Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In the presence of the Holy

The other day I drove 10 miles to go back 50 years, and I am more the better for having done so. I spent a couple hours in the presence of a Holy Lord, or at least in the presence of my 86-year-old aunt who is as close to Him as anyone I've ever been privileged to be around.

She has served Him since she was a young woman, served Him in Kansas City, served Him in Meridian, Miss., served Him in the Virgin Islands as a missionary, served Him in churches and serves Him today in an assisted living home, taking in persons who need prayer and acknowledge it.

She prayed for me, my ministry, my church for some 15 minutes or so, tears forming and rolling down her deeply ravined face like melted snow roaring down a spring mountain.

It is good to be reminded that we are not all we can be, that we are not the be all and end all to it all, if you know what I mean. I was in the presence of so many wonderful people at the conference I attended, great preachers, theologians, leaders.  Despite the presence of all those powerful and wonderful leaders, I was perhaps moved most by a gentle old lady who loves The Lord like He was sitting there with us in a little 10 by 12 room, one small TV, a recliner, a very small couple chairs.

It led me to reason again about the intricacies of the faith.

A conference of 744 churches and the most powerful man in Methodism today versus one lady who just wants to remember all the lives she helped change by the power of her God.

This morning, I read this devotional: "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ ..."

I know no one more ready for the day of Christ than my aunt. No one. 

I would hope that one day I could see that I've made a very small impression on the world, but I suspect that will never happen. Other than prison work, I've never seen that kind of change in persons where one day they were non-believers, the next they believed. Conversion, strangely warmed hearts, you call it what it is or might be ... I've not seen that in many persons -- taking myself out of the equation.

But when I listen to the stories of my aunt, I hear of dynamic conversions. 

God works in the way God wants to work, I suspect.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The strategy of the middle

The ability to be wrong in the right way is a dying art. This world has become so polarized that finding a way to admit defeat in a gentile, loving way is, well, truly Christian. It doesn't happen everyday.

On the major topics, we've failed, as a body of Christ, as a nation. We can't come together long enough to be together. Hence our difficulty on most subjects.

I read a few minutes ago that the nation is perfectly willing to send bombers to crash the party of ISIL, but we as a nation are not ready to send ground troops. I'm not sure I get the idea, here. We are willing to kill from a far, against an enemy whose evil-ness we've seldom seen the like of, but we are not willing to send our young into battle for a worthy cause. Most times it would seem we would be in or we would be out, but not on this subject.

I get that, I really do. I get most arguments. Abortion, homosexuality, sin as a whole, etc. I get it. I get both sides. I get the middle. I understand where and when we broke away from civility and fell into harshness.

But what I don't get is why the body can't overcome this. Why can't we stop the harshness and get to a common ground?

Today they will bury another good guy. Barry Hoekstra was one of those guys who could make you laugh even when the idea was a very solidly serious one. I met him 16 years ago when he spoke about weddings at my license to preach class.

"My advice is don't do them," he said, smiling. Heck, I didn't know him well, but what I knew of him always made me smile, also.

It seems when I think about how many good ones have left this planet into the good news of what lies ahead in the past two years, acknowledging that age is quickly catching up with me and my body is breaking down at a rapid rate, what I know is that we need to learn to reach a common ground because all this might go away at a moment's notice.

Less than a month ago, Barry wasn't even diagnosed. Less than a month. And he's gone. Pancreatic cancer that swept through like a conquering army.

Except, it didn't conquer, for he is now where many of us long to be.

Because there will be no arguing in heaven, and all our theology will be meaningless. The only thing that matters then is did we love and did we accept love.

Oh, I pray I will get that right one day. I pray we all will.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The dance of hope

