Friday, November 29, 2013

From sunrise to sunset, God holds classes

Isaiah looked around one day and saw "the Master sitting on a throne -- high, exhalted! and the train of his robes filled the Temple. Angel-seraphs hovered above him, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew. And they called back and forth one to another, Holy, Holy, Holy is God-of-the-Angel-Armies. His bright glory fills the whole earth. The foundations trembled at the sound of the angel voices ..."

It is incredible what Isaiah saw, obviously. It isn't everyday that one can see the Master sitting on a throne, not to mention all that other stuff.

Not even after late-night pizza have I witnessed seraphs. But a new study shows that not every amazing thing is all that amazing. Common sites, particularly nature, seems to increase one's tendency to believe in God.

Researchers at the Association for Psychological Science have released a new study that suggests that awe - specifically brought on by nature - does touch us in ways that suggest God is around. Psychological scientist Piercarlo Valdesolo of Claremont McKenna College and colleague Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California showed study participants either footage of BBC's "Planet Earth" nature documentary series or "neutral" news interviews. After watching the clips, Valdesolo and Graham asked participants "how much awe they felt while watching the video, and whether they believed that worldly events unfold according to some god's or other non-human entity's plan." The researchers said that the those who had watched "Planet Earth," a show which includes imagery of earth's waterfalls, canyons, jungles and mountain peaks, were more likely to believe in God and in more supernatural control than participants who had only watched the news.

Well, let's see: When Aaron gave out the instructions to the whole company of Israel, they turned to face the wilderness. And there it was: the Glory of God visible in the Cloud.

Wilderness (the news)
Cloud (the Glory of God)

Seems about right. But here's the most amazing thing. Even in the news, even in the wilderness, even in the depth of darkness, He comes, all amazing and glorified. Touching the earth, creating and re-creating all the time.

Waterfalls, canyons, jungles and mountain peaks -- all spectacular, all wonderful.
My God, the God-of-the-angel-armies, amazing.

Psalm 19:1 tells me that God's glory is on tour in the skies. "God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. Madame Day holds classes every morning. Professor Night lectures each evening... from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith. The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together."

That's our Amazing God. Showing himself through the mundane. Reaching down for us even when we can't quite reach up.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

30 days in 30 minutes

I've seen these efforts, apparently, of giving thanks for 30 days. Two things happened for me that are completely normal: 1) I didn't get the memo; 2) I'm too impatient for 30 days of such.

So, I've compacted my list into one day's thought. In no particular order, I'm grateful for, thankful for these things:

1) I am grateful for, as someone said, another trip around the sun. It has been a difficult year in terms of health, and it is on-going, but I am grateful for more tries.
2) I am glad for my wife, Mary, who has been a stalwart (which is a big word that sounds great, though I'm not exactly sure what it means). I know this, I couldn't do any of this, whatever this is, without her.
3) I'm grateful for the whacky plan that had Jesus coming to die for me, personally, taking my nails, my spear, my crown of thorns and most assuredly my many sins. Without that blessed event, no type this morning.
4) I'm grateful for Jason, our son. Jason is the most creative person I've ever personally met. I hope he knows how proud of his career I am. I probably don't tell him enough. I'm proud of his efforts with his church, and I'm particularly proud of him as a dad.
5) Shanna is a rock. A rock. She's taken the worst of what life has to offer and churned it up and made butter out of sour mess.
6) Carrie, our youngest, is still finding herself in a lot of ways. But I'm proud she's found a job that helps her realize some dreams, and I pray she finds herself next.
7) I'm thankful for all our grandchildren, blessed be their names: Mia, Karli, Gabe, Parker, Livvy, Gavin, and Emma.
8) I'm thankful for the opportunities God has granted us, opportunities to make a small difference. I never, ever dreamed this would be the case.
9) I'm thankful for vehicles that have been good to us, though they like us are becoming worn.
10) I'm thankful for rescue pets and rescue pet organizations. We have too many pets. We do. But when someone recently asked me if I thought the pets might have something to do with my physical ailments, I said I would rather die than give up on them. I meant it.
11) I'm particularly thankful for Logan, a 14-year-old terrier mix who has been with us all her life. She's getting hard of hearing, and she doesn't see all that well, and she's obsessed with treats after she goes outside, but she's Logan. I'm grateful for our time. Who knows if either of us will see another thanksgiving.
12) I'm grateful for Rebecca, our daughter-in-law, a young woman of God who has shown her talents in her own right, and I'm grateful for our son-in-law Blaine, who I will remember for giving up his Saints season tickets because he had a new born and for Florida together twice.
13) I'm grateful for the past, turkey and dressing in Lizelia, Miss., with my mother. In many ways, Thanksgiving was more wonderful than Christmas out there. All of us were in one place at one time, there was so much food (she even cooked spaghetti because Carrie loved her spaghetti), and then there was napping to be done for she only got a couple channels. I miss it to this moment.
14) I'm glad for extended family, for my cousin June and her husband, Paul; for my Aunt Bernece and her kids. Even for the thousands of cousins I have scattered from sea to shining sea.
15) I'm glad for my Saints. It's all come down to this. All that sports stuff I did for 34 years, and I have two teams and semi-eternal hopes and dreams.
16) I'm glad for those colleagues (a word I never use and don't especially like for some reason) in ministry who put up with all that they put up with so that the Gospel can move along to those who truly need to hear it.
17) I'm thankful for the opportunity we have this evening to hand out hot cocoa at a local department store to those crazies who will line up in this weather to get into a store the size of a mini-van. But we're hoping we show we care.
18) I'm grateful for the friends I made in prison ministry, and I miss each and every one.
19) I'm grateful for every experience that has brought me to this day. Good and bad, they've shaped me. I know I'm not all God would have me be. I know I still fight sin. But I know the sin nature that I was born into is gone because of what He did.
20 I'm grateful for every church that has proceeded the three we now serve, those wonderful people we miss.
21) I really am grateful for the Bishop we now serve, and for her vision and her effort and her family. She has meant a lot to me, already.
22) I'm thankful for, come to think of it, for that other life, that career thingee, in journalism. It was wonderful while it existed.
23) I'm thankful that I never had a job, not really. I never did anything I truly didn't want to do in all this life in terms of "work." Ministry and writing and journalism all have been great loves. Not all get to say that.
24) I'm glad I had the chance to know Frankie, Tweety, Scrappy, Buttons and Squeeker. Miss you guys still, every single day.
25) I'm thankful for the parsonage in which we live. Big and, well, big. If the doorknobs worked ...
26) I'm glad for the money we have, which is enough when I don't do stupid things.
27) I'm thankful for the selflessness of our churches, and for the chance we had yesterday to deliver a huge box of things.
28) I'm glad for whatever abilities God has given me. It is obvious I've never been a great writer, but I've written with all my heart. Yesterday we stopped at a sewing shop on the way back from delivering the basket. Mary went inside and seemed to stay forever. Finally the store owner, a delightful woman named Anne, came out. She had me step out of the truck, came around and said, "Yes, that's his face." I was alarmed for a second till she told me she reads me every Sunday in her paper and knows I'm led by the Holy Ghost.
29) I'm grateful that I'm probably read more than I'm listened to in two local newspapers in a Sunday religion/life column
30) In the end, God, whose Word tells me he created me a masterpiece. Although I know I'm a conflicted, sometimes nicked and broken, total mess, He uses me to touch others. Don't know why. Don't even know how. But I actually, absolutely believe he does. There are those who don't like me, I suppose. There are certainly those who don't understand me. But God does. That's enough. In the end, God.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Living into what we say

