Friday, October 31, 2014

The exuberant dance of life (really)

What a glorious cool day in the neighborhood, to be followed by a really glorious very cool night tonight. It isn't often that the humidity rich neighborhood gets drenched in sunshine and dry air and cool temps, but this is the one for the ages.

What does all that mean? Just this:

On All Hallow's Eve, let us instead of celebrating the dead, celebrate life.

David, in the Message, describes it all this way: God, mark us with grace and blessing! Smile! The whole country will see how you work, all the godless nations see how you save. God! Let people thank and enjoy you. Let all people thank and enjoy you. Let all far-flung people become happy and shout their happiness because You judge them fair and square. You tend the far-flung peoples. God! Let people thank and enjoy you. Let all people thank and enjoy you. Earth, display your exuberance! You mark us with blessing, O God, our God. You mark us with blessing, O God. Earth's four corners -- honor him!"

Well, uh, that says it all, doesn't it? I'm especially reminded of that Rich Mullins song, Step by Step: O God, you are our God, and I will ever praise you. O God, you are our God, and I will ever praise you. I will seek you in the morning, and I will learn to walk in your ways, and step by step you'll lead me, and I will follow you all of my days."

I especially -- this morning at least -- love the line "Let all people thank and enjoy you. Earth, display your exuberance!"

When was the last time, in God's timing and God's manner and God's blessing, that you just went out and danced with exuberance? I mean, just got down with it. Just laughed and laughed and sang and sang and the worry lines on your face were warped away by the smile road work and you just felt relieved and rejuvenated at the exact same time as if some new drug had instantly taken you over?

Yeah, me neither. Not much of an exuberance dancer.

But that doesn't mean we can't become one. The solution to this thought of non-dance is to think about all the ways God has blessed you, us. It's not a small thing. Life, breath, spouses, children, loves, life. I mean life. Life its ownself, as one Dan Jenkins would write. It's a serious, serious non-serious, absolutely grin-producing blessing to understand that God loves us so much that he gives all that we need to us and blesses us not with greatness but with humility, not with ultimate possession of things but ultimate dance-producing-I-don't-need-anything-but-you stuff.

Look, I'm not a top of the line preacher and I'm not a top of the line writer and you can buy two or three hundred of me for the price of one Rick Warren or Adam Hamilton, but in the end, in the end, I'm just as loved by God as is either of those two or whatever the next big name you can come up with.

So, as the church planting thing plays out in great growth or in great disaster, either way, God loves me. God protects me. God tickles me. God says quit taking everything so very darn seriously. I created stars; I created you. Same thing. No difference.

The night sky I filled, He says. Your lungs, I fill.

If I can do all that (and you wouldn't believe all I can do even if I told you), then can't I get just a little spiritual high-five from you? Just a touch? Just a whisper or a hint at joy?

So, let the dance begin.

We dance in the rain. We dance in the sun. We dance in the pain. We dance in the fun. We dance, because the Lord of the Dance is playing our tune, and it's the most exuberant tune of all time.

Each of us.
All of us.

In Exuberance.

That's life, and then some.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Prophets or Law: Just give me Jesus

Once again we head to the middle of things.

I read this document this morning. I offer a bit of it.

"While currently we stand with those who believe that the Book of Discipline must be upheld, we also affirm the prophetic spirit driving those who call for full-inclusion of all persons into our church. This is not an easy place to rest. Many of us – while sensing a new movement of the Spirit may be at hand – are uncomfortable with the dynamics involved with the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals and the marriage of gay and lesbian persons in our local churches. We serve congregations that are by no means of one mind on this issue, in communities where Christians from other tribes are warning our people of the “dangers” of our denomination’s “precarious disunity.” We are tired of seeing the United Methodist Church in the national news only when a few in our ranks engage in a public dispute over homosexuality.