In 40 years, the United Methodist Church will cease to exist, they say, or perhaps the ones remaining will be out there with the scattered few who still put butter on their popcorn.
But for the first time since I’ve been in the church planting/restoration/restart/reorganize/resomethingtheheckotherwise business, admittedly only since April, I felt a bit of a surge of if not excitement at the least hope yesterday.
Somehow in a long day of listening, I heard the small still voice telling me that if I can get out of the way, He is strong enough, wise enough, mighty enough to bring revival even in the midst of my shortcomings. Maybe especially in my shortcomings.
Somebody told an introvert a way that he might, just might be able to get past, through, around the, uh, introverted-ness and help bring people to not a new church that we’ve talked so much about but to a new relationship with Jesus, which we’ve talk too little about in my opinion.
It begins with baby steps into relationship. Oh, I’ve heard some of the ideas before, but frankly, it just somehow clicked in a new way. Maybe I was just on this side of unconscious as the hours grew long and my ability to fight against the tide lessened or maybe it crept its way inside my brain , but maybe I final get it that it’s not about that dang building we’re trying so desperately to fix. Maybe.
What all this must be about is a sincere, honest look at what a relationship is. It’s about not inviting to church. It’s about being authentic and forming some kind of relationship with the unknown. It’s about being “real” (my word not theirs).
Look. Constant readers know I’m the most messed up person on the planet. That’s a given. I somehow would love to be able to say that I became a part of the folks beyond the altar rail, the clergy they say, and somehow everything grew clear and promising. But though I strive every day to bring something to someone who doesn’t know Christ, I fail mostly, wailing away at strong winds of tradition through these epics.
But somewhere in here (in there) Jesus did a work on me, and the next thing I knew I was up there in front of folks. No better. Just forgiven.
So, what do we do? What can we do?
Simply, I think, give in. Give in to the God who loves us and wants us to love others just like that.
David said it this way: Only in God do I find rest; my salvation comes from him. Only God is my rock and my salvation – my stronghold! – I won’t be shaken anymore.
Oh, I’m sure that there will be days ahead when shyness and such will knock me back down. But for now…
“Oh, I must find rest in God only, because my hope comes from him.”

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Changing change for change

I’m in Kansas City this morning, preparing to go to learn more about change. I feel like my whole life has been about change for, oh, a long, long time. It’s not always good, and it can be tiring, but change is what we must do because we must do it.
This world each of us live in is and has always been about change. Evolution or not, we are not who we were, none of us, 20 years ago. Technology and such, culture and such, such and such have all changed.
Oh, I believe God hasn’t changed because that’s the way I read what I read in scripture. But I would argue that the way we perceive him, the way we read about him, the way we talk about him have all changed. And all of us are right. And all of us are wrong. Because many of us have change the way we feel about so many, many things over time.
I was talking, as I always do (both times) with my cousin, and we were talking about the preaching we grew up with and grew up on and it is certainly not the type of preaching I do now. A good friend of mine came to our church this past week and she emailed me Monday and said I was the same “silly” Billy. Ironically, I don’t think of myself that way at all anymore and the person who used to preach with some sort of joke or funny tale almost each week seldom if ever does that now. I heard we’re not supposed to from a teacher of mine, and I quit on the spot.
Change. Leading through change. It’s something we talk about and we want, all of us I think, till change hurts someone. Then as always I’m regretful I pushed for change so hard.
I’m very tired as I write this with a full, full day ahead but here is what I read last night: “You, by your own hand, removed all the nations, but you planted our ancestors. You crushed all the peoples, but you set our ancestors free. No, not by their own swords did they take possession of the land – their own arms didn’t save them – no, it was your strong hand, your arm, and the light of your face because you were pleased with them.”
I’ve changed during the past 19 years plus because I haven’t drank, and I’ve talked to a whole lot of people who didn’t want to. I’ve changed because during the past 19 years plus, but not nearly enough. I’m getting old and set in my ways as they used to say, but darn if I don’t think I need to change more.
I pray there won’t come a time when I don’t want to change, but I fear greatly that I will. I pray that my conservative streak is at root a sign of my age, and that what I believe isn’t. I pray that I will continue to grow till that fine day in the future, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, when I won’t change because I’m going home to be with my parents, my pets, my family birth and adopted. Till then, may I learn to change like I’ve learned to do Mac instead of PC, I-pad instead of laptop and so forth.

May I.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The war is everywhere

Let's just look at the headlines on the Religion News Network this fine day.

Pope Francis to Jews: We're all under attack now.

Embattled Evangelicals: War on Religion is aimed at us.

In lesser news: Church choirs are dying

Religion loses clout: Why many say that's a bad thing

And my pick for strangest of the day: On Supreme Court docket, beards, church signs and Middle East peace

Wow. And to think there was a time when religion was, uh, positive reinforcement.

I want to refer to two of the stories. The top one will do. The Religion News Network reports that Francis met with a delegation of 40 Jewish leaders on Sept. 17 to mark Rosh Hashanah. The Pope condemned militant attacks on Christians in the Middle East, comparing the persecution to attacks on the Jews.

