Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Charlie Bit Me...

(photo from www.knowyourmeme.com)
I have no clue who those two kids are, but that is one of the funniest things I have seen in a long time. If you haven't seen the clip, you can find it on youtube.com, and it's two brothers sitting together in a chair. One looks to be 3 and the other, probably not even a year old yet. In the beginning of the clip, Charlie (the baby) has bitten his older brother's finger. The older brother says, "Ouch, Charlie bit me..." but he's laughing about it. Then, what does he do? He sticks his other finger right into Charlie's mouth, and guess what...Charlie bit him...again.

The older brother then said, "Charlie bit me, and that really hurt Charlie, and it still hurts..." while Charlie is almost doubled over laughing. It was fun in the beginning, but the longer Charlie bit, the more it hurt.

It really doesn't connect with this morning's readings, but when I read Luke 11 this morning, that was the first thing that popped into my mind..."Charlie bit me, and that really hurt..." Then the next thing that popped into my mind was..."Jesus said that, and that really hurt..." Luke 11:45 says, "One of the teachers of the law answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us, also." Jesus was fun in the beginning, but the more Jesus talked and taught, the more it hurt.

Funny how that goes, eh? It even happens in some of our own faith journeys. In the beginning there is a huge sigh of relief because we have been given a clean slate, our pasts are wiped away, and we can start this new life that we've been called to. But...the more we study and the more we read, the more we watch what he did and how he lived, and the more we realize we are called to the same...Jesus isn't as much fun anymore.

I've said before that he knew it was going to be tough, it's just that his followers didn't always get that. After he taught them about his body and blood being given for them, a bunch of them left. It was too hard. He even looked at those in his inner circle and asked if they wanted to leave too.

I can't imagine. Even as tough as it is sometimes, I can't imagine walking away from my call to discipleship, to follow, and to become (at least to the best of my human ability) Christ for someone in pain. Jesus knows we're busy. Jesus knows things are tough all around. But Jesus also knows that there is a world full of folks who have things a lot worse than we do, and maybe, just maybe, we can lend them a hand.

Now, I'm all about preaching grace and clean slates. In fact, that's the message I'm bringing this Sunday, but as a messenger, I pray that I never apologize for bringing a word of call to mission. Yeah, you stick your finger in Charlie's mouth and Charlie's going to bite you. You sign up to be a follower of Jesus, and Jesus is going to put you to work somewhere, sometime, and somehow. And thank God he does.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Monkey See, Monkey Do...

(photo from www.jimsulliv3.blogspot.com)
Monkey see, monkey do...how many times did we hear that one growing up? We would chant it as kids when we saw someone acting the copy cat and doing something just because someone else had done it. Or, as parents, have the words of your parents ever sneaked into the room..."I don't care what your buddy is doing..."? They said that to you, and then a generation later, you said it to your kids because you or your kids were wanting to do something just because someone else was doing it. Or...oh, oh, oh...this is a good one..."Well, if Johnny jumped off of a bridge, would you?" Well, maybe. I've been known to, actually.

Very seldom did my parents tell me to do something because someone else was doing it. In fact, the opposite was usually true, just like it is for most kids. But every now and then doing something just because someone else had done it is a good idea. Even Jesus thought so. He even told a guy to go and do something just because someone else had.

It's one of those stories we've heard all of our lives if we grew up in the church. It's probably one of the "Top 10" in our Sunday School classes, and I even did a message on it in July. This cocky young lawyer was trying to trick Jesus by trying to find out exactly who this neighbor was that Jesus had told him he had to love...just like he loved himself. Then he told him a story about some guy that had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the Jericho Road. Then Jesus told him the one about the priest and the levite, only that joke wasn't funny. Then he told him about some guy that stopped to help this guy, took him to an inn, made arrangements for him to be cared for, and then went on his way. Then he asked which one was a neighbor to the guy and the lawyer told him that the neighbor was the one that stopped and helped. And then...Jesus said..."Go and do likewise."

"But Jesus, if this good Samaritan jumped off a bridge, would you?" Well, I guess it depends. If jumping off the bridge meant you landed in a ditch with someone who had been beaten up by the world and left for dead, then yeah, I think he would. Or if doing what this guy had done brought some tiny little amount of hope to someone who's castle was crumbling, then I'm pretty sure he would. Or, if following someone else's lead meant that someone, somewhere heard those words, "Then neither do I condemn you," then I know he would.