"We also are aware of changing attitudes in our culture, particularly the young, as we serve congregations that are on the average, 20 years older and much more homogeneous than the general population. We are torn both by scripture which addresses issues of what is acceptable sexual practice and by the call of the prophets to love justice, offer mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord.
"But in our estimation the willingness of some who stand for the “Law” and others who stand for the “Prophets” to break or call for a break in our covenant is an egregious undertaking which is doing untold damage to our connection. Those who break covenant or call for us to do so, regardless of their position, have forgotten that the authority of both the “Law” and the “Prophets” hang solely on love (Matthew 22:36-40):  love which is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). Thus we reject the call arising from those who say we do not need each other. In response, we believe that every member of the Body of Christ is vital in our mission and ministry."

Let me say without hesitation, that I agree with all of this. I'm not sure what title or name or position that puts me in, but I understand the problem and I agree that we must reject the idea that we don't need each other in my denomination. I am not attached at the hip to my denomination, but I am in line with almost everything doctrinally this denomination stands for. I believe that we must see the need to disagree with love and determination to stay one. 

Isn't that what this whole life is about?

Heck, just give me Jesus.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In the beginning, God

Pope Francis said this recently in an interview: 
When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything — but that is not so.
He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.
He gave autonomy to the beings of the universe at the same time at which he assured them of his continuous presence, giving being to every reality, and so creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the creator who gives being to all things.
God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.
In a sign of the times perhaps, I have no quarrel with anything he said, with the possible exception of "God is not a divine being." Not too sure what he meant there, but the point is this: I have evolved on evolution. Or rather I've seen my stance on Genesis roll around from not believable to fully literal to somewhere safely and surely in the middle of it all.
In other words, I literally take Genesis and the origin stories (of which there are two, by the way), uh, not literally. It doesn't mean I don't believe them, however.
And therein lies the question.
Do you have to believe in seven days creation to believe in the Bible? Do you have to believe God took dust and created flesh? Do you have to believe in rib from a man and man named all the animals and the whole thing line by line?
Some say yes. It is a litmus test of belief even faith. Take out a comma and you're done.
Some say no. Not even close. It's all a fable.
And some, like I believe me at this stage in my faith journey, say the important thing is being missed or at best mis-labeled. The tale is about God, and the words that are important are these: In the beginning, God. 
How he digit is as mysterious to me as how my blood flows so wonderfully through my veins or how my lungs fill with oxygen or how, for that matter, a phone works or this computer I'm typing on and so on.
Does that mean I believe man descended from apes? Nah. I don't. Does that mean there is always a missing link in evolution? Nah. I don't see it.
But it does mean that my faith has the possibility built in that God created men and women who didn't look exactly like we do today, those beings who have through evolution now some fitted with a smart phone attached to their ears.
It matters not to me whether a day was 24 hours or a day was a century or a day was a 1,000 years (which interestingly enough is equated to God's timetable later in scripture). What matters is God did it. God created. A source for all this absolutely is necessary.
If someone wants to ask where did the source come from, hey, In the beginning, God. That's what faith is for.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What is radical in your life this morning?

I'm not absolutely certain that Eugene Peterson's The Message does David's Psalms better than David does, but here's the 95th of those Psalms ... "Come, let's shout praises to God, raise the roof for the Rock who saved us! Let's march into his presence singing praises, lifting the rafters with our hymns! And why? Because God is the best; High King over all the gods."

Uh, wow. Doesn't that say it all? I mean, all?

You get up in the morning, God is waiting.
You go to bed at night, God is there.

He is the Rock who saved us!

Read the lead of this story from the Religion News Service and look around you and count your blessings this fine morn.

"Basima al-Safar retouches a picture of Jesus on an easel outside her house overlooking the flat Nineveh plains, 30 miles north of Mosul (in Iraq).

"The murals she paints tell the story of her people, Christians in Iraq. But with Islamic State militants nearby, she is worried that life in Alqosh and towns like it will soon come to an end.

"The Assyrian Christian town of around 6,000 people sits on a hill below the seventh-century Rabban Hormizd Monastery, temporarily closed because of the security situation. Residents of Alqosh fled this summer ahead of Islamic State militants. Around 70 percent of the town's residents have since returned. Still, a sense of unease hangs in the air."

And therein lies the difference this morning between wherever you read this and Iraq and other places like Iraq.