I wonder, do we really have the eyes of Jesus? Do we see those with so much less than ourselves all around us? Do we really want to live out what we've said we're living out?
I understand some of the ideas that what some have earned, one should be able to keep. I get that. But what I don't get is living into that idea that Jesus would have us live into and still say we should be able to keep what is ours. The two ideas are inevitably going to clash. You can believe what is mine is mine. You can believe what yours is mine. Or you can believe what’s mine is yours. God allows that choice. What He isn’t so happy with, it seems, is to say one thing and live another. He just isn’t.
I wish for every Christian, particularly those hung up on theology and doctrine and Protestantism (me much of the time I'm afraid) to listen to these words:
"I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security," he wrote. "I do not want a church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, 'Give them something to eat.'"
That sounds a lot like the Louisiana United Methodist Annual Conference Bishop, Cynthia Harvey, and many other Protestant sources like Rick Warren and the like but in fact it is Pope Francis, who is a wonderful gift from God. In a 50,000 papal statement this week, he also said, "Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
This afternoon, a cold but bright Wednesday, and I write this not to glorify the objective, one dear church of mine will take a huge box of goodies to a household that includes two families, eight children and a load of pain. What they don't have is what we have. Food stuffs. Paper products. Little things for children that let them know there is indeed a church, a people out there, out there that will get dirty and bruised in order to deliver things worth being thankful for. Still.
We are a day before Thanksgiving, and even before that I was seeing things like the Great Christmas Light challenge or some such on TV. Rudolph came on to shine his nose on us before the turkey was carved. I've been seeing this commercial for the I-pad Air and there are these two little girls who set up the I-pad to catch Santa and they fall asleep and they're so cute and all I can think of is how beautiful and expensive is their house and since as kids they already have an I-pad and everything else imaginable what can their list to Santa hold?
Is that a message that everyone is comfortable with in this country?
Where are we, that the church isn't bruised, hurting and dirty? And why is it so hard to get the church out of the building?
Bishop Harvey has made it a priority in our conference, a group of more than 600 United Methodist Churches, to have a mission, a vision and some core values in the coming year.
She says "we will place the needs and interests of people before the needs and interests of the institution. We will prioritize transformative relationships over sustaining buildings and budgets."
The message, from all sorts of areas in this country, heck in this world, is that we have so we must give. That's not unique to Catholicism or to Protestantism or whatever.
It is Christian.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When the darkness closes in

I remember a time as a child when I was upset when it wasn't cold on Thanksgiving. Something or other in my little brain linked cold weather, turkeys, dressing, all in one package that would somehow lead to a white Christmas.

After yesterday, I want a re-vote. What a day. What weather. What erkkyness.

I digress.

I was working yesterday, of course, on Sunday's sermon and as part of the series I'm doing on seeing Christmas through new eyes I read the passage in Isaiah 9 that sings, literally sings, to me.

"Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea will be filled with glory."

As I write this, one of my five favorite praise songs is playing. It started after I started so I claim it as a message, not an inspiration. Someone is singing "Blessed Be Your Name."

"Every blessing you pour out I'll turn to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say,
Blessed be your name."

Matt Redman's lyrics proclaim the idea that no matter what happens, no matter how dark it gets in our lives, no matter how wonderful it gets in our lives, blessed be the name of the Lord.

My goodness do I need a reminder of that from time to time.

The first Sunday I returned to our home church in Gretna after Hurricane Katrina took part of the roof of the less than year-old church, an amazing eight years ago now, I was tasked that day of planning the music.

I had decided we would use that tune as our opener followed by Darrel Evans' "I'm trading my sorrows." We weren't sure who or how many would come to that Sunday. They had held a service the week before and had, I believe, 11 persons.

As the service began, the music began, and Matt Redman began to sing to my heart. I looked up and two dear elderly sisters, who paid for the wonderful window opening to the sanctuary, came walking in slowly.

I knew right then we would be okay, whatever that is.

When the darkness closed in, God sent his Son to be the light. He still does.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Keep on plowing

I saw a Facebook item where there was a passing of a sweet soul from a former church recently. As usual, it got me thinking. He was a good man, rang the bell for years at the church. The type of man you can build churches with. We're losing them at an alarming rate, I figure.

There are transitions in ever life, points of emphasis, markers that you just know will be meaningful as one looks back. We head into a week in which we have loved ones that must move and money is a strong issue. We have a house that a renter must pay but we've lost the ability to contact him, and I fear we will have to force him out of the house, and then ... what.

Decisions about the ministry must be made fairly soon, as they are every year. And on and on and on.

I believe the next couple weeks will be some for the Turner family. Decisions must be made. Decisions must be carried out.

Hopefully diagnoses will be made that will be correct and something will be done about said diagnoses.

All of which leads me to wonder about what comes next. Which got me to thinking about what exactly did the Israelites thinks they wandered for 40 years. And why didn't they simply stop where they were and build a life there? Course, there was that bit about it being desert, and I guess they didn't want to live with all that sand in the tents. But what I think kept them going all along was a desire to arrive. To get to where they needed to be. To simply follow what God had told them to follow and to get there, no matter what.

Eventually, I think that's pretty much what life is, figuring out what God wants from us and doing it. Just keep plowing the field, no matter the obstacle in front of you. I think it's keeping on keeping on no matter the stump you run into to, no matter the clotted, rocky terrain. Just keep plowing.

Seems the past 10 years have been constant ebb and flow, but again, that's what life is all about I reckon.

The prophet Malachi  records God's words about plans: On the day that I act, they will be my treasured possession. "I will spare them just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him."

Keep plowing, my friends.

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 and counting; how could we?

Fifty years ago today, I played hooky from school.

I had a difficult fifth-grade year, as I remember, and I talked my mother into letting me stay away from school that day. She said yes partly because she and I had mostly lived through the science project from hell and had come out the other side bloodied but not bowed. I couldn't stay at home by myself, which would have been perfect, but instead I stayed home with a friend of my mother, who had a son my age and didn't work. He was a good friend, but in an irony he never let me forget, he had to go to school while I stayed at his house.

My premise of staying home was I had a fever. My mother, never one to turn to tricky upscale things like, oh, a thermometer, said I felt warm to her when she put her hand on my forehead in response to me saying I felt weak,I felt funny, I felt icky.

I gave her those big ol' eyes routine, you know the shoot your eyes to the corners of the lid, roll them around like a rubber ball, then let them rest there like you were looking for something on the ceiling. Makes for remorseful goings on, like, "you're leaving me and I feel warm, weak, funny, ICKY?" Like I said, ideally it worked so much I got time alone. Mrs. Suire had to do.

At one point, Mrs. Suire told me she had to go for groceries, and she asked me to stay at home. "Oh, I think I could do that."

She got back, as I recall (though I could certainly look it up) and I helped her with the groceries as she told me something had happened. All the radio stations were broadcasting about the same thing, and she believed it had something to do with the governor of Texas being shot.

We cut on the TV, which got one channel, and was black and white,  and we were given more and more details. Ol' Walter (Cronkite), the keeper of all information as far as we were concerned, said President Kennedy, had been shot, then moments later it seemed, President Kennedy had died.

I couldn't imagine him dead. Fifty years later, I still can't. Not really. It's like a day. A very bad day. The kind of day you're sure will go away if you but put you head under the covers. I feel like I could do that sometime, you know?

See, Kennedy was the first instance where I broke away from the mold, pushed away from what I was told to what I believed. I loved to hear him speak, though I thought his accent funny. I practiced it constantly in front of the mirror (along with the other keeper of the flame, Elvis).

He was a Democrat, but he was hated by my Democrat parents, who were anything but democratic. He believe in equality, no matter how hard earned, and so did I, even as a fifth-grader.

I didn't know Democrat from Republican, elephant from donkey, but I believed this man when he spoke, and I wanted others to believe him.

Oh, it was a difficult time, at best.. I lived through Philadelphia and the civil rights workers being buried in an earthen damn near there. I lived through bombings near there. I lived through bombings of mosques in Meridian, near Philadelphia. And on and on.

But somehow I believed this man would end all that. He didn't, at least in part because his life was cut short by an assassin's bullet.

Fifty years ago today. How could we?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bible-Minded and Southern fried

I saw a Facebook item yesterday about an article based upon (got all my references in there I hope) a barna survey on America's Most (and least) Bible-Minded cities.

Not to dwell on it too long, but the most Bible-Minded cities (top five) were Knoxville, Tenn.; Shreveport, La.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; Jackson, Miss.

