Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Balancing the Checkbook...

When I was a kid, my dad used to say...well, my dad used to say a lot of stuff actually...but he used to say, "Boy, don't let your mouth write a check your tail can't cash." (I might have cleaned that up a little, I don't know). It would usually happen on the basketball court, or during a wrestling match, or maybe even as I became a teenager. But what he was saying, without saying it was, that I should be very careful about making boasts, and allowing my ego or my pride to make threats that I wasn't big enough, or man enough, to carry out. Honestly though, for a 13 or 14 year old boy that was just nonsense, because there wasn't anything I couldn't do if I wanted to, right?

You see, ego is an ugly thing. Yesterday a friend of mine reminded me that pride is just as ugly. But both of those can cause us, at times, to say or do things that under normal circumstances, we might not say or do. It's been going on since the first teenage boys came on the scene, and we know how that turned out. It happened in the Old Testement. It happened in the New Testament. It happened to me growing up. And now, the fun part is that I get to say that to the kids coming up now. Ahh, the circle of life...

There is one story in scripture where this plays out. It's in Judges 9 and it's one of those stories that doesn't make the top 25 for our kids in Sunday school, so you may have never heard it before. Abimelech has set himself up as ruler of Shechem, and to guarantee no competition, he had all 70 of his brothers murdered. Yeah, real nice guy. Anyhow, this other guy comes into town...other guy, name of Gaal (Sorry about the Slingblade reference). Gaal began to imbibe one day and allowed his mouth to start writing checks that evidently his tail couldn't cash.

Funny how that happens sometimes. We get so caught up in ourselves, add a little fruit of the vine, and the next thing you know, we are standing outside the city gates watching an army coming at us from every direction, and just catching a glimpse of them following as we turn tail and run. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm sure the wine intensified the situation, but my guess is that Gaal was feeling a little invincible anyhow. So, I'm not turning this into an anti-glass-of-wine deal. Personally, I don't see a problem with a glass of wine with dinner...unless that glass of wine makes you boastful and arrogant, like it did Gaal.

Long story short, Gaal was shown that, indeed, his tail was not big enough to cash the checks his mouth had been writing. Abimelech got his too, though. After raiding the city of Shechem and routing all of the inhabitants into a strong tower, a woman in the tower dropped a millstone on his head and cracked his skull. Instead of letting it be said that a woman killed him, he ordered his servant to take his sword and run him through. Guys and their egos, just saying.

Why are we like that? Not just guys, but all of us. That whole macho thing usually makes it more evident in guys, but why do we let our egos get the best of us sometimes? Just think about all the trouble it has caused throughout the ages. War? Most of the time caused by someone's ego. Bad politics? Ego. Oppression? Ego. And even in the church, 98% of my problems over the past 11 years have been the result of someone's overinflated ego. I would like to think that church would be the last place you'd find ego, but that's just not always the case. Do you see the patterns?

Ok, I admit, I don't have the answers. These are just some of the questions I woke up with this morning. Maybe I'll start a research program and write a book, who knows.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Smashing Guitars...

If you have watched "Animal House" you may remember the scene where Bluto is walking down the stairs in his toga and stops to listen to what, is quite possibly, the worst love song ever written. The guy is trying, but it's bad..."he gives his love a cherry with no stones, a chicken with no bones"...I mean, come on, that's just bad.

There is a contemporary Christian song that I thought was just as bad the first time I heard it..."As the Deer." You may be familiar with it, maybe not..."As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee..." I mean, my gosh, who writes this stuff. The first time I heard that song, I immediately saw images of Bluto smashing a guitar.

I've got a very dear friend that used to play that song a lot, and I admit, I didn't make any little amount of fun of him because of it. But then I listened to the lyrics, and I found the passage that inspired it, and it changed everything.

Psalm 42 is where the song was birthed: "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God. My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God? These things I remember as I pour out my soul; how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."

I've had to quit making fun of the song. Martin Nystrom actually speaks to me now. I still say it may be just a little cheesy, but in a good kind of way. It's not a song that you'll ever hear me cranking up the electric guitar to, but it's a song that, indirectly, helped me through a tough time. I know what it's like for my soul to long after God and feel that God is absent. I've been there. I know what it's like to feed on your own tears day and night, I've been there. I know what it's like to remember how it used to be, when I walked among a more festive throng, and this weekend, we got a little reminder.

But I also realize that even in those moments when my mouth is dry, and all I can do is pant, there is something bigger than I am out there, and I won't find rest until I find rest there. So, no smart aleck rant this morning, just a guy singing a love song to his Creator...and keep Bluto away from my guitars.



Monday, March 29, 2010

So You Want a Sign...

Ok, this is creepy...I was reading the devos for this morning and had my thoughts all lined out on what I was going to write about. The Old Testament texts come from Judges 6 and 7 and talk about God calling Gideon to lead the Israelites against the Midianites. That was what I was going to hit on.

Evidently, the Midianites had been giving the Israelites some problems, camping on their land, destroying their crops, overgrazing their pastures, yada yada yada, and leaving Israel with nothing to eat. So Israel cried out to God for help. Long story short, Gideon was threshing some wheat in a winepress one day, hiding what he was doing from hungry eyes, and an angel appeared to him to tell him that he was going to be the one to defeat the Midianites. Gideon, much like most of us, asked for a sign...not once, but at least 4 times.

Signs are good things, aren't they? If we are feeling like we need to do something, but aren't exactly sure, a sign straight from God would be just what we would need to convince us. it is. At least for me, and at least this morning. You see, we've got a very dear friend that had a really bad night at church last night. I'm not going to say who it is, but she knows, and since I'm not saying any names, I don't think she would mind me doing this. So, here goes.

As I kept reading, I covered the chapters from Judges, then the Psalm for the day, and moved on into 1 Corinthians chapter 14, still planning on going back and blogging on the signs that Gideon had asked for, but then I read this: (Warning...this is Paul speaking and not Jamie)

"As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church." (1 Corinthians 14:33-35)

It was a sign, and here's why. Our friend is a preacher's wife, or PW for short. Yesterday, her husband was called out of town for a hospital visit and was not going to be back in time for services last night. She decided to give a devotional during the service last night, instead of cancelling service, and in the middle of her devotional, one of the men stood up, looked around, and said that what she was doing was not scriptural and that there would be a board meeting to take care of this. I know! Can you believe that?

Allow me a moment to address what Paul has done here. A few days ago, I mentioned Paul being at his best with the "becoming all things to all people so that by some means I might win a few" thing. A couple days ago, I mentioned Paul was at his worst when he said that man was the head of the woman. Well today, we have Paul at his absolute worst with this little gem.

And here is where I become infuriated when someone says to me, "But the bible says..." as if that immediately makes everything ok. Yeah, Paul says that women are not to speak in church, but, sometimes, men in the church should be silent too. What Paul is talking about is building up the body...edification, if you would like a more fancy term. What this man did to our friend last night was the total opposite of edification.

Personally, I don't think Paul even said those words in 1st Corinthians 14. If that makes me a heretic, so be it. I think they were added later by some guy who had a burr in his britches about something, and was looking for someone to blame; probably not unlike what happened to my friend last night. Ok, I admit, I have no proof of that, but here's why I think that. Why would God cause a man to pen words that oppress any one of God's creations? God wouldn't. God wouldn't write something for us to follow, word for word, if those words would make any one of his daughters or sons feel like she did last night.

Folks can say that what Paul said was all about keeping order in worship, and that's even the subtitle of the section, but if you ask me, it's all about keeping a group of people, in this case women, from being what God has created them to be. If that's the case these words CANNOT be the words of God. I would much rather be labeled a heretic than to support oppression, and by claiming these words to be the words of God, that's exactly what I would be doing.

Now, If women can't speak in church, then I have to throw out my entire Sunday School education. Mrs. Marilyn...Mrs. Dorothy...Mrs. Mildred...even my mom...all women, and they were the ones that taught me growing up. So, here's my thoughts, and this may get me in trouble with some folks, but oh well, we know that hasn't stopped me before. I guarantee that in my friend's church, women teach 99% of the Sunday school classes. I would almost bet that if they have a choir, which I don't know if they do or not, that a woman leads that. I know for a fact, that the women do the cooking for their potlucks (which by the way, they put on one heck of a feed). But you're telling me, that because of one line in a letter to a group of folks 2000 years ago, women can't stand up and speak. Sorry, but I'm calling bullcrap on that one.

And somebody has to. If it gets me in trouble, oh well. I said in the beginning that you didn't have to agree with me, and I was very serious. I don't get easily offended, but someone has to begin looking at these things for what they are...leftovers from a patriarchal society in which women and children were just one step above slaves. Scripture is true, and the truths contained within it are timeless; but we do have to keep in mind the context of the time, who was writing, who was reading, who has edited, and sometimes, we have to take Paul with a grain of salt. Oh, and by the way, Paul never even meant for us to read his letters. Just saying.



Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Lone Wolf...

I'm a nature freak and science geek. Guess I have been all of my life. I love being outside. I love going creek stomping, or log rolling just to see what I can find. I did that this week in my own yard and came up with a juvenile garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis for us science geeks). After I played with it for a while, I put it back under the log. That's just the way I am. So, while everyone else is watching this spectacle known as March Madness, I'm watching nature shows or outside watching how the Robins (Turdus migratorius, again for the science geeks) cocks her head to one side to listen for invertebrates underground, or observing how the crabapple (Malus coronaria) blossom opens up all by itself.

When I read this morning's devos, another image from nature came to mind...the lone wolf. Now, I have never personally spent any time around wolves but do have a college friend who is working with them in Montana, at least the last I heard (Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's job). But the lone wolf is interesting. Something will happen in the pack, and it will strike out on its own. Maybe it was an alpha male that finally got too old or sick to lead the pack. Maybe it was an omega female that, because of her low social status in the pack, just wasn't getting enough to eat. Maybe it was getting picked on, who knows. But for whatever reason, it decided that life outside the pack would be better than life within the pack, so it goes out on its own.

Sometimes that happens, even among humans. Sometimes it happens in families. Sometimes it happens in churches. This morning, Paul reminded us that life outside the pack is no good. I've said before that I've been at this for 11 years now. In 11 years, because of the way our system is set up, I have served 9 churches. Sometimes one at a time, sometimes 3 at a time. But in every one of the 9 but two, I have watched lone wolves. I said earlier that I had never spent any time around lone wolves before, but that's not altogether true. I have never spent any time around lone wolves (Canis lupus, just for our science geek buddies), but I have spent much time around other types of lone wolves (Doit myselficus, also known as, Dontneed anyonesicus, or the most fierce type of lone wolf, Itsallabout whatiwanticus).

I have watched as these types of lone wolves have practically destroyed the pack mentality. The other members of the pack are afraid of Itsallabout whatiwanticus, so they stand down when this lone wolf begins to growl. A little teeth bearing, a vicious snarl, and an eery stare is all it takes for Itsallabout whatiwanticus to pursuade the pack to follow her, or him, regardless of the impact it will have for future generations in the pack.

I'm sorry, but while I may feel pity for lone Canis lupis, I have none for Itsallabout whatiwanticus. In fact, I have absolutely zero patience for lone wolves, at least of the genus mentioned before. Paul spends a fair amount of ink talking about the importance of remembering that we are all part of one whole. He reminds us that there is no part of the body that is more important than any other, and that we cannot be what we were created to be unless we recognize that. It has been my observations over the years, though, that the lone wolf in a church has not heard that yet. Or if they have heard it, doesn't care, or just simply doesn't realize the negative impact they are having on the pack.

Here is what he says in 1st Corinthians 12: "But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that it's parts should have equal concern for each other." Now, I know that only in the ideal situation will that happen. There will always be a lone wolf somewhere in the church. There will always be someone, who intentionally or not, holds more sway over the members of the pack out of fear. They are afraid to say anything because the lone wolf will start yelling, or get mad and pout, or leave altogether. And my friends, that is not how it's supposed to be.

We are a body. Yeah, sure, Paul gives a list of positions within that body as he closes out chapter 12, but I don't think he is listing them in order of importance. Maybe he is and I missed it, I don't know. What I'm saying is this...pack mentality does not mean we always have to agree and play nice all the time, that would just make us fakes and we know how I feel about fakes. But lone wolf mentality in a pack setting does not always work either. There are situations, certainly, where someone has to be the first to make a stand, but that's different. The good of the pack is still the primary goal. When our wants become more important than the pack's needs, that is when we morph into Itsallabout whatiwanticus. And that is no good.

Paul ends this little rant, as I do, with an intro into chapter 13. This one line really doesn't belong with chapter 12. It's actually a segue into the ideal pack situation, and here is what he says: "And now I will show you the most excellent way."

And PS, I don't own any of the pictures I upload on here. I have found them all on the internet.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Sacred Trust...

This morning I'm torn. The readings for today come from Joshua and 1 Corinthians, all good stuff. I'm torn because I don't know which one to choose. The reading from Joshua contains the famous "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord," and that would be an awesome way to make a statement about what my family holds dear. But the readings from 1 Corinthians have the material for a really awesome rant on equality in the church. Paul is talking about Christ being the head of every man, and that the head of woman is man. I do not consider myself above my wife, never have, never will. I could really go off on that because it is just not right. (yet another reason I am glad that I'm not a literalist). Yesterday we had Paul at one of his best moments, well, this is one of his worst.

This would be a perfect opportunity for me to rant a little about folks who say they follow every word of the bible when the reality is, it's almost impossible. I mean, how many heads do we see covered in church today? It just doesn't happen anymore.

There's stuff in 1 Corinthians this morning about worship, and how not to act when we come to it. I could go off on that because worship in a lot of places has become more about idolatry than worship of the Creator God. But I won't, and here's why...I'm distracted.

I think today is an opportunity for me to be humbled, and I hate it when that happens. You see, as a pastor, I have a tendency to get a little cocky sometimes. I was once accused of that by a very dear friend of mine, (before we became very dear friends, he just thought I was arrogant ...maybe so) but I assured him that what he saw as arrogance was only confidence.

This blog has been an awesome way to reinforce that lately. Writing makes me remember who I am and why I do what I do. I'm reassured through the interaction between my finger tips and the keyboard. I'm in the zone when I'm up early in the morning and the house is quiet. I don't even turn any lights on. It's just me, my laptop, and a cup of really good coffee, and I write. I feel good about myself when I'm writing because I feel connected. I feel as if I can actually hear God speaking and the fingers just can't quite keep up. But this morning...nothing.

...And that sucks. But I know what's wrong. I know why I couldn't hear God speak this morning. It happens sometimes, and for a while, happened quite regularly. You see, my family has been through hell this week and I don't mind admitting it. I have set aside my role as theologian for a few days and focused on being a husband and father, for which I make absolutely no apologies (and anyone expecting an apology for that should prepare for a very long wait). But, nonetheless, it reminds me that it's not always possible to be all things to all people like I talked about yesterday. Sometimes you have to focus on one or two things and that's what I've done.

So, it's not the usual cocky, arrogant, confident, smart aleck Jamie writing this morning. It is an humble Jamie who has made a choice. Yeah, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord, I don't doubt that at all, but for the next couple days my family will take priority.

Still, it's not one of those things that I feel bad about. So I didn't hear God speak this morning...does that mean this has been a waste? Absolutely not. This has been an opportunity for me to be transparent with my folks and there are a lot of pastors who absolutely will not do that. This has been a chance for me to admit that I'm not SuperPastor and that sometimes we all have to make decisions regardless of who our boss is...mine happens to be the Creator of the Universe. Somehow though, I don't think God would mind me taking a couple days to take care of my girls. That's something that I haven't done much of for the past 6 years.

This can be an opportunity for all of us to recognize those moments in our lives when we don't feel that we can hear God speaking, take a look around, and see what's going on around us. Just because God may not seem to be speaking doesn't mean God is not there. I figure I'll be right back on my game tomorrow, but if not, one day soon. In the meantime, I have been given a sacred trust, and they're all three still asleep. I'll fix another cup of coffee, fire up the electric skillet and start cooking breakfast, get them ready to head out the door, and pray that while I can't be watching over them, God is.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Don't Be So Wishy Washy Charlie Brown...

I love that little bald headed kid. I grew up reading all of the books, and watching him try to kick the football, knowing that Lucy was going to pull it away just as he got there. He was always a champion for the underdog, even if that underdog was a Christmas tree. He took good care of his pal Snoopy, and Snoopy's pal Woodstock. He was one of the only ones that didn't make fun of Linus for sitting up waiting for the Great Pumpkin, but still got only rocks in his trick or treat bag.

Good times, good times. Life was certainly simpler when the Peanuts gang was a priority. I didn't have to think about much then. I just tried not to break any more bones. I didn't have to worry about whether or not what I said would offend someone, or whether someone in the church was watching me (living in a glass house is no fun, no fun at all sometimes). There were no bills to pay, no responsibilities. I didn't have to find time to put brakes on the car or fix the light fixture in the bedroom. All I had to do was live life, and the Peanuts gang was a big part of that.

Charlie Brown did have one character flaw though. He was wishy washy. Do you know what that means? The boy couldn't make a decision if his life depended on it, and if he did make one, he could be easily swayed. Not good, not good at all. I mean, it's not that big a deal for a 10 year old boy who's only real responsibility is feeding his dog, but what about when that 10 year old boy grows up? At some point, you have to start making decisions and part of that is deciding what you stand for. The Peanuts gang taught me much about morals, but they are not the only teachers I have had.