Does a sense of unease hang in your air simply because of who you are, Christian? Do you sense a bit of unease because, simply because, you have made the dramatic and wonderful decision to follow a Palestinian carpenter named Jesus?

Seriously, is there anything in your life this morning that is radical, dangerous, interestingly sacrificial?

The answer for you -- and for me -- is quite probably not.

We go around talking about sacrifice while we live in the very lap of luxury. Meanwhile, the Psalm I read this morning from one of my dozens of Bibles speaks to me of a time when there was something for the Rock to deliver us from on this earth. In this country today, that's simply not the case unless one calls inconvenience something we need to be delivered from.

In countries like Iraq, there is a real and substantial possibility of death resulting from saying, loving, the name of Jesus.

And we have the unmitigated gall to talk about persecution.

Let's march into his presence singing praises, lifting the rafters with our hymns! And why? Because God is the best; High King over all the gods."

Monday, October 27, 2014

Too many to count

"I'll live in them, move into them; I'll be their God and they'll be my people. So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good."

And the hits just keep on coming.

I read this morning that according to religion researcher David Kinnaman when you add the "unchurched, the never churched and the skeptics to the nones (those who claim no particular religious identity) that there is 38 percent of the general population who are essentially "churchless."

Kinnaman says that if asked, the "churchless" would likely check "Christian" on a box on a survey even though they might night have been in church for years.

Get that now. Almost 40 percent of America doesn't go to church, according to this researcher.

And I'm in the church planting business, or the restart business.

But, I serve a strong God, capable and sure, trustworthy and powerful.

Remember the story of Gideon? He was called to defeat the Midianites. When he took an army with hymn, God told him, "You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands or Israel would boast against me, 'my own strength has saved me.' "

God simply said lose those men. Twenty two thousand went home leaving 10,000. Still that was too many. God sent all but 300 home. Then he finally gave the camp of Midianites to the Israelites.

It has come to my attention that I cannot, you cannot, do this on your own -- whatever "it" is. God is there for us. The challenges of life are truly outstanding. No one goes through life without them. But God is there for us. He is "our" God.

I read a book last week, a work of fiction that had nothing to do with spirituality except one of the characters was sitting outside at night on a boat and looked up and said, "I don't believe in God. But if I did, He wouldn't be the God of the Bible. That's way too small for God. We couldn't begin to get our minds around who He would be."

I agree. We've thought entirely too small when it comes to Him, and entirely too big about us.

He is our God. Not us.

There will come a time when the 38 percent bow down to a God they don't believe in. When that occurs, our job is not to say "i told you so." No, our job, church planters and church goers alike is to simply say, "I'd like to introduce you to the one who has always loved you most."

Friday, October 24, 2014

Rich in all things

Last night, while trying to figure out what we're doing and where we're at and how we got here and where we're going and, you know, the deep questions of life, I had a couple things happen that can come only from God.

This isn't just a journal, although there are times when that occurs, but last night was worth noting. My dear wife is visiting her mother for a couple days, so I was able to re-assess things (see above). I have been stressing over a fund-raising dinner in December, worried about not enough RSVPs and such, and I have been stressing over things in general.

Then came an email that told me they were giving $600 to the dinner's costs and were seeking more donors and were giving three items to the silent auction. The thing was, I didn't know this person, and this person was being so very gracious. Wow, I was stunned. Seriously stunned. I wrote her back thanking her, telling her that her email came when I most needed it. That I had been down, and how this lifted me up again with her graciousness.

This morning, she sent me a wonderful devotion about an Olive Tree. Again, I do not know this person.

So, last night in the final hour I lay awake, I went to my go-to guy. I watched the late singer-songwriter-preacher-teacher Rich Mullins on You Tube. I'm always struck with a sadness that God took him and left me, an unfair exchange by any stretch, but I always come away thinking that without Rich in my very early spiritual life, I wouldn't be writing this missive right now.

I just listened and reflected. And what I came up with is this:

It's a long road for most of us, this life thing. It's hard, and it's easy, and it's good and it's bad and it's fair and it's unjust and it's all of this things.

