Monday, February 29, 2016

You are that man

            There is no more instructive a life than David’s from the Bible.
            David was a powerful king, a wonderful song writer (Psalms), a devoted father, a man after God's own heart.
            And a failure.
            He fell in love with another man's wife. He had that husband killed. He sinned. He fell.
            "So the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story: 'There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb he had bought. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man’s own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest.”
            David was furious. ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ he vowed, ‘any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! He must repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity.’ Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are that man!’ " 
            There is none among us who is perfect. We're born. We live. We die, sinful creatures all. 
            We are who we are, created by a God who loves us enough to let us make choices that are contrary to both his teachings and his will, none of us perfect, none of us beyond failure, none of us good enough to find salvation on our own.
            If we were, Jesus died for nothing. If we are not capable of asking for forgiveness, we are capable of accepting the grace that God provides.
            Perfect plan.
            David understood. He said, "I took my troubles to the Lord; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer."
            We fall, but we get back up. That’s who we should be as Christians. This isn’t really up for one of those theological discussions over strong coffee.
            That's our cue, entrance from the right side of the stage of course, to say anyone who doesn't ask for forgiveness, who doesn't forgive others, doesn't receive forgiveness. Without forgiveness, we can't be called rightly Christian.
            So when someone says, “I'm not sure I have ever asked God's forgiveness. I don't bring God into that picture," well, take that as a declaration. Again, without asking for forgiveness, humbling oneself, falling before an almighty God, one doesn’t receive forgiveness.
             When someone says, "when I go to church and when I drink my little wine and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of forgiveness. I do that as often as I can because I feel cleansed. I say let's go on and let's make it right" they are filled with legalities, but not with grace.
            Without the grace of God, we fall and stay down.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Decent, indeed

Jesus presented us with three commandments, which might surprise some folks. He said, You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself." Then he added from John's Gospel, "So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other."

I'm fascinated that he told us first to love our neighbor, then he told the disciples at the end of his life, love each other.

Be inclusive. But be sure you love each other the say way.

How out of whack have we gotten this? We, those of us who say we're Christian, have had thunderous problems being inclusive, and we are having such incredible problems loving each other at the same time. That's the reason, it seems to me, that we no longer get along. We just can't. We have opinions. We have must-reads. We are no longer decent to each other.

It's enough for Jesus to, well, come again and fix all this.

He also told us to be unified. He told us to be one just as He and the Father are one.

How's that going?

Yesterday noted Christian writer Max Lucado lamented the current presidential race in a blog. Among other things he wrote, "We appreciate decency. We applaud decency. We teach decency. We seek to develop decency. Decency matters, right? Then why isn’t decency doing better in the presidential race? The leading candidate to be the next leader of the free world would not pass my decency interview. I’d send him away. I’d tell my daughter to stay home. I wouldn’t entrust her to his care."I don’t know Mr. Trump. But I’ve been chagrined at his antics. He ridiculed a war hero. He made mockery of a reporter’s menstrual cycle. He made fun of a disabled reporter. He referred to the former first lady, Barbara Bush as “mommy,” and belittled Jeb Bush for bringing her on the campaign trail. He routinely calls people “stupid,” “loser,” and “dummy.” These were not off-line, backstage, overheard, not-to-be-repeated comments. They were publicly and intentionally tweeted, recorded, and presented. Such insensitivities wouldn’t even be acceptable even for a middle school student body election. But for the Oval Office? And to do so while brandishing a Bible and boasting of his Christian faith? I’m bewildered, both by his behavior and the public’s support of it."

I can't get past Trump saying the Pope did something disgraceful. I can't get past the vile language he inspires in part because he used it in public. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your neighbor as yourself, and love each other. I try to let that guide me, inspire me, lead me through the valleys into the plains (not the mountains). I usually vote Republican because of the abortion issue, truthfully. But goodness this coming election appears to be a difficult nut to crack. God bless you all as you decide.
Be inclusive. But be sure you love either other the same way. Hard to crack, indeed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Hokum, hokum

We in the South are picking ourselves up and wiping ourselves off this morning after a horrific series of tornadoes, storms, you name it and it came yesterday. We are quite used to it, I'm afraid, as these warm air, cold front gatherings seem to happen more often than they used to. It's always a bad sign when someone from the Weather Channel arrives in your town in preparation for a weather event. 

Duck and cover, boys and girls. Duck and cover.

But afterwards, what do we do? What is our next action?

Last night, as the temperature plummeted like Jeb Bush's chances of being president, we conducted a Bible Study on living in the wilderness (and coming through it at the end). One of the things we asked was what do you do when you've made it through?