Paul was kind of wishy washy, a lot like Charlie Brown. At least it might appear so. Ok, I'm catching up from yesterday now. I could have just skipped yesterday's readings and gone on to today, but I really wanted to hit on this passage from 1st Corinthians. For me, Paul is at his absolute best when he is being wishy washy in Chapter 9 of 1st Corinthians. Here's what he says:
"Though I am free, and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law. To the weak, I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some."

Come on Paul, you can't be everything to everybody, can you? Well, maybe you can try. The way I read this one is a little hard to explain. It's not about being whatever, and not standing up for anything, it's about realizing that folks process differently, I think. The Jews, then, saw things differently than did the Gentiles (those not having the law), so if Paul had said or done the same things with the Gentiles that he had done with the Jews, it wouldn't have worked. It would have been a total waste of time. The Gentiles weren't familiar with Jewish custom, so if Paul had brought his Jewish roots into the conversation, or to the dinner table, he would have totally lost them.

Here's what I have done with this...Paul, in this passage, gives me permission to become what I have to become to reach as many folks as I can reach. And here's how it breaks down for me. First, you have to know who you're talking to, and here's why. When I'm around my biker buddies, church folk talk won't work. If I'm going to reach one of my biker buddies, I had better not have on a tie. Instead, a black leather jacket, a leather doo rag, and sunglasses are in order. If I'm having a conversation with one of my older church members, a leather doo rag might be seen as an insult. I'm the same guy in both. I don't take off one persona and put on another. It's more about recogizing the differences in the folks I'm talking to.

And that is where the church, in my eyes, has dropped the ball big time. We haven't done that, and still don't even today (at least not most churches). We have one mold, and folks conform to that mold, or there's not really a place for them, and I got a little dose of that this week. Paul would have something to say about that, and I'm afraid, so would Jesus. This is one aspect of church that I have committed the rest of my days to undoing. It makes me really sad, (and I'm being honest and transparent here,) to look out across the congregation and see that everyone looks alike, is dressed alike, and thinks alike. To me, that says that we are not becoming all things to all people, so that by all possible means we might save some.

Now, please understand, I'm not advocating that we throw out everything we've got and start doing whatever just to get folks in the door, I'm not. There are churches that do that, I'm sure, and they are probably growing. But that's cheap theology. I'm saying, let's take a look around at the folks in the neighborhood. Do they look like the folks in our church? If not, what have we NOT done to be what they need us to be? And what do we have to become to reach them?


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Broken Promises...

I don't remember very many times growing up when mom or dad broke a promise to me. I guess it probably happened some, but I don't remember it. I try to do the same for my girls. If I tell them something, I try to follow through, but there are times when no matter how bad you want to, something happens and you just can't.

My youngest, Hannah, is forever after me to come to school and eat lunch with her. It's almost a daily thing, actually. She has a hard time with the whole, "Daddy is home but still has to work" thing.
"Can you come eat lunch with me today?"
"No baby, I can't today. I have too much to get done. I will try to come Friday."

You see, on Fridays she gets to sit in the "Hard Work Cafe" so it's special if I come then. As I look back over the school year, which by the way is almost over, there has only been one Friday that I have actually gone and eaten with her. She's never said anything about broken promises, which is surprising for her given that she's not just a little high maintenance, but I know she must think about it.

But you see, I have a loophole that I use just pretty regular, not just with Hannah, but with anybody that wants a commitment from me. Instead of saying "I will..." I say, "I'll try...." Did you see what I just did? That cuts me loose from any obligation should something happen and I not be able to follow through. Or does it? After all, I haven't promised to do this or that, I've said "I'll try."

What happens though, when those broken promises come from a higher power? I don't know, maybe the ultimate parent? What do we do when God has promised something and doesn't come through? Or, have we ever even thought about that? I mean, yeah, there's the rainbow thing. God says, I'll put this rainbow in the sky to remind myself that I will never destroy the earth by water again, and that's cool. But the scientist in me knows that rainbows are just light refracting off of water particles in the sky. They are still beautiful, by the way, and I still think about that promise every time I see one. Even with the destruction of the gulf coast region with Katrina, and the way some could say their world had been destroyed by flooding, that's not the promise I'm talking about. There's another.

This one deals with what we've been talking about for a few weeks, we even call it "The Promised Land." Kind of catchy, huh? Kind of rolls off of your tongue. "The Promised Land..." God said, and I'm paraphrasing, "I'm going to give you this land, and it will be yours. Don't worry about the folks living there already, you'll be able to run them out of town, no problem. Then all of this land will be yours and your children's, and your children's childrens'. It's going to be great!"

But then this morning, again with the something I've never seen before. I know that I've read Joshua before. I've preached out of Joshua, but evidently I haven't read it very close. Here goes...the Israelites couldn't get rid of everybody. Now, you may be saying, "Well, that's not that big of a deal. So a few folks stayed? So what?" Well, here's the so what, God promised!

God told them to drive ALL of the inhabitants out of the land and possess it, and that God would be with them. But this morning, I found three, not one, but three places where they could not drive out the inhabitants of the land. I honestly don't know what to do with that yet.

As the Promised Land, well, the Almost Promised Land, is being divided among the tribes of Israel, the tribe of Ephraim is given Gezer, but could not drive the Canaanites out of the land (Joshua 16:10). The Tribe of Manasseh is give Beth Shan (I've been there, beautiful city by the way), Ibleam, Endor, Taanach, and Megiddo (also been there, gorgeous), but they could not drive the Caananites from those places. And the one that really blew me away, the holiest sight in Christianity, the Israelites couldn't drive the Jebusites out of Jerusalem. They had to share the Holy City!

Now, I am well aware that this might raise the hackles of my more conservative brothers and sisters and I mean no disrespect, but this just blew me away this morning. God promised to give them this land, and then didn't. Maybe I've missed the "why" somewhere along the way and will have to go back and look. Maybe it will all be explained in tomorrow's scriptures, but again, I'll live with the tension for today.

I have learned something through all of this, and that is this...folks who have nice, clean answers for all of the tough God questions scare me to death. There has not been, is not, nor will there ever be any cleancut answers to some of these questions. Folks outside the church are asking the questions, and for many of them that's why they're still outside the church. But lots of times, folks inside the church are encouraged not to. "Oh, honey, you just have to believe." I'm sorry, but do I smell a cop out? It almost angers me when I hear someone in the church tell someone else that, as if we're less Christian because we have questions.

Now, I'm not trying to plant any seeds of doubt in anyone's mind, please understand that. All I'm doing, is allowing you to peek into some of the things I struggle with, and as a theologian by training, I can't not struggle with them. Things were simpler when I didn't have to think. But that's exactly what I'm encouraging you to do.

So, I'm going to do something with this one that I haven't done yet. Instead of just putting the words out there and walking away from the computer, I'm going to invite you into a conversation (Well, ok, I do have to walk away because I have to meet my plumber today, but I'll be back). Where are your doubts? How have you dealt with them? And what did other folks tell you to do about it?

And that reminds me, I have a lunch date with a certain 9 year old this Friday.


Monday, March 22, 2010

One Liners...

I love one liners, don't you? Best I remember, Rodney Dangerfield always did one liners. With the Adult ADD thing I've got going, I don't think that I have the attention span for a full joke, so one liners are perfect for me. Here are a few:

"I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way, so I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness."
"Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience"
"I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather... Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car."
"The last thing I want to do is hurt you...but it's still on the list."
"Light travels faster than sound...that's why some people appear intelligent until you hear them speak."
"If I agreed with you...we'd both be wrong."

"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit...wisdom is not putting it into a fruit salad."
"Politicians and diapers have one thing in common...they should both be changed regularly, and for the same reason."

I could keep going. I found one liners about politicians, church, cops, sex, kids, and the list just goes on and on. Most of them are good for a giggle, and some are even good for a snort. They're short, to the point, and usually have some degree of truth to them. But one liners are not always jokes. They make for great church signs too. Here's a few of those:

"Body piercing saved my life."
"Don't make me come down there. - God"
"If you live as if there's no God, you'd better be right."

And that's not even getting into the really cheesy ones like:

"This church is prayer conditioned."
"The best vitamin for a Christian is B1."

And I could go on and on.

Blogging every day has opened my eyes to something over the past few weeks. There are a lot of one liners in scripture. Not jokes, mind you, although some of them are good for a giggle. Just one or two sentences, almost random thoughts, dropped into a conversation, a narrative, or some kind of list. This morning, I found two of them.

One was right in the middle of a narrative, the other at the end of the readings for today. I intentionally did not grab my bible to see what was next, and maybe I should have, but today's readings from Joshua end with, "Then the land had rest from war." I love that! But it's so random.