The least Bible-Minded cities (top five) in the nation were Providence, RI; Albany, N.Y.; Burlington, Vt.; Portland, Maine; Hartford, Conn.

Now, without getting too deep in this, the thing that jumps out the most is the regional declaration. None of these are from west of the Mississippi. The Bible-Minded are all Deep South representatives. The least are all from the Northeastern corridor.

One has to get to No. 18 before one finds a Bible-Minded city, Wichita, Kan., that isn't from the Deep South. One has to get to No. 26, before one gets to the Pacific Coast, Bakersfield, Ca.

The surprises, for me, are I would have thought the Northern California through the Pacific Northwest corridor would have been much higher. Truthfully, I would have thought the Portland to Seattle area would have been right there fighting for the top in the least category. Perhaps Mars Hill's churches in Seattle are succeeded to an even greater extent that I imagined.

Some side results are interesting. Shreveport has the most in attendance in churches that average under 100 persons per Sunday. In other words, Shreveport's little churches, of which there must be a slew, have a slew of folks attending them. Good news travels in small packages, still. In Louisiana, Baton Rouge is 25 and New Orleans (NEW ORLEANS?) is 36th.

In the startling category, Las Vegas has the most conservative churches in America, and it has the most churches with 1,000 or more in attendance. The capital of sin (I imagined) in the country has 64 percent of its church-going folk saying they are conservative, or at least their theology is on the conservative side, and they go to big ol' churches. I will say that conservatives tend to be Caucasian, and the state of Nevada (as I remember it) is mostly Caucasian. There, that's my statistical analysis.

Okay, what are we to make of all this? Glad you asked.

These stats show at least a couple of things, I gather. This won't come as a shock to most, but the Bible Belt still is the Bible Belt. Chattanooga, Tenn., for example, has more folks attending church each week than any city in America, though it is obviously no where near the largest city in terms of population.

In San Francisco, only 3 of 10 persons say they know anything about Christianity. And we're sending missionaries to Africa and Asia (the two area in the world that United Methodism is growing). One could argue that the missionaries would be most needed elsewhere, maybe in San Fran or in New York State, but that's just me.

Bottom line is that it truly doesn't matter, apparently, whether the church has less than 100 or ore than 1,000. What matters, apparently, is well, I'm not sure what matters other than the effort to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I love what our Bishop, Cynthia Harvey, proclaims. I truly do. No sucking up or anything. I truly do. She says we're about bringing people to Christ, not making new members.

I will literally die to accomplish that. No matter who it angers. No matter what it takes.

Pain-stricken souls, in need of something they can't quite place, hungering for what this Word of God is. Given the second-chance they need but don't even understand is there for them. That's what we offer. That's what they understand in Shreveport. That's what they get in Baton Rouge. Even in New Orleans, that's what they know.

Bible-minded is Word-minded is Jesus-minded. That's what this is all about.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On rules, Crunks and white hats

I have gone 404 blogs without talking sports, so I kind of thought I was due. The fact that I kept up with the number of blogs without talking sports should be informative. It should tell you that I'm a non-truth teller (I have no idea how many blogs in a row I've done without talking sports), and it should tell you that leaving sports behind has been an issue unto itself.

I digress, before I've ever begun. So, let's take a 30-second time out to turn on Pandora radio (Chris Tolim I think will be the choice this morning, or maybe something of a Stand Up and Get Crunked variety).

On a whim, I tried the latter. I got the Ying Yank Twins, of course. Second choice was Stand Up, Fall Down, Get Crushed by the Impossibles, then Stand Up (Let's Get Murdered), by P.O.S.

I quickly decided on Chris Tomlin and My Deliverer drifted through the little speakers -- thankfully.

On to the topic at hand, a series of questions that followed a weekend of NFL football in which there were at least two  with referees calls that all but decided games, games that affected the one and only New Orleans Saints, thus making them games with calls that mattered instead of those other umpteen games that had no meaning whatsoever.

Just saying.

Anyway, to the questions:

If a quarterback falls in a forest, does the entire NFL make a sound?

If a call in a football game is so close a rule book has to be found to distinguish good call from bad call, can we ever say it was an obvious call?

If a referee's call is that close, and it comes at the end of a game, can't we all still be friends?

And finally, most importantly, is it possible to be too Crunked to discuss referees' calls?

For my many non-NFL readers, as this is almost exclusively a column on religion and daily living (which I would argue includes the NFL, duh), two calls occurred that stopped the sun in the sky for brief periods this weekend. I know this because Monday is included in discussions about the weekend, thus the sun had to...oh, you get it, don't you?

Anyway, Saint Drew (and if you don't know who that is please gently close the blog and prepare for a long, long Wednesday without benefit of this column), was nearly clubbed to death by a dastardly arm muscle of a San Francisco 49ers pass rusher. Hit him a blow that would have felled many of the redwoods this 49er brute sees driving to work each day and drew a drizzle of blood from a lip devastate by said arm. A referee threw one of those yellow flags at the brute who did this and claimed he had roughed Saint Drew. His arm muscle should have been thrown out of the league.

Mouths have wagged since. Drew refitted his head to neck and drove the Saints to a tying field goal, then a winning one, making the plan vital to a team that made it to the Super Bowl because Saints Payton was erroneously driven from the league for a year for allowing his team's arm muscle hits on opposing players or something like that.

The discussion has been since whether the offending brute hit Saint Drew in the neck area and after the guy who works for Fox Sports in the greatest job in the world found his rule book and quoted at length for 30 seconds or so it intensified. The guy who sits there waiting for another "awful" call to happen all weekend (which starts on Thursday and ends on Tuesday) said it was a good call. Much of the rest of the world including China's numerous 49ers fans, disagreed.

Saint Drew said he thought his head had been ripped off. It was discovered this would be a violation only if it was a quarterback whose head had been ripped away from said body. Headless linemen wouldn't matter, apparently, nor headless Broncos or Colts obviously. (A Sleepy Hollow reference).

I thought it was a penalty at the time. I think it is a penalty as I write this. But a dear friend Facebooked that it was a horrible call. Another one told us all about how much he liked Saint Drew, but how this wasn't a penalty. Both are former sports writers and have watched as many of these "games" as have I. The fact we disagree shows the degree of difficulty in refereeing in today's NFL.

My opinion is despite the fact he was hit so hard my neck aches, what matters is the rule, whether it is a dumb rule or not. Everyone has agreed to this rule book. Everyone should go by this rule book, whether one likes or agrees with the rule book.

Anyone who looks at either the sill photo or the video and thinks the arm of the brute doesn't rise up and do its best to remove the offending head from the offending body of the offending Saint Drew is either blind or, er, blind. Perhaps one too many blows to the head of the watching judge. Not that I would ever get emotional over such a thing.

Bottom line is this: Rules are often the most difficult of things to follow, not unlike multiple cars in a traffic jam are.

(And giving this a religious overtone) To say that the Bible is just a bunch of rules is to give far to great importance than they should have. The Bible, all of Christianity, is about the grace of God, the love of God, not the rules of God.

Rules have nothing to do with Christianity. The Apostle Paul said that no one could follow all the law of Moses, and if one didn't do one of the rules (or laws), one didn't do all of them and was condemned. Anyone who thinks they can do all the rules is fooling him or herself.

But we still have NFL rules, baseball's rule book, NBA rules, even Books of Discipline or their equivalent in various denominations. Rules is rules.

But that doesn't solve everything. Two persons can look right at something that is ruled by a rule and see two different things. In sports. In life.

Therefore, there must be someone who is the judge. A head judge. The one with the white hat. And when that someone rules, that's it. It must be. And there must be consequences. For the 49ers (and later in the weeked the New England Patriots), sometimes the violation of the rule causes great loss.

What is going on in the world is there are many who try to circumvent the rule or rules because, well, because they don't like the rule.

But rules are rules. If one doesn't like the rule, there are choices: leave the arena or work to get it changed.

Awful call. Horrible call. Right call.

Doesn't matter.

