will be reminders of the consequence of all actions.  I've also discovered that breathing really, really is an important thing.

But if I, we, believe that we are called for such a time as these, then we do what we can and wait for the power from above. That's really what all this is about in the first place or certainly should be.

Sunday after dawn, before the night nurse went home (I believe her name was Lori but Kim and others ), I told her about my prayers. Between coughs, as she arranged things on a computer next to the bed, I told her I felt so inadequate. She smiled thinly and said they could use all the prayers we can muster.

"I never had a night like that," she said. "I don't want to have another. That's not what I got into this for."

I thought she was referring to the code blue, which came about because a patient stopped breathing. But the code blue pulled through. Two persons in a small hospital didn't that night. I never knew. I never prayed.

It's apparent to those who are paying attention, we're all in a code blue of some kind. Doctors. Nurses. Care-givers. Caring prayer partners. The church. The community. The nation. Blue is the color of the day, and all the red states won't change that.

The way out is to understand that God is strong enough for the both of us. For all of us. In our weaknesses, He is strongest. And we leave it right there.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Doomed to destruction

I spent some time last week looking at Jesus' prayer in the Garden. He prayed a lot of incredible, painful, wonderful things.

But I was moved especially by one item: "While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

The sadness overcomes me thinking about such a waste. This man who travelled with Jesus for as many as three years, three Passovers, a couple of Pentecosts, nights out on the mountains, days on the hills, in rain and wind and drought, was lost.

The entire notion saddens me when I think about what he saw, then what he missed.

None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction. Those words are, I must admit, fingernails on a spiritual chalkboard. Doomed to destruction? Did Judas have a choice at all? Or was he, in fact, doomed to destruction from the beginning, or even before his beginning since God knows us in our womb?

I'm afraid in the end these questions are far above my pay grade. I don't know if Judas had a choice. I don't know if he could have stepped aside, and if he did, would someone else have HAD to do the deed. I don't know why he couldn't bring himself to ask for forgiveness before committing suicide by hanging.

I just know the inherent pain and sadness I feel for this man, as dastardly was his act, for in him, I see myself unfortunately. I see the pain I inflicted on Christ. I see the suffering I caused him on the cross. I see the nails that were mine, the thorns that were mine, the spear thrust that should have been mine. I see it all, and I am near weeping.

None were lost except the one doomed to destruction, indeed. Isn't that ultimately all of us? And only the one who can save us does? Isn't that the truth of the Gospel?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Religion falling like leaves

Maybe you saw the story. It was everywhere, with a USA Today front page behind it. The facts continue to rain on His reign.

According to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released an analytic study Tuesday that shows that Protestants -- both evangelical and mainline -- have slid to 48 percent in this country, down from 53 percent in 2007.

The news for those of us in the business of the church, is that they didn't just switch brands. They left. Period.

The study titled, Nones on the Rise, said that that one in five Americans (19.6%) claim no religious identity. They don't need religion.

This group, called "Nones," is now the nation's second-largest category only to Catholics, and outnumbers the top Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists. The shift is a significant cultural, religious and even political change.

None is the answer for one in five. None.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the search for religious freedom was one of the bedrocks of this nation's founding. Yet here we are in the 21st century and one in five says they no longer need any -- ANY -- religion.

And here is where I'm going to get both nit-picky and surprising to many.

I join the group, the none of the above.

Let me say this before you tear up the paper or throw away the blog. I'm Wesleyan in concept, straight on down to my Christian perfection tendencies. I believe in faith alone. I'm good with doctrines that might shock some who are United Methodist.

But I throw all that way for the sake of one man, an no religion.

I believe with all my heart, most of my head, some of my soul and what strength I have left that Jesus is Lord. I profess it with my mouth. I believe He was raised from the dead. I believe He has saved me not just for the life eternal but for the life I have now.

Yet if there was nothing called Christianity, I would be Jim Dandy with it all.

I'm Christian because it means little Christ, not because we desperately needed another religion around the turn of the calendar from BC to AD.

See, the difference is what we always make of this thing we call religion. We need rules, so we have doctrines. We need ethics, so we search deeply for those things that don't offend us but so that we can put them on others.

We desperately try to solve all problems by putting our Book of Discipline, or whatever we want to call it this year, on display at OUR workshops or at OUR bookstores.

And while the cats are all up in arms over the latest set of rules to put on folks -- Pharisees anyone -- we turn around and the mice have all left the barn. For what, religion?

