Friday, May 30, 2014

Falling so that we rise

The thought occured to me sometime during the night that I've lived a priviledged life. I've never known want. I've never known lack. I've never known real -- I mean real -- suffering. I've had my bumps and my bruises, and things haven't always gone the way I thought they would or should. I've grown up white and male, I existed in the two fields of endeavor that I wanted to stumble around in, perhaps even succeeded a time or two.

I've never felt real fear, fear of joblessness or fear of incarceration or fear of truly loneliness, for you see I understand at some gut level that through it all, through it all, I've never been alone. Never. I know that. And in my growling stomach this morning as the sun rises and another day presents itself, I know that He has taken me to this spot in life.

What comes next is in his hand, as it has always been.

What say you? Have you felt His presence when things weren't exactly as one might have thought them to be? Have you felt His love when you felt marginalized, out on the fringes of life, beyond the white-picket fences and the two kids, two cars, two dogs and a very indifferent cat?

I look in the mirror and it occurs to me on occasion that I've become old, overweight and, well, broken again. I believe the way this goes is I will get older, perhaps as overweight or even more so and more things will break.

But I believe in His promises. Heck, I believe in Him. There are times, still, when I believe He believes in me.

David pondered, again, these thoughts: "O Lord, you have examined me, and you know me. You alone know when I sit down and when I get up. You read my thoughts from far away."

He know me. He know you. Heck, He knows us. Writer. reader. and everything in between.

This day, why don't we, the suddenly marginalized, the old, the hefty, the tired, the broken, the white, black, brown males, the white, black, brown females, the ones who are simply hurting in places they didn't know they had places do something different. Instead of rising up, why don't we fall down -- to our knees, thanking Him for knowing us in good times and in bad males turn to the one

Thursday, May 29, 2014

We are made for this moment

Ever had the feeling that you might be at a watershed moment (no pun intended with the weather and all)? Today might be that day for me.

So much to learn in so short a time.

I have a series of meetings today that will truly begin the process of remaking, restarting, rekindling, re-beginning the church we're headed to. We, hopefully, will learn things like budgets and visions and such. We will share our combined vision, my co-pastor and I.

So, I thought it quite appropriate as we covet your prayers, that I dig farther into Psalm 139.

The Bible says most beautifully, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand -- when I awake, I am still with you."

I don't want to get all spiritual on you, but this morning as the day dawns dreary, I feel like I've -- we've -- been born for a purpose. I really do. I have never been more sure of anything in my life. This, for lack of a better term, feels right. This feels like what I was called for, planned for, made for. And this honestly feels like we are all in this together.

As my man Rich wrote, "we are frail, we are fearfully, and wonderfully made; forged in the fires of human passion, choking on the fumes of selfish rage; and with these our hells and our heavens, so few inches apart, we must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are."

I don't know who feels this sure of anything in their lives, whether this is common or uncommon, but I believe that all the days ordained for me were written in his book before one of them came to be, which means this one, this one special one, this most beautifully made of them all, the best of that which is to come, is one of them.

How that fits with free will and such, I can't say. Above my pay grade.

But I believe that this is the moment I've been waiting for, this is time I've been made for. It has taken me a long and winding road to reach this moment, this present day. Every bad choice, every mistake, every good things was known to God before I took them, made them, welcomed them. They made me who I am, they welcomed me into understand of whose I am. Whether successful or not, this is the road for which I was made, the path for which I was created, the moment for which I was called. Nothing can stand in the way of a powerful God. Neither rain, nor mishap, nor mistake. Nothing.

So, today I share with you a prayer that I've said this morning, from Sue Augustine:

“Dear God 

Please take away my pain and despair of yesterday and any unpleasant memories and replace them with Your glorious promise of new hope. Show me a fresh HS-inspired way of relating to negative things that have happened. I ask You for the mind of Christ so I can discern Your voice from the voice of my past. I pray that former rejection and deep hurts will not color what I see and hear now.

Help me to see all the choices I have ahead of me that can alter the direction of my life. I ask You to empower me to let go of the painful events and heartaches that would keep me bound. Thank You for Your forgiveness that You have offered to me at such a great price. Pour it into my heart so I can relinquish bitterness hurts and disappointments that have no place in my life. Please set me free to forgive those who have sinned against me and caused me pain and also myself. Open my heart to receive Your complete forgiveness and amazing grace. You have promised to bind up my wounds Psa 147:3 and restore my soul Psa 23:3 .

Help me to relinquish my past surrender to You my present and move to the future You have prepared for me. I ask You to come into my heart and make me who You would have me to be so that I might do Your will here on earth. I thank You Lord for all that’s happened in my past and for all I have become through those experiences. I pray You will begin to gloriously renew my present.” 

May this day strengthen you, enlighten you, empower you. May you feel his presence each step of the glorious way.

As the Irish would say, and have said for hundreds of years, May the blessing of the rain be on you -- the soft sweet rain. May it fall upon your spirit so that all the little flowers may spring up, and shed their sweetness on the air. May the blessing of the great rains be on you, may they beat upon your spirit and wash it fair and clean and leave there many a shining pool where the blue of heaven shines, and sometimes a star.

You are that star, friend.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Who'll stop the rain? An intervening God maybe

So, we've been planning to move our 24-foot RV (long story on why and how we bought this that we won't go into right now) from outside our church in Eunice to our house in Lacombe we've been buying for the past eight years. Just park it there till the times we wan to use it. Told the renter of our house we were doing this. We were doing this on the 29th of May. We set this up weeks in advance.

It hadn't rained in weeks, so getting it out of there wouldn't be a problem.

Then the 10-day forecast came out, and it appeared we would be having our first rains in quite some time on Wednesday and Thursday. So, we talked about hooking up truck and trailer on Wednesday so we could leave bright and early Thursday and even if it were raining, we wouldn't get wet.

Tuesday morning as I worked on bulletins and such in my mostly windowless offices, my wife Mary texted me saying, "I didn't know this would happen." I replied something brilliant like, uh, "What?"
She told me to look outside. It was pouring rain. On Tuesday.

As I went back into my office, wondering how our luck could be quite so bad since it hadn't rained in weeks, the ground was perfectly suited for moving the trailer out, and then this, this, this monsoon...and when I went back to the office Pandora radio was playing Creedence Clearwater's "Who'll stop the rain?"

I promise. John Fogerty was singing about who would stop the rain.

When the rain let up, we went and hooked up trailer and truck. They sit there right now as a horrendous downpour that began Tuesday evening continues. I'm not sure we can get either truck or trailer out of there. We might not be able to do anything at all.

Heck, WE might go under.

For no reason whatsoever, I felt like reading a Psalm since I indeed have power and Internet for a while. The 67th reads this way: "Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious. Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds. So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you."

He is awesome. He does wondrous things. He is magnificent.

But did God send the rain? Did God want us to have my perfect little well-thought out plan ruined by rolling thunder, sheets of lightning and inches of rain? Did God play a Creedence song on my radio? Does he like Beatles or Stones? You know, important questions.

Well, kinda. Probably not. Heck yeah, as I know he is a Creedence fan because you have to be if you are all-knowing. Thus, the Beatles.

The question then is how much does God partake in the everyday?

Marcus Borg (and yea, I'm aware I'm quoting him when I very rarely agree with him) "The reality of unanswered prayers is a huge problem. Think of all the people who prayed for deliverance from the Holocaust, all the people who prayed for peace and safety in the midst of war, all the people who prayed for healing -- and whose prayers were not answered. And thus many modern mainline Christians have problems with this kind of prayer."

