Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do All The Good You Can...

(photo from
"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." - John Wesley

I admit that I'm not a very deep thinker, and that might get me into trouble. I love discussing theology. I love reading theology, especially accidental theology, but when it comes right down to it, I think I'm more of a "do-er" than a "thinker."

Right now, I'm in the midst of preparing for my board interviews for ordination. I've got a sermon to write, a bible study to write, and questions to answer, and have to have it all turned in by mid February. My brain hurts sometimes because of it, but I really do enjoy digging into some of these deeper readings. John Wesley writes over my head alot, I admit that, but I'm catching up with him, and every now and then something he says hits and sticks. This is one of those.

I have a dear friend who started after me 6 years ago about going on a mission trip. The first two years he asked, I had all kinds of reasons why I couldn't go. Then in October of 2006 he called and I didn't have an excuse. I loaded up my tools, tool belt, and ibuprofin, and we headed south the day after Christmas. I found out on that trip that I should have also packed potassium supplements for the muscle cramps and a personal acupuncturist for the body aches.

This year, spring floods left several folks homeless not far from here, so we loaded up and headed to Dyersburg. It never ceases to amaze me what God can do through a group of folks who give Christ their hands for a few days and this year was no exception. This year reminded me that most of the time you don't have to look far to find folks who need some help.

I had to come back early so that I could get back into the books, but got to spend two days working with new friends and old, and watching hope spring out of the muck left behind by the flood. It always brings a smile to my face when I see the homeowner pull up on site, knowing that the last time he saw the place there was just a block foundation and memories of what was, and that now he has a house.
I don't know what you're good at, but I do know that there is some way you can use what you're good at for a much higher power. I was one heck of a carpenter at one point in my life, and getting to drive nails for God now reminds me that I can still help make a difference, and so can you.

"Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as ever you can."


Monday, December 20, 2010

Baby Jesus...

(Photo from
I absolutely love this time of year, honest. I know it's stressful...and extremely busy...and over commercialized...and for some folks relegated to a few weeks of maddening shopping, a few minutes of ripping open packages wrapped in pretty paper, and overindulging at the holiday table...but I love it!

I love listening to Bing, Dean, Frank, and Perry, and hearing the kids try to explain what happened all those years ago and why we celebrate it in the first place, and actually hate the fact that I missed the guy who came by the house the other day with religious literature telling Steph that "The bible doesn't tell us to celebrate Christmas."

I love the images of the nativity, and for this week, I can put aside the fact that we have created the image we have now of Mary, Joseph, the livestock, shepherds, and wisemen by taking pieces from the different gospels and combining them into a new story.

I love picturing the star shining down on that little manger, the angels bursting into the sky above the shepherd's field, the awe in the shepherd's eyes, and the overall wonder of it all. I love gazing into the face of that child lying there, helpless, totally dependent on his parents, and knowing that he would grow up, and when he did, he would begin turning everything right side up.

That's what I love about Christmas the most. That night put into motion, here on earth, the events that would begin to usher in the Kingdom of God. The lame would walk, the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the lepers were healed, and everything that was wrong in the world at that time, Jesus would begin making right.

In today's Life Journal reading, Jesus is defending who he is to the teachers of the Law. They know what they are looking for in a Messiah, and Jesus just doesn't fit the bill. They've got it all figured out, sound familiar? But in John 7, 8, and 9, Jesus is standing up to them...again...and then he does it. The sweet little baby in the manger just couldn't be quiet, and said, "Before Abraham was born, I am!" Scripture says the teachers of the Law then started picking up stones to kill him, but Jesus hid himself and slipped out the back door.

So this week, gaze at the child in clothes that swaddled, marvel at the wonder of it all, celebrate with family and friends, and witness once again the moment when God broke into human history and began making right everything that was wrong, and that we have been called by the great "I Am" to continue what he started.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Letter From a Friend...

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I'm back...
Last night, I opened my email, and saw that I had a Facebook message. It was a message from a new friend; one that I have gotten to know more through the keyboard than face to face. We think alike, she and I, and I have already grown to appreciate her input. So, I opened it and began to read. When I finished reading what she had written to me, I received a peace that I haven't had in a few months. So, thanks, "S," this one's for you.