Nah. Give me Jesus, instead. A man so humble he gave his life (his LIFE) just so that I might have true religious freedom -- which is grace, the thing that separates Christianity from all other religions, in the long run.

Grace sufficient.
Grace all covering.
Grace free of religion, and rules, and guilt and suffering.
Grace that covers all my sins, which are too many to even go into in a 600-word column.

So, while mainline (and even evangelical, which I'm still trying to figure what should be the difference in those two) Protestant denominations fall like leaves in Autumn, while Catholics stumble about this and that, while Mormons grow and we learn much about why, here we are.

By the way, you know what each of those have in common with the Muslim faith? Jesus.

All were searching for a redeemer. Only those who follow Him know the true answer, I'm afraid.

And that answer is found no where in religion. Only in relationship. That's the key to all this.

None indeed.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

We are summoned

May these rather famous words uplift you on this cool Fall morning: But now, this is what the Lord says -- he who created you, O Jacob; he who formed you, O Israel; 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine."

I didn't write yesterday, having spent another morning in the doctor's office. Having spent another day searching for the lung I had coughed up. Having spent still another day almost completely without the ability to think, which these things call for on occasion.

It was one of the few times in the past three years that I was silent during the work week. And you know what occurred? Nothing. No calls, emails, facebooks, tweets, pigeons. Nothing. I didn't write, readers didn't read, and the world didn't spin off its axis nor the sun stop moving in the sky.

I coughed. The world continued.

I'm both happy and regretful about that.

Then the most wonderful thing happened. I went to a Bible Study, explaining to dear wife Mary that I'm paid to do that so I must go and teach (though I guess technically that's not true), and I felt better. Oh, far from perfect. Coughing spasms still come, and when they do, I must go. But I was able to talk, function and even learn while I taught.

The point? Let's go back to the beginning. He has summoned us by name. We are his. The text continues like this: "When you pass through the waters; I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. FOR I AM THE LORD, YOUR GOD, THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL, YOUR SAVIOR."

This morning I've been wracked by vicious coughs, my head hurts, but I'm better. I will go on, till I don't. Another Bible study, another day of planning for the Fall Stewardship Campaign. Another day at Kinder.

I'm not well, and I pray that this goes away after two difficult weeks.

But when we're sick, we have a tendency at some point to wonder, what if I don't get better? Will anyone notice? Will my life have meant anything?

The scriptures answer with a gleeful shout, "Yes." Why? Because He has summoned us by name. He knows us. He is aware of us. He watches us, as well as watches over us. He knows our difficulties, and our successes are His to glorify.

Makes getting up and writing a blessing, to me at least. Cough. Cough. Cough.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The healing leaves

The splendor of the king is wet and wild. I discovered last night quite unexpectedly.

We have walked these Midwestern hills that proved to be cupped hand of God, his wonderfully warm breath blowing comfort to those in those weathered hands, the last three days. We've rambled around the narthex bookstore, gazing at bookstores to find books we much more easily could gather on line, looking all the more like lemmings seeking a cliff in the enormous cavern that is the West building of the Church of the Resurrection, so named because they began in a funeral home.

I came here seeking education of the mind, frankly, a new and better model perhaps for being all things to my churches. A quilt of preacher, soother, comforter, media user, evangelist, teacher, healer, prophet, I came to learn more to be.

Yesterday, as the temperatures took a quick plummet, as the wind came roaring out of the North like some Kansas salesperson late for a call, swimming the Missouri with ease, taking my bag lunch and placing it in another's lap, things changed.

Last night my cousin and I sat in the hulking sanctuary of COR, and we worshipped. Oh, I know everyone thinks we pastors do that every week, but frankly, that hasn't proved to be my case. I lead worship, not worship, and when the long hours and the bronchitis and the back pain all come resting on me, I long to worship my friend, my Maker, my God.

Last night, the sounds of heaven allowed me to gently rush toward him, and the reason for my coming, beyond breakout sessions and PowerPoint and everything else was made clear.

In the book of Revelation, one view stands out for me..."Then the angel showed me the river of water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city ...also on either side of the river, the tree of life, with its 12 kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves were for the healing of the nations."

We stood and we sang, denominations as varied as hair styles. We sang to our creator, and He saw that it was good. And for a while, sickness, and tiredness, and planning, and the stench of calendaring  was taken away.

The leaves of His tree of life had healed me, once again.