So kiddos, monkey see monkey do is not always a bad thing. Just stay away from bridges, cliffs, and haylofts.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Put Me In, Coach

(photo from www.christianongtangco.wordpress.com)
Sometimes you just have to do it. Sometimes you just have to jump in, say "dang the consequences" and do it. Sometimes there is no question about what the "it" is that you're supposed to do. Unfortunately, that is the exception and not the norm.

Sometimes, though, everything seems to fall in place and there is no doubt. You can say the stars lined up right, it was the right sign of the moon, it was just dumb luck, or whatever. I prefer to think it's part of a plan. I don't buy into the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I would like to think there was a grander plan.

It happened this morning. I don't usually blog on Sunday because I'm getting ready to lead worship in 2 services, but I do read the selected readings. This morning, the reading from Luke lined up perfectly with the sermon that I had planned over a month ago to preach today. So, if you are one of my flock, stop reading and pick this back up after church.

The message for today is the last of a 4 part series on discipleship taken from the plan for discipleship found in our Book of Discipline: Invite, Welcome, Nurture, and Send. Today is about sending. That's what happens in Luke 9 and in John 20. In fact, it happens a lot. Jesus was always sending someone out to do something. In Luke 9, he sent the Twelve out to preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick. In John 20 he breathed the Holy Spirit on them and gave them the power to forgive sins. Isn't that cool?

Isn't it awesome that if we claim our place as disciples, we are also sent out into the world to heal hurts and bring this message of "Good News"? Isn't it awesome that we are ambassadors of Christ, sent out into the masses with a message of release, healing, and forgiveness? Is there any one of us who doesn't know someone that could benefit from hearing about this Jesus who loves them no matter how bad they think they have screwed up their lives?

So, why is it that so many churches don't? I'm serious. Why is it that so many churches have turned inward in their focus? I'm really trying to figure this out, and it's something that I have struggled with for years. I know I've talked about this alot, but by dang, it's important.

Now I know this isn't the case everywhere, but dog gone it, we cannot be disciples if we only sit in the pews. We can show aspects of discipleship, but to get the full experience, we have got to let Christ send us out. We cannot fully be disciples if we only minister to those on the inside: we can welcome and nurture, but that's only part of the bigger picture.

I love it when Christ shows me someone that I need to talk to. I really love it when it's obvious that this person is someone who doesn't fit the norm. But's what is even more cool, is when that person starts telling ME about what Christ has done for THEM. They felt that Christ had sent them to me...talk about an eye opener. But it is awesome.

I promise that I will quit talking about this when more churches start turning their eyes, energies, and time back out into the world and focus less on what's going on within the walls. I promise. Are my expectations too high? Maybe. Am I missing something? Possibly. Until Christ tells me that I can quit, though, I'm going to keep being sent out, and by dang, I love it.


Friday, September 24, 2010

That's Cool...

(photo from www.quartzsitenews.tv)
Wouldn't that be cool? I mean, wouldn't it be cool to watch someone's life being turned around? Wouldn't it be cool to know that there was someone, somewhere, who is now more than they were because Christ had somehow found a crack in their defenses and gotten in? I think "Heck yeah, that's cool." I love watching that. I love watching the transformation when someone realizes, maybe even for the first time, that they are broken but that there is someone who loves them even in their brokenness. What's cool, is that I (and you) get to be an ambassador for that someone who loves them in their brokenness. THAT...is cool. We get to tell them about this someone.

I'm blessed to be part of a community that does just that at least 4 times a year. It's called The Walk to Emmaus and this weekend is the women's fall walk. Last weekend was the men's fall walk. There is a youth version that's called Chrysalis, and in this community, it meets summer and winter. Last night we had "send off" for the women's walk. That's where those who have already been come to support and love those who are getting ready to make the journey. We get together, eat, sing, laugh, pray, laugh some more, and then those who are making the journey begin their weekend and the rest of us go home.

Last weekend there were over 30 men that made their journey to Emmaus, based on the story in Luke of a similar journey made the first Easter weekend. It's funny how this thing works. These guys or gals show up on Thursday night and we start getting to know each other, but as the weekend progresses they (and we) discover their (and our own) brokenness. What's even more amazing is the end result...healing.

Jesus talks about healing alot, have you noticed that? And he talks about talking about healing, too. He does it again this morning. A few of John's disciples came to Jesus and asked if he was "the one" and he told them to go back and tell John what they had seen...the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.