I'll admit up front that this is mostly rant. It's something that I've been needing to do for a long time, but everytime I started typing, I'd just go back and delete it all. This morning, as I was reading the Life Journal texts, it hit me again, just like it has every morning for the past week or ten days. I haven't written a blog in a while, and that was intentional, but today's the day. So, if you are easily offended, already in a bad mood, or just looking to be offended, please stop reading. And again, these are just my thoughts, but if I continue to keep them bottled up, they will eat at me from the inside out.

Here we go...(second chance to stop reading)

The reading this morning was from 2 Timothy. We think Paul wrote it, but aren't totally sure. If Paul wrote it, he wrote it from prison...again. I've given Paul a hard time for a long time. For me, he's sometimes hard to follow and he seems to write in circles. But this letter, this letter is different. I know I've read it before but it has never clicked with me like it did this time. In this letter, Paul lays it all out there. It's honest. It's practical. It's open. It's from the heart. It's written out of pure love. In fact, it's one of the most beautiful letters I have ever read (letters from my family aside).

Paul's writing to Timothy, his friend and colleague. He knew his time was getting short and wanted Timothy to hear a few things. He's asking Timothy to get to him as quick as he can, and asks him to bring a few things with him when he comes. He's reminding Timothy of the hope of the gospel, encouraging him to be faithful, to find his strength in scripture, and letting him know that not everyone is as they appear.

That is the part of this letter that hit me between the eyes this morning, and here is what Paul said: "Avoid Godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene..." That has come up, in one way or another, in the Life Journal texts practically every day for the last week or two.

Paul encourages Timothy, also, to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth...and the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful." And that is where I have gotten stuck. Not with the being ashamed or handling the word of truth, not with the not quarrelling, or the being kind, and teaching...I can do all of that. It's the resentful part that is eating at my soul. So, here's what I'm going to do. Like Paul, I'm going to write a letter, and here it is:

"James, a servant of Christ, husband, father, and pastor,

To the one who has followed my words looking to be offended:

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I thank God for you everytime I think of you, though your identity remains a mystery. As I think about the last few weeks and months, I apologize that I am evidently not the pastor you think I should be. In fact, I'm not sure that pastor exists anywhere. We are human, and as humans, we err from time to time, in judgment, in words, and in actions. Still, we are called by God and given the strength we need to fulfill that calling in our lives.
I give thanks that you have pointed out my weaknesses, as working on them has made me a stronger pastor. I give thanks that you have caused me to guard my words more closely, so that now, I may no longer be found guilty of Godless chatter. I give thanks that because of your actions I have once again began to focus more on my wife and my daughters.

That being said, I am disappointed. The anger and hurt are gone, but I am terribly disappointed. Not in you as a person, but because of missed opportunities to shepherd one of my flock. Had you come to me personally, instead of engaging in such damaging gossip, as your pastor we could have talked about the things that bothered you and found a path to reconciliation. Since I don't know who you are, I cannot help you deal with the loneliness that you must feel, and that breaks my heart.

I will admit, in the beginning, the anger I felt towards you, and the pain your words caused me, were great. Now, that anger has turned to pity, and the pain has stirred up an inner confidence that I haven't felt in a while.

I walk into the world now, with my head held higher than I have in a while, because I know, beyond any doubt, that I am doing exactly what I was created to do. The fact that the enemy has used you to attack me only reinforces that. God created me for one storm the gates of hell, and now I have no fear of marching toward them.

Thank you. I do wish you had not chosen to hide behind anonymity, because now I can't invite you to storm the gates with me. I hold no ill feelings toward you, and extend to you the arm of peace in Christ's name. May you find the pastor you seek in one of God's other houses of worship.

The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.


Now, I have put this whole thing to rest. I am who I am, and God created me this way for a purpose.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Exclamation Point Faith...

(photo from
Ok, confession time...I hated grammar in school. My wife loves it, and that's one of the things she teaches, so when the girls have a grammar homework question, I send them to their mom. I mean, I'm decent at it, and can write and speak in complete sentences, but I don't like it. It does, however, intrigue me at times.

I love to read, and since there is no way to judge the amount of emphasis being placed on a statement by voice or facial expression, a reader is left only with punctuation as a guide. Sure, sometimes the written words themselves give you an idea of the passion behind them, but most of the time all we have is punctuation. A comma is a yellow light, slow down and take a look around. A period means stop and take a breath, but an exclamation point is a lot more passionate.

