Friday, March 29, 2013

To the cross

I've had it all in this world, all this world can offer.

I had enough fish to eat, and some to sell. I had -- have -- a wife and a couple kids. I had a home when so many around me didn't. I've had all this world can offer. I've been free. I've been enslaved to the Romans. I've done all I could with all I had.

And I had him.

For three years, I walked the paths with him. I washed with him. I cried a couple times with him. I laughed and laughed and laughed with him. I fed 5,000 with him. Did you read that? I fed 5,000 with him. Oh, and we did it with a few fish and a few loaves of bread. And everyone had plenty. That was him. Him.


Late last night, despite all he had done for me and all he had taught me and all his love and forgiveness, I denied him. I said... I said I didn't even know him.

I didn't know him.

I followed him as best I could late into the night till that Thursday became Friday. I saw the slaps. I saw them beat him. I saw how the "trials" were going to go. They were hurrying so as to not reach Sabbath with this hanging over them. They wanted to do what they were going to do immediately.

Today ... today I fear they will take him to the cross.

There is very little I truly could have done, but still, he is innocent of any crime. I should have stood there and said so.

I feared death more than I loved the light of the world.

That I will take to my death. Ironic isn't it?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

...the storm

Have you ever said something you meant to the bottom or your heart of understanding only to have to eat those words like bitter herbs later?

I have. I am.

Let me go back to the beginning of the day. It was a Thursday morning. A brilliant, sunny morning. It was the day we would eat the Seder, which commemorates and celebrates the Passover of the angel of death passing over the captive Hebrew children in Egypt, later that evening.

We were in a playful mood, though he was not. Not the way he usually was. Though some didn't see it, I never met a more cheerful person.

That evening we had eaten the Seder together, and things turned. He all but accused Judas Iscariot of betraying him. Me? He said I would deny him three times. Me? He talked like we would all give him up, betray him. To whom? We weren't scheduled to meet with anyone the rest of the night. It was late. I told him I would go with him even unto death.

There I said it. I told him there was nothing I wouldn't give up, nothing I wouldn't do for him. I meant every word. I did.

And now.

There's this garden we go to sometimes, Gethsemane. We went there, and it all broke loose.

The temple guard came. They went to arrest Jesus, and I reacted without thinking, cutting off an ear of one of them. Jesus stared me down to calmness, picked up the ear and healed the guy on the spot. And he left.

The rest of my friends, our friends, scattered like the wind.

I followed as best I could, though I must admit I was scared beyond thinking. And I did not not want to be captured with him. My Lord, I didn't want to go the cross. My Lord...
So as Thursday turned into Friday, my life changed. I wasn't who I thought I was. I wasn't who I think he thought I was.

I was a coward... who says things he doesn't mean, and does things he can't take back, and can't do the one thing he wants most to do in the world.

He's gone. And I failed him.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The lull before ....

The cock's merry crowing woke me this morning. I love the song that rooster belts out in the dim light of the morning sunrise. I really do. I can't think of anything that would make me not love it.

The aromatic olive-tree smoke curled into bare figurines above the spent camp fire of the evening. Amazingly, Jesus told us to take the day off, aside from taking care of the various details from tomorrow's coming Seder.

Judas returned late last night, so we are 12 again in Bethany. We did not see Simon the Leper's family last night as we prepared for bed. Jesus said we would be busy tomorrow, so we should take some time for ourselves, much as he does constantly. We did not, however, go onto the mountainside. We simply walked away to a spot of quiet. Or most of us did. Those Zebedee brothers don't know much about contemplation.

Me? I thought about some of the teaching of the Master. He was talking, a few days back, about a Psalm of David. It's amazing. When he teaches, he does so with such authority it is like he wrote the Psalm or something.

He was using David's writings from what I believe is the 119th psalm. I don't recall it all, as Jesus would, but I remember bits and pieces. He taught beside the lake on a grand and glorious afternoon. The temperature was moderate. The wind was a friend, spinning the flowers into dancing ladies.

I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word, he said.

He quoted or paraphrased more.

My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times. Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.

Direct me in the path or your commands, for there I find delight. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.

For I delight in your commands because I love them. Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge.

You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.

I'm a fisherman by trade. I have no formal training in the temple. I am no priest. I am no Levite. I am nothing in the long run but someone who's skin is as leather from the ever-present sun, and whose lineage would not bring me great privilege.

I'm simply someone the Rabbi called, for reasons I'm not sure, still.

But I love hearing him teach that the Word, as he calls it, is so vital one can love being told what to do. I anticipate the Seder with great relish. What a wonderful week this must be.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The changing of money and the Master

It wasn't like every other day or so we saw things none of us had ever seen. That was indeed true. But it was more than that. Every other day we thought we had an idea what would come next, we were surprised, sometimes shocked.

After the incredible entry into Jerusalem where the people decided, by the use of their palms and their clothing and their words, that Jesus was the Messiah or at worst should be our earthly king, then came Monday.

Monday. Oh, Monday.

On Monday, Jesus went to Temple.

Outside the Temple, in the temple courts, there were people selling cattle, sheep, doves. This was done so that the people could purchase animals for sacrifice. The people who did this has quite a racket going, selling the animals, exchanging money for the purchases. Every Passover we had participated in together, these people were there. So, I'm not sure what drove Jesus that day. But it was one of the few times I saw him what I would describe as angry. Honest. He was for lack of a better word, angry.

He made a whip out of cords and, well, he drove the animals, the sheep and the cattle and such, out of the court area. Then he turned over tables that were filled with coins. He screamed at those guys who were selling the doves. "Get out of here. Stop turning my Father's house into a market."