Before it, there is this breakdown of who got what as they conquered the promised land, and what group would settle in which area. I have to admit, it kind of bogged me down. It would have made for some good bedtime reading, but then there it was. One sentence that caused me to sit up and pay attention. I really want to peek into tomorrow's readings and see if it says anymore about it, but I think I'll just live with the tension today. "Then the land had rest from war." Mull that over tonight.

The other one I found is even more random. It's in Joshua 13. Before I go there, do you remember the blog about Balaam from a couple weeks ago? Balaam had been called out by Balak to call a curse down on Israel as they camped at his back door, but Balaam said that he would only speak what God told him to. He was the one with the donkey that turned around and started talking to him. Long story short, he would not curse the people of Israel for Balak, and then we don't hear much more about him...until today.
I told you it was random. Just one line, buried in a narrative, that if you were reading quickly you might read over completely. Here is what it says: "In addition to those slain in battle, the Isrealites had put to the sword Balaam, son of Beor, who practiced divination." (Joshua 13:22)

Two things: Why did they feel it necessary to kill the one who would not bring a curse down on them, and two, why did the writers feel it necessary to tell us about it here? I don't have an answer for either of them, and this part of scripture certainly doesn't give us anything to go on, but it does make me think. If I have read these stories before and missed these one liners, what other one liners have I missed?

This is where theology gets fun. I've talked before about looking at the big picture and not getting bogged down in the details, and that's still the way I operate...but sometimes, looking only at the big picture might cause you to miss something, like "What in the world happened to the guy that talked to his donkey?" Well, now you know. They killed him.

So, keep looking at the forest, but if there is a really unusual tree sticking out from the ones around it, stop and take a look at it. You never know what that one tree might be trying to say.
It may be a one liner, it may be some detail that will open up the story in a new way. Who knows?

Oh, one more one liner and then I'll stop: "The evening news is where they begin with, 'Good Evening,' and then tell you why it isn't." Oh man, I kill me.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lifting Fizzy Lifting Drink...

I remember the very first time I saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; not the Johnny Depp and Tim Burton joint, but the Gene Wilder Willy Wonka. It's one of the few memories I have of my paternal grandparent's house as a kid. They lived in town and had cable, we lived in the county and didn't. I remember being over there one Sunday night, Willy Wonka came on, and I was introduced to a brand new world.

There were five golden tickets that would get five kids into Willy Wonka's factory, and would also get them a lifetime supply of chocolate. Each time one of them found a ticket, we get a glimpse of this strange little man whispering something in their ears. I remember that part. I remember the Oompa Loompas, the chocolate river, the bratty little kids (that even then I didn't have much patience for), the terrifying boat ride, and how Charlie was taking in every second of their tour through the factory.

Each of the kids on the tour winds up getting removed from the factory because of some character flaw they possess. Augustus Gloop was the first to go. His gluttony caused him to fall into the chocolate river and wind up in the fudge room via a chocolate extraction tube. Violet Beauregarde was next to go. She turned into a huge blueberry because the gum she just had to have had not been perfected yet and she was rolled out. Then Veruca Salt got hers. I just didn't like that kid...spoiled, loud, selfish, she was just a bad egg. I was glad to see her go. Mike TV was next; transported through space by Wonkavision. Then there was one. Only Charlie and Granpa Joe were left.

You think Charlie has this one in the bag. All of the other kids are gone. But then Wonka steps into his office and very abruptly ends the tour, bidding them both good day. You actually hate it for the little guy. Charlie had absolutely nothing, and here was one chance for him to find a bright spot in an otherwise dreary existence. When asked if Charlie would be getting the chocolate, Wonka very curtly says "It's all there, black and white! You stole fizzy lifting drinks! You bumped into the ceiling which now has to be cleaned and sterilized, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!" Kind of harsh I think.

That was the image that came to mind when I read Joshua 7 this morning, only it wasn't Gene Wilder yelling at Charlie and Grandpa Joe, it was God yelling at Joshua. Here's what God says, "Stand up! What are you doing on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction."

It was just a little thing; a robe, a few pieces of silver and gold, a sip of Fizzy Lifting Drink. Nothing major, and they didn't even think that they were doing anything wrong. Funny how that works, huh? It's not just Augustus, Violet, Mike, or Veruca; and it's not even just Achan and the Babylonian robe, it's all of us. Or, at least, the majority of us. Charlie had a redeeming quality though. He was honest to the core. Willy Wonka didn't know there was an Everlasting Gobstopper in Charlie's pocket, or that Slugworth was going to pay him handsomely for it (Well, ok, he did know that part. Slugworth worked for him) But Charlie couldn't do it. The moment he laid the Everlasting Gobstopper on Wonka's desk was the moment Charlie was redeemed.

What things are we holding on to, that once laid on God's desk would lead to the beginning of our redemption? Just something to think about. Oh, and I'm a huge Johnny Depp fan, but Gene Wilder was a much better Willy Wonka.



Friday, March 19, 2010

Court is in Session...

Yesterday I came across a CD that I had bought a few years ago and carried it out to my truck. I love all kinds of music: some country, a lot of Hank Jr., some pop, a lot of classic rock, a little rap (old school rap, really old school not this gangsta stuff), some grunge, but mostly rock. I love to hear the electric guitars sqeal, and then roll the windows down, open the sunroof, and crank it up some.

The CD that I found yesterday is not one that you would imagine a pastor buying, but we have already established the fact that I'm not your typical pastor. Now don't get me wrong, I also love listening to Third Day, Kutless, Chris Tomlin, and guys like that. But every now and then, a boy just has to get the rock 'n roll on. Yesterday was one of those days. I loaded the CD into the player, (after I figured out how, because I don't use this one much), rolled the windows down, opened the sun roof, and cranked it up a little.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you which CD it was...Kid Rock; Rock and Roll Jesus. Yeah, I'm kind of a Kid Rock fan. Now I know what you may be thinking, especially those of you who are familiar with Kid Rock, "How can you listen to that stuff and support what this guy is doing?" Well, while I don't agree with his lifestyle, or his attitude sometimes, as my dad said when I was growing up, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then."

One of the songs on this CD is called, "Amen." I admit, that's one of the reasons I bought this CD. I was a little intrigued that Kid Rock would have a song on one of his CD's called "Amen." So I bought it and gave it a listen (I really like the CD by the way). But this was a life lesson for me, and one that I feel compelled to share.

It clicked this morning when I was reading the devos for the day. In 1st Corinthians, chapter 4, Paul is talking about the cost of being an apostle, and if you take out the chapter separations this one becomes a little easier to read. You can see the connection with the chapter before it (And for the record, we've added the chapter breaks. They weren't in the original). Here is what he says: "Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent."

A clear conscience without being innocent. Things that make you go, "Hmmmm." Is that even possible? Can you have a clear conscience without being innocent? I think yes. And I think maybe, that is why I'm a Kid Rock fan. For me, it boils down to deciding to be real, or be fake, and the moment I realized that was the moment I came out of my shell as a pastor. I decided that I would rather be real, even though I may not be innocent, than to be a fake and lie awake at night because my conscience wasn't clear. It doesn't matter to me if I am judged by someone else, or by any human court (ok, I do try to live so that I don't wind up in a human court to start with). It didn't matter to Paul, and evidently it doesn't matter to Kid Rock.

Now please understand, I'm not trying to make the guy a saint, he's not...but neither am I. Most folks aren't, some just hide their real self a little better than others. I decided years ago to stop doing that. I would almost say that Kid Rock, with this song on this CD, has done more genuine evangelism than a lot of our TV evangelists have. Love him or hate him, he's real, and most of them aren't. Here's a link to the video if you want to check it out: (Warning....not for young ears)

So, judge him if you want to. Judge me if you want. I'm ok with that. I'll keep listening to my rock and roll, mixed with a little country, and some contemporary praise songs, and keep doing what I do. I'll dig into the scriptures, spend time studying them and writing about them, I'll take some time for my family and myself, I'll say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done, and then when I lay down at night, I'll sleep like a baby. Innocent or not, my conscience is clear.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

We're Not Worthy...We're Not Worthy

As an "outside the box" kind of guy, I guess you could say I also have a warped sense of humor, which is why I get a kick out of things like "Wayne's World." It's one of those cult phenomena that you either love or hate, I happen to love it.

There is one scene in the movie where Wayne and Garth, the two main characters, go to an Alice Cooper concert and wind up with backstage passes. As the two of them come into Alice Cooper's presence for the first time, they hit their knees and begin chanting, "We're not worthy...we're not worthy."

This was the image that came to my mind when I read the devotion readings from Joshua this morning. I'm done with Deuteronomy now, at least until next year, and moving on to another part of the story. The Israelites are crouched on the banks of the Jordan, getting ready to cross. They have sent spies into the land to check things out and see what was there. Word had gotten around that these two were spies, so the locals were looking for them. One woman in town, her name was Rahab, (and let's just say that her profession is one of the oldest and leave it at that) took it upon herself to hide these spies under the stack of grain on her roof.
Now, here is the connection between Rahab and Wayne & Garth. A lot of folks, and I know several personally, feel unworthy to be used by God. And I have to say that I'm not exactly sure why. Ok, yes I am, and here it is. I think it boils down to forgiveness, and our ability to accept it; to forgive ourselves and move on.