This holds true for practically all of our writings, except for those written in other languages and translated into, oh, I don't know, scripture maybe? I'm not a Greek scholar by any means. In fact, I've never formally studied Greek, but I do know that much of our New Testament was spoken originally in Greek or Aramaic (I know even less about Aramaic). Therefore all of what we have in the New Testament, (the gospels, Paul's letters, etc) has been translated from another language. I actually think that's kind of cool.

Paul had a way of letting us know just how passionate he was about some of the statements he made. He used a phrase over and over again, and honestly, if it had not been brought to my attention in seminary, I probably wouldn't have noticed it..."Me genoito!"

More than likely you have never seen "Me genoito" printed in your bible. I hadn't. But you have seen the English translation..."By no means!" Fourteen times Paul uses that phrase, and I have to say, even though I don't always agree with him, his use of "Me genoito" earns him my respect. Here's why...

He was passionate enough about what he believed to not only throw the ideas out, (usually in the form of a rhetorical question) but he was passionate enough to add this little gem as part of the answer. Now, "by no means" is really a weak translation. The translation I was taught for this phrase in seminary is more like, "Hell no!" Since we can't have Paul using language like that, it's better to go with "By no means." That's not nearly as offensive.

What this means to me today is that maybe I can let Paul guide me in how I express my faith. I promise, I will not start using profanities to make a point, but I just might start living an exclamation point faith. I just might be more apt to voice my beliefs, and then stick by them. I give Paul a lot of grief sometimes, but one thing he wasn't was spineless. He knew what he believed, was not afraid to preach Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected, wasn't afraid to call a spade a spade, was not afraid to take a beating for his faith, and wouldn't back down when the heat was turned on. I like that.

The question now becomes, how can I live an exclamation point faith without ticking off everyone I talk to? Because, honestly, Paul wouldn't stand a chance today. We are much too easily offended. How can we stand up for what we believe, show folks that we actually care about this thing we call the Christian walk with the whole "love God with everything you are, and love your neighbor as yourself" thing, and that we are serious about our role as kingdom workers without offending? Passion tempered with love. We can be passionate about who we are and what we believe, and at the same time, respect where others are in their spiritural journey. We have to meet them where they are if we ever want to bring them to where we all need to be.

And that is why I'm going to focus on leading an exclamation point life tempered with love. Will you join me? We don't have to agree on everything, in fact, we probably won't, and that's ok. But can we covenant together to become more passionate about our faith, and be more willing to let the world know just how strongly we feel about who we are as children of the Living God? Was that a "yes"? I can't say for sure, but I think I just heard the gates of hell rattle a little.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

God's Righteous Judgment...

(photo from
Yeah, that's the subtitle for part of today's Life Journal readings..."God's Righteous Judgment." It's a real feel good kind of subtitle, don't you think? Not. No one wants to think about God in that way. I mean, we know that's part of the bigger picture, but we dont' want to think about it.

I've caught a lot of flack over the years because I'm not a hellfire and damnation preacher. Never have been. It's just not my style, nor is it the way I interpret God. I preach grace, hope, justice for the downtrodden, and those kinds of things. Not to make my folks feel good, but so that we can all be reminded that even on our worst days, on the days when we feel as if we have made more mistakes than we have taken breaths, we are loved. With that being said, today, Paul speaks.

I don't always like Paul. In fact, sometimes I think what Paul really needed was a good kick in the pants, but that's just me. But there I go, doing the very thing Paul is talking about today. Not only do I not always like Paul, I don't always like reading what he wrote, or what we believe he wrote. Today, it's Romans. Not just any part of Romans, it's the first four chapters of Romans. I'm not a hellfire and damnation preacher, but today, forgive me if I seem to be a hellfire and damnation blogger. It's Paul's fault. Dang it, there I go again.

You know, the end of chapter 1 has a pretty long laundry list of sins, and it flows right into chapter two and the whole "for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself." (Remember, we added the chapter and verse divisions. Those weren't in the original.)

Paul is talking about some "they" in the last paragraph of chapter 1, then that "they" becomes "you" in the first paragraph of chapter 2. What hit me as I read that passage this morning is that, more than likely, "we" find ourselves as either a "they" or a "you." The "they" were engaging in activities that were, let's say, less than holy, and the "you" were judging the "they" for those things while engaging in the same types of behavior. Hmmm, sound familiar?

"They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil..." and he goes on and on. Then he says, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself..."