We were flabbergasted. We hadn't seen this side of Jesus. This is how we truly felt about the Roman occupation, and in our fireside talks at night, we, those he called disciples, said this is what we should do with the Romans. Jesus simply listened to those moments of opinion. But here he was, driving people like driving cattle.

That was Monday. It was almost like a prophecy of what was to come, something new, something different, something inexplicable. Going to Temple, Jesus had cursed a fig tree because it had failed to bear fruit. Monday evening, we went back to Bethany for the night, staying with Martha, Mary and Lazarus for the last time. Tuesday morning, as we went back to Temple, we passed back by that fig tree. It was withered. Jesus used that time to teach us. He even called the Pharisees "blind guides, for like whitewashed tombs -- beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity."

To me, that's how Jesus saw things. He never -- I mean never -- looked at the outside, what a person looked like, or what a person did for a living or what a person's background was. But he always looked inward. What was the heart like? That's what interested the Master."

Tuesday evening, Jesus had some terrifically terrifying things to say about the end times. I guess Judas was concerned about that teaching, because for some reason he took time off to be away. We went back to Bethany to stay the night.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The week that changed the world

We walked with him three or so years. We saw people, believe me I know how hard it is to understand and/or believe, healed. I personally saw him walk on the water out to us on a scary night alone. We saw him sleep through a raging storm, like our little boat was a baby bed and the roaring wind and terrifying thunder and lightening was a mother rocking a child and singing a lullaby.

We saw him feed thousands with almost no food, and I guess as importantly, no money to spend on food. We say him love on lepers as if they were as clean as the temple. We saw him treat children and women as, well, as lovable equals. We heard him preach words never used before, pick religious fights with the religious and make the most scholarly look foolish by simply twisting a few words of very well known theology.

We even saw, I'm serious, Moses and Elijah on the top of Mount Tabor talking with Jesus. We saw his clothes transfigure into the most incredible white I've ever witnessed.

High points all.

But nothing topped that morning we entered into Jerusalem for what would be the last time together.

You have to understand. We were just plain, everyday Jews. Nobody would notice if we died. No one but our wives and children would ever have noticed our lives. We were born, we lived, we worked, we loved, we died. Nobodies. Nothing for the holy scriptures to pay attention to. We were not prophets. We were fishermen, tax collectors, a bit of farming in our veins. Nothing important. The only thing that separated us from ones who were lining that old road down from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem was, well, Him. He called us, the 12 (or 11 I guess), and somehow made us special to his cause, to his teaching. I must admit I didn't understand most of that teaching, and I never saw myself as special in any way. I didn't consider myself a teacher, a Rabbi. I just followed. He called me the rock upon which his church would be built. But I didn't call myself that. I knew nets, water temperature, places to fish. Fish. That's about it. That's what I knew. My father knew fish. My father's father knew fish. Nothing about being rocks. Nothing about a church that didn't exist being built on me.

But that morning. He rode along with the greatest smile I had ever seen. Most of the time He was slow to smile. But here. .. the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”
The moment I will always remember is some of the Pharisees forcing their way through the cheering, singing followers and saying, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”
Jesus laughed loudly, and said, "If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”
I laughed as loudly, and one of the Pharisees gave me a facial rebuke. I didn't care. This was great. Absolutely great. I felt like we would never come down from this mountain top as we did the other. We were coming into Jerusalem. Passover was beginning. Friends and family were all in one place. Jesus' power was never more evident. We were coming to end something (the Roman occupation I suspected), and to begin something (Jesus' reign). I had told him I believed him to be the Christ. I had told him that other than to him I had no place to run. I believed in my heart, with all my heart, that we were about to change the world.
This week would change everything. I believed in Him. I believed Him.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Thy sister's keeper

In Genesis' fourth chapter we read, "Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15
Am I my brother's keeper? Think this through. Think of the time away from your brother. Think of the time away from him during the day. Think of the time during the night.

Today Mary and I are going to Jackson, Miss., to see the grandaughters for their quasi-birthdays. The time between the two birthdays is the time we have joined together for the birthdays. We're celebrating their days of birth.

They are precious days, days where the two girls are joined, days where we honor them as if they were born on these days.

We travel through the time combined, remembering, honoring. Am I thy sister's keeper? Well, yeah. Guess we are.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The thunder of Zebedee's sons

We called James and John the sons of Zebedee. It was kind of a joke. John was as loud as an earthquake, as forceful as an evening wind. They were big men, rough men, the kind you could stake your life on.

Maybe in some ways we had. Since Jesus had called them, throwing out bait like a fisherman pitches a net, James and John had willingly, delightfully followed our Master.

The other day, though, they did something strange even for the Zebedee boys. "Teacher," they began. We want you to do for us whatever we ask." Yeah, like that was going to happen.

Jesus asked playfully, "What do you want me to do for you?"

James replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."

When we heard these two braggarts, we had to concentrate to keep from, well, busting out laughing.I'm not just talking about this one time, but nearly every day. They were filled with themselves. hey, these brothers could have been named the Big Mouth Brothers, but we just called them the Sons of Thunder because they were filled a couple of blowhards. I mean it.

When the other disciples heard about James and John’s request, they became indignant so Jesus had to explain to them all that the value structures of this world are meaningless in the eyes of God. Nothing could eat at the structure of the disciples like ego and pride, and pride and ego were the tools of Satan. That it was right around Passover, and that it was about the time for Jesus to finally show who he was, was critical to all of us. And these two brothers...always worried about who was greatest, who was on the right and who was on the left.