Last night, it hit me. Last night I was reminded why I do what I do. It's not about me. I do what I do, we do what we do, for them. Sure, we nurture those on the inside, but our primary objective is to bring healing to a hurting world and show the people on the outside that we know someone who can change their entire world. There were three men who came to me last night and told me about how last weekend had done that, and how it had changed their life. They had found healing in their brokenness, and my friends, it really is a beautiful thing to watch.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, sometimes we get caught up in "us" to the point where we forget about the blind, lame, sick, deaf, dead, and poor all around us. I know that I've mentioned this before, but it's a reality in our churches. So, this morning I'm asking forgiveness. Not from the institution or those who may feel that my priorities are misdirected, but from those seeking a relationship with God that I have ignored trying to maintain my own comfort. God forgive me for not seeing, or not acting on, the hurts of any that may be seeking you. God forgive me for not spending enough time telling folks about the healings I have witnessed over the years. God forgive me if I have ever sold out to protect myself. And God, if you don't mind, give me another chance to be what you have created me to be.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Just Play the Game...

(photo from www.projects.csail.mit.edu)
I know that I've hit on this before, but it just won't go away. I know that I've called him a rebel from Galilee, but dog gone it, he's doing it to himself. I know that I've talked about all the different times he broke the rules, but he just won't quit. It would have been so much easier if he had just played the game.

Why wouldn't he just play the game? He could have had an easy life...the crowds loved him...people adored him...he was a superstar in his own time. If he had just played the game it would have been so simple. All he had to do was follow their laws and traditions, keep his mouth shut in public, stop stirring up trouble, leave well enough alone, and he would have been treated like royalty.

It's so much simpler to just play the game...unless...the game is what's wrong. He could have followed the rules, except that the rules had folks enslaved to a certain way of being. He could have kept the traditions, but the traditions were outdated, and might have even caused some to live in fear.

In today's reading, there is another example of Jesus getting into trouble because he wouldn't play the game...he broke tradition...and they wanted to kill him for it. He and his disciples picked some grain on the Sabbath...ooohhh...and then he actually healed a man on the Sabbath...ooooohhhhh...that's right, gave him his life back on the Sabbath, and it nearly got him killed. Luke 6 is where it's at and it actually says, "But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus." They were plotting his demise, all because he wouldn't play the game.

Actually though, the thing that threatened to see him destroyed was the very thing that drew the crowds to him, caused folks to adore him, and the reason why he was treated like a celebrity in some circles. He came on a mission, and that mission was to show people that living a kingdom life was not about following the rules or traditions that kept them oppressed. He had guts...and that's what's missing in a lot of places.

I have colleagues who are very comfortable in their appointments. They have climbed the church ladder, paid their dues, and have arrived at a church where the salary is nice, the benefits are nice, and it's just an all around good gig. So, they lay low, coddle those that need coddling, play up to those in power, and don't rock the boat. But that's just not what I see Jesus doing, time and time again.

He didn't stir up trouble just to keep things stirred up, he did what he did to bring people release. That was even part of his mission statement... "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Oh, and even saying that nearly got him killed.

I learned a long time ago that I can't play the game and sleep at night. I can't bow to traditions that keep folks from feeling comfortable in God's house. That's why you will very rarely see me in a necktie or a robe. That's why I am very vocal about making folks, especially folks who don't have a relationship with Christ yet, welcome in worship, and designing an experience and atmosphere that allows folks who have never felt comfortable in worship to sit back and relax. That's why I rarely color inside the lines.

He has called us to follow him, and I know that if I actually follow his example it's going to get me into trouble eventually. But after reading the stories, and reading about the lives that he changed, one by one, I have to say, dog gone it, it's worth it.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Doctor Will See You Now...

(photo from www.pronto.com)
I'm not a fan, just saying. I'm not crazy about going to the doctor...and I'm even less crazy about going to the dentist. Our family doctor retired a couple years ago and I haven't found another one yet. I've been to the clinic here a couple times since, but a family doctor, we don't have. Growing up, my dentist hadn't heard of novacaine, or at least if he had heard of it, he wasn't letting on that he knew. I think I was 16 or 17 when I was deadened for the first time in a dentist's chair. When I walk into either a doctor's office or a dentist's office, my blood pressure skyrockets and my pulse races. I just don't like going...but...I know that if I'm sick, that's where I need to be.

Funny how that works, isn't it? We wait until we just can't go anymore before we go somewhere to be made better. I remember my first official sinus infection. I didn't know what it was, but had been sick with it for weeks and weeks. Cold pills weren't working. Allergy pills just made me sleepy. Finally, one Sunday after church, Steph told me that I was going to the walk-in clinic that afternoon. The doctor checked me out, said, "Hmm, somebody has one heck of a sinus infection," told me to drop my britches, loaded me up with a shot full of antibiotics, and in a couple days I was as good as new. If I hadn't been sick, though, I wouldn't have gone.