We have this uncanny ability to hold a self-grudge. Yeah, we mess up, and sometimes we even mess up big, but the bigger truth is, God doesn't hold the same grudge against us that we hold against ourselves. Sometimes we get hung up in our pasts, and forget that God is a God of the present and the future also.

Scripture doesn't say that Rahab didn't feel worthy to be used by God. It's just not there. But here we have a woman who's past would have left her out of many circles, even today; and we see her hearing a call from God and acting on it. She would not have been seen as very holy by many in town, and there would have certainly been some who would have let her know that. So, we can assume that she had some self worth issues like we might sometimes. How could God use someone with a past like hers? How could God use someone with a past like ours?

What Wayne and Garth found, was that Alice Cooper was pretty easy to get along with. I mean, sure, he's a rock icon, no doubt, but evidently quite personable. As they talked together, you could begin to see the sense of unworth fade and a kind of uncomfortable ease began to take its place. Maybe that's the key. Maybe it's about taking the time to build the relationship. How did they do that? By engaging in conversation. How do we do that? The same way.

Yeah, we mess up. I've done it a lot, and still do with a fair sense of regularity. You've messed up. Sometimes it's easier to admit than others. Sometimes, those mistakes DON'T lead to a feeling of worthlessness. Sometimes, they do. In those times, I encourage you to begin the conversation, we call that repentance. Don't allow the folks around you to determine your self worth, like they must have done for Rahab. Allow God to forgive you the mistakes of your past, and grant you hope for your future.

May God remind you that you are a child of sacred worth.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fruit of the Vine...

Today, I ask that you read all the way through before you pass judgment. Just saying.

I took the day off yesterday. Well, not totally, but I was out of the office and away from the laptop. I drove up to our house in Graves County because I still had a few odds and ends type things to do so we can get our final inspections and close on the construction loan. I took some time to clean out my garage while I was there, mainly because it's a 30 by 30 garage and you couldn't walk through it with all the construction mess I had going.

While I was cleaning, I ran across some of my Granddaddy's things that I had picked up when my Grandmother had their sale. I saw one of Granddaddy's old toolboxes there against the wall, and started going through it. I only bought it because I saw his old tobacco spike laying in it at the sale, and thought that I must have it. As I was looking through his old toolbox yesterday I came across a little bag of corks. Not fishing bobber corks, but wine bottle corks.

You see, my Granddaddy and I used to spend a lot of time together. With the exception of my father, there will never be another man in the world that I would ever be closer to. We fished together, hunted together, farmed together, and sometimes, did absolutely nothing together. But there was this one thing that we did together, and not many folks know about it. Now, before I continue and make some confession that will land me in front of a judge, I have checked the federal laws and think I'm good to go.

My Granddaddy taught me how to make wine. Never more than 5 gallons a year. In fact, I still have one of his last 4 bottles and have no intention of ever opening it. The summer I turned 21, under his supervision, I picked, washed, mashed, and fermented a lot of blackberries. My knuckles were bloody from the thorns, but the time we spent together that summer was great. Now, that was a long time ago, and I haven't made any since way before he passed away, but here's what brought this to mind this morning.

I was reading Deuteronomy 32 this morning and Deuteronomy 32 contains the "Song of Moses." Moses is describing all that God has done for Israel. In verses 12-14, Moses says this: "The LORD alone led him; no foreign god was with him. He made him ride on the heights of the land and fed him with the fruit of the fields. He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag, with curds and milk from herd and flock and with fattened lambs and goats, with choice rams of Bashan and the finest kernals of wheat. You drank the foaming blood of the grape."

The foaming blood of the grape. Now there's an image. That image brought to mind one of the oldest arguments that I can think of about anything in scripture, that being this..."Did they drink real wine?" The short answer would be, "Yes." If you have ever watched the fermentation process, there is a part of that process in which it really does almost look like foaming blood. It's the first fermentation stage. The fruit is mashed and water is added, then it's allowed to work, and as it does it foams. You can't stop it. It's going to happen. Anything with sugar in it will ferment if nature is allowed to take it's course.

And here is why I brought this up. You already know I'm an "outside the box" kind of guy. I see things differently than many folks, I think differently than a lot of folks, and I make no apologies for that. But when I think about all of the time and energy that has been spent in the argument over "real wine verses juice," I immediately begin to wonder if it really even matters, and how much could have been done for the kingdom in the same amount of time. Moses said they drank the foaming blood of the grape. Sounds like a done deal to me. Now, granted, that foaming blood of the grape would have probably been diluted with water, maybe even up to 1:20 ratio, but to me, it's one of those things that, in the grander scheme of things, really doesn't matter.

I'm all for theological debate, don't get me wrong, in fact I love it. I also, however, have a pretty good list of swords I'm willing to fall on, or hills I'm willing to die on, and this just isn't one of them. Let's discuss how Jesus is present at the table instead, or what his resurrection means for us and for the folks of the first century. Let's sit down over a cup of coffee, good coffee mind you, and talk about what Paul was saying in the 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians, and if he was talking about the love between a man and woman or between Creator and created.

We have this habit of getting tripped up over the details while missing the point of the larger story...the proverbial forest for the trees thing. What if, and I'm just thinking out loud, what if we stopped that? What if, instead of arguing over whether or not Jesus and the gang drank real wine or even whether or not we have a glass with dinner, we took a look around us at those neighbors who need to hear that the gospel message is real? And that it's not about getting caught up in the minutia, but that it can be life changing?

Now, I certainly don't expect you to agree with me, and I respect your opinion. This is just mine. And I guess what I'm saying is this, as you look at the words in our scriptures, my hope is that you see the entire forest instead of just one or two trees.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No Take Backs...

Have you ever said or done something you wish you could take back? I remember when I was a kid, we were forever calling each other names, and that was forever resulting in one or the other of us sayin, "You take that back!" But there's a problem. Once the words leave your lips there are no take backs. We can apologize profusely, but we can't take back something once it has been said or done.

As I get older, I still find myself wanting to take back something I have said or done. Now, sometimes, it's more things that I may have done, and not said, because my internal filter kicks in before my mouth engages every now and then. Not always, but I'm getting better about it.

Paul wanted a take back once. Well, ok, at least once. He was writing to the Corinthians in what we have as his first letter to them (for the record, it could be his third letter to them) and was talking about divisions in the church. Some were saying they followed Paul, some followed Apollos, some Cephas, and hey, there were even some that said they followed Christ.

As a pastor, I can imagine Paul just shaking his head, thinking, "What in the world have I done?" What he does say tickles me a little, especially if you allow yourself to have a little fun with the scriptures. He says, "I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one could say that you were baptized into my name." But here is what tickles me, he goes on to say, "Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else." I'm sorry, that's just funny to me.

Here is Paul, one of the founders of the church as we know it, (who had been put in chains for his faith, persecuted, arrested, beaten, and finally killed) and here he is looking for a take back. Well, maybe not a total takeback, but he is doing a little crawdaddin'.

Now, to understand why I thought this was funny, you have to get inside my head and read it the way I read it, and I thank one of my professors for this. I can picture Paul, dictating this letter to some scribe, talking to the folks in Corinth through the scribes pen, and then he gets to this part about the baptisms. "I'm thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gais, so that no one could say that you were baptzied into my name...Well dang, wait a minute, there was also those folks at Stephanas' house. Ok, I baptized them too, but that's it. I didn't baptize anyone else. At least I don't think I did. Yeah, we'll go with that."

Now please understand, and I can't say this enough, when I play with the scriptures like this I mean no disrespect. I do however, recognize that these folks were human, and I get a little tickled when their halo goes out for a second and their humanity shows through. Those moments make the scriptures real for me and not just words on a page.

If Paul did things that he wanted to take back, and this is only one of them, then at those times when I'm also looking for a take back, I know I'm in pretty good company.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Because I'm Your Father and I Said So, That's Why...

Nothing like a little coercion first thing in the morning.

I have to say that the more I study the Old Testament, the less I like it. I'm still in Deuteronomy for the devotion track I'm on, and I have to admit, I'm ready to move on to something else. This is getting really old, but today's reading just blew me away.

Please understand, when I get on these little rants, I mean absolutely no disrespect; not to God, not to the scriptures, and not to those who may disagree with me. Now, that being said, I really have a problem with Deuteronomy 28. Not the whole chapter, but most of it. Have you really looked at this stuff lately? Evidently I had not.