They were fishermen. FISHERMEN.

We took it in, tried to be calm, but it ate at us. Jesus said, "You don't know what your are asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?"

They said, "We can."

Jesus looked down at the dirt, and pondered the task at hand I guess. He had just predicted his death a few minutes earlier. His death. He was talking about dying for this cause, and the brothers wanted to know who was the more important of them.

The brothers, hey all of us I guess, were looking outward. Jesus was looking inward.

Jesus was preparing us all for, well, something. Something new. Different. More. But we were preparing ourselves for ruling when Jesus took over.

We were looking for a crown. He was looking for a chorus of the poor.
We were looking for the love of rule. He was looking for the rule of love.

He told the brothers Zebedee, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared."

The cup he offered was bitter. But we were walking toward table. It was almost time to enter Jerusalem. The crowds were building.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

They didn't get it

"Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus said, “Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true. He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again.” But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about."

In the New Living Translation of these sentences, Jesus is as specific as prophecy gets. He tells the disciples, his disciples, that some fairly significant predictions from Israel's prophets are about to come true. He tells them He will be given over to the Romans. He tells them he will be mocked, spit on, flogged with a whip and eventually killed. Then He gives them the greatest thought ever ... that he will rise from the dead.

Hey, this doesn't get more specific than this. He does everything but tell them what clothes he had picked out to die in. He could have told them the seven last words, the stations of the cross, all the emotional moments about to come. Jesus lays it all out like someone marinating every evening's dinner for a week. And yet the disciples don't get it still. "They failed to grasp what he was talking about," Luke's Gospel says. They didn't grasp it. That's like saying Monkey Glue is sticky.

Jesus' prophecy is as plain as a Judean Summer sky. The Romans are going to take him. They're they're going to beat him, flog him, kill him. All that was going to happen in the next week.

He was going to die as sure as night follows day. But there was more. After three days, He was going to return from the dead. Get up and go back at it. Resurrection, not revival, was coming.

That seemed to be as simple as prayers for rain during a drought.


I've always wondered why. Why would the disciples not get what seems to be as simple (if amazing) as any prophecy ever given?

If they were so specifically warned—and especially if they knew in advance that Jesus would rise from the dead—why were the disciples so confused and frightened during the drama of Easter week?
 Surely, much of their confusion was simply the result of their being, well, human—like everyone else, they were prone to forgetfulness and misunderstanding. Consider that Jesus’ teachings profoundly challenged the religious assumptions they had grown up with. Because Jesus taught both in plain speech and in parables, the disciples might have had trouble understanding when he was speaking literally and when metaphorically. Perhaps, even though they’d seen him work many life-giving miracles, the disciples couldn’t bring themselves to believe Jesus’ most dramatic claim—that he would die and rise from the grave. And the events of Easter week were stressful, to say the least.
Some Scripture passages also hint at other possibilities. When Jesus made predictions about his death and resurrection, he wasn’t doing so just to warn the disciples in advance. Consider these passages:
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand…. I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am.” — John 13: 7,19
After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. — John 2: 22
He told them. He told them again. He showed them what He told them. He did what He showed them He told them He was telling them what He was going to do.


Hey, I love the fact that all that final week together they proved just how human they were, just how much like me they were. They didn't get it, couldn't get it, wouldn't get it and maybe even shouldn't have gotten it. Till they got it. They hid. They ran. They cried. They failed. They were cut down fig trees. They never got it, till they got it; and I suspect they had little to do with them actually getting it. Till 50 days passed, a might wind began to blow, fire lit the air above some really hard heads, and the Holy Spirit became the teacher of the year did they ever truly get it. Without Him, there was no them.

Look, it's rather easy today to talk about someone coming back from the dead, because we're discussing it in the abstract. Getting a child who lives in the Twilight or the Heavenly Bodies universe to believe that someone can come back from the dead is as easy as CGI. Dead men walking? Sure. Happens all the time. Well, actually, no it doesn't.

In truth, none of us has truly seen anyone do it. We've seen special effects put holes in a hand, but we've not felt that hand. We've seen stones rolled away on film, but we've not seen angels doing the rolling in reality. When Jesus walked away from death's cold moment like it was nothing at all, it was as real as sheep's wool. Too often, however, we're living in the fiction aisle, not the reality show line. We're stumbling around on Walking Dead not quacking up on Duck Dynasty.

But let me be real here. If Jesus were to suddenly appear in your office, your home, your gym, and make himself known to you and everyone else as the one who left via wispy-thin white clouds or the one who has come back via pink-streaked sunsets, you would see things much differently.

The disciples heard him, but they didn't HEAR him. The Holy Spirit had to take a vacation in Palestine before they would.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Paintings, the public, and prayer

In 1947, which if memory serves was the same year the first "flying saucers" were seen (to give some Twilight Zoney-perspective), the Hi-Y Club, a Christian-affiliated student club in Logan, Ohio, gave a large portrait of the man we know as Christ to the local middle school. Seemed to be rather normal at the time. They hauled that thing in, hung it up on the wall like it was one of the many deer heads on many rural Ohio walls, and probably forgot about it rather quickly.

Sixty-five years later, though the portrait had caused considerably less controversy than the painting's subject did while he lived, it was moved from the entrance of Jackson Middle School because the ACLU said it violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

Let's establish a few quick facts. 1) No one knows what Jesus looked like, but almost everyone is of the opinion that the portrait hanging in the entrance to the middle school does not look like him. The portrait looks more like a singer from the 60s with flowing locks than what Jesus probably looked like a couple thousand years ago. The portrait shows a guy with hair like Bee Gees lead singer Barry Gibb, light Caucasian features and such. 2) Other than the ACLU, no one had complained because the portrait had been there longer than the football team had face masks on its helmets. No one noticed it any longer.