The first time I went to the dentist after we married was to see her dentist. I wasn't going back to mine (mainly because he threw in a little extra pain if you were a UK fan.) As I sat in the chair, sweating, shaking, heart racing, and blood pressure pounding, the dentist came in and here's how the conversation went: (me)..."Doc, if you hurt me, I swear with God as my witness, I'm going to hit you in the nose as hard as I possibly can." (Doc)..."I promise I'm not going to hurt you. If I do, you'll never come back, and you'll tell your friends that I hurt you, and they'll quit coming, and I'll have to close my practice." He didn't hurt me. In fact, it was, at that point in my life, the easiest dental visit I had ever had. I still don't like going, but I know Dr. Covington's not going to hurt me, so I don't mind as much.

Jesus said something about the sick and the well, didn't he? He had been asked a question, and that question was this: "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" I love his answer: "It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentence."

I love that, and I have to say that is part of the reason why I am the way I am. That's why I buck the system and why I watch for traditions that get in the way of the sick getting to the doctor. That's part of why I got inked and pierced...my tattoos and earring have given me opportunities to start conversations with folks that I would have never had the opportunity to talk to in a suit and tie. Church isn't for the saved, church is for the seeker. We have forgotten that. Most of what we do, in most churches in the country, is not for the sick but for the healthy. Tell me if I'm lying.

We design worship for the healthy. We design programming for the healthy. We design dress for the healthy. Even outreach, in most places, is designed for the healthy. Now, there are certainly exceptions, and I could list some but I won't. But for the most part, what we do, we do not for the sick. If we were intentional about helping the sick get to the doctor, we would advertise that you don't have to have a suit or a dress to come in...we would be out talking to folks about what we could do to make them more comfortable...we would be intentional in creating an atmostphere that was non-threatening and laid back...we would make worship user friendly...and we would look for ways to start the conversations so that the sick can at least hear about our doctor. If you look around, the churches that are growing are the ones doing these things. There's got to be something to it.

Here's the big "so what"...if your church isn't growing there is probably a reason. It's not that you're not good people, but something about what you're doing is keeping folks away. Now is the time to stop and look around. It could be declining demographics, dying community, aging members. But even those things don't have to close a church. Right now, I drive nearly 50 miles to go to the dentist. There are several dentists who are much closer, but I'm comfortable going to my dentist, so it's worth the drive. The same is true with our churches.

I can't speak for him or her, but if I were a betting man, I would bet that your pastor would love to see your church grow. I would bet that you'd love to see your church grow. If I were a betting man, I would bet that your pastor is just itching for the opportunity to do something outside the walls. I would bet that your pastor would love to see a church full of sick folk finding their own doctor for the first time. I can't say for sure, but I'd almost bet that's the case. So, what are you waiting for? Let your pastor eat with sinners. It's really not about the healthy at all...and the results...lives will be changed, the sick will be made well, folks will find Christ, and it will be your fault.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Write That Down, Please...

(photo from www.bodegones.com)
Martin Luther wanted the book of James left out...I happen to like the book of James. If I had one book that I could leave out it would be the Book of Revelation (and just for the record it is Revelation, not Revelations. Just sayin). It's not that it's not a good read, especially if you're into stuff like "The Lord of the Rings," which I am. I mean, there are monsters everywhere...swords, death, and plagues are found on most of the pages, and it scares the living daylight out of most folks. But it doesn't have to.

Ok, let me crawdad a bit. I think I would like the book of Revelation taken out with the exception of Chapter 20, Verse 12. It says, "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books."

I'm assuming, and this is just a guess, that the other books that were opened contained all of the things we had done during our lives. And I'm assuming that what was written in those books determined whether or not our name was written in THE book.

(OPINION ALERT) Now, let me stop for a second and say that I am not a literalist, and that for me, Revelation is not a description of some future, apocalyptic event bringing the end of the world as we know it. For me, Revelation is a commentary on the early church, trying to exist under the power of something that was seeking to destroy it. But that's just me, and I really don't want to argue with anyone over it. It's just my opinion.

But...whether it is or isn't, the fact remains that we are in some way, at some time, and by somebody judged for what we do. It happens everyday. Folks watch us, whether we want to admit it or not, and they are taking notes about the things we do. They are watching to see what we stand for, how we treat others, and what is important to us. They're watching how we spend our money and our time, and subconsciously, we are being judged.

Here's the kicker for me. I'm not at all about works righteousness, which simply means that you work to earn your way through those pearly gates. Some folks are, and that's cool. It just doesn't work for me. But...I do what I do, I stand up for who I stand up for, I say what I say, not to earn a pass through the gates, but because of the love and grace that was shown me by the One holding the pen over THE book.