On this cool Midwestern night, a gentile rain greeted us as we left the building. I imagined the water was splashing from that throne room river.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Oh, those God moments

Have you had any of those moments, I mean really had those moments? The kind of moment you know that God is sitting right there, and things are different? The kind of moment you absolutely know you had nothing to do with? The kind of moment when the sweetness of the air is extenuated, and you feel glad you’ve simply had breath to live through that moment?

Yeah, I haven’t had that many either. But truthfully, I had a bit of one today. I was in the first day of the Leadership Institute at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. COR of 18,000 plus members. COR of Adam Hamilton, he of such wit and style and ability.

I had, as I usually do, missed one worship opportunity I wish I had taken, instead falling into this thing called Embraced by God, which sounded suspiciously like something I wanted to have happen but like nothing that would help me in all the leadership areas I figured I needed the most help in. In other words, I was doing all the logical thinking I’m so susceptible to falling into and not nearly enough allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me.

I walked into a room filled with women, something that makes my neck itch normally. There was this African-American person at the front of the room who smile and told me to come on in. She was working with the sound system, and warbled a couple of notes. I wondered what the heck I had found myself in, this being a person who once went to a Weight Watchers meeting thinking it to be another kind and wondered how all these heavy people had wound up in a AA meeting. I spent 45 minutes in the meeting before I figured out I was in the wrong place.

Anyway, I wandered in and sat.


A few men made it in late, but they made it in. My comfort level increased.
Then it hit me. I’ve heard of Babbie Mason, the person whose name was on the workshop title. A singer. A Gospel singer. Didn’t know how or when, but I knew I had heard of her.

Then the three hours passed like honey on the tongue. We talked, at length, about the 17th Gospel of John. I was able to see, for the first time really, that Jesus was – is – praying FOR ME. Me. Unsettled. Unremarkable. Unintelligent at times and way, way to over-valued by moi at other times.

Me. He’s praying for me. He’s promising me safety. He wants to love me even when, maybe especially when, I’m incapable of showing his glory, which is about the only thing I’m prepped for, actually. He is sending me on a mission, to tell the truth. He is sending me on a mission
Notice all the me’s? Yeah, me, too.

All this from a couple hours talking about a book of the Gospel I’ve read numerous times.

When reflecting in small groups, I listened to all the various talk about such and such and labels this and that, then I said, “I’m amazed that God put me in exactly the position he wanted me in, and that is for me to learn to be a leader, I’ve got to once again work on my following skills. I’ve got to understand how much he loves me. I’ve got to learn how much he cares. To do that, I wound up in a workshop I never meant to be in.”

That afternoon, I sat in one I meant to be in. Got nothing out of it to speak of. Oh, some ideas and such. But God was in the morn.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

And so it begins

Have I mentioned in the past how much I love flying? That might be because I detest it. I would just as soon the next time I go up into the air it’s to meet Jesus, though that might make my return trip to Eunice, La., a challenge. I flew from Lake Charles, La., in a bi-plane, or at least it seemed like it. But the trip was but 30 minutes in the air so I barely got over the liftoff before I was terrified of the landing. But the next plane, the United Express I believe was painted on the side, though I believe they had to leave one S off because the plane wasn’t long enough, made the first one look like a 747. I felt like I was in with Lindy, in the Spirit of St. Louis, I mean. Two hours in a pressure-sealed cabin gave me all the familiarity a sardine must have, including the loss of the feeling in my extremities. Plus, I’ve been diagnosed with bronchitis, which simply means I introduced myself to the poor guy in front of me, inches from my mouth by the way, way too often.

But I digress. I’m in Kansas City, down the street from two things that seemed to have perked up the old body. One, there’s a Starbucks, but that’s only a small thing. The second is a large one. I’m down the street from Adam Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection. I’m thrilled to be here, blessed to be here, am anxious to be here. This, I deeply pray, will be a learning experience beyond and above any I’ve had, and I’ve had a few in the past 14 years. It ain’t the Holy Land, mind you, but in United Methodism, it is one of the shrines in the year of our Lord 2012.

I’ve studied the man’s books. I’ve studied the man’s Bible Studies. I’ve studied, heck, the man. My cousin and my aunt attend his church and my cousin does wonderful work through his church and they absolutely rave about him. I saw him and listened to him this summer at the Louisiana Annual Conference, and I’ve bought in hook, line and Methodist sinker.

There should be a but come about right here, but there won’t be. No sir, there won’t be. Because I’m not going to let it. The easy thing would be to point out, well, he’s a rock star in United Methodism because …. And I actually heard some pastors at our conference do that. He has this. He has that.