ACLU spokespersons said the portrait of a guy in a robe walking with some sheep is "an unconstitutional endorsement of religion on the part of a public school." When confronted, school persons connected to this issue said, "We have a portrait of Jesus? Where?"

So, the school district officials did the smart thing; they moved the painting to the high school, apparently and completely misunderstanding the argument in the first place.

The ACLU and the FRF and the MOUSE-CLUB and all sorts of initial-led institutions of lower learning say they will continue to sue, less, you know, someone notices the portrait and is forever damaged. Of course, one day all these institutions will notice that since there is no caption on the portraits, the portrait doesn't advertise or promote any religion unless walking around sheep is someone's rather quaint idea of religion.

The interesting thing in all this squabble about "establishing" religion and such in public schools is that many don't know what the law actually says about this.

Every time someone says that God has been removed from the public schools I say it's time they look at what the federal law actually says.

Let's take a second and point out a very few portions of the current federal law.

  • Students have the right to pray individually or in groups or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive. Because the Establishment Clause does not apply to purely private speech, students enjoy the right to read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, pray before tests, and discuss religion with other willing student listeners.
  • School officials may not mandate or organize prayer at graduation, nor may they organize a religious baccalaureate ceremony.
  • (Perhaps the most misunderstood section). Teachers and school administrators, when acting in those capacities, are representatives of the state, and, in those capacities, are themselves prohibited from encouraging or soliciting student religious or anti-religious activity. However, teachers may engage in private religious activity in faculty lounges. 
  • Students may express their religious beliefs in the form of reports, homework and artwork, and such expressions are constitutionally protected.
  • Students have the right to speak to, and attempt to persuade, their peers about religious topics just as they do with regard to political topics.

Let me be clear. I don't believe we are capable of removing God from public schools because we simply aren't powerful enough to do so. In this country, it still is possible to pray to the father whose name we have hallowed countless times, even in (maybe especially in) schools.

However, just to make sure, Mississippi officials recently tried to make sure there would be no denying anyone's ability to pray or even talk about Jesus in school.

In Mississippi, the very recently birthed state bill calls for, among other things, students to be able to “express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination” (which was never in doubt) and that students can form religious clubs that meet before or after schools (which was also never in doubt).

In other words, at Mississippi football games, pep rallies, graduations, and morning announcements — anywhere where students speak — they must be allowed to pray. The school would have to offer a disclaimer that they’re not endorsing these views, but rather offering a “limited public forum.” As a long-time sportswriter who retired a few years ago from the profession, I must confess they never stopped praying before the games in the first place.

I have no problem with any of the above, though I don't see why it was necessary to go to so much trouble to make sure that was possible because as near as I can read, it was never in doubt. I understand the ACLU's position that Christians can't force anyone to believe the way they do. I have no problem with that. Heck, God himself doesn't do that, so why should I, my churches, whomever do it either?

Here's the point: As Christians, I again ask we pick our fights properly. Spending time and money over a battle to keep a portrait that has nothing to do with rebirth, repenting or repelling the evil one in schools is, I think, perhaps wasteful fussing. Making sure our children know when and how and to whom we should pray is worth the battle, and I certainly have no issue with someone who believes in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life saying so in any circumstances or in any place. In fact, it is a battle parents have stopped fighting for all the wrong reasons.

Here's an idea: Why not instead of fighting about inaccurate paintings hanging limply and ineffectively on old walls, why don't we fight to stop soccer and Little League baseball and peewee football games from taking place on Sunday mornings so that parents can't take their kids to church? For that matter, why don't we fight to make sure our kids are in church every Sunday whether the NFL starts at noon or not? (Uh, oh, blasphemy)

Why not instead of squabbling about when we can pray privately (as Jesus told us to do instead of starting school mornings with public prayer that he warned us about), why don't we talk about how to fit Jesus into the culture that exists today? Why don't we spend some time actually discussing abortion and homosexuality and the death penalty and such using what scripture actually says instead of saying what we say it says, and why don't we quit using very serious subjects as fodder for gaining political votes?

And why not find a way to discuss why we live in a world where kids can't wear tee-shirts that read WWJD in schools but can wear tee-shirts with obscene language on them in the malls and have access to guns that can somehow make it into schools?

We can fix that. We can. We should. Darn it, we must. If everyone who checks the Christian box on the next religious survey they take actually began to believe and act what they believe, then we could fix the problems we have with hunger, with hate, with homelessness, with dishonest living. But only if we begin to figure out what it means to be a Christian can we do so. When Protestants make very public and less than intelligent remarks about the leader of the Christian Catholic church, we're failing our children and ourselves.

The battle begins, I'm afraid, by praying ourselves. Till we do, till we surrender ourselves, till we stop letting "issues" lead us instead of the One who saves us, I'm afraid we're just playing three-card monte with portraits of some blonde guy we've never known and perhaps never will.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Francis and the poor

Rich Mullins, my-great-mentor-without-knowing-me singer/songwriter/member of Kid Brother of St. Frank, would have been so happy that the recently elected (selected?) pope took the name Francis as Mullins loved the work of St. Francis of Assisi.

Mullins was a contemporary Christian musician with a dream to take the Good News of God's Love to the Native American reservation through the arts and music. Rich and his long-time writing partner and friend, Beaker, started Kid Brothers in the late ‘80s as a ministry to mentor other young men in the faith. In 1995, Rich moved to Tse Bonito, New Mexico, to put hands and feet to his dreams.