When the judge rules, it's the only call.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Jesus and Jeremia in normal Tuesday conversation

In doing research for the Bible study I'm doing on the book of Revelation (I know, I know; I've given proof to the old statement about biting off more than I can chew), I came across an answer to a question I wasn't aware I was asking.

In Revelation 2, in the letter (mailed or e-mailed I'm not sure) to the church in Pergamum, there's this reference: "Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven." That's in the New Living Translation. In the NIV, it's called the "hidden manna."

Not being aware that there was or is manna that had been hidden, who might have hidden it, or just where in the world it might be, I went in search of what this might mean (as I do in any Biblical reference in any study I'm doing whether that makes for inticing Bible study or un-inticing).

What I found was a discussion I didn't know was needed, but that which I found fascinating. You might or might not.

In Matthew's Gospel, there's a discussion about who people say Jesus is. The "people" declared, "Some say John the Baptist (which is a discussion unto itself), some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets." I've, of course, read this many times but it never struck me in any way unusual because I was reading it instead of pondering it. This blog is about pondering.

In the top 10 listing of Jewish prophets, Moses would be on top, Elijah second (my sport background comes out here as we rank everything today, don't we?), with Daniel, Ezekial and others falling in behind somewhere Jeremiah? Jeremiah wouldn't be third, even. His defensive skills were suspect, at best.

So, why would the people think Jesus would be Jeremiah and what the heck has that got to do with hidden manna, and what the holy heck does that have to do with us?

First, Jeremiah and Jesus both talked about the coming Messiah (Jesus from a completely different viewpoint of course). In a sense, both were prophets of doom who became enemies of the Jewish state. Both were weeping prophets whose biggest tears were for Jerusalem. Both were misunderstood by the people of their day. Both rejected Temple worship as corrupt and beyond repair. Both taught about a new Covenant that would come. Both were falsely accused. Both were forcibly taken into Egypt to escape persecution. There was a lot of similarities.

Of course, that whole being the Son of God thing was a big divider. But if Jesus was going to be mistaken for someone, Jeremiah wasn't all that bad a choice.

But the thing that ties it all together (tada) is a Jewish tradition, one of the oldest and strongest regarding the fate of the Ark of the Covenant of all things. It is one that is found in the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees, which was written during the inter-Testamental period (in the 400 silent years before Matthew's Gospel). It contends that Jeremiah fled Jerusalem with the Ark and buried it in a cave in Mount Nebo, which is located in the modern day nation of Jordan, which borders Israel.
The narrative in that book says:
"...the prophet, warned by an oracle, gave orders for the tabernacle and the ark to go with him when he set out for the mountain which Moses had climbed to survey God's heritage. On his arrival, Jeremiah found a cave-dwelling, into which he brought the tabernacle, the ark, and the altar of incense, afterwards blocking up the entrance" 2 Maccabees 2: 4-5.   
The Ark is mentioned in the letter to the Hebrews and in Revelation. Hebrews 9:4 says that the Ark contained the golden pot that had manna. ... In Revelation 11:19, John says he saw God's temple in heaven opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple.
Because I've been told these things are getting to be too long, let me wrap this all up in a few sentences. Jesus was thought to possibly be Jeremiah because Jeremiah and he had so much in common. Most importantly, Jeremiah was a key prophet involved in Messianic prophecy and prophecy of the end of days, two things Jesus excelled at. Within the language of the end of days, there was also the notion that the Ark of the Covent would play a prominent part. And within that Ark rested the pot of "manna."
Thus, the promise given to the church in Pergamum was that anyone who was victorious, anyone who persevered, anyone who overcame would receive the manna that was hidden. Who had hidden it? Jeremiah. Who would use it in the end of days? Jesus, who was and is and will ever be in heaven.
If one believes all that, even the traditional non-cannonical things, one is one step closer to the prophecy of the end of days. And to Jesus.

Monday, November 18, 2013

THAT'S LIFE: Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants ...

THAT'S LIFE: Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants ...: We were in a Bible study last night and the subject, a well-worn one kind of like my Serenity Bible that exploded last night, leaving severa...

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die

We were in a Bible study last night and the subject, a well-worn one kind of like my Serenity Bible that exploded last night, leaving several chapters to fall by the way-side, of who goes to heaven came up.

It was a side-line subject to the overall conversation, but it's an important one. One of the dear friends at the study said what I should said, "We don't get to decide who gets to go to heaven."

True, true, true. We spent a few minutes talking about a subject that might take hours to discuss and still not get full answers. The words judgment, sinners, acts rather than persons and such entered the discussion.

The result? Same as we entered. Jesus says don't judge. Paul says judge the saints of the church, and if necessary, ask them to leave.

How do we reconcile that? Probably we don't or can't.

This morning, always on the look out for what might pass as a blog topic, I ran across a CNN profile of a man who is no relation to me, Ted Turner. In the midst of a long piece on the man, came the revelation he wants to go to heaven. Remember, this is a man who shunned religion.

Turner has done amazing things, gained amazing amounts of money and given amazing amounts of money away to good causes.

Does that equate a trip to heaven? Does giving to the poor, taking care of the planet, all those sorts of things equate a trip up the stairs rather than down?

He has so far made good on $965 million of his $1 billion pledge to the United Nations. He has worked for more than a decade to protect endangered species, grasslands and oceans, championed energy conservation, railed against global warming, fought to rid the world of nuclear weapons -- the do-gooder list goes on and on.
The CNN story revealed a few things:
"Even though he is a son of the Bible Belt, Ted Turner and God haven't been on the best of terms. Despite his strong stance against religion in the past, he's not an atheist. He's an agnostic, trying to make sense of it all -- his way. He revised the Ten Commandments, which he considered outdated, coming up instead with his Eleven Voluntary Initiatives, which he printed on cards small enough to carry in a wallet. He tossed out the commandments that struck him as outdated -- a host of the "thou shalt nots," particularly the one banning adultery. "People have had a lot of fun breaking that one. I know I did."
"Turner's initiatives focus instead on caring for the Earth "and all living things," treating others with dignity, looking out for the poor, having no more than two children, and avoiding the use of toxic materials. As with most things, Turner's rocky relationship with his supreme being, assuming there is one, stems back to childhood. When he was very young, he dreamed of being a missionary. Then his little sister, Mary Jean, got sick at age 12. He watched as she suffered terribly from a rare form of lupus and complications that left her with brain damage and screaming in pain for years until she died. It shook his faith profoundly. He could not understand why any God would let an innocent suffer. "She was sick for five years before she passed away. And it just seemed so unfair, because she hadn't done anything wrong," he said. "What had she done wrong? And I couldn't get any answers. Christianity couldn't give me any answers to that. So my faith got shaken somewhat."
"He once walked into the CNN newsroom on Ash Wednesday and, spotting several staffers with smudges on their foreheads, blurted out, "What are you? A bunch of Jesus freaks? You ought to be working for Fox." He has said famously that "Christianity is a religion for losers," even though some of his closest friends have a deep and profound faith. "He knew I was a Christian when he said that," said former President Jimmy Carter. "Ted had a tendency to say things like that just to be provocative. And to stir people's interest. But later he retracted that statement."
Carter continues to hope his friend will someday "have a profound religious experience." Turner said he respects the position of his religious friends, but he's a skeptic by nature. He described himself as an agnostic, although as a younger man he was an atheist, and virulently anti-religious. These days, he keeps the door open a crack. He allows for the possibility. "When I have a friend that's dying of cancer, I say a prayer for them," he said. To whom does he direct the prayer? "Whoever is listening."
Given his childhood," Ex-wife Jane Fonda said, "he should've become a dictator. He should've become a not nice person. The miracle is that he became what he is. A man who will go to heaven, and there'll be a lot of animals up there welcoming him, animals that have been brought back from the edge of extinction because of Ted. He's turned out to be a good guy. And he says he's not religious. But he, the whole time I was with him, every speech -- and he likes to give speeches -- he always ends his speech with 'God bless.' And he'll get into heaven. He's a miracle."
Turner listened intently. There was a long pause. Was he tearing up? Finally, he spoke.
"She said that?"Another long pause. "Well, I sure don't want to go to hell." Pause.
"Did she say I was gonna buy my way in?"
Here's a couple of answers to the very serious question of who gets to "go" to heaven:
I base much of my ministry on Romans 10:9 -- "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
Confession of sin, and a repentance to turn the other way of living, is necessary. Believing that Jesus is Lord is necessary. Belief in the resurrection of that man named Jesus is necessary for without it it negates the shed blood of the Lamb as the saving element and a man simply died.
I believe, though there is conflict on what exactly this means and I acknowledge that difference but choose to believe what it says is what it says, that it is significant that Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me."
I believe, therefore, that one can not be saved any way but through acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord. All the money in the world won't do it. All the benevolence in the world won't do it. All the good thinking, good effort, good meaning won't do it. All the indifference to who He is certainly won't do it. Ending speeches with God bless is nice, but it won't do it.
I feel sadness about writing this for reasons I don't completely understand, but it's there. I guess part of the reason is this man who was given much, tried to do so much, but doesn't understand the most basic of requirements for what he understands is eternal living.
I've never had nor ever will have billions of dollars. I've never had nor ever will own a World Series winning baseball team, pilot a yacht that wins the America's Cup, own a 24-hour television station or even personally bring back the Bison from near death as a species. I won't ever be the second-largest land-owner in the country nor give away millions of dollars.
But like that old contemporary tune (which is a strange but true construct)
"You can have all this world,
But give me Jesus."