Yet Paul tells us to pray in all circumstances.

So, why would God help me find my sunglasses and/or keys but not spare millions from Auschwitz or the gulags or Pol Pot?

The obvious answer is to believe that God does not take part in human affairs, at least not in this way. Maybe God works only through the laws of science. Or perhaps the divine action is limited to transforming human hearts, as Christian evangelist Leonard Ravenhill said, "Prayer doesn't changed things. Prayer changes people and they change things." One could hardly be blamed for adopting beliefs like these.

Pehraps the best place to start is with one obvious but profound fact: We can't know why God intervenes in some places and not in others. Ever. Just can't. He won't tell us. We can't even know if God had intervened. Or ultimately what intervention means or even meant. Our only reasonable option is to let go of the quest to find out.

Still, God playing that song while my careful planning was being shattered by what is heaven-sent rain to the area farmers goes a long way to moving me to believe he intervenes where he so chooses. In other words, my prayers were effectively cancelled or ignored while he helped others, much like in a football game when both sides pray for victory God could only possibly answer one set of prayers.

Still, I wonder if he lies Casting Crowns and/or Third Day? Perhaps CC's I'll worship you in the storm? Just saying.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Splitting is no answer to anything

I didn't want to blog about this. There have been many bloggers who have. I thought they could say it much better than I. But as I began to talk to my congregations in small groups, it dawned on me that many people don't even know it has happened. So, I must.

In the past week, a group of 80 pastors in the denomination I am a part of, the United Methodist Church, suggested that we split because of an inability to resolve long-standing theological disputes about sexuality and church doctrine.

These, as yet unnamed, pastors have indicated there is little reason to think that peaceful coexistence can be found. Rev. Maxie Dunnam, a man I've admired from afar, said, "You can not longer think about schism as something that might happen in the future. Schism has already taken place in our connection."

It is absolutely true that we've come to a point of great concern, even crisis, in our denomination. It is absolutely true that there are "progressives" and "conservatives" who will never agree on what scripture says about sexuality, particularly in homosexual relations and same-sex marriage. But they've not agreed on many things that scripture says for decades, as well. No one is talking schism from disagreements about Greek translations, or even the subject that I believe we should be spending more time on, abortion.

No, it's this one subject that we've decided to draw a line in the sand about. Oh, my. Is it really, truly that important that we would fall on the collective sword rather than budge an inch toward each other? Really?

Let's look at what a couple of rather learned individuals had to say about what might be coming to my beloved denomination.

First, "To separate ourselves from a body of living Christian, with whom we were before united, is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together; and the greater the love, the stricter the union. And while this continues in its strength, nothing can divide those whom love has united. It is only when our love grows could, that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren. The pretences for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause; otherwise they would still hold the unity of he Spirit in the bound of peace. It is therefore contrary to all those commands of God, wherein brotherly love is enjoined: To that of St. Paul, "Let brotherly love continue:" -- that of St. John, "My beloved children, love one another;" -- and especially to that of our blessed Master, "This is my commandment, That ye love on another, as I have loved you" Yea, "By this," saith he, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another."

Mr. John Wesley said that in one of his more famous sermons. Seems right to me. If we can't come to grips with this, this idea that to split, to separate, to have schism, well, aren't we doing what Wesley said. Aren't we empty of love?

Then a carpenter from a small village in Palestine said, "I have given them (us) the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one -- I in them and you in me -- so stat they be brought to COMPLETE UNITY. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I understand the seriousness of the question. I get that the conservatives want to make sure that we take scripture seriously, and I understand that Paul is the harshest of all in his writings about homosexuality, in Romans and in his letter to Corinth.

Further, I understand that trying to read into why he wrote what he wrote is necessary, though dangerous as reading into what someone means when someone writes is iffy at best.

I also understand that comparing what our culture is to the culture in which he wrote is necessary. I have read and understand Adam Hamilton's three buckets scenario about scripture, wherein we must decide is this God's timeless will or is this something written just for that time.

 I get all that, and I am right down the middle, seeing what is written in the book that has changed my life and seeing loving, committed persons that we say can't be loving, committed persons because of what the Bible says.

But what I wonder most is if we (the United Methodist church and the church universal) are missing out on bringing people to Jesus because we simply want to be right, to the exclusion of hundreds of thousand people who do exactly what Romans tells us to do in terms of salvation, profess Jesus with our mouths and believe in our hearts that we will be saved (and nothing else, no other things). 

I get all that. And I still ask the question, if we can't come together at God's table and say something that will benefit the whole, then who are we in Christ? What are we showing the world by our actions if we can't agree on this most difficult of subjects? What will we fail to discuss next? How to do communion, how to baptize, how to do church? Will we split and split and split like some kind of spiritual amoeba till we get a church exactly as we would have it be? What would that look like then? Would we be preaching to ourselves?

Separation isn't the answer, to anything. Actually, coming together ecclesiastically would be the better road.

We say every time we have the sweet bread and wine that this is God's table, not our own, not even the United Methodist table. Oh but that we would mean that.

I'm reminded of Jesus in Matthew's ninth chapter: "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples."

The whole notion of tax collector as evil sinner was common to the culture. We have no evidence that Jesus ever had conversation with someone about sexuality, other than to talk about divorce, adultery and lust, but one of the first gentiles (us) baptized was an Ethiopian eunuch, someone who probably had been castrated and an angel sent Philip to the desert road to get this done.

Jesus spent way more time talking about how to love and how to forgive.

It seems that perhaps there is a lesson to be found there. Perhaps. What if we spent our energy trying to figure out how to love not only others but also each other and we let God figure out how to judge and punish?

There's a denomination people would flock to. There's a religion people would begin to be healed by. There's a unification that would stimulate wonderful conversation, huh?

Too bad its not the denomination we belong to right now.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Wow factor

It's a Monday, which means I'm examining more of Psalm 139.

Verses 7 through 12 read like this:

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there you hand will guid me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, 'surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,' even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like th day, for darkness is as light to you."

Wow. There might not be more resounding more beautiful more meaningful language in all of scripture.

Jesus said something like that in John's Gospel: "Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you."

In other words, we can't go where God isn't. Period. We can't hide from him; we can't duck him; we can't shed him; we can't lose him.

He is with us, primarily because for those who are in Him, He is in us. Wow. Again. Wow.

There, of course, is a big word for that, called omniscience.

Charles Spurgeon said of this: "We believe that he filleth heaven and earth and hell; that he is in the very space which his creation seems to claim, for creatures do not displease God; and even the space which is occupied by his handiworks is still filled with himself."