Two years later he was killed in an automobile accident.

But back to Pope Francis.

Here's the story as told to the Associated Press:
"Let me tell you a story," Pope Francis began in a break from his prepared text during an audience for a few thousand journalists and Vatican communications officials in the Vatican's auditorium.
Francis then described how during the conclave he was comforted by his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, as the votes were going his way and it seemed "a bit dangerous" that he would reach the two-thirds necessary to be elected. When the threshold was reached, applause erupted in the frescoed Sistine Chapel. "He (Hummes) hugged me. He kissed me. He said, 'Don't forget about the poor!'" Francis recalled. "And those words came to me: The poor. The poor. Then right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars as the votes were being counted, until the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi."

Again, Jesus said, "Childen, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."

Easier, though not impossible.

Recently in teaching from Matthew's Gospel, I, of course, came across Jesus' teachings on what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew's sixth chapter, Jesus says this: "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets..." This discourse is actually referring to the method of giving, not giving, but I want us to notice that He takes it for granted that giving to the needy is done.

So, my question this morning is if Christians on the planet are in the billions, then why do we still have such hunger, such need, such homelessness? Why?

Hosanna in the highest.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Giving, trying, being ... today

Today, ah today.

Today I'm gonna live. Today I'm gonna try. Today I'm gonna be.

Let's look at the evidence, friends. God uses broken people, the ordinary, the imperfect, the foolish to confound the wise, evil for good, cracked pots, the weak, what the world would call the worthless.

So, today I'm gonna live. Today I'm gonna try. Today I'm gonna be.

William Seymour was a poor, one-eyed black man with a severely scarred face. He was uneducated, totally unknown and constantly up against the cruel prejudice and rejection that was part of being physically deformed and also being a black man in that era. Yet, he was one of those heroes whom God drew from the hidden places and he became the apostle of the Azusa Street Revival.

Smith Wigglesworth is another example. He began as a poor, uneducated plumber who couldn't even read. Yet in his lifetime he became an evangelist who was used by God to shake the nations. Amos was also a simple, ordinary man. He wrote about himself… "I'm not one of your professional prophets. I certainly never trained to be one. I'm just a shepherd and I take care of fig trees. But the Lord called me away from my flock and told me, 'Go prophesy to my people in Israel'" (Amos 7:14-15 NLT). Amos obeyed and God used him to impact generations.
God uses fishermen to preach the gospel, tax collectors to write the Gospel, the blind to heal the lame, the deaf to heal the blind.
Today, I'm gonna live, try, be.
The examples of God using the obscure are many. But the best of them all is the man we call Jesus.
A re-writing of an old piece describes it this way:
Jesus was born in an obscure village as the child of a teen-age peasant woman with little money and only a bit of hope..

He grew up in another village where He worked in a carpenter shop or as a stonemason like his earthly father until He was thirty.

Then for three years, He was an itinerant preacher, with no salary, no pulpit.

He never wrote a book, invented a Nook, Kindled a fire in the hearts of readers..

He never had an office, ran for an office, held an office or officiated at a wedding, although He certainly livened up Lazarus' funeral.

He never had a family or owned a home., but he called us all brothers and sisters, and he said his father had a magnificently large home that he was preparing for us all.

He didn't go to college, not even Notre Dame.

He never visited a big city, not even Rome.

He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born, was never appointed to a church, was never hired by a church, and though He fed the first megachurch, he lost those members rather rapidly.

He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. Never preached at the inaugural, never baptized a baby, never owned a Cadillac or bought the Astrodome.
Yet, He shook the world at its very foundation, conquered the greatest army on the planet without firing a shot  and became the Savior of us all.
So, today I'm gonna live the life He has called me to live like I'm on borrowed time, like I'm on fire for the Lord instead of smoldering ash, living to remember I've been pardoned not found not guilty. I'm gonna live like I understand salvation has been given to me, an abundant life has been presented, a look through the veil has been offered, and I'm gonna live like I know the way to the Father.
I'm gonna try to be better spiritually, try to be the one He sends, try to be the one who knows Him, try to think more of others, worry about what next we should do about the homeless, the marginalized, the hurting, the poor, the ones in spiritual need. I'm gonna try to offer the truth to everyone I come in contact with, knowing the truth is not mine to give but His.
I'm gonna be a disciple today, a church today, a Christian, a loving husband, father, grand-father. I'm gonna be more the answer and less the problem. I'm gonna be a believer in the life, given not earned, accepted not grabbed.
Today. Just today. Can't even speak to the time after lunch, maybe I can't guarantee myself and my actions more than an hour. But as Spring packs its bags and heads our way and the temperature becomes as mild as the coffee I love best, today I offer the one thing I'm fairly certain I can offer Him.
Today I give me, my life, my trying, my being.
Today I love Him more than I love sin. That's who I am. He knows it's the best I can

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Go and sell everything

He walked up to Jesus like he was someone really interested in the man I knew now to be the Christ. He fell at his feet, stopping Jesus from walking farther.

He asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life?

Jesus was smiling as he answered. "Why do you call me good? No one is good -- except God alone."

We smiled at that. We couldn't quite figure what it meant that the Messiah would be so humble, and Andrew and James had long arguments about it around the nightly campfire. We were on our way to Jerusalem, where we thought Jesus would settle things at the temple, make the most glorious announcement ever.

Could you imagine it? We could. Jesus walks up the steps to one of the gates, turns, smiles broadly and announces He is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one.