As Christians, it seems to me, we have all the answers to all the questions life gives us. Oh, I'm not being cocky or arrogant; in fact, I'm being the opposite. Having the answers doesn't mean I don't forget them when the wilderness is growing dryer or darker. It means, simply, that I know Jesus Christ is the answer to the questions humanity throws into the sky, even as the sky darkens. It means I can find peace and serenity when life is throwing fastballs at my head. It means I can find peace and serenity when the wind is picking up the carport and letting it down a couple houses down the street.

It means that even when tragedy strikes, I know -- not believe -- that God has already walked that valley of death before me, thus peace and serenity that can't possibly be explained walk with me into that valley.

Sounds like hokum, but it's not. I promise. It's not. It's God, and God sometimes has the unbelievable method of sounding like, seeming like, even being like a pick ol' pile of steaming hokum. But that's God, and his ways are not our ways. They are so far removed from our ways that our ways seem, well, human.

Our ways say we must blame and punish those who are against us so that we can get revenge. His ways say we must forgive so that we may be forgiven.
Our ways say we must do everything we can to get ahead. His ways say He has plans for us, plans to prosper.
Our ways say it is okay to lie and cheat. His ways say it is not.
Our ways say we must exclude, even going so far as to harm those who are not like us. His ways say we must love our enemies.

Sounds like hokum, but it's not. It's God. God is so different, I could take a whole blog to explain that if I could. In fact, seems like I'm doing that right now.

As temperature plummeted like Hillary's explanations of her e-mail account methods, we can be sure of one thing. Even when the Weather Channel folk show up in your town, God is already there. God is already providing, not necessarily protection even for those who are his own, the means to recover. God is already there helping those He loves, and those He really loves include even those who don't love him.

What's next?
What's the way out of the wilderness?
What's the answer?

No hokum intended.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The path taken

We are living in a country in which no matter what side of the aisle you believe in, you're liable to be deeply disappointed come November when the vote is held nationally. What then? What do we do then?
Look at it this way: Republican Sen. Ted Cruz just fired someone for their work on making it appear Republican Sen. Marco Rubio denounced the Bible. Who looks the worst from this incident? Yeah, Sen. Ted Cruz. It is not the one who points out what appears to be the wrong path that falls but instead it is the one who takes the wrong path. Seems easy enough. Right?
The Bible talks about ideas like that, sort of. "There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death" -- Proverbs 14:22. Well, is it that obvious? Is it that easy to pick the right path? If so, why then do we take the wrong path so often?
In the classic children’s book “Alice in Wonderland,” Alice comes to a junction in the road that leads off in different directions and seeing the Cheshire Cat she asks him for advice:
“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.
“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
It seems to me this dark morning that if you don’t want to go anyplace in particular any road will do.
When it comes to religion, many people will tell you that any old road will get you to God. In fact, there is a Hindu saying that goes this way:
“There are Hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading in the same direction, so it doesn’t matter which path you take. The only one wasting time e is the one who runs around and around the mountain, telling everyone else that his or her path is wrong”
In other words, the Hindus believe - it doesn’t matter which path you take as long as your path doesn’t involve telling others they’re wrong.

Of course, in American politics, heck in American living, what path you takes means all the world because you -- of course -- have the right way tucked under your wing and only you can show others that right way. You, and I, then take great pleasure in telling the other person that they are wrong. They have selected the wrong way. They have gone down the wrong path.

Some of us take the sentence, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," and bludgeon folks with it. Some of us take the sentence, "I am the only way to the Father," and not only pick fights with it but use it to absolutely rule the day.
By contrast the Bible has always maintained that this mindset was wrongheaded and foolish. Repeatedly, Solomon tells his sons in Proverbs: “There is a way that seems right unto a man…” And what’s end result of that? DEATH. In other words, there is a way that sure looks good, but that way winds up killing us.

I read a story this week about a man whose bathtub was filthy. Apparently he was having little luck getting it clean with normal bathroom cleansers, but he had heard that gasoline was a solvent. So he took a rag with gasoline to the tub… and it worked! Well… it mostly worked, but it stank up the bathroom something fierce. So, he decided he needed to do something to take care of the odor. You’ll never guess what he did… he set out aromatic candles and he lit them. He survived… but his apartment didn’t.

That was one of those "seemed like a good idea at the time" ideas that we all get from time to time.