He is, in fact, everywhere. Right now.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Do not let your hearts be troubled

An eight-hour drive to a little town in Texas has led this morning to a few moments of pondering. This morning we will honor the memory of one Mark McGaughey, my wife, Mary’s, brother. We drove up yesterday, we’ll drive back today, and my body is screaming like a car with a fan-belt that has seen far too many miles and is about to snap at any second. EEEEEYYYYYYYYYEEEEEE, my knee, hip, back, front, top, bottom all sang. And all of them knew the words.
But this is not about me, no matter how much I make it about me.
This, today, is about Mark.
Mark had what is known today as issues. As long as I knew him, he knew those issues. Early on in Mary and my relationship, Mark tried to kill himself, using a gun for all the wrong reasons.
Earlier this year, he did this again. This time he was successful.
Today we do not celebrate that moment, but instead we look toward celebrating all those times when he laughed instead of cried, smiled instead of becoming angry.
Look, I will not, cannot begin to understand what he thought, what his life was like, or what his end was like. Just can’t.
But what I do understand somewhat is love of sister for brother, and that’s what I’ll try to preach today.
I’ll remember a late-to-the-party Saints fan.
I’ll remember tales told of family when they all were young.
I’ll remember this family, when it was as stuck on life as bandaids are stuck on us.
For in the end, isn’t that what all memorial services are about?
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
That’s what I’ll preach. That’s what I’ve always preached. Peace be with you from Texas.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Yacking yutes and yellow sun racing up the sky

The word of the Lord came to me (Ezekiel): Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: 'When I bring the sword against the land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the warning and the sword comes and takes their  life, their blood will be on their own head."

Last night was a wonderful evening with 38 youth, five adults, seemingly endless chatter and sparkling yachter (that's yach-ter on the planet of the maker) and his or her minions). God provided what we needed in both food and in substance. We've begun to push

We discussed -- for ads what it meant to have, and what it meant to have not. And we discussed, for the last time, what it means for us to have little and have the notion that we can have more.

What can we do about this?

Sitting in a fully wooden chair, resting fairly comfortably against a thick, fully wooden table that was my mother's, I wait. I contemplate a drive to Dallas, Texas. I ponder. By the time the seven-hour drive is complete, I will be inordinately sour and quite sore. But to complete my wife's spiritual journey in a manner befitting her love and her patience,  I must do this.  I will do this. We have committed to this 30 hour period.

And when we have chosen to do this act, and when we finish this act, when it is complete like bread on that final approach in the oven with its marvelous odor dancing to nostrils nearest you, life changes. Just changes. Packs up disappointment and flings the event, the moment, the person, place or stanking thang out de door.

Get it? Got it? Good.

We have precious few Sundays remaining. We can reach, play, pray for these, but what I would dearly like to have happen is we begin to we -- staff, yutes -- begin to understand that God is up to something special in these moments. We begin to understand how He is working with, and especially through, these yacking yutes.

I asked them them last night to think not of themselves but of what the Lord is saying to them through these long last minutes. What is God making good of that has its beginnings in evil strongholds?

Maybe nothing. Maybe much.

The clock is ticking, but that sure doesn't mean we have to ignore all in our path the rest of the way.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fire on the mountain, and depression on the prophet

It is Wednesday morning as I write this. When I opened the back door of our parsonage, looking out on the steps that lead to the back yard, it was as foggy as any mountainside I can remember. Thick, like I enjoy my bacon being cut, with little wispy-ness about it. It was the kind of fog that you absolutely do not want to run into on a long trip home from just about anywhere on the planet.

It was the type of fog they refer to as a "fog-bank." We're talking movie cliche fog, where you walk in and just flat out disappear like, well, fog folk. Sounds like a horror movie to me. "The Attack of the Fog Folk."

Just ripping things from the headlines, I came across a man named Jeff Lucas, an author, pastor, international speaker. He's produced a new book called, well, you will finally see the tie-in ... "Faith in the Fog."

Lucas says, "Faith in the Fog is about depression, doubt, and burnout. I want to be very real about my own journey, but also give people who struggle with those things a vocabulary for their own. So often Christians feel bad about feeling bad, and are made to feel like they are second rate if they struggle, but the Bible is loaded with major heavy-weights -- Elijah, Paul, and I believe Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane -- who battled depression and sadness, and those things are a part of life. We're not promised that we'll be endlessly ecstatic, but the book is about helping people to count themselves in when their emotions make them want to count themselves out."

One of my favorite looks at some of the things that mystify me but also give me hope is the prophet Elijah's strange bout with depression. It comes just after he had defeated a whole herd of false prophets, folks who were worshippers of Baal. He rolled them up like a ball of yarn. You couldn't win more convincingly than did Elijah. This was LSU versus Southeastern in football. This was Alabama versus Alabama State in football. This was Mississippi State versus, well, never mind.

He had made a bit of a wager with them, saying basically that the one or ones who could bring down fire from heaven (or Baal's equivalent) would be the winner. It was him and his God versus 450 screaming Baal mummies.

To make it even more of a reality-series production, Elijah did his best Dancing with the Stars moment, strutted around a tango or two, with the type of swagger that would cut through T-bone thick fog with a dull sword. When the false prophets came up fire-less despite calling on Baal with all the gusto they could muster, Elijah even told them all 450 or so could pour buckets of water on his wood before he would give the ol' calling down fire from heaven thing.

They wet the wood. They stood back, hoping against hope. Still, woosh and fire went up like an old frame wooden tenement in Los Angeles would go up today -- in a second or two.

So, Elijah had enough reason to brag, to dance, to shout and sing a line or two. No one should find a moment, just the tinge of a moment of depression or doubt or burnout after such a, well, burn out.

But it happened.

Queen Jezebel heard the Elijah story and sent a messenger to Elijah to say, "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of (the dead prophets)."

Well, now. The swagger-king, the ego-filled dancing prophet of the living God who was filled with power beyond belief who could call down fire without much of an effort, this man Elijah immediately took care of Jezebel. Right? I mean one woman could not possibly be a problem after taking out 450 prophets, right?

Here's the thing. Depression, doubt, burnout and such don't follow our timetable or our planning. The Bible says, "Elijah was afraid and ran for his life." Eventually he would sit down under a "broom bush" and pay that he might die.

He gave up.
He became suicidal.
He quit trying.
Swagger gone. Pride done away with.

All because one woman, be it a powerful one, said she was going to do him in.

The notion that Christians are happy, happy, happy all the time is a nice one, but it is also a false one. I wish that were the case, but it simply isn't. I've known persons, very powerful persons,m who simply weren't happy.

Some of us fight these moments with great effort.


Lucas said, "be honest and keep asking questions. Questions are not discouraged for the Christian, in fact they're encouraged. Use doubt as a pathway to something more substantial in terms of faith; cut through the slogans and the cliches, but doubt with God.

"In the Psalms, for example, you see the psalmist yelling, shouting, and struggling, but bringing those doubts to God. Prayer is not just about making a speech of faith; often it's about screaming blue murder about struggles and fears. In that sense, don't allow doubt to distance you from God, but instead make it a part of your relationship with him," Lucas said.

And the conclusion of the Elijah story (or at least this portion of it)?

The Lord comes to him and asks him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" In other words, why in the world are you sitting here trying to dry up and die you moron. (That's the Billy translation of God's words.)

Elijah says, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. the Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."

The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by."

"Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a GENTLE WHISPER (my emphasis). When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave."

Elijah was looking for God's love in all the wrong places, suffering a depression that need not have been, and God finally touched him gently, wonderfully, lovingly -- bringing him back from the fear that had gripped him.

As they say where I'm from: "What's got aholt of you?" (They make the words up as they go.)

What fear has you? What depression has you? What pain, what suffering, what doubt, what burnout? And what are you doing about it?

I would suggest the simplest of remedies. Listen for a gentle whisper.

I'm not saying that all clinical depression will be solved by listening to the creator. I am saying that listening to Him has a medicinal affect on all sorts of problems, and loneliness, depression, suffering is certainly among those things that love can conquer.