There. It's done.

The Romans might not know it right then, what that meant I mean, but they would.

Anyway, Jesus went on to tell the man, "You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'

The man said, "Teacher, all these things I've kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him in that way he had, the look speaking volumes about His love for all of us, the compassion fairly pouring out of him and said, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

The man's smile melted off his face.

We know that Jesus talks differently, teaches differently, acts differently, but still we walked with Him, trying our best to understand.

We were headed to Jerusalem for Passover. We had left everything to follow Him. We thought that was enough, even if we no longer had anything to give the poor.

What sort of man talks like this?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My ship comes in

Whew. What a revelation. I've suddenly lost all my worries, woes, bills. Today is a day that the Lord has made, and I've hit the jackpot. Really.

First, someone on the planet named Warren Conner, maybe, donated $500,000 to me. Whew. All my anxiety is gone. Then, someone with an e-mail address of says I have won the British lottery with 1,000,000,000 pounds in the offering. My goodness, what a day.

My ship has come floating in, beaten and banged up, but floating.

Is that what we're waiting on, friends, neighbors, and unknown readers? And if I were to reply to either of those e-mail addresses, would that really float my boat?

All of this is a long-way round to get to the issue of faith.

Jesus said this:  “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."
Jesus said this:  “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Jesus, as near as my searches can find, never said, "create all the bills you can find, all the worries you can muster, all the pain you can produce because, TADA, I'm sending Warren Conner to you with $500,000 when you least expect it because you have faith.

This notion that all good things will come to those who believe is an interesting one. What I've seen in my travels in the ministry does everything but dispute that as blasphemy. I see terribly faithful persons with all sorts of ailments, concerns, worries, woes, ills, pains. I've been in agreement with several in a room as we pour our hearts out for someone who had contracted a terrible illness. I've seen the anointing oil pouring down the face of someone I cared deeply about as they got sicker and sicker.

I've seen people fall away because they believed that when two or more are gathered, great prosperity surely is around the bend, and it wasn't. It just wasn't. Maybe it was never going to be in the first place.

Look, when you don't go to college, don't give yourself a good resume, over-spend, over-covet, you're probably never going to be on the richest persons in America list. Doesn't mean you won't be, but it probably won't come via e-mail. Conversely, if you went to college, have a great resume, never over-spent, never coveted others' stuff, tithed, prayed daily, read scripture like it was water to a thirsty person, and loved everyone you came in contact with, you might still get cancer.

This is the world we created when we couldn't keep our hands off the tree of knowledge. Doesn't mean God doesn't answer those two-or-more prayers or that miracles have gone away. Means there is a world out there where certain laws work, like gravity, circling the sun and such. God created those, as well as a perfect situation. We messed it up.

Faith, to me, means I trust God that though I am insufficient, God still reigns. What that means on a daily basis is I have faith in Him, not me, and if I listen as much as I can on a particular day, He will guide me.

Unlike those AT&T commercials, one thing is better than two. That one thing is the faith God still listens, still acts, still loves. How that manifests itself is for Him to work out.

Now, I have to go answer some e-mails.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Where does it say ...

I was on my way to the doctor's office when the thought hit me: Where exactly did Jesus send his disciples on foreign missions? Where exactly did feeding become the way into the church? Where exactly did "being" the church become the idea?

At first my mind wouldn't capitualate. Couldn't come up with places where this happened. Sure, Jesus fed the 5,000 and the 4,000. But his disciples were mere McDonald's employees. Sure Jesus talked about the reasons he had come included the homeless, the prisoners, the hungry, even the blind and lame.

But where was the church told to become the Red Cross? Did Jesus send the disciples out looking for flood victims? Did Jesus himself ever form a mission team?

I sat in the doctor's office pondering this, and luckily I had my I-pad with me. So I journeyed into the Acts of the Apostles, and there I found this from the sixth chapter: But as the believers[a] rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.

2 So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. 3 And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. 4 Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”

5 Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). 6 These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.

7 So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too."

Two observations that I think fit the modern church.

1) The Apostles were apparently called to "spend time in prayer and teaching the word." That seems to eliminate the idea of the church becoming the Red Cross. If the apostles, those persons who were closest to Christ, saw no need for their job to be delivering and/or cooking food for those who had little, should we?

2) But then there's the line that I believe clarifies everything, verse 7 a: "So God's message continued to spread."

Sure, that could be talking about the teaching/preaching by the apostles. But I believe it also describes that moment when the food given connects us in some mad manner. The number of believers today seems to increase when we are merciful to them. And mercy surely includes food, clothing, AND the word of God. If the idea is for God's message to spread, what many of us have found is that coming in the back door, inviting someone on a local mission trip or even a foreign one, is often the way it begins today. I must say there is nothing in my ministry that has ever matched going to help someone, be it in prison, in a flood zone, painting a low-income person's home in Southwest Texas, or feeding 150 homeless self-proclaimed gutter-punks each week in the French Quarters in New Orleans.

Truth is there are some times when the Red Cross and the church can't be distinguished. But the church can never forget that it is called to give "them" more than food. We are to give them the bread of life.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The journey begins

So, here we go. We're heading to Jerusalem. It's only two plus weeks until we enter for Passover. What shall we do till then?

Let's look at what we've been doing for Him.

We were walking along, not really doing anything. He hadn't been teaching much lately, just healing some folks like the blind man at Bethsaida, and that wild day when He fed 4,000 or so (we never did count them all, which drove Judas crazy because he was all about professions of faith and such). As we went around Caesarea Phillipi, He suddenly stopped and asked us, Who do people say I am."