Deuteronomy 28 is made up of 68 verses. It's a relatively long chapter. The first 15 speak about the blessings one will receive for obedience to God. Gotta love that prosperity gospel, but that's another rant for another day. The last 53 verses speak about the curses one will be under for disobedience to God. There are very few reasons given for why we should be obedient, other than something like, "I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt."

It almost sounds like an ancient way of saying, "Because I'm your father and I said so." How many times have we heard that? I admit, when I heard my dad say that to me as a kid, I thought, "I'm never going to say that to my kids." But guess what? I have, and more than once. It's a quick response to a sometimes tough question. I don't have to think about what I'm going to say, and I don't have to really even think about the question I'm being asked. It's quick, simple, and usually does the job.

The list of curses in Deuteronomy 28 reads like something straight out of a really bad Stephen King novel. The list of blessings is ok, though, I can deal with that. It's almost like God is saying, "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." We are obedient and God takes care of us. I can see that part of it. The curses, though, oh my gosh!

Here's just a few of them: "You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out." Oh wait, it gets better.

"The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess."
"You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and ravish her." Really?
"The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower."

And my personal favorite..."The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth...They will lay seige to all the cities throughout your land...because of the suffering that your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you." For crying out loud! Who writes this stuff?

Did God really feel so threatened that out ancestors would be forced into cannabalism for stepping away from the covenant? I don't know. I'm just really looking for some reason as to why this list of curses for disobedience is so harsh. I do know that society was different then, but this is one of those passages that I'm going to have to do a lot more research on. I may even wind up calling one of my professors, because this just doesn't sound like the God I worship.

See how messy theology can get when you really get into it? It is so easy to just skim the surface and not get into the really difficult parts of scripture. And I know that this was old covenant stuff and that Christ began a new covenant. But still, it's the same God. The same God that offers us grace upon grace in the New Testament is telling us, in the Old Testament, that disobedience to his covenant will result in us eating our kids.

So here's my thought for the day...someone comes to you interested in your church. They have never attended church on a regular basis and they're thinking it's time. Someone has given them a bible because they've never had one of their own, and they start at Genesis, intending to read it all the way through. But they get to the end of Deuteronomy, read this list of curses, put the bible down, and storm back to you wanting an explanation. This doesn't sound at all like the loving God you had told them about earlier...what are you going to tell them? You see, we can't NOT think about this stuff on a deeper level, because the folks we are trying to reach are.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Bible Says...

Let me just say right on the front end that this one might get me in trouble. It will definitely raise some eyebrows, and bring to light some of the things I have really struggled with over the last few years, and more specifically, over the last 2 years. There is a very good possibility that I will be black sheeped after today, but maybe not. So, if you're Ok with being challenged, read on. If not, maybe today's blog should be left alone. I'll get back to some less controversial stuff tomorrow or Monday. Now, disclaimer presented, allow me to carry on.

There are at least 2 ways to look at scripture; literally and metaphorically. I tend to find myself in the metaphorical interpretation camp. Now please understand, there is nothing wrong with holding a literal interpretation if that's what works for you. It just doesn't work for me anymore, but it used to. In fact, for the majority of my life, I was in the literalist camp. It has only been within the last 3 years that I have made the change.

This morning, the devotional track had me in Deuteronomy again, chapters 22, 23, and 24. If you haven't read them recently, go back and do so sometime today. It won't take but a few minutes. These chapters present a list of rules, and yesterday you heard about how much respect I have for some rules. This list covers everything from where you're supposed to go to the bathroom, to what to do if you're a teenage boy and your dreams get out of control. You've heard me say before that some of this stuff needs an "R" rating, well, here is some more.

If I were a literalist, I would be devastated this morning. One reason for that is this: I don't have a fence around my roof. The bible says to build a parapet around your roof, and I don't have one. The bible says that a man is not to wear women's clothes, nor is a woman to wear men's clothes. God detests those things. So now, thanks to my love and support for my youth group, I am a condemned man. The bible says that no one born of a forbidden marriage is to ever enter the assembly (their way of saying church), even down to the 10th generation. The bible also says that if a man is a newlywed, he cannot be sent to war or have any other duty laid before him. For 1 year, all he is to be concerned with is staying home and bringing happiness to the wife he has married. Ok, that one's not so bad.

My point is this, and here is where I'm liable to get black sheeped. For me, "Because the Bible says..." is not a very strong argument. The bible says a lot of things. You can find support for slavery. You can find support for not supporting women's rights, I mean, after all, Paul says that women are not to speak in church; the Bible says. But how much trouble would I be in if I tried to pull that one off? You can find support for excluding some people and including only other people. You can make the bible "say" just about anything you want. Here's how: take one or two words, maybe a sentence, from here or there. Take them literally, without any interpretation, without looking at context, and you can make it say pretty much anything you want.

What about the Bible being the word of God? Oh Jamie, you didn't go there? Ok, I am. Yes, it is the word of God. But more importantly, it REVEALS the word of God. Is it inerrent? You have to decide that for yourself. I know that there are some denominations who answer that with a resounding "YES!" and that's ok. For me, inerrency is not important. For me, every jot and tittle being the spoken word of God is not important. For me, whether this story lines up with that story, and this fact agrees with that fact, really doesn't matter anymore. It used to. It used to matter a lot. I spent a solid year arguing with myself, with professors, and even with God about why some of this stuff didn't seem to jee-haw.

But then I realized focusing so much energy on trying to figure out what it was saying on paper, I was totally missing what it was trying to say to my heart. It took me a long time to get there, and if it weren't for one of my professors in seminary, I don't think I ever would have. I think I would still be struggling with it. The struggle was destroying me because it had threatened everything I had ever believed, I admit that. But once I realized that what the bible says on paper and the words it speaks to my innermost core don't necessarily have to be the same, I was ok.

And here is what drove it home. I asked my professor one night after class, (and if she reads this, she'll know I'm talking about her), "How can I stand in front of my folks and preach this to them when I've got so many questions myself?" And here was her answer, "Because your people will respect the fact that you struggle with the same things they struggle with." At that moment, I no longer feared the struggle.

So, what does the bible say? Alot! It tells our history. It tells the stories of those moments when God stepped in and either saved the day, or made for a very bad one for somebody. It tells of One who was coming to bring about a new world order. It tells us about the weaknesses of those we thought were strong, and the strengths of those most would see as weak. It tells about healings, miracles, and moments of inspiration. But most importantly, the bible says that you are loved. And for that, I have absolutely no argument.

May God bring you peace through the words spoken to you.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Breakin' the Law...Breakin' the Law...

Ok, yesterday I said that one day I would write a blog about playing the game. I didn't know that one day would be today, but here goes. Yes, I went through a very well defined rebel phase in my ministry, like I mentioned yesterday. I make no apologies for it. In fact, I think I'm a better pastor because of it. But I wasn't always a rebel.

I answered the call to the ministry in April of 1999. After I accepted the call, and after much internal struggle, I began to be prepared to step behind the podium for the first time in October. Part of that preparation was changing the way I dressed. Preacher's wore suits...period. That's just the way it was. I didn't have any suits, so I bought a couple and hung them in the closet. I did have a few sport coats, so anytime I headed to church, it was a tie and sportcoat.

I took my first official appointment as a pastor in June of 2000. I had been serving a small church part time as a lay pastor since October of the year before, but this was official. I was a pastor now. Church on Sunday morning...suit and tie. Hospital visits...suit and tie. Meetings...suit and tie. That was what I was supposed to do. I'm not going to say it was a law, but it WAS pretty much an unwritten law.

For 2 years, I played the game. I had several preconceived notions about who and what a pastor was, and I molded myself to fit into those notions. For 2 years, you never saw me without a tie on, or a sport coat, or some combination thereof, clean cut, and clean shaven...until I talked to her.

One of the churches I was serving at the time decided to do a community outreach cookout. We didn't have it at the church in the hopes that folks who wouldn't ordinarily come into a church would come, and I could at least meet them. It worked, and it worked beautifully. Everyone had eaten and I was sitting outside on the steps watching the kids playing, and she walked up and sat down beside me. I had never met her before, so introductions were made, and conversation was small.

After a while, I told her why we had hosted the cookout and invited her to come check out the church sometime. I wasn't pushy, and still aren't. If you want to come, that's awesome, but I'm not going to push. And here's what she said: "I can't, I don't have a dress." BAM! Right between the eyes. I did not see that coming. And that's when it began. That's the moment that I made the conscience decision to do whatever I possibly could to destroy those parts of the institution that have been keeping people away.

Paul talks about laws. In the letter to the Galatians, he says brace yourself..."You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the Law? Or by believing what you have heard?"

Churches are a great place for laws. Most of them aren't written, but are certainly implied. You dress a certain way, you use certain words, you behave a certain way, the building has to look a certain way, the flowers have to be in a certain spot, we can only get to heaven by singing certain kinds of kind of get where I'm headed. It's not intentional. At least, I hope not, but over the centuries we have written our own set of rules that we must follow or it just won't work. I intend to do what I can to undo that. Paul was right.