Friday, November 15, 2013

Round here, I ponder

Round here, this morning, I rose and found my cell phone, which I certainly thought I had hooked to the charger, in the middle of my bed with almost no power remaining. I hooked it back to the charger, and I brought both phone and charger with me to the office where I plugged in the cord and charger.

I think, therefore I am not (or something like that).

Round here it's another day, another dollar or two. Round here it is and was business as usual.

Now, it doesn't take a great deal of imagination to think God is shaking his head this morning at the latest of my ineptitude-al moments. It doesn't take must to see God wondering, oh, I don't know, why or how I'm faltering and failing one more time and pondering just how I'm going to fail again soon.

In other words, if I have that much trouble with a phone, what on earth (and beyond) would I know about questions and answers to the most important of ideas, the deepest of notions? To paraphrase, if I can't handle the least of these, why would I be given the most important of these?

That's right. Didn't think so. The signs point an entirely different way, round here.

In the book of photos of the deepest of thinkers, I suspect I'm not on there. More likely in another book, there's a picture of a shepherd, of a mutt, of a collie, of me, of a dachshund, of a mutt, of a ... You get the idea. More likely to have had fleas than have learned to fly.

This morning, however, let's look through another idea, in the 17th chapter of Luke's Gospel. In the verses between 20 and 37, Jesus is offered the chance to explore the idea of the Kingdom coming.

"One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, 'When  will the Kingdom of God come?' "

"Jesus replied, 'The Kingdom of God can't be detected by visible signs. You won't be able to say, 'Here it is!' or 'It's over there!' For the Kingdom of God is already among you.' "

As the enthralled group of folks (disciples and Pharisees and those in the spiritual marketplace as it were) looked around at each other as if to say, uh, exactly how is the Kingdom of God among us, or when did that occur that we didn't notice, Jesus said, "The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won't see it. People will tell you, 'Look, there is the Son of Man,' or 'Here he is,' but don't go out and follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes. But first the Son of Man must suffer terribly and be rejected by this generation.

Then in verse 26, Jesus says, 'When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah's day. In those days, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came and destroyed them all. And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot. People went about their daily business -- eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building -- until the morning morning Lot left Sodom.Then fire and burning sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Yes, it will be business as usual right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed."

Business as usual, round here. Till it's not. Business as usual, till Entertainment Tonight breaks into CBS News which had broken into CNBC just seconds after a report showing fiery skies breaks into ABC news update that shows the Son of Man playing in the clouds with fire and sulfur as His backup band. The parties are over because THE party is about to begin.

Business as usual till it's not. Round here, I mean.

Step out the front door like a ghost
into the fog where no one notices
the contrast of white on white.
And in between the moon and you
the angels get a better view
of the crumbling difference between wrong and right.

Round here we always stand up straight
Round here something radiates
Round here, we're in the process of making absolutely certain those around one of our churches know about our churches, about our Christmas Eve Service. Tomorrow, we're handing out Christmas stockings with self-created book marks and candy at a city-wide garage sale. On Thanksgiving evening, we're distributing as many as 50 cups of hot cocoa or coffee with labels on the cups at the Stage Department Store in Eunice as people line up for the opening of the department store before Black Friday. Between December 9th and 14th, we're sending out 1,000 post cards advertising our Advent services and our Christmas Eve service.

I think what we decided was we needed to do some things round here that were not business as usual, that we would do things that were extra-ordinary. Or else...

Verse 31 tells us, "On that day a person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return home. Remember what happened to Lot's wife! If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it."
 Now in verse 31 the word 'that' refers back to the beginning of the Lord's remarks where he warns them of there would be false Messiahs.(Luke 21:22-23) When they heard about bogus Messiahs rallying patriotic Hebrews to fight off the Roman soldiers, they were to flee without looking back because their lives would be in such danger that they would not even have time to collect their belongings.
"On that day, a person out on the deck of a roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return home.
Round there, they were to abandon everything. During the siege of AD 70 there was a short break in hostilities. That day Christians, heeding this advise, took that opportunity to flee Jerusalem.

Here's the point of all this (found somewhere in this, I suspect), where ever you are, it is time. The clock has been going off round here, chiming, beeping, singing, chirping, ribbitting, you name it. Round here business as usual isn't working any more.

So, over and over and over again, we are hearing and seeing signs that are whispering, shouting, that it's time to BEGIN to get ready.

Do I know when He's coming back? Nope. But I know that it's approaching. Whether that's a minute, an hour, a day or a generation I have no idea. But I know (KNOW) it's closer than it was, round here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A breath of air, a slice of heaven and hell, that I saw today

I find it hard to believe what I'm about to say, but I'm about to say it, and therefore I must attempt to believe what I'm about to say, if you can believe I'm about to say it.

Do you believe that? Nah. Didn't think so.

It was cool this morning, heck, it was cold. It was as if God was playing the part of Rocky Balboa, breathing through cold air while cow carcasses were swinging left and right. And the amazingly difficult thing to believe is I love it. Love it. Relish it. Love it some more.

I woke up, or at least my eyes opened quite intentionally, between 5:30 and 6 a.m. Dark time. Cold air.Something out of a Thor movie.

Oh, my eyelids were creaking, much like my knees, and my back was, much like my feet were, much like -- well, you get the idea. This morning, in a very thin fog bank, I could see air, see it like it was a lightly parting the darkness, if you know what I mean.

Cool and wispy it was as the sun fought its way to the top of the horizon. That was this morning. Nothing given, everything taken, that was the dawn this morning.

This evening will be different, however. This evening, our youth will hear me tell them about how people are drawn to people who can keep their heads when everyone else is losing theirs. I see those types of people on occasion. I hear about those types of people on occasion. I know some of those types on occasion.

But they are indeed rare. As anyone who reads these things I ponder and write know, lately the things I've been going through have taken on the weight of a new car on my shoulders. While others can lift that weight with ease, me, I'm more of the put the weight on Fannie kind of guy -- if you know what I mean.

I was reading about those types recently. James Merritt writes, "The only place you will ever find peace in the midst of the storm is down deep in a walk with God. People are drawn to those who can keep their head when everyone else is losing theirs."

In other words, people sensing difficulty about to come, gravitate to those types of people who can successfully navigate the emotional tsunami.

Jesus was certainly one of those persons. Strength was his companion. In the midst of our weaknesses, he was clearly strong. That's just who he was. Heck, that's just who he is.

At the end, Jesus was beginning. Miserable, wracked with pain, Jesus walked that lonely, desperately cruel mile to the cross.