Which means, that because He loved me, I'm going to love THEM, and if there was only one message I could preach for the rest of my life, that would be it. Because of that, every time I'm given the opportunity to decide whether I am going to reach out to them, or reach in to self, I hope that I can choose to reach out to them.

Here's the big "so what" for us as a group of disciples. I'm afraid that any church which puts its own needs above the needs of the folks around them has missed the whole picture. But it happens all the time. We turn inward, and we stop doing for others. And if you read Revelation literally that is going to keep a lot of names from being written down. We spend our energy on us. We spend our time on us. And in some places, we spend our money on us. (Big shout out to the apportionment system in the UMC. Through those dollars, real ministry is taking place all over the world. I get giddy when I think about it.) And in the end, we want our pastors to focus on us. Which leaves a whole lot of folks never getting the opportunity to hear about this guy Jesus and how much they really are loved.

I guess this is where it lands for me this morning. When I get a chance to look back through my book, if I get a chance to look back through my book, I want to see things written down that will make God proud. I want to be able to stand with folks who spent their lives ministering with the poor, sick, orphaned, and outcast. Not to get patted on the back, but because, so many times, they get totally left out. Maybe, just maybe, through some little something that I, or you, have done with them, or for them, they will get the chance to find their name written down too.

Hey, a guy can dream can't he?


Monday, September 13, 2010


(Photo from www.tamaralowenstein.wordpress.com)

"The spiritual life counteracts the countless divisions that pervade our daily life and cause destruction and violence. These divisions are interior as well as exterior: the divisions among our most intimate emotions and the divisions among the most widespread social groupings. The division between gladness and sadness within me or the division between the races, religions, and cultures of darkness. The Spirit of God, the Spirit that calls us the Beloved, is the Spirit that unites and makes whole. There is no clearer way to discern the presence of God's Spirit than to identify the moments of unification, healing, restoration, and reconciliation. Wherever the Spirit works, divisions vanish and inner as well as outer unity manifests itself." (Henri J.M. Nouwen, from "Life of the Beloved.")

Henri Nouwen wrote those words to a Jewish friend of his after years of friendship that was born in an interview for the New York Times. It's a beautiful book about being taken, blessed, broken, and given, all in the name of finding our place as the "Beloved" of God. He starts the chapter "Living as the Beloved" with these words:

"As those who are chosen, blessed, broken, and given, we are called
to live our lives with a deep inner joy and peace. It is the life of the
Beloved, lived in a world constantly trying to convince us that the
burden is on us to prove that we are worthy of being loved."

It's no secret that, as a pastor, I see things differently than I once did. Very few things are black and white anymore. It's no secret that, as a pastor, I am called to become different, to look at things differently, to listen differently, and to respond differently. At no time in my career have I witnessed the importance of this more than in the last month.

I have talked much about the events that have brought out a part of me that I wasn't even sure existed until very recently, and with that, a passion to show folks that they, just like me and you, have a place as the Beloved, regardless of their abilities, race, faith, gender, or income. What I have learned though, is that this is not always as simple as one might imagine.

I guess I assumed (and that was my first mistake) that everyone would see every situation the same as I. It was naive, and led to a great amount of frustration. I guess I assumed that everyone would be as passionate about the same things I am passionate about. That was also naive, and led to a great amount of frustration. In fact, most all of the walls I have hit in the last few weeks were because of naivity on my part, and it has been frustrating...and it has made me question...and it has caused doubts to be born within me...and, even more importantly, it has caused me to ask for forgiveness from those who witnessed my frustrations first hand.

The subtitle of "Life of the Beloved" is "Spiritual living in a secular world." That nailed it. That is exactly what any of us, who claim a spot at the feet of Christ, have been called to do. But how? How do we deal with the very things Nouwen talks about in the quote from above: divisions between gladness and sadness, divisions between the races and religions, even divisions within our own circles? And how can we claim a life in the Spirit when division and hatred are so widespread?

Maybe the problem is that we are so focused on our differences that we can't see the areas we agree on. Maybe we really do want the same things, we are just not communicating it well. Maybe we can spend more time looking at the division between sadness and gladness within ourselves to see where our real passions lie. I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud this morning. But there has got to be something, some way, to fulfill our calling as disciples...find our place as the Beloved...balance sadness/gladness and frustration/joy within ourselves, and still respect the opinions of others regardless of who they are.