We don't receive the Spirit by observing any law, we receive the Spirit through our belief in the resurrected One. All that our rules accomplish today is keeping folks away from the very one we have put the rules in place to protect. Jesus is a big boy. He can handle it if we don't wear a tie when we come to worship him. I doubt that he would even mind if your little one were to run down the aisle during worship.

Now, to be fair, Paul was talking about the Mosaic laws, and the Abrahamic covenant, passed down through the generations, and that just because these folks were Jewish, and those folks were Gentile, that the first folks weren't gauranteed any special privileges. Paul's mission was to the Gentiles, those outside the Jewish faith. Sound familiar? He was saying that it doesn't matter what the law says, that's not going to save you. What will save is a belief in Christ.

So, I'm not going to condemn anyone for wearing a tie to church. I think that's wonderful, if that's what you want to do. I'm not going to condemn anyone for wanting to hear only our hymns. They are beautiful, and a wonderful way of teaching our theology. All I ask, is that I not be condemned for trying to undo the laws that are keeping folks away.

May God allow you to struggle with who we are called to be.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Laughing Jesus...

In one of my appointments as a United Methodist pastor, there was a picture tacked up on a bulletin board in the young adult Sunday school room of the church. It looked almost hand drawn, but you could tell it had been photo-copied, so I knew it did not originate with someone in that church. In fact, I might even take a few minutes to google it and see what I can come up with. Ok, there it is to the left.

I guess I saw this picture for the first time in 2001, so nearly 9 years ago now. I don't know the artist, or when it was created. I don't have a clue about any of the details surrounding it, but I could never get that image out of my mind.

It totally blew me away. I mean, the very idea, presenting Jesus as laughing. Jesus didn't laugh. Christians don't laugh. We are a very somber people by nature, especially when we gather for worship, and God help us if we're smiling during Communion.

But there it was...the laughing Jesus. I must admit, I didn't know what to do with this picture, and certainly didn't know what to do with the idea of a laughing Jesus. I was relatively new to the ministry at the time, and still playing the game (I'll blog about that sometime), so this was a very foreign concept to me.

I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks ago, the movie "Jesus," with Jeremy Sisto and Debra Messing, written by Suzette Couture and directed by Roger Young. There is one scene in that movie that I absolutely love. Jesus and the gang are walking somewhere, I can't remember if it was on a road or by a lake, and Jesus runs up to one of the disciples and gives him a little pop on the head and just laughs, and then it becomes a game. Jesus didn't play games. Christians don't play games. We are way too somber and reverent for that. But, what if?

What if scripture actually mentioned celebrating life? Wouldn't that be cool? What if there were a place in scripture where we were instructed by God to celebrate? Well, I found one this morning: Deuteronomy 16. Yeah, I know, that's Old Testament. But there it was, we were told 3 times to celebrate: the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Now please understand that celebrate in this context does not necessarily mean a party, but a realization that we have much to be thankful for and that God is the source of that. So, is it really a big stretch to want to be happy, and to display that happiness, when we come into God's presence?

I am in my 11th year of ministry now and I have begun to notice a pattern. There are some churches where it is ok to embrace the laughing Jesus, a life of celebration as worship, and all that says about the way we live our lives. There are some churches where it's not ok. The pattern that I have noticed is this: in those churches that embrace the laughing Jesus, folks are glad to be there. It's an entirely different atmosphere than in those churches that would rather keep the laughing Jesus well under control.

Though we are not Jewish, and the three times of celebration mentioned above were, and are still, Jewish holidays, I think we can learn a lot from the concept of celebration as worship. Many churches have grasped the idea, but not all have yet.

So here's the "What if?" again. How different would our worship be if we allowed the laughing Jesus into our sanctuaries? Now, I'm not saying that we should turn worship into "Friday Night at the Improv," but would it kill us to laugh every now and then? Evidently Jesus did, the proof is in the picture. Well, ok, that's not really a picture of Jesus, but you know what I mean.

I think it is uncomfortable, though, for a lot of folks to see church, and worship itself, as anything other than somber, quiet, and possibly even a little morose. From the time we were little kids we have been taught to sit still and be quiet, and you had better not talk at all during the sermon. So my question is "What are we teaching our kids about what worship really is? And would the laughing Jesus support us in this endeavor?" This is just me, but I think not.

So, be reverent in worship. I have no problem with that. But at the same time, I think that allowing the laughing Jesus into our worship experiences would change the entire atmosphere. As we journey over these next few weeks, especially if you belong to a liturgical tradition, there really isn't much to laugh about until we get to Easter morning. Still, it is important for us to remember that celebration, and maybe even laughter, is as much a part of our worship as breathing is to life itself.

May God give you permission to laugh a little.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Holy Symbolism Batman...

Ok, confession time...I'm inked and I'm pierced. I know what you may be thinking, "But you're a pastor. You shouldn't do that. That's defiling the temple." And I would say that I respect your opinion, but do not share it at all.

A T-shirt covers all of my tattoos, none of which I regret by the way. In fact, I really want another one, but just haven't decided what yet. I got my ear pierced a few years ago on a whim, and haven't regretted that either. Well, not so much on a whim and I'll get to that in a minute. Yeah, it makes me a little different, but we already knew that. Let's just say that I'm not your typical preacher man and leave it at that.

I was asked by a former church member once, "Those tattoos, you got those before you went into the ministry, right? That's part of your old life?" To which I answered, "Nope," and left it at that. I didn't really see my being inked as any of her business. In hindsight, I could have taken a moment to explain to her why I had gotten them, but I didn't.

Now I will admit that I most definitely went through a very well defined rebel phase in my ministry, bucking the system and the institution much like Jesus would have. And that phase has helped shape me into what I am today. And I also admit that I'm not sure I'm completely done with it. I'm not rebellious just for the sake of being rebellious, but in an attempt to do what I can to fix a broken system.

"What does any of that have to do with the price of rice in China?" you may be asking. Well, here it is. What some folks see as rebellious, I view as symbolic. They have very deep meanings for me, and most of the time, folks judge other folks way before they understand those deeper meanings.

My first tattoo was a cross on my right shoulder blade. It's only a couple inches tall, just a plain, brown, wooden cross with a crown of thorns woven around it. It's my own design and a reminder of the price that was paid for me. My second tattoo is an image, that for me, is possibly a portrait of Christ. Of course we have no way of knowing what he looked like, and some might see that as creating an idol, but it's not. I'm also a biker, and since getting that tattoo, I'm reminded that I never ride alone.

And then I got my ear pierced. My gosh, the first time some of my church folks saw it, you would have thought I had said Jesus was a woman (it was a very conservative and not always welcoming congregation).

But the symbolism for piercing my ear is even stronger than for either of the tattoos. It comes from Deuteronomy 15:16 and, talking about freeing men servants and maid servants, says: "But if your servant says to you, 'I do not want to leave you,' because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life."

My uncle and I got into a very heated discussion over the interpretation of that passage one morning over breakfast. We are from very different traditions and I respect the fact that he is entitled to his opinion, however I do not share it. For me, this passage gave me a solid example of something concrete that I could do to remind myself whose I am. Every time I roll over on it in bed, or twist it to keep the skin from growing to it, I remember that I am a servant of the King.

So here is what I would leave you with: not every tattoo or piercing has any religious symbolism at all, I know that, but before we begin to condemn folks who look different, maybe we should take a second and get to know them. My earring has sparked more conversations about servanthood than anything else I have come across in my entire life. Just a thought.


(Motorcycle riding, earring wearing, tattooed, preacher man) Jamie

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Sometimes I run across something in the stories found in scriptures that I just don't understand. Even though I have a Master's of Divinity degree and have done the whole seminary thing, there are still moments when I read something and think, "What on earth? Why did he do that?" I hit one of those this morning. It's in Mark 16. And actually, it's in part of Mark 16 that scholars aren't even sure belongs there, but I digress.

Picture the scene: it's the first Easter morning. Jesus has just been resurrected and may even still be shaking off the effects, we don't know. The two Marys and Solome have come to do the work of embalmers, for lack of a better term, carrying their spices and planning to do what tradition said they do. They're discussing how they will get into the tomb since its opening has been covered by a stone, but when they get there, the stone has been moved and the tomb is empty. Quite a singular circumstance.

Mark says that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene first (enter any number of conspiracy theories here), and that she then told the others that he was alive, but they didn't believe her. Here is where the shapeshifting comes in. Jesus then appears to 2 of the disciples "in a different form" as they were walking in the country. This may be the Emmaus road thing that Luke talks about, maybe not. But my question is, why the need to disguise his identity? Was there some reason he couldn't appear to them in a form they would recognize? After all, that would put to bed any questions that any of them might have had, and might have even strengthened the movement in the first couple days after its leader's death.