I'm quite the fan of one of the Bible's translations that turns the word patience into the word long-suffering. I think long-suffering is quite the appropriate word for the Christ.

Blood from wounds stitched into his head began to seep into his hair, surf down his shoulders, swim onto his chest, soak portions of his skin like some kind of Palestinian familial Map quest.

Wounds appeared from being beaten like the common criminal he never was, scourging imprints that would have been too much for most of us to even contemplate grew larger by the second, and as the old hymn says, he never said a mumbling word.

Pain like we will never know or understand became his companion in the last hours of his life. Yet, yet, yet, he allowed it all because, well, because he did this for us.

So on a cold morning in central Louisiana I was again reminded that I am second in all things. I am reminded that He did this for me, for us, for us all. I'm reminded that all the very difficult things that are going on in our lives are nothing compared to having all the sins of all the people of all time suddenly placed on us. And I'm reminded again and again that He did this for us all.

One brilliantly cold morning was simply enough to remind me.

So, I will never forget that. I must never forget that. I can never forget that.

Oh, the breath of air, of heaven and hell in a slice of life, oh I saw that today.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A God moment at just the right time

When was your last God moment? Oh, you know those things. The kind of moment where you're absolutely certain God was involved in whatever the heck happened. I love 'em. I've had them. I need them.

Here's one God moment of mine, just yesterday:

I was sitting in the secretary's office on a Monday morning, playing secretary since we don't have one, and the phone did it's best jingle jangle. Answering, I listened as a young woman explained she was the manager at a local business. I listened some more, not understanding what she was telling me for the longest of times.

She was friends with a young lady whom was married a short time ago in our church, hence the connection of business to church.

She had a thought. It was a good thought. Last year for the beginning of Black Friday, the business opened for customers at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving evening. This young lady said that the line waiting for the doors to spring open was a long one. She said it was cold that day, and she worried it will be again, particularly since Thanksgiving is a late one this year.

She asked if we, the church, would be interested in coming and handing out coffee and hot chocolate to those persons lined up around the business buildings, out into the parking lot. I said sure, immediately. Then as I thought about it more (as she talked), and it became apparent to me this was an opportunity to take the church out of the church doors, and it was a wonderful opportunity to do a bit of Turkey Day evangelism, as well.

I asked the young lady, Anna, if we could bring our own coffee cups with a label on them with the name of the church, the address, the phone number, my name or whatever. She said, with a flourish, "sure."

And there you go.

God moment on a Monday.

Later in the morning, and into the afternoon, our world pretty much fell apart, like a ship that struck an iceberg the size of Donald Trump's wallet. Without going into detail, I will say that family issues are sinking the already sinking ship. Three weeks or so of great difficulty and pressure and stress have me looking for peace in all the wrong places.

Just when I'm pretty sure it can't get any worse, with my bad back feeling the need to be bad, my knees anticipating the coming cold front, and my blood pressure numbers looking like the prices of some kind of cut-rate tablet, it gets worse.

Again, for once not getting into details, let me just say that Mary and I have decided we are going to circle Nov. 11 on the calendar the rest of our lives and never again have one. In other words, we're going to do Nov. 10 and go right on into Nov. 12 from no own.

Finally, when it can't possibly, no way, no how, no, no, no, get worse. IT GETS WORST. Worst of all, in other words.

We we get a call telling us the renter of our house in Lacombe won't be able to make the payment, after he first lied about sending us the November payment. We might be stuck with that payment.

As someone once said in a moment of great thought: Arrrrgggggg. I think it might have been Popeye who threw out that expression when his can of spinach was shockingly empty.

By the time I got to the back doctor in Lake Charles for four steroid shots, my blood pressure was 197 over 110, and I could actually feel my heart beat and feel a kind of warmth in the skin on my forehead.

Still, I couldn't forget the God moment. It was a big ol' life preserver to a sinking swimmer. There was joy in a cesspool of stuff. Joy in a true moment of pain and suffering. Joy in a cauldron of kookiness.

In a little book by James Merritt called "9 Keys To Successful Leadership," Merritt writes, "Jesus makes clear that being a faithful follower of His teaching brings one an inner joy that is real and resilient regardless of economic indicators, interest rates, government deficits, or the triumvirate of pestilence, disease, and death."

Or as someone said, "we cannot be happy without being joyful, but we can be joyful without being happy."

All that stuff that is coming against me, against us, is so without muscle because the power of the living God lives in me, in us. I, we, have been given a number of things by our creator, but among the most important is this process we call peace. Ever heard of that term, peace process. It simply means there is a place to fine peace, but people are looking for it every place but the right one. Why? Because they do not get where true peace comes from, so they will never, never find it. That process works or does not work for clergy as well as laity.

Richard Blackmon, in a Los Angeles Times story a while back, wrote, "Pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated group in America. About 75 percent of pastors go through a period of stress so great that they consider quitting the ministry; 35 to 40 percent actually resign. Incidents of mental breakdown are so high that insurance companies charge about four percent extra to cover church's staff members, compared to employees in other professions."

They tell me, then, that we -- pastors and pastors wives and even pastors friends -- aren't immune to stress, frustration, and the feeling that we are on an Interstate coastal highway roaring down hill near the edge without the first sign of brakes.

What to do, what to do?

First, by reading scripture it becomes very clear that peace is not the absence of problems, but instead it is the presence of God in the midst of all my stuff. I read a story the other day about a woman at a party trying her best to look happy. Someone noticed a huge sparkling rock on her finger and said, "What a beautiful diamond."
"Yes, it's a Callahan diamond."
The other woman said, "I wish I had one."
"No, you don't."
"Why not?"
"Because it comes with the Callahan curse."
"The Callahan curse ... what's that?"
The woman with the diamond sighed and said, "Mr. Callahan!"

Maybe we're simply going through the Turner curse, but through it all, through it all, there He is, encouraging us, reminding us that those God moments still exist, still happen, still are memorable, still are moving, still are emotionally satisfying. Still are there, evident, viewable, feel-able, establishing a beachhead on the spiritual Omaha Beaches of our lives.

Perhaps if we simply wait for them long enough, those God moments completely overwhelm those Godless moments.

In fact, I'm fairly sure they do.

God moments, indeed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lying I's

There's a significance God places on something I'm beginning to think is hard to come by.

In Proverbs we read, "The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who tell the truth."

I want to say up front, I've lied before. Nothing big, mind you, but I've lied. Told an untruth. Mostly it was in my childhood when caught doing something I shouldn't have been doing. I lied my way out of it. But in a great irony, I never lied to my Mama because she could see through me like someone looking through very thin newspaper stock.

But I've lied. Told an untruth. Made up something in a spur of a moment thing.

But never have I lied to hurt someone. Never have I lied to make someone less than they would be if I hadn't told that lie. Never. I reject those kinds of things by the name of Jesus Christ.

There. That should do it, like a fly-swatter to a fly.

But I'm aware that it won't. There are people out there telling lies even though I can't understand the motive, but I've been made aware of it twice in one week. I've heard of lies being told by people I care about and lies being told about people I care about. And through it all I pray for both parties, and I'm left strung out like washed clothes on a thin line.

The prophecy about Jesus said this: ... "then God will establish one of David’s descendants as king. He will rule with mercy and truth. He will always do what is just and be eager to do what is right."

Truth, like stones in the sling of a future king. Truth, a staff to be hurled at the ground to split a sea. Truth, like an undergarment of protection. Truth. Words that that encourage and lift and love. Truth that is right and loving.

The Bible says that "... when you swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ you could do so with truth, justice, and righteousness. Then you would be a blessing to the nations of the world, and all people would come and praise my name.”

That's truth. But ...the opposite would mean you are anything but a blessing and that people will not praise God"s name because of it -- or you.

Remember, Jesus said he was the "the way, THE TRUTH, and the life."  He prayed in the garden, "Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth."

The very Word of God is, to encapsulate the Gospel, truth. Truth told. Truth lived.