I'm far from foggy on that idea.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Teen angst (and it's all mine apparently)

The most important thing we do at the largest church of which I have the privilege to lead right now is something called Club 316. It is a youth program made up of community youth, ages 9-14. We teach them, play with them, eat with them and release them into the world.

There might well have been up to 200 or so youth come racing through out program since its inception, of which I had nothing to do with. I'm just a caretaker of them, holding on as best I can as the tsunami of God's love roars through the church.

But we've had very few 15 and up come, and we've had no 15 and up stay.

Which leads me to this report I read this morning.

Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, says that, "the number of teens who leave the church comes to about 70 percent. This mainly clusters from teens from 16-19. But in what may come as a surprise, two-thirds ultimately return after a hiatus." The researchers found that most of the teens didn't set out to reject the church or the theology of their parents; they simply drifted away. They no longer found church to be important.

And what kept them plugged into the church (I would assume longer or longest in the question):

At least one adult from church made a significant investment in them personally and spiritually (between 15-18). The problem with that, as I see it, is that we can't keep them past 14. So, I worry that we've failed them even as I wonder where they wander.

I pray that we are doing something right that keeps them coming. I pray that John Kurse, who will follow me in this endeavor, will keep praying and doing and helping and all those things.

But I also am a realist, and from the beginning (at least in my time with them), they've come and they've gone to who knows where?

Jesus said to bring the little children to him, but there is almost nothing said about the teenagers. Wonder why? I have noticed that there is nothing on Jesus' teen years in scripture, either. Again, wonder why? They could have been so informative, I think.

Oh, there were teens in scripture if you dig into it enough. Joseph was 17 or so when he was thrown into a pit. David spent his teen years running from Saul's spears. We know that King Josiah was 18 when he came to the thrown. Some think that some of the disciples were teenagers when called as their ministry continued for so very long in tradition's tales. Timothy, Saul's protege, might well have been a teenager.

They faced what all teenagers faced, and yet, here's the absolute truth. Joseph beat sexual temptation from the Pharaoh's loopy wife, David showed exemplary courage in face of danger from the loopy King. Josiah stood firm on ethics and Daniel demonstrated that integrity need not necessarily stand in the way of promotion. The Apostles and Timothy found the ultimate adventure in the Christian life.

We don't know what any of our teen screamers are going to do or are going to be when we leave them or they leave us.

We can only hope. Paul tells us in Ephesian that we are not to exasperate our children but instead teach them.

I pray we have, will, and will continue to.

Monday, May 19, 2014

You have searched me

We are using Psalm 139 for our scripture purpose this summer at our United Methodist Annual Conference. I thought I would spend some time on it in these spaces on Mondays till then.

The first six verse read like this in the NIV: You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain."

The pressure and the joy that comes from these words are palpable. He knows, uh, ME. YOU. US. He know.

John Wesley's notes say that Jewish doctors esteem this book more than any other. God's omniscience is assured.

Tony Evans says, "God knows what needs to be done. That's omniscience. He has the power to do it, that's omnipotence. He's always wherever He needs to be do do whatever needs to be done. That's omnipresence.

The power, the presence of God is asserted here more than most places in scripture, and we can open our birthday present and revel and revere or we can be frightened that God is there... always. Our choice.

Here's what I see, feel, know, and what I think makes these verses so important.

First, God can not be contained in a building. If your God is to be found merely on Sundays in the building we mistakenly call the church, your God is not the God of the Bible and He certainly isn't big enough.

Second, and I feel this is really important, He can not be contained in a country. Despite what many of my conservative brethren say and think, God wasn't born in the United States, and He isn't contained in the United States or any other country, for that matter.

God is always around, whether we call on Him or not. He is everywhere.

Hebrews says it well: "Nothing in creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." Oh. Shoot.

Pray with me:

Father, you are here beside me as I read this. You are with me as I fail you, and I do. You are with me as I struggle to find you. You are with me as I hurt, as I find joy. You are with me in the dark and in the light. You've always known me. You've always allowed me freedom. You've always been happy with me even when I've stumped my spiritual toes. Therefore, I ask today for your forgiveness. I ask today for you love and your strength to not do whatever I've had difficulty with again.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Remembering a Ragamuffin

I don't write on Saturday's. Day off and such. And I know there won't be many readers of this.

But I had to. The words wouldn't stay inside.

Yesterday I watched a DVD about the life of Rich Mullins, and oh, my I was taken back to a different life and a different time. My own.

It's good to remember sometimes.

Rich and I have a long and deep history, as every day readers know. He forces himself into my conversations quite often. Without him, frankly, I might not be where I am.

I knew something about his own history, but not all of it. Till I saw the film. And I know know that he struggled every bit as much as I have over time. He had father issues (check). He had difficulty with substances (check). He was creative to a fault (well, me not as much ). He was a rebel as far as churches go, though he certainly spent a great deal of time in them (check). And he loved his creator, though he wanted to know him in a new and more vibrant way since he was young. (yeah, check).

But I didn't know how much he struggled with loneliness and even depression. I cried three times in the film. Once, when he struggled to get a recording contract and apparently played music executives the song I've picked as the key one at my funeral, Elijah. Again, when he lost his father-figure and showed up at a funeral drunk. And finally when he played and sang one of the first contemporary songs I ever sang in church, Hold Me Jesus.

See, when I came to Jesus 18 years ago, one night I was fiddling with the radio in my bedroom and I came across a radio station that played contemporary Christian music. I didn't know such a thing existed. I heard a guy named Gary Chapman with a single called Sweet, Sweet Mercy. Turns out he was married to a woman singer named Amy Grant who sang a song called Sing Your Praise to the Lord. Turns out that was written by a man named Rich Mullins.

Rich was killed in 1997, on a Saturday. I was working at The Times-Picayune that night. I was at my desk very late in the evening when I saw the very short notice that Rich Mullins, writer of Awesome God, had been killed in an automobile accident.

I was stunned. For lo these many years later I've every once in a while tried to get clarity to why God would take such a talent as he and live such a man as me. Makes no sense to me. But I've been told by many that one day I will understand the plan. Maybe so.

Rich didn't just sing, write and play. He spoke. Of Christianity, he said, “Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in your beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken.” 

He said of ministry, a field I eventually found myself in in all the ways one can find oneself, "I would like to encourage you to stop thinking of what you're doing as ministry. Start realizing that your ministry is how much of a tip you leave when you eat in a restaurant; when you leave a hotel room whether you leave it all messed up or not; whether you flush your own toilet or not. Your ministry is the way that you love people. And you love people when you write something that is encouraging to them, something challenging. You love people when you call your wife and say, 'I'm going to be late for dinner,' instead of letting her burn the meal. You love people when maybe you cook a meal for your wife sometime, because you know she's really tired. Loving people - being respectful toward them - is much more important than writing or doing music.” 

Perhaps most famously, he said, "“So go out and live real good and I promise you'll get beat up real bad. But, in a little while after you're dead, you'll be rotted away anyway. It's not gonna matter if you have a few scars. It will matter if you didn't live.” 

Rich was saved by a man named Brennan Manning, a prophet of a writer whose Ragamuffin Gospel has been my way of the spiritual warrior over the years (read it, please, please stop these ramblings and go buy you a copy and put it in your library next to the Bible and C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity). Years ago I wrote a book called One Man, One Cross about my little anonymous journey into faith. I sent Brennan, who just happened to live in New Orleans, a copy. He was very kind enough to read the book, then send me one of his that hadn't even been published and he signed it to me. I treasure that book.