But then I realized that the question is not just about the disciples being able to recognize Christ. It sets a precedent for us as well. Perhaps they were only looking for Christ to be in the form they last saw him in, and would have treated this person on the road differently had they known it was him. Perhaps we do the same.

I'm not one for fantasy, well ok, maybe a little, and shapeshifters have been usually relegated to the realm of fantasy or folk lore. But what if, and I'm just thinking out loud, what if this story were recorded for the sole purpose of reminding us that Christ still takes different forms? It would certainly have an impact on the way we treat each other, especially if we never knew when he would show up or what he would look like. Just a thought.

This is a perfect example of one line in scripture, just a few words, having the potential to affect every aspect of our lives, if we don't read over it. I don't know about you, but there have been multiple occasions where I would have treated someone different had I thought it possible that they could have been Christ in a "different form." Perhaps the same is true for you. Just something to think about.

May Christ show up when you least expect him looking like anything but Christ.


Monday, March 8, 2010

To be or not to be...

Ok, this is big. This morning I had one of those "Aha!" moments that threatened to rattle the cage of my faith. I'll just cut right to it since it threw me back so much. The gospel writers do not say that Jesus was nailed to the cross. There, I said it.

Now, before you start throwing things or calling the Bishop, let me explain. It's simply not there. It started this morning with Mark 15, which was the gospel text for today in the devotion track that I'm on. I had read this chapter from Mark dozens of times, but this time something caught my attention that I hadn't noticed before. Mark says, "And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh but he did not take it. And they crucified him." That's it. That's all it says.

So, I ran into my office, grabbed my bible (I get my devotions online) and jumped to Matthew. Not there either. Not in Luke, and not in John. This is huge! The only connection I have found this morning with Jesus being nailed to the cross, at least in the gospels, is in John where he tells Thomas to "Put your finger here; see my hands." Thomas had said that he would not believe Jesus had been resurrected until he saw the nail marks in his hands and put his finger where the nails were.

Now, the historian in me knows that the Romans used two methods for securing criminals to a crucifixion device, be it a pole or a cross: they would either tie them or nail them. Since Jesus himself mentions the nail marks in his hands I have no doubt that he was nailed. What threw me this morning was the fact that I had read something into the gospels that is not there. If I have done that with the nails, what else have I added or taken away?

And that is why I have started looking deeper into the stories we have in scriptures, and I admit that it's seminary's fault. Before I was forced to study, I never questioned. I just accepted. But as I was forced (and forced is a good description) deeper into the texts, I started seeing things that I had not seen before and it made me wonder what else I was missing.

This was actually not as big as I made it out to be. Well, ok, yes it was. It could have completely re-written the account of the crucifixion for me had I let it. But, the greater truth is this: sometimes it is very easy for us to read something into, or out of, scripture without stopping to see if it's really there. It's not nearly as messy if we don't think about it too much. I would encourage you, however, to get messy. Dig deep into the words on the page and the meaning behind them. Struggle with them, fight with them if you must, but allow that struggle to bring you closer to the One written about in the stories.

So, don't sweat those moments where you run across something that threatens to blow your faith smooth out of the water. Sit down, look at it again. Back up and look at what was written before, and then look at what was written after. Allow the words to soak in and then look for the truths written in them. Uncomfortable? At times. Worth it? Always.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

See What You Did...

You may have noticed by now that I love to find little bits of humanity in our scriptures. All of my life I had placed the folks in scripture so high on a pedestal that they were no longer human at all, merely characters in stories that were lacking any human weakness whatsoever. I was reminded again today that this is just not so.

For example, the biblical Moses, for me, had been replaced by Charlton Heston as he stared Yul Brynner down and demanded that he "Let my people go." Every decision that he made must have been the right one, he was Moses for crying out loud. He never made a mistake or questioned what he was supposed to do. But for me, those are the things that would have made him human. We do that sometimes, don't we? Place folks on pedestals, I mean.

As I was reading this morning from Deuteronomy, Moses and the gang are making their final push to cross west of the Jordan to take the Promised Land. The events leading up to the crossing read like the script from Conan the Barbarian, with every man, woman and child already living in the land being totally destroyed. Only Og, king of Bashan was left, evidently because his bed was too heavy to carry off, I don't know.

But here we are. Time to cross is drawing nigh and Moses gets a little upset. Not because he has not accomplished what he set out to do, but because he will not set foot into the Promised Land. Moses was told by God to command Joshua to lead the people across the river, and wanted to go with them so bad. He even pleaded with God, "Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan."

And then he did it, and I love this part. Here's what he said next: "But because of you the Lord was angry with me and would not listen to me." It was the Israelite's fault that Moses wouldn't get to cross the river. Nothing like some good ol' fashioned passing of the buck to make an iconic biblical character seem a little more human.

They were human, and we are the ones who have forgotten that; Moses, Noah, David, Ruth, Samuel, Saul, and most definitely the disciples, were all human, with human weaknesses, and their own human demons to battle. I wonder if it's because we've seen them immortalized in stained glass or if it's because we only read the stories about their strong moments, but whatever the reason, we have separated them from their humanity. I think it's time to give it back to them, and here's why.

When I see someone in the scriptures struggling with who they are, it gives me permission to do the same. Now, I would love to say that never happens, but it does. And I think that if we're honest, it happens to all of us at some point. We have done a real bang up job in the church at making folks feel like they have to have everything figured out before they can be a part of us; it's been going on for centuries. With these stories, we can show folks that even the people that we thought had it figured out, didn't always. I think it would open a lot of doors, but that's just me.

So here's where I'm at this week. I'm not looking at their weaknesses to justify my own, please hear that. But I do think that to get the full effect of what God had done in their lives we have to be able to see who they were in their strongest moments, and in their weakest. So I encourage you, as you read the stories for yourself, to look for those moments of struggle. I think, actually I almost know, that those will be the moments that will strengthen you the most.

May God give you strength to be weak.


Friday, March 5, 2010

No One Under 17 Admitted Without Adult...

When I was a kid, we had 4 channels on the TV: 3, 6, 12, 21 and on occasion we could pick up channel 7. I was a teenager when we got channel 23, and we thought that was so cool. The only cartoons we got to watch were on Saturday morning, and you had better watch all you wanted before 11:00 am because that was when the news came on and cartoons were over for another week.

Looney Tunes was my favorite. I loved watching Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner and the Coyote. In fact, I still love watching them and even have the DVD box set. There was always a shotgun going off somewhere or an anvil being dropped on somebody. The coyote was always buying something from the ACME company that would help him trap the roadrunner. Unfortunately they always backfired, but that too was funny. Sylvester was forever trying to eat Tweety, and I would sit for hours (or however long it was on) just glued to the set and laughing. Ah, good times.

But then I got older, and I heard someone say once that Looney Tunes was one of the most violent shows on television, and I remember thinking, "What an idiot. It's just a cartoon." This person said that watching that kind of violence in a children's show would lead to me becoming a violent person. Admittedly, I rather enjoyed watching it, but I have never one time thought it would be funny to drop an anvil on somebody's head.

Then this morning I was reading the devotional from Deuteronomy and I thought, "Dang, Looney Tunes doesn't hold a candle to this stuff." Deuteronomy 2 recounts the Israelite's wanderings in the desert just before beginning to take the Promised Land. Nearly everywhere they went, God "gave" them this land or that city, but there was a catch, they had to take it by force. I haven't found one place yet where the inhabitants of the city ran out to meet the Israelites, and said, "Hey y'all, come on in. Nah, that's ok, we'll find some place else to live."

They were getting ready to enter into Heshbon, where Sihon reigned as king. To play nice, the Israelites asked Sihon if they could cross through, paying him for whatever food and water they used, but God "made his spirit stubborn" and he refused. Then God delivered him over to the Israelites.

What this story has that Looney Tunes didn't have is this: "At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them - men, women, and children. We left no survivors." Now, if you're confused about what that means, it means that everyone in every town was killed by the sword, and their bodies probably piled up and burnt outside the city walls...even the children.

I am all for reading scripture to our kids. In fact, I teach my kids at church every week about some story, or some aspect of scripture. I have to be honest, though, some of this stuff needs an "R" rating, "No one under 17 admitted without adult..." I know it's part of our history, and I realize that today's world is much different, in many ways, than their's was. My question is, how do we justify the violence to someone when we're trying to tell them about our God of grace?

Do we just chalk it off as God having a bad day and folks wound up getting hurt, well actually, killed? Were the people already living in the Promised Land really all that bad? Could they not have found some way to live alongside each other? Was God just trying to make a point? If not, then why the huge loss of life?

I don't pretend to have the answers, but I do enjoy struggling with the questions. One thing I have learned is that when it comes to scripture, there is no such thing as an easy answer.

May God be in your struggling this week.