A couple of yrs ago, the survey group Barna did a survey to find out if Americans knew what that being holy like God is Holy. Even among people who called themselves Christians, most answered “I don’t know.” Barna speculated that the reason so many people didn’t understand the concept was because many churches never taught about it. Instead they had fallen into what they group called the doctrine of “cheap grace.” The group felt that this “cheap grace” was driven by the desire by churches to make people comfortable. Some have said this is one of the problem with “seeker sensitive” churches but I’ve seen the same problem plague in churches that aren’t seeker sensitive. 

When churches fall into the trap of trying to make people happy, they can become spiritual failures. When churches, pastors, laity begin to head down the wrong path, even if the path they've chosen looks quite wonderful at the beginning of the journey, they fail. Now granted, churches should be accommodating to others. They should seek to help others feel comfortable with the love of God. BUT that’s only one of the church’s objectives. A church’s primary objective should be to present God with a holy people. The only way to do that, to be a church with holy people, is to follow Jesus down the right path -- no matter how difficult that might be.

My point is this: It is far better that we seek the right path and then follow it than it is to tell others how and why their path is the wrong one. If you don't care which path you're taking, then it doesn't much matter which way you go.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Pouring peace

If one wants to consider how one dies, one need look no farther than two recent funerals.
Oklahoma City Thunder Assistant Coach Monty Williams' wife Ingrid was killed in a car crash last week in Oklahoma City. In a eulogy at Ingrid's funeral on Feb. 18, Williams preached forgiveness for the driver of the car that killed her.

"Let us not forget that there were two people in this situation, and that family needs prayer as well," he said. "And we have no ill will toward that family.
"That family didn’t wake up wanting to hurt my wife. Life is hard. It is very hard, and that was tough, but we hold no ill will toward the Donaldson family," Monty continued. "And we, as a group, brothers united in unity, should be praying for that family because they grieve as well." 
In Washington, D.C., the Rev. Paul Scalia preached the funeral mass for his father, the late justice Antonin Scalia.
"We are gathered here because of one man, a man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to many more; a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy and for great compassion. … That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth," the Rev. Paul Scalia, told the attendees at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Feb. 20.
Thousands of mourners, including sitting justices of the Supreme Court, Vice President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, gathered in Washington, D.C. Saturday for Justice Antonin Scalia's funeral.

What can we learn from these two men's eulogy's for their loved ones?

I think we can take from these two men's wonderfully crafted and loving statements that with  Jesus of Nazareth there can be peace even under the most incredibly difficult times.

I'm reminded of what Jesus told his best friends the night before he was killed. He said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust in me. In my Father's house there are many rooms; If it were not so, I would have told you. I will comeback and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am."

These men knew, as did their departed loved ones, that to love Jesus is to change the way life is lived, but to love Jesus is also to change the way we die, and the way we live after death.

It's that simply and that challenging. The peace of God is given not because of what we do or don't do but because of who He is. How we approach death is just as much about who He is and how he approached death as it is anything we do or feel or act upon.

Martin Luther called this passage "the best and most comforting sermon that the Lord Christ delivered on earth, a treasure and a jewel not to be purchased with the world's goods." These verses become the foundation for comfort, not only for these disciples but also for us. If you ever get to the point in your life where you think you've run out of escapes and there aren't any more places where you can rest, you'll find a tremendously soft, downy pillow in John 14: 1-6.

Just pick up a Bible, and let it pour peace onto you. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

And they're off.

We're in Manhattan, and the most amazing thing I've found yet is that no matter where we are walking, we're going against the tide, against the flow of the crowd. I've also noticed that there are an abundance of sirens in this town. I've also noticed that after you've been in zero temperatures, 21 seems balmy. Finally, I've seen that a block is really a long way in Manhattan.

We're here for the week, the soon-to-be annual February trip to New York. Constantly we're trying to find our way, but we're about to head to the subway to journey to the Museum of Natural History.

We're seriously not in Kansas, or Coushatta, La., any longer.
Should be survive our trip, I will add to this later. The journal has begun.

This afternoon was among the greatest I've ever had. Our nephew, Brian, showed us around in the afternoon after we had spent a couple hours being lost as we can be on the subways. There was something about the holidays causing the subways to not stop at all stops, including the place where we were to stop (of course). We went to the Museum of Natural History, but the lines were incredible so we walked away after buying gifts for the grandkids.

Then about 2 p.m. the snow began and it is still going strong as we begin to rest. We ate a wonderful meal at an Italian restaurant that had huge windows. The snow grew large, it began to pile up, and as the snow drifted down, the lights outside came on and it was in a word, beautiful.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The rule of love

Image result for God is love

Let's say you are filling up a flower bed with a bunch of flowers, and by filling up I mean really planting those suckers deep into wonderfully moist and receptive soil, pushing those little plants into what is without question the perfect moment for planting. Get that? Can you feel the emotion of what is a perfect moment? Can you grasp how much love comes pumping down the blood system when we are living in that moment?