Ronald S. Lauder, who was in attendance, said, "Francis told us privately that he believes we are in World War III, but unlike the first world wars, instead of happening all at once, this war is coming in stages."

I have no idea about the validity of the statement. I have no idea about what is going on in the world. But I have some idea about what is going on in this country, and in this country I believe we're seeing a complete apathy about what is going on in the world.

We're bombing Syrian targets. We're bombing Iraq targets.

We've become so isolated in our every day lives that we're not reacting to what is going on. We're just not.

As far as evangelicals are concerned, and I count myself among them though I am a pastor in a mainline denomination, a 2014 survey shows that the nones (those who have no religion) are at 19 percent now, while evangelicals are at 20 percent.

Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, said Evangelicals "are on the losing side of the culture wars such as gay marriage. And they see that their share (of society) is shrinking and aging, adding to their sense of being embattled. They can no longer say confidently they speak for all people of faith."

Where exactly does all this leave us? I would say a great deal from the ideal of Jesus.

My questions for today are this: Does the sermon on the mount still resonate today in light of all I've written? Does love thy enemy seem reasonable today? Can we still count on our God winning the battle?

The answer to those questions, I believe, will answer where you are in the "war on religion."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Trust eliminates worry, or so they say

Numbers don't lie, someone said a while back. A guy who used to work for me, long , long ago, is on a program that is titled that on ESPN.

But the fact is, one can make numbers say what one wants them to say. Politicians do that all the time. I suspect those in the religion business do, too.

I look at numbers and what I see when I do usually is a negative, not a positive. When we have our biggest crowd, I immeditley look for why? When we have our smallest crowds, I immediately look for why.

I never simply take the time to enjoy what God is sending to us.

Every Sunday we've had, since we began this grand experiment of co-pastoring and replanting a church, has been bigger than what was before. Yet I worry the crowds are not big enough. I worry we're not growing fast enough. I worry.

The Bible says of these feeling: "But you, God, shield me on all sides; You ground my feet, you lift my head high; With all my might I should up to God; His answers thunder from the holy mountain."

In other words, I work as hard as I can, do all that I can, and the answers are in his hands. I try my best to be all I can be for Him, an the ball is in his court. I believe that with all my heart.

And yet I worry.

"I stretch myself out. I sleep. Then I'm up again -- rested, tall and steady. Fearless before the enemy mobs Coming at me from all sides." The Bible simply says the battle is his. It has always been his.

Worry comes from a lack of trust, trust that He is sovereign and that all things turn to good for those who love him.

If we believe that, then worry becomes a thing of the past.

Oh, let it be so, as I grow more and faster than does the church.

Numbers don't lie, but God is in control of those numbers. If we fail, it is only because God didn't want to move in that direction. That doesn't take the burden off of us, it simply puts the burden of trust onto Him.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mud swimming

"I waited and watched for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn't slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God."

David wrote this. It could have been any Christian. 

Have you ever felt like you were swimming in mud. Have you ever been rescued by God? He is in the rescuing business.

I have seen many feel this way. I've seen many come out even stronger. Me? I go up, I go down. It's just the way of being Billy.

The thing to do when the mud grows thick is to sing the latest God-song, praise God for all He is to you.

Then sit back and wait. Or better yet, get up and do something or someone else. And the mystery of God will rise again.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Twisting the arm away

Paul writes to the church in Corinth (in the Message interpretation), "A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving."

We are in the process of planning and executing the plan for a silent auction/dinner in December to help fund this massive project we're involved in.

Just to remind anyone who hasn't heard, we need to repair the roofs over three of our buildings, we need to repair the walls below those roofs where water cascaded down them for decades, we need to bring the sanctuary into this decade if not this century with lights, sound, etc., we need new carpet in the sanctuary, and we need new pews. We need to gut part of the rooms upstairs, put in a ramp leading to a unisex handicapped bathroom, in fact we need bathroom work in every one in three areas, most buildings need painting and the list could go on and on.

But I've poured myself into the plans for the dinner on Dec. 6, at least in part because I am not capable of understanding much about roof plans. So I've weighed in on dinner plans, on music plans, on choices of meats and things as deep and wide as that.