Ouch, Paul. Come on man, lighten up. I was never at the church in Rome, so I don't know exactly what was going on there. But I have been in other churches and have witnessed firsthand the destruction resulting from some of the behaviors Paul is condemning here. What I have also noticed is that it's not usually the big sins that cause the most trouble...murder, God hating, those kinds of things. The ones that usually get us are some of the others...envy, pride, arrogance, boasting...and the big one, gossipping.

James would agree with Paul on that one. "The tongue is a restless evil..." Gossip, in my opinion, is more destructive within a body of believers than a lot of the bigger sins we usually go after. It's usually quiet, sneaky, and done on the sly. But just like tossing a pebble into a pond, the ripple effects are quite far reaching. That's why I don't think it's a coincidence that Paul includes that one sin in the same list with murder and God hating. So, if you're doing it, STOP! Paul would appreciate it.

The one that gets me in that list is in chapter 2. I have a tendency to want to judge, a lot of us have that tendency. So, Paul, I'm going to keep an eye on that. I will be intentional in NOT judging the folks I meet. I will probably fail miserably, but I'm going to try. I will work to see Christ in everyone I come into contact with, recognize that I am no better than they, and that in reality, my sins might even be a little darker. Then, together with fellow believers all around the world, I will ask forgiveness, and take once again my place as a child of grace.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

He Ain't Heavy...

(photo from
I have found several versions of the song. The one we're most familiar with is from the Hollies, in 1969. Neil Diamond did it in 1970. Cher did it in 1971. Bill Medley did it in 1988. Rufus Wainwright did it for Zoolander. Bob Russel and Bobby Scott wrote the song while Bob Russel was battling, and losing to, cancer of the lymph nodes.

I've even found a couple possible origins for the title. One from a publication by Ralph Waldo Tine in 1918 where he's talking about a young Scottish girl who is carrying, best she could, a younger boy. When asked about it, she said, "He's na heavy. He's mi brither." Boys Town even had a version that they borrowed from the Louis Allis Messenger in 1941. It was a caption that said, "He ain't heavy, Mister. He's m' brother!"

I don't know why, but as I was reading the Life Journal texts for this morning, this song kept coming to mind. Honestly, I haven't heard it in forever, but it just would not go away. Maybe it was because the readings this morning are all from Matthew, and most of them talk of healings at the hands of Jesus: a leper, a centurion's servant, Peter's mother in law, a couple demon possessed men, a paralytic, a dead girl, and a man blind and mute. Then...he sends out the Twelve, and gives them power to do the same.

I immediately began to think of the men and women that I've been sent out with, harvesters in the Master's field, and this question hit me, "Who pastors the pastors?" It wasn't a selfish thought, it was just one that came to me as I thought about some of the things my colleagues are struggling with right now. Who do we go to when our worlds are crumbling?

"He ain't heavy. He's my brother." Maybe that's why the song wouldn't go away. Maybe we as clergy, have not only a responsibility to reach out to the unchurched and shepherd our flocks, but to carry each other when the need arises.

I have been blessed to experience this first hand. In the last few years, my family has become very familiar with hospital waiting rooms. When my dad had open heart surgery, the family was waiting for word from the doctor, and while we waited at least 6 of my colleagues came by to check on us. When mom and dad were in a car wreck, at least 3 of my colleagues waited with me in the emergency room. I didn't have to call them, somehow they just knew. When my daughter, and later, my wife, were admitted to the hospital, yep, colleagues came by to sit with us.

"He ain't heavy. He's my brother. She ain't heavy. She's my sister." Clergy, do you know your colleagues well enough to know when they need someone? Do you trust them enough to let them know when you need someone? Do you know if their families are healthy? Do you know what they are struggling with? How are things in their pastorates? When was the last time you met a colleague for lunch or coffee, or just spent some time together on the front porch? Have you called a co-harvester lately just to see how they are doing? Are you willing to carry your brothers and sisters? Just something to think about as we prepare to enter our busiest, and most stressful, time of the year.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Red Letter Day...

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I can't remember which highschool English teacher made me read it, but I know that I hated it then. I thought it was a stupid book, and having to read it was a waste of my time and energies. The language was archaic, with everybody saying "thou" and "thine." I guess you could say that I had very little appreciation for literary art. I doubt that I read all of it, but no doubt read enough to take the to say I had ingested its full potential would be folly.