Yeah. I can get it every once in a while. It's love without rules. It's love without forcing love on anyone. It's love that doubles as conditions. Love without effort. Love without mistakes. It's gentle, calming, restful, purposeful but genuine. It's love with meaning, love that is God's own, love that is so sweet the bees sit back and gawk.

It's love for love's sake. It's love in the moment. It's love in the future, and it's love in our memory. Love with honesty. Love with brokenness, and love with the shine of a new untrammeled moment, the kind of moment where the giants in your life never win.

It's love with the cross in the distance. Love with the cross up close. Love with Jesus' loving, touching eyes cleft for thee. Love in the moment, warm in the future, shining in memory. Love enough that things change for the better.

The Apostle Paul wrote this about love: "If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. Love never gives up. 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, But keeps going to the end."

If you can corral this thing we call love, put a saddle on it, pat it on the neck, walk it around the neighborhood, let its brokenness be full and memorable, perhaps we can love without strutting, love without swelling, love without forcing itself on others, and never fly off the handle. 

It seems to me this morning that only God can truly love this way, giving us an example of unconditional and fresh love so that we can respond in the same manner. Without God's effort, we can't love; without God's example, we fail each and every time.

Paul clinches love's championship with these words: "Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled."

Our Complete is full and measured and whole. The Apostle John said this: "My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loveGod, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God."

God is love. Love is God. God the Father showed his love for us by walking into flesh, walking while wearing flesh, walking the walk and talking the treasure trove of Words.

That's the way, and most assuredly the truth. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Waking in the dark, living in the light

This morning I woke in the dark. The sky was as dark as a mourning minion, as dark as an evening whisper, as dark as a fleeting but important memory ... here one moment, gone the next.

Oh,you know what I'm talking about. I'm quite sure you've had one of those moments where the sun creeps and crawls up the early morning sky, throwing up streams of deep purple and flowery pinks.

Cold. Static. Sharp.There for all to see and admire and love on, but just as sheer and intangible

Imagine if you will or can, a bucket stuffed with memories, roaring with ideas, , like slips of paper on a dark night. An idea for the future, a rumpled and worn thought for the present, a memory or one or two, made pure and made real by a parcel and a peck of joy. Can you just imagine the process, prancing and dancing and flickering about like Monday's newspaper?

This morning I woke in the dark, bathed in it, tried it on for size and waited for the Father's still small voice to provide the impetus for the morning to change it all. When -- and if -- God cranks the early morning display of power (with stars and moon dancing to a tune God provides quite freely), I too will dance.

This morning I woke in the dark, celebrating the sameness of the dark, the acute silence, the sharp tacky love-in that is God's opening salvo. 

This morning I woke in the dark, and loved every cold, static, sharp moment as if it was all there could ever be.

Scripture tells me: "God made two big lights, the larger to take charge of Day, The smaller to be in charge of Night; and he made the stars. God placed thein the heavenly sky to light up Earth And oversee Day and Night, to separate light and dark. God saw that it was good. It was evening, it was morning— Day Four."

It was good. It was evening. It was morning. And God saw that it was good. 

This morning I woke in the dark, with the mighty sun stretching its body like a kid, stretching to the heavens, stretching to make its body more limber than possible, making a bucket of memories, roaring with ideas. 

I woke in the dark time  asking myself questions that bring clarity. As I stuffed down a peanut-butter snack (breakfast of champions?), slurped by hazelnut coffee, thoughts were running through my head. “Why am I so I tired? Why didn’t I sleep earlier? What am I going to eat?”
These things generally don’t serve any useful purpose, and in some cases, in the thickness of the dark, they might even hurt. But the whole idea behind using questions is to take conscious control of the direction of our day. So the ideas shoot and the questions are struck:
  • What do I have to look forward to today?
  • What’s absolutely perfect about my life?
  • How can I make today absolutely awesome?
  • What’s the best thing that could happen today?
By asking myself questions while the sun is still trying to wake, I think we can start to shift the focus of my mind toward all of the things I want to happen, and maybe, just maybe I can turn the darkness toward light.
This morning was the first morning in the rest of my life (really, really true). So, what I want most of it is to see what can live. This is my offering, Dear Lord. This is all I have. This is all I am. I give you my life, and I watch you take it and make something good from it.
Darkness becomes light.
Weakness becomes strength.
Fear becomes courage.
I give you my life because you gave your life for me.
That's what happened this morning, in the dark, with you and I.