I think it boils down to one thing, and again, I'm quoting Nouwen: "There is no clearer way to discern the presence of God's Spirit than to identify the moments of unification, healing, restoration, and reconciliation. Wherever the Spirit works, divisions vanish and inner as well as outer unity manifests itself."

Maybe that's where we need to start, with an intentional search into the soul of unification, healing, restoration, and reconciliation. We will probably need to throw in a lot of patience just for good measure. A big dose of intentional listening would probably be good too. Oh, and a lot of respect for those who's opinion might be different from ours. I don't know that it will work, but it sounds like a good place to start.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

It's Gettin' Hot in Here...

(photo from www.junialeigh.wordpress.com)
Ok, another Sunday morning post. Sermon is all done, everything is ready for worship. It's early. It's quiet. The coffee is good, and God said, "Write." I've learned that when God says that, I had better do it. I've been writing alot this week, just not putting it out as much lately. I've got a couple projects I'm working on, and trying to stay ahead of the eight ball in the office. But this morning, what I was supposed to write came to me clearer than it has in a while. I've tried showing a little more restraint this week because I have caught a lot of flack over my outspoken nature recently. But this morning, not so much.

I admit up front that this morning's blog is not for the overly sensitive, so if you are easily offended, please stop reading now. This morning's blog is about something we don't like to talk about because we all have them, even I. It's something we'd rather not think about because we are forced to realize that we're not as dedicated to THE cause as we first thought. What is it?

Idols. Not the "American Idol" kind of idol, although that gives me an idea for another blog at some point. The type of idol I'm talking about this morning is anything that we place in a position of greater importance than answering our call to be disciples, and disciple makers. It can be anything, and idols are different for practically everybody. It can be as simple as skipping church, or as grand as a 90' tall gold statue.

Those are the idols we think of when we hear the word, you know what I mean, the statues of the Old Testament. This one in particular was made by King Nebuchadnezzar and set up in the plain of Dura in Babylon. He ordered everyone in the region to worship this idol, or be thrown into a blazing furnace. Now, I've never been thrown in a blazing furnace, but I can imagine it wouldn't be fun. But at the same time, I have to ask myself if I could throw my God away because I was being threatened. If threatened with death, who knows? And I'm just being honest. Self preservation is a powerful force. In the day to day, though, I can't just toss God away like that. However, I would like to think that even on threat of death I would stand up for what I believe, and that is what this story is about.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego...you've heard the names I'm sure. I think there was even a cute little song about them when I was a kid but I don't remember. Three guys who broke the rules, and it should have gotten them killed. The king said to...they didn't...and someone ratted them out. It happens. It happens a lot. But, they would not bow to this idol. I think it's a great story. They knew what would happen. They knew that if they didn't listen, and do as the king said, he would kill them. But they wouldn't bow.

Idolatry is a sneaky sin. Most sin is. Idolatry is behind a lot of what folks consider worse sins. Romans 1? You remember what it says. That's the "go to" for anyone condemning homosexuality, right? If you look close, the actual sin was idolatry..."therefore"...God gave them over to the lusts of the flesh. It's sneaky, I'm telling you. It's everywhere. And in one way or another, this is the one sin that gets most all of us.

It's in the desire to lift yourself up by pushing someone else down. It's in our desire to protect our image as a church. It's in the weakness of remaining silent when everything in us is saying "speak out." It's in turning our head when we see someone who is hungry, or lost, or sitting by the side of the road holding a sign. It's subtle: it's a comment with a hidden barb...it's pride...it's self...it's being overly sensitive so folks will bend to your wishes...it's in the fear of offending...it's even in self-preservation.

I actually hope that I live my life, standing up for the other, to the point where someone orders the furnace heated to seven times the normal. I hope that my ministry is such that there is no question who my God is. I hope that I can wade through the pettiness and into the deeper waters of true discipleship. I hope that I'm given the strength to stand up to those who tell me I can't. I hope that I have the endurance to continue standing when everything in me says, "That's enough." And I hope that when I'm finally tossed in the furnace (if you think following Jesus won't get you tossed there, you kidding yourself), and they look in to see how things are going, that they see "one like the son of the gods" walking with me.

So, thank you Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for reminding me that no matter who is on the throne here, and no matter how hot they order the furnace to be made, that my god is not ego, pride, self preservation, or image...my only God, the only God I will bend a knee to, is Jehovah.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

I Wonder...

(photo from www.sodahead.com)
I wonder how he did it. I wonder how he stood there while the chief priests taunted him and mocked him. I wonder what he must have been thinking when Pilate said, "I find no basis for a charge againt this man." I wonder what was going through his mind at that moment.