But I don't like doing this. Not really. I don't like twisting arms. I don't like being the type of person who gives sob stories, even more so than hearing sob stories. It simply is necessary. In fact, I think that God has actually called me to do this. So, I'm doing my best.

What I've worked on mainly is making sure we don't spend too much of our capital before we make any. Interestingly, I've had my daughter calm me down about while I've done the same with others. In other words, can't make money if you've spent it before you ever begin.

In the spiritual realm, let's say that this way: You can't xxxxx if you've xxxxx on the front end. You can't ask someone to give if you don't give. You can't ask someone to serve if you're unwilling to serve. You can't ask for love if you're not willing to love your neighbor.

It is hard to comfort someone if you've spent all your comforting language, prayer, touch before you ever visit the ones needing comforting.

Say you get a call from your friend and she says her daughter has broken up with her boyfriend and could use a word or two. Say you've been extremely unloving to that young woman for years, an unkind word about her weight, an unkind word about her hair. You get a woman friend to go with you to talk to that daughter. What do you think will be the reaction?

Perhaps we just simply turn to God's message. "I look to you, heaven-dwelling God, look up to you for help. ... Kicked in the teeth by complacent rich men, kicked when we're down by arrogant brutes."

Or maybe picked up, dusted off and  set on our way.

God, help us change the world, let's begin by changing us, changing our community, changing our lives.                

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The measure of love

In the fifth grade, there was Brenda. I had fallen as fifth-grade in love as one could fall. Like ice on a wintry day, I fell hard and froze when it counted.

I could not talk to Brenda, couldn't even gargle a couple of words out when we first met. It was as if Cupid had shot an arrow into my tongue, pinning it to the top of my deathly dry mouth. She appeared, a transfer of some kind as I recall, and suddenly the shy fifth-grader who cared more, much more for baseball than girls was a Brenda-stalker.

Love had horse-collared me.

The sentiment is clear as fall rain water: God loves you, us, you and I. He loves us so much, he insured we would be able to see and feel this love. Get that? He wanted to make sure we would feel His love.

My parents loved me. I'm fairly sure about this. But their method of showing me involved buying me things.

Love equaled things, things bought, things given. In my opinion, then, that led me to getting pretty much everything I ever asked for, which led me to ask for everything I could think of, which led me to becoming more selfish than normal original-sin selfishness, which led me to ...

You get the idea, I suspect. I thought much more of myself than I did others, right on up to the time after I first met Him, really met Him.

The interesting thing to me is that He never GAVE me anything. No I-pads, no cars, no Saints championships, no Braves World Series wins. Oh, they got those things, and I was part of the receiving line for championships. But no, I never swapped prayer championships with God.

Love does not equal purchases or gifts. You can't buy yourself into being loved more. You can't insure you're going to be loved by your actions. You can't give because you want someting in return. Love happens, and many times it does not. Often, you can't make an emotion happen in the manner in which you would like it to happen.

Brenda was, well, Brenda. Perfect skin. Perfect eyes, deep and brown and swimable if you know what I mean. Hair wispy and dirty blonde. She was my fifth-grade ideal.

Let's put it this way: The greatest emotion I've felt during the 19 year of rebirth has been my time in prison ministry, followed closely by my time in Cursillo -- a three-day event. There are ties between the two events, both are very planned events. In other words, the events are closely monitored so you know where you are supposed to be at such and such time all weekend. The truth is I would love to feel what I felt during those events, spiritually and emotionally, all the time. I would love to feel the way I felt the first time I saw Brenda, but that's not possible.

And I'm good with that. I would rather spend a lifetime with my dear partner Mary than a fifth-grade class with Brenda. I would rather spend a lifetime with Jesus than three days with prisoners.

If you are counting on that emotionl reaction to continue the rest of your life, you're going to be fairly disappointed. The kicker is this: Love is not an emotion. It is not a momentary event. It is a matathon,  not a happy, happy sprint.

Paul said it this way: "Love never gives us. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut. Doesn't have a swelled head. Doesn't force itself on others. Isn't always 'me first.' Doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth. Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back."

God loves me; this I know. For the Bible tells me so.

Love is.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Who will defend them?

I remember the moment quite vividly. I don't remember what I did to cause the moment, honestly, and I would tell anyone if I did remember.