We are, it seems to me, all joined at the hip that God injured of Jacob. If you could put up a board big enough, you could follow all the clues and all the connections in big ol' red ink. We're all connected, right back to that time when there was one.  I can't fathom much of what has happened to me over these long number of years, but I know that God has plans. I really, really do. And I believe, though folks often tell me I shouldn't, that we are all here for a reason. I believe I try, really do try, to stay with the wave of God as it flows through time and life.

God saved me. Rich just showed me that all my stereotypes about church didn't have to continue to exist. Rich showed me you could worship how you wanted or needed to. Rich showed me that you could write what you feel and you would feel what you write.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Harder than ever

Okay. So I missed this, oh, two weeks or so ago. Doesn't surprise me. Probably wasn't in the local newspaper, and I no longer take a local newspaper. So...

At the Washington, D.C.'s 10th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Dr. Robert P. George, a leading "Christian thinker" in America, said, "It's no longer easy to be a faithful Christian" in America. George reminds us that, "They will despise us if we refuse to call good evil and evil good." He said that the "derision that comes from being pro-life and pro-traditional marriage," is the reason for all this un-easiness. "Because of that, Christians must be willing to bear the consequences of standing up for the teachings of Jesus and his bride, the Church."

There you go. I'm starting to think I should feel persecuted against.

Look, I've got news for any and all. It has never been easy to be a "faithful Christian." That's why we had blue laws and such when I was young. It was a law that prohibited stores being opened on Sunday. Sabbath and all. The ones who weren't Christian put up such a fuss, the law went the way of the albatross. Christians, well, we needed things on Sunday, also. So, soon we began to dig right on into the un-Sabbath Sabbath.

Don't tell me differently, or I might feel persecuted.

See, the difficulty in being Christian comes from within. All our personal baggage and personal temptations far outweigh, in this country at least, the chance of being, you know, penalized for being Christian.

Sure, Tim Tebow was a pariah for his religious beliefs when he was an NFL player and gay man Michael Sams is getting a documentary and people are talking about his courage for coming out and such, but really, is that being persecuted?

I'm pro-life and pro-traditional marriage and nobody wants to hear that. I don't feel persecuted. I feel I have the right in this country to believe what I will, and the majority of this country has the right to tell me I'm wrong. I'm cool with that. But I don't feel persecuted.

No. Persecuted is living in Iran and accepting Jesus as Lord.
No. Persecuted is being a young woman who accepts Jesus as Lord (and wants and education) in Nigeria.

Persecution isn't not being able as a teacher to talk about Jesus to someone in the class. It's just not. It's not particularly right, but that's a tale for another time.

Not a week passes where we don't get up in arms as a Christian community about stuff like the Affordable Care Act.

What we need to do is instead of complaining about persecution in this country, we start recognizing persecution around the world and see if we can prayerfully do something about that. Or maybe we can notice the hungry down the street. Or maybe we can go to the prisons and preach Jesus. Or maybe we can see the youth walking around with nothing to do and do something good about it. Or maybe we can stand outside the schools, across the street from the schools and hand out Bibles to parents who are picking up their kids. Or ....

No, it's hard to be a Christian in this country. Because Jesus said it would be. It's always been. It will always be.

That's the weight of a cross. To paraphrase the master, "Why worry about the speck of persecution in your neighbor's eye when you have a locomotive-sized persecution stick in your own?"

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Passionate about apathy

I read a couple of completely different pieces of information on the ol' Internet highway this morning. But they are related, I believe.

First, I read a very smart piece talking about the growth of the "nones," that group of people who are saying they have no part in religion, at all.

Then I read a funny little piece called 10 things that Christians get mad and and probably shouldn't.

1. Loud music; 2. People using iPads instead of real Bibles; 3. Coffee in the Sanctuary; 4. Youth group attire; 5. Long sermons; 6. Church parking lots; 7. Pastors asking for money; 8. Women in leadership; 9. Overly happy greeters; 10. the much feared meet-and-greet.

The two have some connection, I think. But let me clarify first that I believe anyone can worship any way they so choose to. I believe in loud music, people using whatever device or mechanism they need to read the scriptures, and I see nothing wrong with wearing whatever you want in church and drinking coffee while you're doing it. That's me. I completely understand others who don't agree with that, and that's fine. It really is.

However, what I do think is that we all have to take a deep breath and understand that once we become a disciple of Jesus Christ, our job, our mission, our commission is to bring others into the fold. We must recognize and respond to the fact that what brought us in x number of years ago, might not be conducive to doing that now, at best, and might indeed be prohibitive to those who are being sought by the Lord.

Here's some personal categories of churches I've seen or heard about:

1) They want what they want and what they want is what has always been. They are where they are in terms of growth, and if anyone else wants to join, they join with the understanding that this is a traditional church and it will always be one.
2) They're very interested in growth, but, man, it's hard to get used to all the new things. Still, they're interested.
3) They're ready for anything, actually welcoming in seekers.

I'm not judging any of them. Just saying.

But there is a whole new world out there that we're facing now that in many ways we've never addressed before in the Christian church.

And that's the none.

That's the person and/or persons who don't care at all. They're not atheists. They're not lost sheep wandering around looking for the shepherd. They're not necessarily anti-religion as they are apathetic-religion.

That's a whole new Diet of Worms if you get my drift.

Will it help if we match music to demographic and neighborhoods? Yes. Will it help if we allow use of phones and tablets during church, even encouraging texting and such? In the right environment, yes? Will it help if ...

Whoa, Romeo.

Let's remember the beginning so that we can explore the future. In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, that telling of the birth of a church, we read this: "Therefore let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what should we do.' Peter replied, 'Change your hearts and lives.'

Now, this was a Jew talking to Jews. Still, the response is an amazing one.

"Those who accepted Peter's message were baptized. God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day."

No coffee hutches. No nice tables at the back of the sanctuary. No band playing. Nothing but one thing and one thing only and that was the Gospel of Jesus brought by a sincere preacher.

I believe that those folks out there that the church has lost to sports and to recreation and to sleeping in on the weekend and to apathy in general are missing the point of all this.

We the church have broken this. The vehicle was supposed to be able to stop on every corner and open its doors and carry us all toward Him.

Instead, we've locked our doors and made it self-contained.

Our job is to give up on what WE want and try our best to pray the resolution to the question, "What do YOU want?"

And live accordingly.

Someone who isn't so apathetic that they can still be moved might just see who we are more than hear what we say.

That's our mission.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Rejoicing over ruling: the better way

So, after edging the Billy clock one or two ticks closer to the left (I'm mixing metaphors like a grand ol' mint julep) yesterday, (if you haven't please read my thoughts on "the kiss" this past weekend in yesterday's blog) let's return to our task.

I again began to search religion news for a topic, but after reading several selections, I was compelled to get rid of the old tough news angle and let's try some joy.

For my final Bible study in these three wonderful churches, I've been doing my favorite book in the New Testament. It's just a little ditty, just a few thousand words tops. But I love it because it shows a man, my man Paul, in the arms of a jailer all the while writing wonderfully descriptive words about joy.