The first song I ever heard Rich sing came via Christian radio, an entity I didn't know existed 19 years ago when all this started.

The lyrics for Damascus Road are these:
I say I wanna give You glory Lord, and I do
But everything I could ever find to offer comes from You
But if my darkness can praise Your light
give me breath, and I'll give my life to sing Your praise
On the road to Damascus
I was hung in the ropes of success
When You stripped away the mask of life
they had placed upon the face of death
And I wanna thank You, Lord
More than all my words can say

And from that song came an understanding that perhaps wouldn't have come to me, an understanding about who God was and is and will always be.

It is absolutely unfair of me to have my moments of, er, sinkage, but I still do. I still sin. I still fail. I still fall. All this stuff about instant success and greatness and such is, as far as I can tell, worthless dribble.

What is life is giving of a life, the good and the bad and all that stuff in between to Him and let him sort it out and give back to us what He loves, which is us. He LOVES us. As we are. As we are. I can't say it enough. He loves us as we are.

Without Him, well, I suspect this would have been a shorter life. I am not able to fix myself, still. I never will be. But with Him, with Him, maybe I can do more than I believe I am capable.

The song I want played at my funeral is Rich's Elijah. Look up the words sometime. I give you just one line: This life has shown me how we're wounded and how we're torn, how it's okay to be lonely as long as you're free, sometime my ground was thorny, sometime covered up with stones, but only you can make it what has to be.

That's life. As I know it. As I've known it. As I will probably continue to know it.

I pray that God uses me, uses you, uses us all to bring His kingdom on this earth, as it is in heaven. That's all.

That's life.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


A wise woman told me this morning in my fears and such to go to Paul's writings and read:

I did ...

"I'm not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty of being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength."

Unpack that and you find a guy who didn't worry about what tomorrow will bring.
You find a guy who didn't have fear about what the ministry was doing or how it was growing or how it was spending or how it was failing.

He learned, and I assume it was a learned trait, to exist with little and to exist with a lot. In all his travels, he didn't worry about where his next meal was coming from or how to pay for the next car or what retirement was going to be or whatever.

He didn't worry.
He didn't fret.

He simply existed and went about his business. For all was Jesus to him. All. Every bit and every day.

That was who he was more than what he did, even.

That's who I so wished I was. That's who I so wished I could become.

He believed he could endure whippings and such because he could endure whatever was going to come because he received his strength and his courage and his vision from Jesus.

That's who I so wished I was. That's who I so wished I could become.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Like a deer

In times of sorrow, praise Him.
In times of glory, praise Him.
In times of .......... praise Him.

David described it this way: "Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God. My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God. When will I come and see God's face?"

He added, "Deep called to deep at the noise of your waterfalls; all your massive waves surged over me. By day the Lord commands his faithful love; by night is song is with me -- a prayer to the God of my life."

Deep called to deep, I ponder. I wonder at the noise of waterfalls, at the massive waves of Hawaii and the deserts of Palestine. He created it all. He listens. He speaks.

I see the light where there was darkness.

I triumph over darkness because love trumps over hate and anger and mistake.

I triumph because God has called me to the position I am in, whatever position that might be. I triumph because God is good, all the time.

I need the Lord because I am incapable of being without him. He is what I need, what I want, what I must have. Like a deer searching so hard for a stream of water to drink from, so I seek him.

This morning I'm tired, a little put off, a little sad, all those things. I don't know what is next, if I ever did, but I know Him, and this morning I praise Him for being God, a God who loves, who notices, who loves through all choices that are less than good.

My whole being thirsts for God. When will I come and see God's face/

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The baking of the bread (of life, and other things)

The Bible says: "Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last."

I've always been a goal setter. Write those babies down on a legal pad and accomplish them. Simple but direct. Simply but worthy. Simple but accomplishable.

Right up to that moment when it dawns on me that I'm not worthy of the goals I've set. Yesterday was a great day in the South. Warm, but not hot. Humidity down. Sunny but not too sunny. You know the type.

Then, without going into it, the rug was swiped away, the floor was jerked out from under me, surprise was the order of the day and da, da, da, da, dimmmmmm.