It's interesting to me that the preacher doesn't hear as much as the student much of the time. And John and James and Andrew and the rest all hear more about Him that He does.

Andrew said, "Well, some say John the Baptist."
John smiled and said, "Elijah. They say you are Elijah."
James said, "Some of them aren't sure so they say you must be one of the prophets."

We all laughed. But He was serious. Very serious.

He asked us, "But what about you? Who do you say I am."

We went very quiet. We knew, somehow, this was important to Him. We thought. We looked at each other, all scared to say the wrong answer.

Minutes passed at the speed of a sheep eating grass.

Then I summoned what courage I had and said, "You are the Christ."

His grin was quick, and slight. I thought He was pleased, or at the least He didn't correct me.

He told us not to tell anyone about him.

But at the time, we didn't have to. The word was passing with each day. More miracles, healings, the occasional teaching.

We were headed for Jerusalem, slowly, surely. I wondered what awaited us there? I always wonder about the future.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The waves are real

Walls and chains....
Time passing quickly ...
Courage slipping ...
Waiting for strength.

Have we talked before about what worship is and what it could be? I don't remember, because I'm creeping so near my 60th birthday that I don't know how much I remember and how much I've forgotten.

Matthew West sings, "no looking back; run for your life; no more living in the shadows; step into the light."

So, I went back to the beginning for today's memory/musing.

Jesus calls the ones who will be his disciples. Peter and his brother Andrew were throwing an old, heavy net into the water of the sea we call Galilee. Jesus says, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

Without thought or discussion, they came.

What must that have been like? This man calls, and you drop everything. Everything. HEAR IT AND BELIEVE IT. Everything. They dropped it all and followed.

I know some of that. I know something about dropping who you were to become who you're meant to be.

But I wonder if they ever gave thought to what they had been doing. The easy answer is no. But that wouldn't be true. In fact, after Jesus was crucified, what did they do, they went back to what they were before they became part of His life.

Looking back isn't as bad as never thinking it through. There are dry spots in all of us, I believe. But the answer is Jesus didn't give up on them. He came, cooked some breakfast, and said hello again.

I often feel out of place, and I often wonder where I'm headed. But I never forget whom I am following. That's not in play. What is in play is where I go next.

Part of that, I think, is what it's like to be a disciple. People who fish for men do so on the waves of the sea. It's never flat, glassy water.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Writers write because ...

It's come to this: I'm writing a blog about a blog. After three years plus and more than 800 blogs, some pretty good, some not, I've come to this.
 A fellow named Jeremy Myers wrote this about bloggers, Christian bloggers, that a good friend messaged me about.

I sometimes think blogging should be added to the list of spiritual disciplines.
If you blog, you know what I mean.
Here are some of the things that God grows in you through the blogging experience:

Humility of Blogging

When you first start, blogging is an exercise in humility. You think that you will instantly get thousands of readers and hundreds of comments. But you write for months, and nobody but your wife read it.

Perseverance in Blogging

As the months go by, it becomes an exercise in perseverance. It becomes a discipline to write, even if nobody is reading.

Healing through Blogging

Somewhere along the way, if you can work through the feelings of rejection and bitterness that nobody is reading, you realize that your writing is cathartic. It touches some of the painful and dark places in your life, and through the exercise of getting it out on “paper” these painful places in your life begin to heal.

Learning through Blogging

After you blog for a couple of years, you realize that one of the reasons you blog is because you learn by writing. Writing is not something you do to show off how much you know, but in order to investigate and explore certain ideas and interact with others about these ideas.
Then, after you get a few readers, some of them start to criticize you, and you are right back where you started, trying to learn humility through blogging.

My writing is cathartic, though I'm somewhat tired of being introduced as "you were a reporter, right?" Or, "you're a writer or something, right?"

Someone the other day asked me, "How many books have you written?" My answer is a bit of a puzzle itself. After deliberating, I said, "four written, two published." And I told them I was done.

Writing is a bit like pastoring which is a bit like leading. You have to have particularly thick skin to do any of them. People will like your stuff or not like your stuff and you have to go into it knowing that. I've never been particularly good with that. I suspect at this late stage I won't be.

So, I write for the 20 who read it. I write because I think if I didn't, the "were" in me will finally take over. No one ever, ever asks me if I'm a pastor, or if they do, they ask how is it going. Invariably I respond with numbers, which I so often rail against being the true measure of how things are going.

What's the point? I think this: There is a reason God informed and inspired the Word of God instead of keeping the oral history going. There is a reason people write.

Once I sent a short story to Stephen King. He wrote back, or at least someone did, and gave me this advice: "Writers write."  Short advice for some deep logic. Any writers out there would agree, however.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Faithful to what God has given

Our youth group grew like weeds at one point in the past year, rising to an amazing 62 at one point. But since Jan. 16 when we had 52, it has shrunk and shrunk and shrunk until there were 31 there last week.

Two of the leaders of this group have decided to go to another church. We have no idea why. It is very disconcerting. Then we were turned down for a grant that I thought was a no-brainer, having gotten one the two years previously. What was going on?

But what we've decided is this: How dare we complain about the 30 we're missing when God has given us 30 to take care of?

We're reminded of the disciples when this happened:
Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late.  Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” But Jesus said, “You feed them.” “With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!"

You know the rest, probably. Jesus fed the 5,000 with a few fish and loaves of bread.

My point is this: All we can do is all we can do. We can love them, and be faithful. We can do what we believe Jesus has called to do. And we can be thankful for the ones He has given us to be faithful to. After all, Jesus entered Jerusalem one final time with the crowds shouting in joy. Less than a week later, they were shouting to crucify him. It happens.