I’m not going to get into the thinking that, “well, of course they can do all that because they have all that,” because that’s simply not going to ever be part of my thinking. Or at least most of the time. My lot, my place it appears will be with small churches all my ministry. That’s fine. But I will never think of them as small churches because I still believe, I really, really do believe that God has called me for such a time as this and He is a great ol’ big God and my place is where my place is.

And I’ll dare say this: Let’s do percentages. First Eunice had 161 members listed as of Jan. 1. Since July 1, 12 have joined the church and two more will this coming weekend or 14 in 15 weeks. Seven children baptisms, eight or nine, I lose count, professions of faith. Even since Jan. 1 (so you don’t think it’s me), there were five more baptisms and seven professions of faith. Do the math, simply math at that. 161 has become (or will this weekend) 28 added to the rolls or more than 1/5 percent in nine months. Or a tripling of the size of small groups on Sundays or a Sunday evening and Sunday night Bible study where were were none. Most importantly of all, a Youth group than in 15 months has grown nothing to 62 a Wendesday, and we feed them, give them something to belong to and with and frankly some of these youths have no place else to go after school.

None of this is about me, and without ever meeting Adam (though obviously we’re on a first name basis), I believe he would quickly say it is not about him. But (there’s the but)… it is about the gifts and graces each of us (HEAR ME) each of us have. I will not do what Adam has, you might not do what I have, but we have the same goal, same heart, same Bible, same baptism and same Holy Spirit.

I’m blessed to be here. Blessed to learn more.
Blessed to be in such a godly home as I am staying.
I am blessed.

But I bet Adam flew on a bigger plane.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Gavin's stare

I am writing this with two fingers because my laptop connection is getting jiggy and won't allow me to type. But being a persistent one, here I type.

I'm in the Houston airport with a grateful heart as I have landed after one portion of my trip. And already ideas are poring forth as I contemplate a true week with God at the Adam Hamilton leadership summit.

I suspect my blogs might be shorter if this problem persists, but we will persevere.

But I have time and fingers for a Gavin story. Gavin is my special 5-year-old. This morning as he and his mom, Shanna, journeyed to school, Gavin said "O my God." His mom corrected him, saying you shouldn't use God's name unless you are praying to him directly. Gavin pondered this a minute, then said, "you know what's good about our school? We pray to God."

His mom said that was good and said his Pawpaw would like that. Gavin asked why. Shanna said because I was a pastor. Gavin asked what that is. Shanna reminded him of when they've gone to one of my churches And I've been up front speaking. Gavin said, "Oh, I don't listen. I just stare at him."

Shanna told him that listening to me might be a good idea.

Makes me wonder his many I have like in my congregations?

At least the boy gets points for honesty.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Did Jesus ever phone it in?

Wonder if Jesus ever phoned itt in? I mean got up in the morning with a killer cold, or flu, or pneumonia or something or other and didn't feel like today was a day for miracles.

Just rolled over on the ground or where ever in the heck he slept and said, "you guys go ahead, I'm sleeping in."

He was fully human. He must have suffered from the sniffles. He must have gotten a hangnail or two or three. He must have known what it was like to have to go to the bathroom so bad it hurt, yet look out and see more than a 1,000 persons looking back at him.

Call me crazy, but the greatness of the plan of the Father to me is the completeness of Jesus' humanity. That he felt what we feel, dealt with what we deal with, been where we've been, walked a mile or two or three in our shoes often lifts me in ways nothing else can.

They taught me early on in the ministry not to say "I know how you feel," for very, very often we simply don't. I didn't know what it was like to lose a loved one till I lost a loved one. I didn't know about funerals till I did one. I don't know this and that, and there are things I can never know.

But I can sympathize, rather than empathise. (Or is it the other way around? Never said I learned, I said I was taught.)

Jesus, fully God, couldn't. Jesus, fully man, can. I believe this to be true. It's like, I can know what a cut feels like on my arm, but my child's cut hurts even more to me than does my own. That's sorta-kinda what I mean. God could certainly know what our pain feels like, Him being God and all. But to really know, you have to have a sliver of blood coming from a cut you've inflicted upon yourself.

Or worse.

The pain of loneliness on a summer's night. The pain of helplessness as a step-father dies. The pain of friends going to sleep when you needed them the most. The pain of the whip, the thorns, the nails. The pain of a friend betraying you in front of everyone. The embarrassment of having to die naked and seemingly lost.

He didn't have to know this pain, but for us He suffered it.

So, did he get up with a cold one morning and phone it in? These Gospels are not diaries, by the way. I suspect He wouldn't. But he probably did.