So, the question becomes, what are you going to do about it if the goals you had set were no longer are applicable at best, accomplishable at worst?

Do you keep on keeping on, or do you finally understand that what God wants accomplished is far more important than what you want accomplished -- even if what you wanted to accomplish still is a very, very good thing to do?

The answer is ... I'm not at all sure.

The answer is ... I'm still pondering.

The answer is ... whatever God wants.

Seriously, that's the way it goes. I simply want to do what God wants, and if what God wants still is the answer, then let's get er done.

Seriously, the Bible says, "Eery God-begotten person conquers the world's ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith."

What I finally reasoned late in the afternoon is that God calls, God equips, God allows, God makes. If that's the key, the God takes what little we are able to give, stirs it all together and voila, cake.

Or rather, bread.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Progressive movement

There is a culture war going on in the world, and progressives (their word) have already won.

Last week in Ottawa, Ontario (that's in Canada for those keeping score at home), the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Biblical speech opposing homosexual behavior, including in written form, is essentially a hate crime.

The Court upheld the conviction of activist William Whatcott, who found himself in hot water after distributing flyers regarding the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexuality throughout the Saskatoon and Regina neighborhoods in 2001 and 2002. “The Bible is clear that homosexuality is an abomination,” one flyer that was found to be in violation stated, citing 1 Corinthians 6:9. “Scripture records that Sodom and Gomorrah was given over completely to homosexual perversion and as a result destroyed by God’s wrath.”  Another flyer, entitled Keep Homosexuality Out of Saskatoon’s Public Schools, was written in response to the recommendation of the Saskatoon School Board that homosexuality be included in school curriculum. The Supreme Court declared the document to be unlawful because it called the homosexual acts that would be taught to children “filthy,” and contended that children are more interested in playing Ken and Barbie than “learning how wonderful it is for two men to sodomize each other.” The justices ruled that because the use of the word “sodomy” only referred to “two men” and not also the sex acts of heterosexuals, it was a direct target against a specific group of people.

In Idaho (which is not in Canada for those keeping score at home),  Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit and a motion for a temporary restraining order late last week to stop officials in Coeur d’Alene (I'm not sure at all whether that is in Canada but it should be, probably) from forcing two ordained Christian ministers to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.

City officials told Donald Knapp that he and his wife Evelyn, both ordained ministers who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, are required to perform such ceremonies or face months in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines. The city claims its “non-discrimination” ordinance requires the Knapps to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies now that the courts have overridden Idaho’s voter-approved constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“The government should not force ordained ministers to act contrary to their faith under threat of jail time and criminal fines,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “Many have denied that pastors would ever be forced to perform ceremonies that are completely at odds with their faith, but that’s what is happening here – and it’s happened this quickly. The city is on seriously flawed legal ground, and our lawsuit intends to ensure that this couple’s freedom to adhere to their own faith as pastors is protected just as the First Amendment intended.”

And finally, in Houston, Texas (which most certainly is in a country all its own) some pastors are being forced to hand their sermons over to the government. Houston asked five local conservative pastors to give 'em up as part of a controversial new city ordinance that bans discrimination against LGBT people. When I first saw that, I thought it a satire.

But no. Houston's mayor, Annise Parker, has sought to collect any communication issued by those pastors that mention the petition against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (whose initials are HERO, in one of the most interesting signs of the times).

Mayor Parker is a lesbian ho helped push through the law inn May. I believe the punishment of having their sermons read out loud might be enough, but I digress.

To recap, sermons are being collected if they mention LGBT persons (with what punishment to come not being so named, in Canada talking negatively against LGBT persons can be ruled hate speech, and ministers in Idaho are being forced to marry persons of the same sex.

Seriously, this all is getting out of hand. What constitutes rights is becoming very narrowly defined, and the verdict is in ... one must believe and act a certain way in terms of same-sex marriage or else.

Did I cover it all?

I've believed for some time that the federal government will one day force pastors to marry persons of the same sex whether they believe that to be right or not. I didn't realize it would happen so quickly.