In the end, the Bible teaches there are several types of lying and they all hurt those who have been lied about:
1. Outright falsehoods
2. False promises
3. Flattery
4. False doctrine
5. Hypocrisy
6. Half truths
7. Self-deception

Here's the truth as I see it from a piece that Jim Meyer wrote:

CEOs, executives, and leaders of all types are routinely lied about … and that includes pastors. You wouldn’t believe the lies that have been told about me … or maybe you would. But aren’t God’s people to be purveyors of truth? Isn’t Jesus our Lord the One who said, “The truth shall set you free?” Yes and yes.

But when a major conflict invades a church, some people start lying. Peter Steinke, in his book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, writes that when a conflict “regresses to a forceful competition,” then: “Lying increases, taking many forms – half-truths, withholding information, inflating statistics and bloating claims, fabricating events, releasing publicly that [which] was to be private, double talk, and false attributions.” But why would any Christian lie? To get their way. To win a conflict. To defeat their opponents.

But isn’t lying wrong for a Christian? Yes. The ninth commandment (“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”) stands for all time. Since God does not lie (Titus 1:2), and 1 Peter 2:22 reminds us that Jesus never lied (“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth”), God’s people are expected to be people of truth – even if the rest of the world lies.

But in all too many cases … when Christians want to win and make somebody else lose … they resort to lying. I’ll give you an example. I know a man who pastored a large church. Some conflict began to surface inside his congregation. This pastor told me that a woman wrote a letter to everyone in the church stating that the pastor did not believe several essential doctrines of the Christian faith. The woman’s statement was 100% false, but the pastor ended up resigning … and a Christian leader (whose judgment I trust) told me that this pastor is among the best Christian leaders in his part of the country. But he never pastored a church again.

While God cannot lie, Satan routinely lies. In Jesus’ words, the devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). The very phrase “devil” means “slanderer.” It’s Satan’s nature to lie.
When truth permeates a congregation, God prevails. But when lying becomes prevalent, Satan prevails. Let me make a strong statement: when people in a church lie to get rid of their pastor, they are inviting Satan to take control of their church. Such people no longer trust God because they no longer trust truth. They can’t push out their pastor unless they lie about him … so they lie … and unfortunately, all too often, the lies work."

Our president apparently has lied about ... fill in the president and/or fill in the lie.
Our leaders lie, our heroes lie, our friends lie, even loved ones lie, and there seems to be little consequence.

I think that it is instructive that in every scandal, there is lying when the person(s) who are involved are caught. And it almost never works.

But surely that doesn't happen in churches?

I've been told by many pastor friends of people lying their, er, assurances off about them, the pastor of the church, when simply telling the truth wasn't good enough to punish, inflict pain or gain or maintain control.

Why is this so important?

Meyer adds, "If we’re going to advance the kingdom of God in our generation, Jesus’ church needs to be characterized by truth. We need to adopt a zero tolerance policy about lying … especially about pastors. And if we catch people lying about pastors … because the consequences of such lies can be catastrophic for the church’s future and the pastor’s career … we’ve got to come down hard on the liars. They need to repent … even in front of the entire church … if we want God’s blessing.
But if we coddle the liars … and make excuses for them … and let them into key leadership positions … God help us. "Years ago, I decided that I want 5 words to summarize my ministry: HE TOLD US THE TRUTH. May every follower of Jesus have that same desire. 

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

Amen. Right? All members of one body. Sorta, kinda, right? Aren't we? Or is that one big lie to all of us?

Friday, November 8, 2013

It's not the end -- but a beginning

I thought I had heard everything Matthew West had sung, but I was wrong. As I sat to begin this pondering, I was struck by this one, called The End:

It was raining when I woke this morning
So to escape it I went back to bed
But then the rain started leaking through the ceiling
and pretty soon it was pouring on my head

Sometimes it follows you home
like an old stray dog
It won't leave you alone

But it's not the end
the end of the world
It's just another day
depending on grace

Oh, did he nail it or what?

Jeremiah said it this way:
Even the gold has lost its luster!
Even the finest gold has become dull.
The sacred gemstones lie scattered in the streets!
See how the precious children of Jerusalem,
worth their weight in fine gold
are now treated like pots of gold,
made by a common potter.

Whatever we think about what what is going on in life, whatever we think about our marriages, whatever we think about our jobs, whatever fear we have about that strange entity called Obamacare, you name it, there's always hope, there are more dreams to be had, more faith to be gathered.

What if the trials we face are simply the way He uses to get our attention? It truly isn't the end of the world as we know it.  It's just a way of overcoming.

As another writer said, "what if a thousand sleepless years is what it takes to know you're near?"

For example, I'm having a great deal of difficulty bringing my blood pressure down. We've tried a couple or three medicines. It went up more, for reasons the doc doesn't kjnow. Now we're doubling the doubling.

I was asked yesterday by a nurse, "Do you have any stress in your life right now?"

Oh, well, uh, er, just the most I've ever had in my life. Without going into what is causing me stress, let me just say that I pray that when I read this in four years or so, I remember it as a period that made me stronger, not weaker.

It's not the end until we say it's the end. It's not life-threatening if we aren't worried about life's threats.

It's just another day when I rely on grace to bring me through. That's something I need to be reminded of from time to time (along with a thousand other things).

No, it's not the end. It's a beginning.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Holy time

This morning I was thinking -- still the laughter folks, I really was -- about that old hymn, Take Time To Be Holy.

What, exactly, do we think that means?

Is there a way we put on our busy schedules, uh, HOLY TIME, 3:30-3:45 p.m.? I think, well, we don't do that do we? We don't take enough "holy time" in our days or nights.

As I'm sitting here typing away, it reminds me of another song, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights."

Think of it this way... I read a little card my wife, Mary, had in her possession a few minutes ago.

On it were these words: I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanity and happiness. Everyday for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to the things of sense and your ears to all the noises of the world, in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctity of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, speak to the Divine Spirit, saying to Him: O, Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul. I adore you. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do .. give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all You desire of me and to accept all You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your will.

Wow, and uh, wow.

Do that, friends, immediately following the reading of this missive.

The card finishes by telling me that if we do this, our lives will flow along serenely and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials. Grace will be proportioned to the trial, giving us the strength to carry it and we will arrive at the gate of paradise laden with merit. This submission to the Holy Spirit is the secret to sanctity.

I guess that means it is also the secret to being holy.

Seems to me, apart from that merit part, our prayers to the Holy Spirit are vital to our understanding of scripture, understanding of Jesus, understanding of a creator God who is so far removed from us there is little we could understand of Him without his walking (or running) toward us first.

So, this morning, I've prayed to the Holy Spirit for his will. And lo and behold, the sun came out -- pouring its warmth on a cool morning through the window next to the Mac in our home office.

Become holy, friend, treating each second as treasured, as an opportunity to heal, as an opportunity to submit, as an opportunity to help our neighbor. How? Why? Through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, who lives and breathes in us for specific reasons.

Sanctify me, O, Lord.

Enough said.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Can you feel the mountains tremble?

Ah, another day to ruminate. Let's try something from the Psalms this wonderful morning.

In a Psalm that speaks to a coming Messiah and the beauty of his reign, we read this: "Let the mountains give exuberant witness; shape the hills with the contours of right living. Please stand up for the poor, help the children of the needy, come down hard on the cruel tyrants. Outlast the sun, outlive the moon -- age after age after age."

Uh, wow. What a glorious thought.

Even the mountains give exuberant witness. They shout in glory. They cry out in glory. They are colored in glory. His glory.

Remember Jesus' proclamation when some of the chief scribes and elders talked about getting the folks to clam up when he arrived into Jerusalem for the final go-round? "If I did," he said, "even the stones would cry out."

They're still crying out.

This morning as I think about all the wonderful, exciting things happening in our church (new men's group forming, a new women's Bible study going on, another Bible study beginning Sunday and still another Bible study starting in a smaller church on Mondays, a youth group that still is going great guns, working with Christmas Child and with Angel Tree and on and on), even the, uh, hills are crying out to God.