We will continue doing what we do, believing what we believe. Working hard, but cherishing every Wednesday night.

If the ones who left ever want to come back, they will be welcomed.

God is good, all the time.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Six word theology

Let's exercise our minds a bit today, especially since I had 12 readers all of yesterday so exercise wasn't happening on Monday apparently.

I heard this last week and have saved it for a Tuesday. This is the first one that has happened.

The exercise? Name your theology in six words.

Theology, of course, is the thinking of God. So, what do you think of God, in six words?

Mine came to me almost immediately. I must admit I wondered why. But it did. Six words that explain what I think God meant with thousands of words in the Bible. Six words that explain what I believe God is saying to me through the Holy Spirit. Six words that say what his love is all about.

Think it through. Take your time. Reply if you will.

But my theology in six words is (ready for it?), "For God so loved the world."

That's it. Simple but exact. God loved the world so much that he gave us his son, and that act shows us what giving is about, what surrender is about, what love is about, what sacrifice is about, what Jesus was about.

God so loved.

And what did He love? The world. Not some fundamentalist camp. Not some liberal institution. The world.

Simple as that.

So, what is your six words?

Monday, March 4, 2013

The father ran to him

This week's lectionary Gospel reading is among the most famous of all stories Jesus told. It comes from the 15th chapter of Luke's Gospel, the only Gospel it is featured in, and as I began the process of thinking about it last night, I realized the difficulty in preaching from a story that famous, that used. What can I say that is new, fresh, different?

When we read the parable of the man with two sons, because we know the story so well, we often do not see all the difficulties it presents. We think, because we know it so well, that we also understand it so well.
A Muslim has said of this parable, however, that it proves that the cross is unnecessary for forgiveness. The boy comes home. His father welcomes him. There is no cross. No incarnation. Therefore, Islam with no cross, no Saviour, presents the true gospel.
And then hearing this comment we look back at the parable and we say, "Yes, there seems to be no cross, no Savior." Nevertheless, this is a parable told by the Savior! How can this be? How can this parable, which many have called Evangelium in Evangelio, the Gospel in the Gospel, how can this parable then not teach us of Christ, if Christ is the one who tells the story?
How can there be no incarnation, no mediator, no Saviour and yet we celebrate the birth of a Saviour at Bethlehem?
As I begin this process of thinking, praying about, studying about the prodigal son, I'm taken by the fact that the father in the story waits for the son to return. I imagine lonely days and grief-stricken nights, waiting, just waiting at the window of his home, watching that old dusty road in front of the house. Waiting for a son who has done wrong by him, done wrong by anyone's idea of wrong, but he is waiting to welcome him home.
Then, finally, there comes a day when his son makes the turn on that road. His wait is over. The father storms out the front door, hitching up his robe to be able to run, and embarrassingly he runs to his son, holding him tightly, kissing his forehead, forgiving him in an instant.
To me, at this early stage of discovery, I see the glory of God come down as human flesh, this man we know as Jesus. I see a father who would do anything, including running toward us, to free us from pain and sorry. To heal us of our infirmities. To change our lives. To give us hope, even when we've lived as prodigals.
There are two images that I love in this parable. In one, the prodigal son is said to come to "himself," or to "his senses." Been there. Done that.
The other is the father running toward the son. Been there. Done that.
This morning, let's remember the love of this father. Let's remember the amazing grace he's showered with us. Let's remember where we were before we came to our senses.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Let me listen today

Exploring the Proverbs this morning led me to a spring of cool, clear wisdom bubbling up with pure froth and energy.

In the 22nd Proverb, among a deep spring called 30 wise sayings, I read, "Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise;
apply your heart to what I teach, for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have all of them ready on your lips. So that your trust may be in the LordI teach you today, even you?"

I had a long conversation with a trusted and talented staffer at our church yesterday, and what we talked about was how to get closer to, deeper with, the Lord. We talked about how so many don't seem to see that as either a challenge or a necessity. And we talked about how that, after all this time, still puzzles us. We go to Bible studies to learn more about Him. I've been to retreats, to this and that, even to the Holy Land for one purpose: To know Him more. When I eat the bread and drink the wine, I do so to learn more, to be with Him more, to give depth to the shallows of my love of Christ.

Much of what I do is about seeking the Lord. I would love, above all things, to have him walk in and sit down in the chair opposite my old desk in the office (okay, okay he could have my chair), and have us talk a while. A long while.

Questions would abound, I'm afraid. I have so much I want to know. So much theology to be discussed. So much about grandparents I never met. Heck, about my birth parents and how that must have affected me, not knowing them. About siblings I don't know. About the life I never lived.

So much about how things work, or how things worked at one time and don't anymore. About the heavens, and the earth. Heaven. and Hell. About Jesus as a teenager. About Paul. And Mary. And what the heck happened to Joseph. About the law, and about hot-button topics that exist today and how He feels about them.

I would interview Him like I used to, waiting for the most wise of all answers, again, and again, and again.

But what I get most of the time, when I seek this closeness, this wisdom I'm afraid, is white noise. Some call it nothing. No sound. No talking. No intimacy. I talk way too much and I hear way too little. Sorry, that's just what I feel.

Mother Teresa, who knew this God I love well though she had her moments of doubt like the rest of us, once said, "Before you speak, it is necessary to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart."

So, I must listen differently. To be with God is the ultimate. To be with God and learn is sublime. To be with God and to hear him through the silence would be a wonder.

Oh, Lord, let me listen today.