I wonder if he thought back to all the times he stood against the crowd in the last few years. I wonder if he regretted any of that, or if he had thought, "You know, maybe I shouldn't have said that." I wonder if he thought back to the time he turned the tables over in the temple and thought, "You know, that seems to be where it all really went south. Maybe I shouldn't have done that."

I wonder if, after he touched the leper, he thought, "I might not should have done that. Now I have to go through all that ritual cleansing stuff, and...I might get leprosy too." I wonder if while he was riding into Jerusalem on the donkey, he thought, "I hope no one takes this the wrong way. That could lead to trouble." Or, if, as he was walking into Zaccheaus' house for supper he thought, "What will people think about this." These are some of the things I wonder about, but this is just me.

As I have looked around the past few weeks in silent, and sometimes not so silent, observation, I have noticed a trend...those folks who are serious about being Jesus followers really don't pay much attention to society's opinions. I'm not saying they don't care about what society thinks, I'm just saying that others' opinions of them is not as important as their calling to follow HIM. In the last few weeks, the news has been full of hot button stories: immigration, the mosque in Mayfield, the mosque in NY, and now the Quran burning in Florida, and here is what I wonder: Which is more important, what other folks think we should do, be, and become...Or our calling to follow HIM? I have learned that you can't always have both.

If Jesus had listened to the critics...or second guessed that which he stood for...or backed down when the heat was put on...where would we be? He would have still been killed, because we destroy that which we don't understand or that which makes us uncomfortable. Then, his death would have had no meaning...save that one more mouthy rebel leader had been silenced. But...

...but he didn't listen to the critics. He didn't back down from what he believed in. He didn't flinch in the face of adversity. And they killed him for it. It wasn't the Jews that killed Jesus, it was fear that killed Jesus. They were afraid that he would upset their system. They were afraid that he would convince people that living under oppressive foreign rule was not what God had intended for them. They were afraid that maybe...he was right.

So, if you're serious about being a follower, I'm ready. I've been ready for a long time. I want to get my hands dirty. I want to be on the front line. I want to make a real difference in someone's life, and not just talk about it. I want to be a disciple. I'm ready. But be warned...some folks are going to get mad at you. If you say what you are led to say, some folks aren't going to like it. If you do the things Jesus did, it's going to tick some folks off. I've mentioned this before, and maybe I'm saying it again to remind myself more than anything else, but...if you really follow this carpenter's son from Galilee, there are going to be splinters. Every cross has them. But, I'm ready.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart...May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace...May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy...May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you do what others claim cannot be done...And the blessing of God, who creates, redeems, and sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more. Amen. (Franciscan blessing)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hope's Good...

(photo from http://www.babble.com/ / Happy Meal and the Golden Arches are owned by McDonald's Corp.)
It's a cute commercial, really. I'm not a fan of fast food, and not a fan at all of fast food commercials...Burger King's are just stupid, I'm sorry. Yeah, I'm going to run right out and buy a cheeseburger because some guy in a king suit with an oversized head told me to. Not. McDonald's "I'm lovin' it"? Yeah, not for me. Their coffee will do in a pinch, if you can't get to a cup of real coffee, but I'm just not into fast food.

But this commercial is awesome. It's just a bunch of kids doing what kids do...laughing, playing, and eating...eating Happy Meals. Kids love Happy Meals, I don't know why. The toys used to be pretty cool, maybe they still are, I don't know. I remember that when I was a kid, the toy was the first thing we wanted to go for, but mom and dad wouldn't let us until after we had eaten. And these kids looked like they were going for the toys, whether they had eaten or not. They were laughing, and holding the boxes upside down, looking up into them, as if whatever they were looking for was going to fall out on the table. But they weren't going for the toys, they were looking for something else.

You almost had to be listening to see what they were looking for, because the commercial really wasn't about the food, and it really wasn't about the toy, but it was about something in the box. Evidently, and I'm not plugging McDonald's at all, but evidently when they sell a Happy Meal, part of the money goes to support the Ronald McDonald charities, which in turn supports the Ronald McDonald Houses, which in turn gives families a place to stay while their kids are undergoing treatment at one of the local hospitals. It gives the families a tiny little bit of hope.

And then he said it...this little boy said it...after he looked into his Happy Meal box, he looked up, straight at the camera and said, "Hope's good." By dang! I think he got it! I melted, and I'm a pretty tough guy. I mean, I can field dress a deer in 5 minutes flat, I can pull a splinter out from under my fingernail without crying, and I'm not afraid to stand up to just about anybody, but when he said that, I melted.