It's been on my mind alot lately. In fact, a lot of the classics have been. Maybe I'm gearing up for a series on faith in the classics, who knows. least 22 years, maybe even 25 years, after I read it for the first time, I picked it back up, and read it again. I still couldn't get through the prologue; something about a customs house...something, something, something...yada, yada, yada. But once I got into the storyline, I actually found myself enjoying it. I'll admit, though, this time I had an agenda.

This time, I was reading this book looking for grace. It had to be there somewhere. I mean, surely Hawthorne wouldn't create such a condemned character without making, for her, a path to grace. There had to be, on at least one of those pages, a sentence, or maybe a whole paragraph, where he had written for her a scene of forgiveness.

It had been so long since I read her story that I had forgotten the vast majority of it. I remembered what she was forced to wear, and I remember the baby. I had a vague recollection of the Rev. Dimmesdale, although I couldn't remember his name, but I had totally forgotten the rest of the details. Each new page, then, became a hopeful source for the grace I was looking for.

Honestly, I didn't expect to find it in the townsfolk. As long as they kept pointing out her sin, they didn't have to focus on their own, and the sad commentary is that this remains true today. I certainly didn't expect to find it within the clergy ranks in that community. After all, Puritanism was the rule of the day. I had thought that certainly, though, she would at last come to the point where forgiveness of self could take place; and it almost did in one scene, but then she was forced to pick it up again, and pin it back in place.

This time, I remember thinking how sad this story really was. The grace that I searched for was elusive at best. But still, it had to be there. Page after page, I looked. Then I found it. The grace that had eluded me for 293 pages finally made itself known. It seems that Hester had made an escape after the minister's death, but years later, decided to come back. As she did, the token that she had worn for years didn't have the same effect. This time it was awed and revered, and I honestly don't know why, but that's what the book says.

Hester found grace, I think, through all of those troubled souls who now came to her seeking counsel. Because of what she had been through, they knew that she would understand, and would not judge them. She had spent her entire adult life seeking repentance, dealing with legalism, guilt, and shame, and finally began to find some forgiveness.

It's a beautiful commentary on what is important to society, and it makes me ask so many questions. Why do we choose one or two sins to focus on, when scripture says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God? Why do we choose one or two people, or even a group of people, as objects of hate because of something they have done? Why is the church so quick to judge, and slow to forgive? If we were to forgive as we have been forgiven, what would that look like? Can we forgive ourselves even if the rest of the world won't?

For me, and this is just Jamie, the grace that she found was that God was able to take her one moment of weakness and use it to help so many others. If God could do that for Hester, God can do that for Jamie, and for you.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Have Sent Them Into the World...

(photo from
Ok, there's a new Kid Rock CD out, and you know I have to write about it. I might even let my kids listen to this one, with the exception of a couple songs. I don't think I like "God Bless Saturday" or "Rock Bottom Blues." But, being the good Methodist that I am, I'd almost say that Kid Rock might have had some sort of Aldersgate experience, or at the very least, something has happened in his life to bring on a CD like this one. It's a lot more mellow, and almost has a Bob Seger/Eagles feel to it.

More than that, there is a lot of God talk in it. I know, that's what I thought too! Kid Rock, talking about trading his boots for forgiveness? Who'd have thought it? Part of me is suspiciuos that it's just a great marketing strategy. Church folk are one demographic that he knows he doesn't have, so hey, let's throw in some God stuff and see what happens.

The CD is "Born Free" and there is already a little controversy over the title track, but that's not the one that has hit me so far. It's the third track on the CD, titled, "Care." Now, I'm still not making the guy a saint, because he's not, but neither am I. I can see, though, that if the church opened its mind a little, Kid Rock could be somewhat of an ally. Our kids are listening to this stuff, whether we like it or not, so why not use it?

"Care"'s what it says: "cause I can't stop the war, shelter homeless, feed the poor. I can't walk on water, or save your sons and daughters. Well, I can't change the world, make things fair. But the least that I can do is care." It's a good song, with a good feel, and a message that I might not totally agree with, but that can be a great conversation starter. Personally, I think caring is only the beginning and can't be the end. Once you realize that you care about someone else's situation, then you start looking for ways that you can make a difference.