I'm writing this while still on the mend, and I understand it will be a while before I'm something that passes for 100 percent (which I last achieved in 1984 I think it was, or maybe even 1974, well there was that, uh, I've never been 100 percent but you get the idea). But I never had the whackings and such that my man, Paul, had.

Yet he writes this: "So, then, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord." (3-1, CEB).

First, he in this translation uses so. I love so. I'm a so-so kinda guy. I digress.

So, the first thing out of the shoot in this chapter of this marvelous book is where to find joy. He doesn't tell us to rejoice in wonderful dinners together, or rejoice in fantastic automobile choices, or even rejoice in the blessings of family. Our joy, our rejoicing comes from one source, the Lord. That's Paul saying that in the windiest of wind storms, when the deck of the ship is twisted 45 degrees and things are without hope, there is something to and someone to rejoice in.

Matthew West, singer-songwriter, describes it this way in this tune, "Day Before You":
"I had all but given up on finding the one that I could fall into
On the day before you I was ready to settle for less than love and not much more
There was no such thing as a dream come true
But that on the day before you
Now you're here and every things changing
Suddenly life means so much
I can't wait to wake up tomorrow and find out this promise is true
I will never had to go back to the day before you"

Seems to me that we've made much of this Christianity thing into a he said, he said, she said, the Bible said, she said about what he said, and we've drained it through a wax cloth so much that it has begun to resemble a bunch of rules you hand out at the beginning of a youth baseball season. You can do this, that and the other and you can't do this, that and the other. Granted obedience was God's preference, but I submit that love is more important that rules.

Honestly, I can't say that is what I see in Paul and the young Christians. Sure, they had to pay for things. They established order. They talked rules and such.

But for Paul and many of his letter (blog?) readers, it was about loving this man Jesus and rejoicing in Him.

Mark Driscoll, of the Mars Hills churches in Seattle, (and many others) writes this: "People have used Jesus to justify adding so many "requirements to being a Christian.

Here are but a few of countless examples:
Not drinking alcohol;
not listening to certain types of music;
insisting that church meet on certain days;
you can't be saved unless you are circumcised;
reciting ritualistic prayers or the right prayer or praying in the right way;
saying you aren't saved unless you get baptized;
requiring you to perform rituals, in the "right" way;
Saying that you must tithe or perform deeds in a certain way to earn your salvation."

Paul wrote to the church in Rome and blew their collective Roman cerebral cortex's. "For the commandments say, 'You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet. These -- and other commandments -- are summed up in this one commandment: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God's Law." Romans 13:9-10

Love. It's what's we rejoice.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A moment of change

There are enumerable places one could pick to be THE starting point of the church. Certainly Pentecost leads the list.

But I've always been sort of partial to that moment when this happened: "When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he began to ask them for a gift. Peter and John stared at him. Peter said, 'Look at us!' So the man gazed at them, expecting to receive something from them. Peter said, 'I don't have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk."

The power of that moment is incalculable. Peter became, well, Peter instead of a cowering, doubting, denier of Jesus. The power flowing out of him must have been practically tangible. But the power of the moment to me is that he understood that someone could "give" Jesus Christ. He had him, he could give him away.

I started to write about the Black Mass held off campus of Harvard, but we've had paltry demonstrations of parody of even the most sacred of sacraments before even by dumb college kids.

I started to write about the supposed coming schism in the United Methodist Church and if it came, where would I go or to whom would I go.

I started to write about everything under the sun and the moon but I keep coming back to something many of us saw and are still processing.

I would give you the sports spoiler alert but what I'm about the write about is anything but sports, actually.

Saturday when Michael Sam was drafted by the Los Angels Rams, he kissed his loved one smack on the lips. Just like darn near every one of the players drafted in the longggggg three days of drafting players. Much of what is still called I believe mainline America, you know conservative America, went nuts because Sam is gay and his partner is male.

And I've got to tell you, just like that, I believe the tide shifted and things rocked and things changed. I really do. Because what I saw when I saw this, and I must tell you that was a first for me as it was for much of or even some of America. I had never seen two men kiss. I was born just after Teddy Roosevelt left office, and I've seen a lot. That's not one of the moments.

But I knew without a doubt that something had changed. In American churches, and not just on the football field.

Two things: Some athletes tweeted difficult messages and were immediately slammed by what seemed to be everyone. You can't be opposed to the kiss or its showing or you are homophobic.

Second, the chatter among American athletes was very restrained and much of the St. Louis Rams were very welcoming.

The reason I say American churches changed is that the water that was under the bridge is reaching the top.

Adam Hamilton, in a Q&A for a new book, says, "Most conservatives, moderate evangelicals and progressives I know believe that the church is to love gay and lesbian people. And nearly all agree, at the core the issue is not homosexuality but the Bible. God did not rewrite, edit or send down from heaven a new Bible that clarified that God was against slavery. There are over 200 verses allowing and regulating the practice in the Bible. Yet somehow Christians were able to look at those verses and ultimately conclude that they did not reflect God's will for humankind despite verses directly attributed to God that allowed for owning, selling and even beating slaves.

"Conservatives often suggest homosexuality is an issue of biblical authority. I believe the Bible has authority in my life and for the church ...but I also believe that the five passages that speak to some form of same-sex intimacy do not describe God's timeless will for humanity any more than the passages on violence, or slavery, or women describe God's timeless will. The issue is not authority, it is our assumptions about the Bible and the way we interpret it."

State supreme courts across this nation have, to my knowledge, been consistent in their rulings that same-sex marriage will be allowed.

Here's my point. If there is a schism, I doubt seriously I would consider leaving the "United" Methodist Church. I believe in it. I believe it is flawed, but I see new life popping up everywhere I look. Granted I don't have a national perspective, and granted I probably wouldn't agree with other conferences on a lot of things but ultimately I must believe in my ability to be wrong because I showcase it so often. If we're only going to ordain sinless people, what are we doing right now? I keep coming back to that.

This is a sea change for me, folks. This is a moment to remember because somehow gay folks, of whom I know many, have faces and emotions that I've not shared much of.

Thus, I would stay and try to make gentle moderate points with everyone who would listen. I just believe there are few in the middle any longer.

I believe to the gay community, we as a church should pause in our headlong slide down a slippery and never to be climbed again slope and say "I don't have (name it) but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk."

It's about time for the church to rise up and walk, hand in hand, into what will be our future.For that, it seems to me, is more important than who is interpreting the Bible correctly. Ultimately, scripture is in the eye of the beholder. I pray we open it up and continue to study the magnificent, loving Word. That is church in the 21st century.

Better get used to it. I am in the process, prayerfully, continually.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Lost Weekend, Billy style

The Lost Weekend was a 1945 movie directed by Billy Wilder about an alcoholic and, well, a lost weekend.

No, I did not drink this weekend or the previous 18 years before it, but I did have a lost weekend, directed by, well, God. I caught an infection in whatever manner or form that occurred. It was, and is, an insidious infection that has literally floored me and kept me from even attending church, which hasn't happened in a year and hasn't happened more than twice in two years. Can't walk, heck move, without pain wracking me.

Oh, the pains of getting more seasoned. Oh, the real, acute, demoralizing, terrible pains of getting more seasoned.

So, I lay and I thought, when I wasn't hazy and hurting (which was far, far too often). On the first day, if the house had been afire, I would have had to think it over whether to get up or not. Seriously.  Second day, I probably could have launched myself out of bed. Yesterday, I got up. Today, I'm up before 10. Whew, hew or something like that.