The Holy Spirit is dancing in Eunice right now, right as we speak, just before we send out 1,000 Christmas Card invitations to homes around the church, to come be a part of the seeking and saving of the lost.

The Holy Spirit is smiling and as families in Iota are reached with gifts for Thanksgiving and for Christmas.

The Holy Spirit is singing as we figure what is to come next, and then He is giving us the power to do it in Church Point and beyond.

The Psalmist continues, "Be rainfall on cut grass, earth-refreshing rain showers. Let righteousness burst into blossom and peace abound until the moon fades to nothing. Rule from sea to sea, from the River to the Rim."

That's our God. That's Jesus. That's a real blessing and filling of the Holy Spirit.

Can you feel the mountains tremble? Can you feel the oceans roar?

That's the movement going on. Catch the wave today and tell someone about what Jesus has done for you, and you will feel that same urge to dance and smile and sing.

That's not my promise, by the way. That is his.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The good, the bad and the Savior

I'm beginning a Bible study on the book of Revelation at two churches on Sunday evening. My reading has begun, again, about a book that is difficult to understand on the best of days.

But after perusing (love that word) the first chapter for the first time in a while, I'm reminded just what a wonder it really is.

The chapter tells me this, the writer says this work is a revelation from Jesus Christ. The key word, I think, is from. It is from Jesus Christ.

And in that word, there is real revelation, I think.

Off we go into the wild blue wonder.

I think, perhaps, we have lost some of that, the wild, the blue, the wonder of it all. Haven't we? What indeed is wonder to us now?

Do we still have the great wonder that encapsulated our first days as a Christian? Can you remember those days, days when everything about worship was special and enlightening, even special? When you couldn't keep yourself from reading about Him, talking to Him, being with Him?

I really do remember them, but that doesn't mean I have the same special feeling. Honestly, I long to get back to those days.

After three years, I envision the disciples longing for those special days themselves.
After 50 years, days at Ephesus and days on Patmos, I envision John longing for days spent with Jesus just fishing.

The stories never change. The first days with Jesus are beyond special. But here's the rub. Life must go on. We're not beamed up when we accept Him as Lord and Savior. Oh, but that we were. But life must, and does, go on.

Here is life: "Walk with me this morning to a small hill called Calvary. If you look closely you will see evidence of the greatest battle. The serpent's head was bruised and the stain of blood flowed down the hill. I want you to notice this: unlike many of us, Jesus knew before he left heaven what was going to happen on planet earth. We really don't know what's going to happen from day to day. One morning we are healthy and robust, but tomorrow might bring a dilemma that changes our lives forever. We wait  until crisis shows up and then try to find a solution. God prepares the solution before the crisis. Why don't you linger on this hill a little longer as you decide to walk with Jesus today."

Mornings with sweet sunshine and Jesus was great. But life is about what's coming at us, and most of the time we can't simply sit beneath a strong oak with the wind blowing easily and enjoy Him. Most of the time we have to simply rely, to simply trust, to simply be with Him -- and whatever is coming next.

I love the stories of the great prophet Elijah. He was so sure of himself that he brought down fire on wet wood and burned it with a smile and a smirk. He out-shone the work of the prophets of Baal. He said there wouldn't be dew nor rain in the next few years unless he said it would be so.

Not much time later, he was a depressed prophet wondering where his next meal was coming from.

Life in Christ is the most wonderful thing. But life in Christ, lower l, is where we spend much of our time. That's just the way the days are.

The key is to simply keep walking, keep plowing, keep on keeping on -- and keep on loving, trusting, Him.

John said it this way: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was with God. The same was in the beginning with God. ALL THINGS WERE MADE BY HIM; AND WITHOUT HIM WAS NOT ANY THING MADE THAT WAS MADE.

Get it. The cross was made BY HIM. The great days were MADE BY HIM. The storms where he's sitting at the back of the boat sleeping, WERE MADE BY HIM. He walks and talks with us along the narrow way, friends.

Today, walk toward the small hill, knowing all along that He's with you. IT ALL IS FROM HIM.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Supreme being, indeed

Jeremiah listened closely. God was speaking. One tends to listen when the big guy speaks, I understand.

God said to him, "Do not pray for these people anymore. When they fast, I will pay no attention. When they present their burnt offerings and grain offerings to me, I will not accept them. Instead, I will devour them with war, famine, and disease."

This week, the United States Supreme Court, which begins each session with prayer, will begin to decide if prayer can still be made before the beginning of legislative sessions.

It is the first time since 1983 that the highest court in the land, but not off the planet remember, will take up legislative prayer. A little town called Greece, N.Y., is the defendant. Seems the town's governing body had the audacity to start with prayer, which some say is against the Constitution. A couple women complained, and the body begin to ask others to open the prayers, including a Jewish layman, a Wiccan priestess, and the chairman of the local Baha'i congregation. That wasn't good enough, either.

So, here we go.

Jeremiah's reaction to the Lord's statement was this: "Night and day my eyes overflow with tears. I cannot stop weeping."

See, what's at stake here is not just prayer before the halls of government, but public displays such as Nativity scenes and such.

What some want to remove is everyone's ability to worship a creator, a God.

This is only a problem, however, if we allow it to be. We have the power and the capability to continue to bring God into the public square if we desire. Nothing on the planet can stop that.

If we remember those moments he changed everything for us, those moments when he whispered glad tidings, when he struck down our foes while we stood by shaking in fear, we will not go quietly into the night.

Jeremiah concluded, "Can any of the worthless foreign gods send us rain? Does it fall from the sky by itself? No, you are the one, O Lord our God! Only you can do such things. So we will wait for your to help us."

Seems the question for us all is do we believe in the Supreme Court or the Supreme Being? That's a personal decision, it seems. Let it be so.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Why so serious?

As I'm sitting here, coffee going cold as I ponder what next to pontificate about, I'm thinking of Heath Ledger's rendition of The Joker from the Dark Knight movie: "Why so serious?" he asked, over and over.

Indeed. Why so dang serious?

The sun has just burned off a lingering fog from a day-long drenching and a cold front that tip-toed through the area after 9 p.m. It's going to be a promising, beautiful day in ol' Eunice, La.

Why so serious?

I do a lot of thinking about, talking about, dreaming about, pondering this thing we call God's will for our lives.

I often ponder so hard my head breaks. Well, not really, but you get the idea. Why is it such a hard thing to ponder? Perhaps because I, we, are searching in the wrong place.

In Micah's little piece, I read this: "But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don't take yourself too seriously -- take God seriously.

I get it -- momentarily.

Don't take myself seriously.
But turn to him, who is very serious.

Seems to me we spend a vast majority of our time not turning to Him, but turning to themes, problems, worries and such. We spend a vast majority of our time trying to fix things that were never ours to fix. We spend a vast majority of our time trying to overcome the tsunami that is culture, when what Jesus really wanted all along was to heal the culture, not swim against it.

Do what is fair and just and be compassionate leaves little to the imagination.

Just do it. That's a serious faith, in a comical world.

That's particularly what I like about what Pope Francis is doing. He is simply living out and into the mission. Francis repeatedly has stressed economic justice and care for the poor as priorities and he has warned that the church has become obsessed with a few issues, the most notable of which are abortion, contraception and homosexuality.

I would argue, quietly, that it is vital the church takes care of the poor, but also lead the poor to a saving relationship with Jesus, but first and foremost it is vital we begin the feed, clothes, house the poor. I would also argue, quietly, that government can't and won't do that sufficiently. I understand there are some who would argue against that thought. So be it.

That's where the compassion of the one who told the story of the Samaritan came in.

The point is this: I have  few answers. The answer I've found for myself and others comes down to a man, this Jesus, who has made me sure of a few things, the most meaningful of which is that I really, really can't take myself too seriously.

In a few moments research, I found these titles:

The Call to Seriousness: The Evangelical Impact on the Victorians.

I'm sure that's quite the page-turner, but I think I'll pass. Is it any wonder that we can't get folks in the doors of our churches? We're so dang serious we can't see the joy in the eyes of a serious God.