So, pastors who do not believe it is the correct thing to do as far as marrying persons of the same sex will have to do so or be jailed. Clearly this is the way of the culture.

Does this not negate pre-marital counciling? Does his not negate the pastor's rights? Just asking.

In the end, marriage equality (a term I had never heard till last week) has become the over ridding issue of the day, somehow. I maintain my position that "marriages" conducted in front of a justice of the peace should be able to include persons of the same gender. I maintain that "marriages" that include both genders are perfectly acceptable. But I will not do one in the sanctuary of our church because I do not believe that to be acceptable in the eyes of God.

Though one day I might be told to do so or else.

The "or else" is getting serious.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Go to the light, and be the life (of the party)

The next time you feel like you're alone, the next time you feel like God does't care, remember the stories of parties and lost folks. He cares beyond imagination.

"Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won't she light and lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she'll call her friends and neighbors: 'Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!' Count on it -- that's the kind of party God's angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God."

Get that. The angels are party animals. Who knew? Oh, oh and, and  a party is thrown every time someone lost comes to his or her senses.

The only qualification is someone lost must be found.

Here's the deal.... someone who didn't know The Lord, didn't accept The Lord, can't find The Lord ... does. Lost, then found, then party.

Imagine the creator of the universe is dancing a jig just because someone who didn't know where to go suddenly has a spiritual GPS. And the GPS is saying, "at the corner, in 300 feet, turn left and go toward the light."

I can only imagine.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The best of the lot

I was driving to the office recently, down a street called Oak (despite there being no oak trees that I can see) when I looked to my right and in front of a cafe (New Orleans still has cafes) sat a mother and a child.
I assume that's who they were because of the huge smile on the very young boy's face. Whatever mother was saying was causing a big ol' smile.
I wonder if somewhere in the conversation she got around to saying those magic words, "I love you?"
I'll bet that happened.
In scripture, the words that cause a big ol' grin are many. I select these: You are saved by God's grace because of your faith. This salvation is God's gift. It's not something you possessed. It's not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God's accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives."    
Another translation ways we are God's masterpieces.      
Imagine that, friends. In a world that has the incredible Grand Canyon (so wonderful that it has the world grand sitting right in the middle of its name), in a world that has the sun in the morning and the moon at night, in a world that has cotton candy and bubble gum and E.T. and cake and ice cream, we -- WE -- are his accomplishments, his masterpieces, his great and glorious work.
Think of this: He created a universe beyond understanding and beyond simplicity. A sky filled with uncountable stars is his playground. Yet, his masterpiece is you.
You might feel overweight, you might feel old or too young or you might feel out of place, but you are the masterpiece in the cosmic box of crayons.
Nothing He does, and nothing He He might do will replace you, and what He loves in you. That love is incomparable, irreplaceable, beyond measure or imagination and certainly it is unconditional. That love is his greatest accomplishment, and it is all about you.

Get that again. His greatest accomplishment is, well, you. Us. Our crowd. Those not of our crowd. Those who look, and think, and talk, and vote like us and those who do not. Read that again, if you will. Those who don’t look and think and talk and vote like us, those who could be very reasonably called an enemy still are the ones we must love.
As I write this, there are folks we’ve declared to be evil who are tearing up Iraq. Evil. Hear that? Evil.
Yet Jesus said we are to love them. Love them. Though they breathe out violence and inhale hatred, we are supposed to love them. Though they kill and mangle innocence, we of the Kingdom of God are supposed to not meet the worst of humanity with the worst we can manage.
Because we are the masterpieces, the accomplishments, the workmanship of God.
He carved mountains, and made your nose.
He took a mighty finger and dug trenches we call rivers, and shaped your ears.
He squeezed together continents, and blew air into your lungs.
He made the best of the world, and the rest of you.
When you rose this morning, with matted pillow hair and morning breath that would stifle a skunk, did you realize you were such a big deal?
You are.
God loves you, this I know, because the Bible tells me so.
Think of it this way. If His greatest accomplishment is indeed you, then you must start taking care of his greatest accomplishment. You (and I) must start living a life worth of Christ's gospel -- as a man named Paul wrote. Paul wrote that we should do that because "God has granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ's sake."       
To review ...