Anyway, I gave a lot of thought to this new venture we're about to be launched into like missiles from a plane. Only, I'm not absolutely certain you could call us smart bombs.

I know this much: I know we know how to fix the sanctuary. I know we've got a very serviceable, if not spectacular name. I know we know what band needs we have. I know we know what to do with our short-term plan. I know we have a very good idea what to do with our long-term plan. I know we are excited and I know we're ready to roll (present condition notwithstanding). I know we have a place to live, if not in the community, darn close. I know what will happen on June 29. I know what comes next. I know how to do direct mail outs.

What I don't know is whether the people will come.

And therein lies the faith.

What I do know is this: 1) I use colons way too much; 2) There are churches on every corner, even in New Orleans. 3) There is a reason this grand old church has shrunk to practically nothing, by big church standards and fallen apart to a great extent in its physical building. We can't simply renovate the old church. We can't.

So, what will we do that brings folks in where they weren't coming in before.

We're going to pray a lot. We're going to call upon the Holy Spirit. And we're going to build an Uptown Community church that someone would want to belong to. I fully expect it to take two years before we're full. But I fully expect it to become full. Maybe I give too much of myself on these blogs, but that's who I've always been. Look up transparency in the dictionary and you'll see a smiling old man (who has an infection). But I believe that even at my age I was called for this. I believe that this is borderline miraculous, but I believe all I've learned in the past 16 years is about to be put on display. I believe God wants me to help this area.

If I didn't believe that, I ask the world, why would I do this? Why would anyone? The danger and the risk is enormous. Certainly it's occurred to me that we could fall flat on our faces. But it's also occurred to me that if we, Sione my co-pastor and myself, simply follow his will to be best of our abilities (that after all were given to us by the Master himself), we can't fail.

If one person who didn't know Jesus and had no place he or she felt comfortable to worship in came to the saving grace of our Lord, isn't that a success? Truly. Isn't that a success?

It's not about megachurches. Never has been nor will be. It's about relationship sprung from one person finding Jesus who otherwise wouldn't have. That's been my quest since I began this after surprisingly finding Jesus 19 years ago in August. It will be my quest till the infection kills me.

That seemed likely on Friday afternoon. Less likely today.

Funny how that goes.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Is it okay to ....?

Yesterday was so long, I didn't write. I had a couple of missions, which required six hours of driving, and I simply for the first time in a long time didn't have a thought as the day began. Some will take much issue with that and cry out that I haven't had a thought for a long, long time.

But I digress.

I could write with sheer happiness that we've found a place to live in New Orleans. But we await final approval, and the pessimist in me sure says wait. So, I will wait to write that. Though I long to say that we found a place that accepts all our rescue pets, and me. That took time and worry to accomplish. I could write that I pray we will have an answer to someone else we would love to come live with us in New Orleans. But I won't. Not yet. I could write that it's costing me an arm and a leg. But I willingly give up the arm and the leg. But I won't write that, not yet.

I can write that we had a wonderfully productive meeting, my co-pastor Sione and myself, and have a short-term plan in place. It is a great, aggressive plan. And we're starting it before we're starting it. In fact, some preliminary work has begun. But inquiring minds won't to know before we're ready to let inquiring minds know, so I won't write about it at this time.

So, what do I write?

I saw a blog yesterday that asked the question, "Is it okay for a Christian to drink (alcohol)?"

I must have a minute or two on this.

Here's the issue, it seems: Any form of drunkenness is a sin. Anything that keeps us from our ability to hear the Lord is a sin. But ... there is no verse in the Bible that specifically says don't drink just as there is nothing in the Bible that says don't smoke cigarettes.

Jesus drank wine. Period. I am well aware that he drank a wine that we would say had little kick to it. But he drank wine.


Paul's letter to the church in Corinth told us that we as Christians should not do anything that could be perceived as wrong. PERCEIVED.

Which brings us to social media. I recently saw a wonderful Christian man, a great pastor, one of the best, having a beer at what appeared to be a crawfish boil. It was a hot day, they're kicking back at a boil. The question is what would be perceived by those looking at the picture? The answer must be that it is in the eye of the beholder. Ours is not to judge, and all that. But man, what does it say, really say?

My first mentor told everyone he didn't mind having a glass of wine with a meal, and he didn't see anything wrong with that. So, to him obviously that wasn't a sin.

But I wonder. Aren't we to be set apart? I guess each of us must decide what that indeed means. For some, I know it would mean not attending certain movies. I know it would mean not taking a certain way. For some, I know it would mean not drinking alcohol or smoking. For some.

But for all?

Look, none of us are perfect, and what we do in our own lives is between God and ourselves, but I wouldn't think we would want to paste our possible imperfections on Facebook. It's, to me, a big ol' red arrow pointing to us saying, "Look at me. I drink. I'm just like you."

Just saying.

A caveat... Most if not all of my readers know I am a recovering alcoholic, smoker, convicted sinner. I say that only because I haven't drinker, smoked, or actively, willingly purposefully sinned in a long time. But I have sinned. I am not perfect in action to this day. The point is I am saved by the bloom of the Lamb just like everyone else who professes Jesus.

I understand what the Bible doesn't say. I'm working on what it does. That must be enough.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A double (standard) off the top of the wall

Keep telling yourself, "It's freedom of, freedom of, freedom of." It's not "freedom from, freedom from, freedom from."

Seriously, it's OF, not FROM.

I try my best not to get worked up over these things anymore, but it's so very hard. Very hard.

Here's one story: A teacher in Florida made a 12-year-old student, Giovanni Rubeo, stand up and make a call to his parents. His fault,  mistake, error? He read from a book during the 90-minute free-reading time. The book? Of course, it was the Bible, one he had received from a local church. The teacher made the student call his parents in front of everyone as some sort of punishment. When the parents did not answer, the teacher took the phone from the student and left this message:"I noticed that he has a book -- a religious book -- in the classroom. He's not permitted to read those books in my classroom."

When Giovanni's dad, Paul Rubeo, protested his son's treatment, the school officials sent him a two-sentence reply that dodged the key issue of whether students could read religious material during free time.

Let's be fair here. The teacher, who according to some headline writing "humiliated" the student, also said on the recording, "So, please give me a call. I need to have some understanding on direction to him about the book he's reading as opposed to the curriculum fro public school. Mrs. S. Thomas. Thank you. Have a wonderful day. Bye-bye."

That's not exactly hate speech, for those conservatives who would brand the teacher. The parents, however, wanted a public apology. Lest a teacher be strung up, Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie publicly apologized. Runcie said, "Let me be clear. Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the right to bring personal religious material to school, including the Bible."

There. Done.

Uh, no so fast.

A battle is about to begin that makes this little tussle over Bible reading seems like a, well, like a battle instead of a war. In Oklahoma City, a group wants to erect a monument of the Ten Commandments on the Statehouse lawn. At the same time, a group called the Satanic Temple (backed, of course, by the ACLU) is insisting that a nearly completed statute of Satan stand alongside the commandments. The group spokesman said that the bronze statute will represent the Baphomet or Sabbatic Goat. To make things even more disturbing (and I'll have to say you have to go a ways to do that for me), the statute has a smiling child on each knee. It goes without saying much or often that the good folks in Oklahoma are not taking this, uh, sitting down. The Satanic Temple is, of course, attempting to prove that Oklahoma -- particularly in the permit department -- has a double standard.