Hope's good. You're danged right hope's good, and that's part of our mission...to show folks who are ready to give up that hope's good, and that we can bring them hope in HIS name. That's what HE did, and that's the example HE left us.

So many folks have lost hope. Maybe it's just a temporary thing, bills have tightened up and they can't buy groceries that week, but next week will be better. Maybe it's a health thing, the doctor said that "C" word and now they're looking at what few options they have. Maybe it's a relationship gone to the dogs. Whatever battle they're fighting, it's our job to remind them, over and over again, that hope's good.

Call me naively optimistic if you want, that's ok. But I truly believe that church is supposed to be a place where power struggles don't exist, where everyone is welcome, pasts are forgiven, the kingdom is preached, injustice is fought, the weak are strengthened, the proud are brought down, and hope is good. I know it's a human institution, and no human institution is perfect, but a guy can dream, can't he?

Maybe we could take some lessons from corporate America. Find out what the people are looking for, and give it to them. Hope is very inexpensive to mass produce, and the demand is very high. Just a thought.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mountain Sabbath...

"Honey, I'm home!"

As I got up this morning and read the Life Journal readings for today, none of them really spoke to me. One was apocalyptic in nature, one has been made apocalyptic in the 2000 years since it was written. So, I'm stepping away from the Life Journal today.

I got home last night, late, after four days in the Blue Ridge Mountains, on the North Carolina/Georgia line. It's an absolutely gorgeous part of the country. You're in the mountains, well, foothills I guess, without all the touristy stuff that you find in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. I love the mountains. I love the quiet. I love the views. I love the hiking trails. I love the mountain streams. I love it, and every now and then, I just have to take a mountain sabbath.
I didn't tell anyone where I was going, except for just a very few folks. I didn't answer my phone. I didn't check emails, with one exception, and found out that an old friend of my family passed away. My cabin had a front porch with a rocking chair, and you couldn't swing a cat from the porch rail without hitting a tree (no cats were swung on this mountain sabbath). There were a couple other cabins close by but you couldn't see them because the woods was so thick. At night, I left the windows open so that I could hear the mountains. It was great. In fact, this is going to be a yearly thing for me, only next year, I'm staying a week.

It wasn't a vacation, and actually, since I was working I'm not even sure I can call it a Sabbath, but if we define Sabbath as a day of rest, then I guess it was...even if I was working. I spent my time reading and writing, and started a sermon series, so it was work, but my spirit got to rest. And...that's a good thing.

Jesus told us to do that, you know. I just haven't been listening, and I'm not alone. He told us to "come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place, and get some rest." But the demands of daily life: jobs, family, sports, bills, who's turn is it to cook supper...those things keep us from it. And it's not that those aren't important, they are, and I'm already back in work mode this morning, but...just as important, or maybe even more so, is our going away to a quiet place.

I have preached this, and preached this, over the last several years. I have blogged about it. I have told others to do it. I have done devotionals about this, but I haven't done it myself. I'm guilty. I'm a hypocrite. But...coming off of my first mini-sabbatical, I can see now, first hand, how important it really is. I have watched other folks crash and burn because they wouldn't take a Sabbath, so I knew the signs, and when I started seeing them in myself I knew it was time. I had to be intentional about it. I had to be devoted to it. I had to do it.

When I started being short with my family, I knew it was time. When I started getting short with my folks at church, it was time. When the wall came up while I was trying to write, it was time. When I would cringe because the phone rang, it was time (wait, nevermind that one, I never have liked the phone). I could have kept on pushing, and lots of folks do. I could have ignored the signs. But I think, no, I know, that part of my responsibility to my flock is to take care of myself.

Was it selfish? Maybe, but that's ok. My girls and my church folks will be glad I was selfish. in fact, I'm going to be selfish again next year. I may even be selfish twice a year. Will I keep talking about how important this is? Absolutely. And not just to other folks, but to myself, until I see that I have made a regular Sabbath part of my yearly routine.

And maybe it's not the mountains for you, but the important thing is finding some way to get away to that quiet place and rest. For my wife it's scrapbooking, for you it may be a good book and a fireplace, the "what" is not so important.

So, First Church, I'm going to ask you to hold me accountable. I'm going to ask you to make sure I take a day off every week, and that I take some time in that quiet place with HIM. If I'm not, I want you to call me on it. If I start getting short, I want you to ask me when was the last time that I took a day apart. If you notice that I look tired, I want you to pull me aside and tell me about it. I want to be able to be the best shepherd I can be, and I need your help.

Ah, mountain time. No wonder John Denver sang about it so much.