Got that?
Yeah, I figured not.
The hardest part of all this is not accepting it. That's not exactly a lark or a walk in the park, because it's a trial. It's hard. It's difficult. It's not something anyone would choose necessarily.
What it is, however, is a child looking dreamingly into the eyes of a mother (or a father) with joy being the only prerequisite. It's the parent looking into the eyes of the very young child and saying quietly but firmly, "I love you. I will always love you. Even unto the end of the age."
That's the way to start your morning. That's Christianity at its best, for its best is you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Revolution dressed in Gospel clothing

Here's the report that was released Monday ....
ROME (CNN) – Using strikingly open language, a new Vatican report says the church should welcome and appreciate gays, and offers a solution for divorced and remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion.
At a press conference on Monday to present the report, Cardinal Louis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines said Catholic clergy meeting here have largely focused on the impact of poverty, war and immigration on families.
But the newly proposed language on gays and civil marriages represents a  “pastoral earthquake,” said one veteran Vatican journalist.
“Regarding homosexuals, it went so far as to pose the question whether the church could accept and value their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine,” said John Thavis, a former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service.
The Rev. James Martin, an author and Jesuit priest, called the report's language on gays and lesbians "revolutionary."
Well. Here's my thoughts. What is revolutionary to some, what is a pastoral earthquake to others is something I kind of like to call "the Gospel." To make a point that the church should welcome and appreciate (fill in the blank) is not revolutionary. It is what Jesus commanded before his last breath was taken. To say otherwise is simply not Christian, in my opinion.

"The synod said that gay people have 'gifts and talents to offer the Christian community.' This is something that even a few years ago would have been unthinkable," Martin added.
The Catholic Catechism calls homosexual acts “intrinsically disordered” and calls on gays and lesbians to live in chastity. Under Pope Benedict XVI, the church had tried to purge men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" from the priesthood.
But Pope Francis, while hewing to Catholic teaching, has signaled a gentler tone, famously saying in 2013 "Who am I to judge?" gays and lesbians.
At the United Methodist General Conference in 2012, Kansas megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton brought forth an amendment to the Methodist Book of Disciple. The book currently says the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity.  Hamilton and Ohio's Mike Slaughter introduced words  that would have said (or words to the effect) that there is disagreement on the book's doctrine on homosexuality.  Despite the seeming gentleness and in my opinion right-ness of the amendment, it was defeated.
Some less than united Methodists believe Paul's writings about homosexuality were never meant to be commentary on loving same sex monogamous relationships but rather opinions on male prostitutes   connected to the temple. Some believe, still, all homosexual relationships and the very act of same gender sexual relations are sin and will always be no matter what the law and culture of the day says.
My point is, well, the Pope's point. Who am I to judge? Clearly there is massive disagreement on the subject in my denomination and elsewhere.
But the language has been there for a couple thousand years. Jesus said love thy neighbor, love thy enemy and love God. That fairly well covers the whole thing, doesn't it?
The argument is about what constitutes sin, and according to Hamilton, what one believes about the Holy texts we call the Bible. That is where we have found ourselves mired in mud for quite a while.
Clearly this pope is willing to let love be the deciding factor in all arguments. That is not only sensible, it seems to me, but frankly it is Gospel-ish.
Can we do that? That is where the rubber will meet the road.

Monday, October 13, 2014

We ARE No. 1

I can say it, without hesitation and without irony. We ARE No. 1. Top of the heap, top of the ladder, top of the whole dang thing.

It is without reasoning, or understanding, or explanation really. But for once in my life, and I strongly suspect this will not be an every year thing, and my experience tells me this won't last forever, but for right now, we ARE No. 1.

We being my college, Mississippi State.
We being football.

Look, I've searched for my tee-shirt for a week now. I don't know where my hat is. It's not like I had a great deal of time to think this through or pour over it. But here I am, a semi-alumnus (a bit short of that ol' graduation thing), and my school is No. 1.