But I remember the aftermath ... for a couple of reasons. I remember the difficulty I caused -- the tears on my mother's face, the tears on my own face, When my father returned from where ever on the planet he was,  he certainly did not cry, but he let me know his feelings, and I cried again. I was not yet 10 years of age, and I was causing grief and producing guilt.  And I was ripping down branches, tearing off leaves and as much of tiny protrusions as I could because they hurt the worst. N6i                  

Comedian Bill Cosby describes his own moment this way: My wife grabs a yard stick... holds it like a samurai warrior... and announces that the beatings will now begin... by saying, "I HAVE HAD... ENOUGH OF... THIS!" Now these three brain-damaged people have the nerve to looked surprised."

Richard Pryor, years ago, used to talk about having to go get a switch (a cruel punishment in an of itself). In the routine, Pryor talked about a switch, which is a Southern connective word like cornbread or grits that when said produces head shakes from men sitting in Southern rocking on Southern wood porches on hot Southern evenings, He talked about the sound the switch would make as it was "whipped" through the air, slicing through the Southern humidity like a wooden missle. Perhaps the fear of the sound was almost the equal of  the fear of what a thin branch of a tree would do to us.

Unless, of course, one had a father like Adrian Peterson apparently is. I had one like that, one who would whip you not just into punished state but into state of submission, whose use of the thin whippet was a talent not unlike the orchestra leader in front of the band. These fathers played a tun on the legs of many a boy growing up. Anyone who would try to make the argument that corporate punishment does not work was never whipped like that. I'm not arguing for it. I'm simply saying one did not choose to have freaking fear driven out of every pore like sweat on a Mississippi summer night.

But it wasn't the somewhat infrequent whippings from my father that created "the moment." Nah. That would be all too easy to understand. 

Indiscretion begat beating begat pain, begat corrective decision. That makes some sense, right? It does work. But what it doesn't do is fix the one doing the wrong. It simply replaces the wrong with fear, and that's not a way to live.

The moment, the type of moment I am describing, the devastating moment I have lodged some where in my brain, came because I did something that caused my mother distress, and the fact that she made me go get the dang switch. It was very much like forcing the prisoner to get a truck and go get the electric chair to do the damage. 

One step beyond okay, if I was asked. 

Look, I get the arguments. I understand that in the hands of an NFL player a switch becomes something different than a mere tool of discipline, and he should be punished accordingly. I even hear the argument that in some ways this is between a father and a son, making it little of my business.

But the thing I remember most about that day so long ago in the yard of our house in Lizelia, Miss., is something completely different. What I remember most are the tears... and the screams.

If we won't defend these children, these women, then who will? Don't we have an obligation?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The problem that won't go away

Mary, my loving and wonderful wife, walked into a store somewhere on the planet sometime in the past four days. We were looking for x,y,g (don't ask). We never found x or y and g was not in the picture (which since I can't even recall what we were actually looking for makes finding it exceptionally hard). That left a straight up swap: G for A,B, or C.

As we were walking (I assure you it was not after midnight if you're into symbolic lyrics), we passed a canteen set of two. I made a casual, off the cuff remark about owing one as a kid. Mary said she too had one. I asked something along the lines of "what in the world did you have one for?" I didn't mean to imply that one half of one half the two genders on the planet had no business owning a "manly" canteen, but apparently that's the way it came across. She replied with the force of a hurricane with a dry wind in it, not drowning me but instead pushing me back. Dusting me back, if we're stealing baseball metaphors as well as football.

Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy is temporarily suspended because, and no one but Hardy and his lawyer actually dispute this, he allegedly beat his girlfriend, dragging her about their apartment before finally stopped by "the community." We were beaten to the punch on this story by the neighbors, one of whom said that unless the police showed up "right now" Hardy would kill his girlfriend. He not only played in four preseason games, he played in the first regular-season game last week. He started ... and he played. The uproar grew so loud, Carolina sat him for the second game. The NFL has yet to move. He was convicted in a jury trial . This man was convicted ... and yet he played.

Ray McDonald, playing for a team that claims zero tolerance for domestic violence in San Francisco, is STILL playing despite not one but twice in which he has been the police have been called to referee domestic violence incidents.

And you might have heard of the Ray Rice case.

Here's my take on this. I believe, after much further review, that all of the football players who are involved in these incidents should be forgiven by a loving God, forgiven by their peer, and they should be suspended by a jury of their peers and their employers after a court trial and a trial with jurors made up of NFL staffing, the NFL commissioner, NFLPA leers and fellow football player. And I believe the penalty should be one year for first offense, two years for a second and a lifetime ban for any others.