The plain fact, as plain as the dust storms that still scratch the eyes of Oklahomans, as plain as the standards the right grabs on to and holds so tight the commandment tablets begin to crack, as plain as the ACLU's constitution it so willingly claims as its own Bible, is that they do have a double standard.

Here we go ... they have one. We have one. The teacher in Florida did and does. The student and his parents the same. Like the ones who want Ten Commandments stuck in the ground like the line in the sand at the Alamo. Like the ones who want to put up statues of Satan and smiling children.

They, we, all of us have double standards. We want quite desperately to have things our way. We want to protect our constitution ... OUR constitution. Any other constitution need not apply.

The point is this, friends. If we're going to go by our constitution, the one the forefather's took great love and care writing, then we're going to do that. And it says that we have freedom OF religion, meaning we have the freedom to choose any or none religions. Even dumb as bricks statues of Satan and little kids. We do. That's the country we've chosen to live in.

Does it make it right? Nope. Does it mean I support it? Nope. Does it mean it drives me bat crazy? Yep.

But it also means the kid in Florida should have and must have the right to read that Bible. And it means the ACLU should be filing suit to protect his rights.

But, of course, that would mean the ALCU would have a double standard. Wouldn't it?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wait on the weight or ...

The English language is an interesting one. It's not Greek, where there can be three words for the exact same meaning. Instead, in English there are three words that sound just alike but are spelled differently and mean different things.

Like wait.
Or weight.

Now, for me, they mean the same things essentially. Though I'm told that they do not mean the same thing, I beg to differ.

To wait, for me, is to put weight on.

Billy definition: Waiting is building up weight on my shoulders.

Jesus would argue, and thus win, that there is no need for this.

Paraphrasing, Jesus told us to let him bear the weight; let him take the buildup; let him deal with the load. He also said that worrying would not add a moment to our lives. He also said that he would handle it.

All Billy translations.

Oh, but that I could.

We're in our gazillionth day of looking for housing in the New Orleans area, and it's going, well, it's going. I remember well the last time we looked for housing in the New Orleans area. It was 1991. I came down with a friend to cover a Saints pre-season game and, oh, I also found a place for us to live. In one day. Found it. Secured it. Got the keys. Covered the game. Discovered there was someone named Buddy D on the radio. Knew that I wasn't in Kansas any longer.

Later, we discovered the house we would buy just around the corner from the one we were renting. Took a week to get 'er done.

Later, when we moved to the Northshore, we found a place in a short period of time. Lost it when someone bought it out from under us while our house was waiting to sell. Later, we put an offer down on a house we thought we loved, and it too was bought out from under us. Later, we found a house... oh, you get it.

Finally, with hope almost gone, we found a house we loved. Still do.

The point of all this is that Jesus has it. He has control. It might seem as if he doesn't, but the flat out reason for living is he does.

He will find us the house we're supposed to be in. Of that I am certain. The only question is whether my heart will be beating when Mary finds it.

Oh, he said he would handle that, too.

No, weight.

Wait on the weight.
And take a load off Fanny (for those music buffs among you).

Monday, May 5, 2014

When you stumble, you get back up again

I remember a D.C. Talk song a few years back called What if I stumble. It was an examination of what happens when celebrity and Christianity collide.

The guys wrote, "What if I stumble? What if I fall? Is this one for the people? Is this one for the Lord? Or do I simply serenade for things I must afford? You can jumble them together, my conflict still remains; Holiness is calling in the midst of courting fame. 'Cause I see the trust in their eyes though the sky is falling. They need your love in their lives, compromise is calling."

I was thinking about that this morning after a did a cursory look at the religion news wire.  Derek Webb, who entered the business as part of the group Caedman's Call before going solo, will soon be a divorced voice. Webb and Sandra McCracken, sort of a power-couple of current Christian musician marriages, announced within the past two weeks that they are ending their 13-year marriage after he had an affair. He becomes the latest in a long line of persons who have introduced "scandal" into the Christian music field.

The question is what effect will the divorce have on Webb and McCracken's career in the manner in which other scandals have affected Christian artists in the past, usually ending their careers for all intents and purposes or are the times changing in this area like they are in many, many others. Heck, just recently,  Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine stirred up evangelical ire recently when he expressed his support for same-sex marriage and for a need to engage in open dialogue on the issue. The response was about what anyone would expect: borderline hysteria. Jars of Clay, which I've seen in person, was one of the first groups I ever heard in the field. Loved them then, and now.

In the past 40 years, we've seen Marsha Stevens, the woman who has been called the mother of Contemporary Christian Music, who penned the popular song "For Those Tears I Died," revealed the fact she was a lesbian in 1979. She was essentially banned from the part of the music field she helped create. She would be but the first who revealed his or her sexuality. Jennifer Knapp, another personal favorite, is gay as was James Cleveland. Ray Boltz, a Dove Award winning male vocalist of the year more than once, shocked the industry when he announced he was gay.

But scandal doesn't restrict itself to gay-straight. No, sir. In 1992, queen of Contemporary Christian Music at the time, Sandy Patty, was divorced from her manager/husband John Helvering after she admitted -- to her church congregation -- she had had an affair with one of her back-up singers.

In 1994, just after having left the Gaither Vocal Band, a solo record entitled Michael English won two Dove awards for Male Vocalist and Best New Artist. But just one week after the Dove Awards, English learned that Marabeth Jordan, which whom he had had an affair, was pregnant with his child. English was pressured by his record company to make a public apology, and he was eventually dropped. Christian radio stations pulled English's songs off the air. He returned his Dove Awards. English and his wife Lisa, who were married for 11 years and had a daughter, divorced.

Solo singer-songwriter Clay Crosse, who made such an impact on my journey that I named my first book in part because of a song he did called Saving the World, admitted an addiction to pornography. A Dove Award winner in 1997 as male artist of the year, his career hasn't been the same since his admission.

When Amy Grant, my favorite early Christian contemporary Christian music artist, was divorced in 1999 (has it really been that long?) and married country singer Vince Gill a year later, the public breakup rocked the Christian music industry, pretty much derailed her career and raised questions about the personal lives of prominent Christian artists.

An article I read this morning about Webb and McCracken said the fallout about their divorce would be different than, say, Grant's because of the change in the music industry but also because there is a growing sense among evangelicals that divorce -- while disappointing -- may be inevitable for some marriages.

It seems to me that being on stage or in the audience or being behind the pulpit or in the congregation all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Nothing we've done makes us any different than the other.

Jesus said come as we are. Broken as we are. Scarred as we all are. Damaged as we all are. In need of new life as we all are. All need to be saved by a perfect God.

There's no such thing as perfect people. No such thing as a perfect life. We simply are in need. All of us.

By the way, it's the Christian music, not the Christian musician, that we listen to to the glory of God. My son, Jason, plays all over the South during the week in clubs (that we used to call bars). On Sunday morning and evening, he leads worship at two different churches. He's the same person at the different venues. The music he's playing is different.  He's a Christian who happens to be a musician. As are all of the above.

But famous or not, there's always hope. Toby Mac, one of those D.C. Talk writers before they broke up, wrote these words: Wide awake in the middle of your nightmare; you saw it coming, but it hit you outa nowhere. And there's always scars when you fall that far. We lose our way, we get back up again. It's never too late to get back up again. One day you gonna shine again.