I don't have much experience at this whole thing. The Saints won one Super Bowl. The Braves won one World Series. My high school has never won the state in anything. I don't have a real NBA kinda thing to get excited about. My college has never won a national championship in anything that I'm aware of, though it got close a couple years back in baseball.

So this whole No. 1 thing, though way, way premature, is new to me.

But right now, we ARE No. 1.

Three weeks or so ago, we weren't number anything. We weren't ranked. Then the damn burst, pigs got their motors running on the runway and whew, the world flipped upside down. Wins at LSU, at home against Texas A&M and Auburn propelled Mississippi State to the top of the country's polls. Ole Miss, or biggest rival, our only rival, is No. 3, and I've found myself rooting for them.

Pigs have taken off, and are flying around the airfield.

It wasn't all that long ago that the newspaper I was working for named the game between Mississippi State and Ole Miss the Egg Bowl because neither of them ever went to a bowl.

Now? Hey, we ARE No. 1. No foam fingers int he air, no students going bat  crazy on TV, no, no. We ARE No. 1 for real.

I never saw this coming, never believed it possible, still don't know exactly what to make of it. But after years and years of being at the bottom of everything, my native state suddenly is at the top.

Don't believe it? Just look right at the polls.

We ARE No. 1. Miracles do happen, friends.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ditch digging

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming, isn't it?

Can't you just feel the moonshine?

Can't you just feel the ...

Nah, me neither.

But when I turned to the Proverbs this morning quite by accident, I read this: A God-loyal life keeps you on track; sin dumps the wicked in the ditch.

Wiser words were never written.

Let's explore this fine Friday in this manner ... sin takes us out of the starting gate, if life were a race. Sin knocks us down when we feel like life is rising. Sin keeps the incomplete from becoming complete. Sin keeps us from being all we can be for the one who gave all for us to be at all.

Got it?


But it is indeed Friday, and Sunday is indeed coming.

See, we all fall short, Paul wrote. We all keep making errors, mistakes, bad judgments, sin. Sin is the black cat in a bag of white kittens. Sin is the error of our ways. Sin is the uninvited traveling companion who turns out to be on the road with us forever. Sin is, er, sin.

The Bible says of a sinful life: There's a way of life that looks harmless enough; look again -- it leads straight to hell. Sure, those people appear to be having a good time, but all that laughter will end in heartbreak.

In other words, a sinful life, one without a thought of asking for forgiveness, is a painful one eventually. That's life, too.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A personal relationship with Jesus: Listening to your heart

In my reading yesterday, I encountered a blog that spoke into my thoughts for sermons and blogs this week as we ponder Why Christianity.

The blogger pointed out that Rob Bell in his book Love Wins says that Christians today emphasize having a personal relationship with Jesus even though (and this is true) the phrase never occurs in the Bible. Bell then asks the question, "How is that the thing we find most important about our faith even though it is never mentioned in the Bible?

The Blogger continued by pointing out that the Apostles never "asked people to invite Jesus into their heart of to have a personal relationship with him."

And there you have it. The single most problematic idea I had about the New Testament when I was outside the church.


I kept asking, in response to all this Jesus living in my heart things, how can I have a relationship with someone I never hear from, never see and never have experiences with?

Then, I had one, and things cleared up rather quickly.

In fact, when things are going poorly, what I've learned is I listen much more intently and much more deeply and listening to him is a wonderful thing.

Some say that the experience with Jesus has to be corporate. That the body of Christ must be present for him to be present, that old two or more thingee.

But I say that in my times of greatest exposure, when I am most aware of Him, I am along with Him. 

Granted, if we were in the Garden together, I in all likelihood would be one of those who went to sleep. Still, I am at my best when I slow down and wait for that still small voice to let me know it's going to be okay.

Is that a personal relationship? Yep. I don't see how it could be anything else. Simply slow down and listen, to your own heartbeat, to the pulse in your brain, to the silence around you, to the bumping of streetcars (as I write this), to the sound of cars passing by, to life itself.

It's all deeply personal.

And that's Christianity at its best. A deep, heartfelt love of Christ. A deep, heartfelt love of neighbor. And all of it wrapped, like bacon around anything, in the love of the creator.