Here's the problem, the real gut wrenching problem. I don't believe most NFL players feel Commissioner Goddell should be judge and jury over this case -- and now I believe any other case would seem the same for them. They no longer trust him, if they ever did. Without trust, there is no way for Goddell to be doing his job.

It's time for changes. Real changes.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A piercing name

I've spent a lot of my week in the cavernous area of the NFL and domestic violence, looking at it from a couple of angles I've yet to see in other circles.

But it's Friday. We need to look ahead. Why? Because Sunday's coming.

In this work where domestic violence has overtaken our thoughts, where Ferguson still is such a raw topic, where ISIS or ISIL or WHATEVER is a real and present danger, it is good to know this morning one idea above all else.

God told the prophet Isaiah: See, I have written your name on my hand. Today we go to great lengths to teach our pastors not to tell people that God has a plan specifically for your life, because that becomes problematic when things go so terribly for some people. When that happens, the idea is, that people, our congregations, will then blame God for what has happened. In other words, "you mean to tell me that the Holocaust was God's plans?"

But this is not that column.

This is about understanding that life happens, God makes good of whatever bad happens in the long (and sometimes the extremely short) run. And every little choice along the way makes ripples that will last a lifetime.

Yesterday I spent time in my hometown. We drove by the house I called home for but 12 of my 61 years but that my mother called home for 45 years. It looked wonderful, and the owner, my cousin, had done a wonderful job with the land in front of it. I teared as I look on it for the first time since I sold it and left the property eight years ago.

I can do many things through Christ, but I can't go back again.

The point is this: Had I not sold it, conceivably we might be living there one day, heck maybe even this one.

Every movement, every moment, every magnificently magnified choice ripples through our future's. And God sees them all, outside of time, and can (I believe) adjust to take even the worst of our moments, movements, mangled and mismanaged choices to the good not just for us but for the world around us.

He has my name written on the palm of his hand. That both comforts me and informs me. I am a creature created by THE creator to live to the best of my ability. That usually isn't very well. I fail far more than I should at this advanced age. But I get up when I fall and I turn to Him who knows every mistake I've ever made and loves me anyway. No one else on the planet can say that to me and mean it. No one else can categorize the mistakes, the poor choices, the sins I've committed. No one could live with all the dirty hands I have.

But he spread the hands that I had dirtied wide, with my name on them, and he let a nail pierce my name. That nail split the BI and the LLY because of my mistakes, poor choices and sins. I know that. I realize that. I feel that.

He knows my name. What a responsibility. What a job. What a joy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The irony of the Rice situation grows

In the world of the bizarre, which this week has been the NFL, comes the most bizarre of incidents. The 49ers have suspended radio broadcaster Ted Robinson for two games because of domestic violence comments he made this week.

On Monday, he was discussing the Ray Rice situation. He said that Rice's then fiancé should accept her responsibility in what happened, and that it was "pathetic" to go ahead and marry Rice after he knocked her out with a punch in April at a New Jersey casino.

The 49ers suspended him. Niners president Paraag Marathe issued a statement that said the words were offensive and in no way reflect the views of the San Francisco 49ers organization.

Oh, uh, yes.

This is the same organization that is playing defensive tackle Ray McDonald after he was arrested in early September for -- you guessed it -- domestic violence. They're letting the legal process play out in this instance.

To recap: Announcers they can do without for saying the wrong thing or at best saying something in the wrong way, but defensive tackles, they can wait for due process so they get games out of them.

This is a despicable, heinous thing this domestic violence. Raising one's hand to a woman is without doubt terrible. It is a personal problem that one can't help but be sickened by it.

But I want to put one thought into the mix that will cause some to stop reading and revolt against me. If Janay Rice had an abortion, no one would have say a word. If she decided that having a child was the wrong thing to do and she took that life, no one would say a word. We would not have three days of intensive coverage. We would not have independent investigations.

We wouldn't have a word.

We've reached the stage in evolutionary development, if one could call it that, whereas abortion our children is not even a topic of discussion. I know I'm mixing terrible apples of domestic violence with the terrible apples of abortion, but one is as heinous to me as the other and yet we're having endless discussions of one and I'll be willing to be that NFL players have paid for more abortions than they have had arrests for domestic violence.

One is a life. The other could be.

Both are worth being played out as a discussion point, it seems to me. Isn't one type of violence the same as another?

Of course, if I were a San Fransisco 49ers announcer I would probably be suspended for saying that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Inwardly focused

There are a couple interesting developments lately about church we might need to discuss. First, Joel Osteen's wife Veronica went bat-crazy with her statement: "...realize that when we obey God, we're not doing it for God, we're doing it for ourselves. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God, really -- you're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy. Amen?"
There are numerous problems with that statement, but this is not an Osteen blog. I try to stay away for Joel. 
The No. 1 problem, to me, with that statement is how inward focused it is. It is concentrated on oneself. In fact, if one were to study Osteen's theology, it's all about oneself. It's a coach pumping up the team at halftime.
But then I read a survey and blog that points out that the No. 1 problem with the church today is how inwardly focused we are.  Yet, to fix things, we're rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, painting lipstick on a pig, and every other cliche one can think of. We're doing Sunday worship, thinking if we just do it better it will be good. We're building larger and prettier facilities or in our case rebuilding them. But through it all, it's an inward focus -- which we've said is the No. 1 wrong thing to do.
Then we turn around and look at what happens at Osteen's church, and it's the No. 1 attended church in this country.
Does that make a lot of sense?
Listening to a row of younger folks the other night at a local church that is hopping with four services over two sites in our city, it was a text book in networking. A guy on the row was coming to the church for the first time, having been invited by a young woman who was seated next to him. They both had come because of invites from someone down the row. 
That is how it works, must work, and will work in the future.
The church must meet the communities, young and old, where they are, and church leaders can't buckle when older members say "that's not how we've done it." Because the reality is if the church continues to look inward, taking care of persons who talk like they want younger folks in their midst but not enough to actually change things to make it happen, the mainline churches will shrink past the point of no return.
We pray that point hasn't already been reached. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The sin of Ray Rice

The Bible isn't clear on some things, taking a great deal of effort to come to grips with what it really means by study, prayer, mediation. 

This isn't one of them.

The Bible says this: Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

The writer of First Peter is clear there. Show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel. Some would moan about the language, but the meaning, at least to me, is clear. 

This morning the news is filled with the Ray Rice news. Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens in case you're living under a rock somewhere (in which it would be odd that you would have internet in order to read this), is on video in a casino elevator months ago in Atlantic City, N.J. hitting his then fiancĂ© so hard he knocked her unconscious.

Previously the NFL saw another angle of the incident, so officials say, and suspended Rice for two games as he sought counseling. With this view, the NFL officials suspended him indefinitely, and his team cut him loose. Many say Rice, just 27, will never play in the NFL again.

This from a league that welcomed back Dante Stallworth after a one-year suspension in 2009 for a drunken driving manslaughter conviction. Manslaughter!

But this is not a column about the NFL or even domestic violence. No, I want to go a bit of a different way.

This is a column, a blog, about the magnificence of the plan God has for us, those of us like Ray Rice who have fallen short.

Paul wrote this: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b]God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

God forgives where man condemns. God acted so that those who have great, abundant issues, even those as heinous as Rice, can find forgiveness and acceptance and even something we all need to uncover and deliver in our own lives -- understanding. I find it very interesting that many on social media wanted to punch Rice for what he had done. I find that as reprehensible as the offense Rice committed in many ways. That it be man on man, well, isn't that where we are with violence in this country?

Without condoning or saying ultimately it matters I point out that no one knows what led to that moment on video. No one, except the couple, knows what has happened since. No one knows if this is one incident or a pattern. No one knows if Rice has anger issues or was drunk or whatever, and Rice wasn't exactly forthcoming in his few statements since. No one knows. 

No one except a God who in the greatest example of the father, the parable of the prodigal son, runs down the road to get to the son who left the father and wasted his life in prodigal living.

Rice might not play football again. I would suspect not. But eternally the thing he must do is simply turn to Jesus and say words that he has said in public, I'm sorry. Believe Jesus to be Lord of his life, profess that with his mouth, and he will be saved.

That video will be there the rest of his life. No question. But so will that forgiving Father.

Today as we condemn Ray Rice, let us remember or even understand for the first time that all of us are sinners fallen short of a forgiving God. All of us. His sin is no worse than our sin. His sin is no different than our sin. His sin can be forgiven even as ours is.

The world just does't have video of our own.