Honestly, I know that he was probably mildly intoxicated or under the influence of some other substance when most of that album was recorded, so I'm certainly not placing him on a pedestal. If there were ever a group of folks in need of repentence, it would be our rock idols.'s where the gospel of John, a new rock CD, and our call to discipleship crash head on.

I know I may get in trouble for this, but hey, I'm used to that, so here goes. John tells us in the 17th chapter of his gospel that we are sent into the world. The question I have is, "What does that look like?"

What I have noticed in the church is that we would much rather withdraw and pretend that this stuff doesn't exist. We want to close the doors and shut the world out, but that's not what Jesus said. We are sent into the world, and if we choose to go, this is what we are going to find. Now, for years, we have allowed folks like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson be the image of Christianity that the world sees, and I have to say, that just makes me sick to my stomach. Their gospel is a gospel of hate very poorly disguised as Christianity. Anything, or anyone, who does not meet their expectations must be from the pits of hell.

But what if...? What if folks started seeing that the Church was actually interested in who they were instead of who we thought they should be? So Kid Rock isn't a saint, big deal. I am curious as to the number of folks who, after hearing this CD, start asking questions of faith. My question is, "Who's going to be there to help them answer those questions?"

Are we comfortable enough with our faith to allow those conversations to take place? It's not going to go away. The world that we have been sent into is not going to get any long as we continue to circle the wagons. It will only begin to turn around, in my opinion and this is just Jamie, when we embrace the fact that Jesus Christ himself sent us into the world and take with us a message of repentence and grace.

So, here's how I'm going to start out my renewed mission in the world..."Hey, I heard that Kid Rock has a new CD out this week. Let's sit down and talk about it. Can you really care about someone if you know what they need and don't do anything about it?"

Peace,(or discomfort at easy answers)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Three of These Things...

(photo from
If you are like me, and grew up watching some of the things I grew up watching, you are now trying to get that song out of your head. You know which one I'm talking about, and I'll bet, you're singing it in your mind right now.

"Three of these things belong together. Three of these things are kind of the same. Can you guess which one of these doesn't belong here? Now it's time to play our game. It's time to play our game."

There's another version:

"Three of these kids belong together. Three of these kids are kind of the same. But one of these kids is doing her own thing. Now it's time to play our game. It's time to play our game."

Now, you'll be singing that all day and you are most welcome. I still love Sesame Street, even at very nearly 40 years old.

Have you ever felt like you were the one doing your own thing? Everyone else seems to be doing or being one thing, but you just don't fit in? Most of us, if we're honest, have felt that way at least once, some of us never seem to be able to get away from it.

I tighty rolled my jeans in high school. Everyone tighty rolled their jeans in high school in the '80's. I had a mullet in high school. Practically all of the guys had a mullet in the '80's. There was something in me, then, that caused me to think I had to fit in, be like everyone else. I give thanks that I outgrew that.

Paul talks about celebrating the way God created you. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about the fact that we are all different parts of the same body, which in essence means we were created differently for a purpose. I love the fact that the feet should celebrate being feet. The hands should celebrate being the hands. The ears are not the eyes, but where would the body be without them?

I grew up in an all white, middle class, rural church. I have served 9 churches so far in my career; all white, middle class, mostly rural churches. This is all I've ever known. December of 2008, I spent a week splitting time between Arizona and Mexico, and my eyes were opened to something. On Sunday morning we went to worship, and worship was led in three different languages: English, Spanish, and native Tohono O'odom. It was amazing!

Hands were allowed to be hands. Feet were allowed to be feet. Ears were celebrated because they were ears. There were no expectations that you should become something else. I think that for the first time, I got a glimpse of the reality of the fact that the body was made up of so many different parts, and we celebrated that. Sure, I only understood 1/3 of what was going on, but it didn't bother me. I might have understood more of the service had it all been in English, led by European Americans, because that's what I can relate to, but what I witnessed was the beauty of celebrating who we are and how we were created.

Here's where I may get into trouble...if the church you are attending is asking you to be something you're not, leave. No, wait, don't leave. Find a way to celebrate who you are in their midst. Help the Kingdom break out all around you. I guarantee that what is different about you is beautiful in the eyes of the Creator.

Paul ends this section in 1 Corinthians with a seque into the next line of thought..."And now I will show you the most excellent way." Jump ahead into chapter 13 to see what he's talking about.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Psalm 122 People...

(photo from
His name was Norm, and I was blessed to be his pastor. I don't think his family would mind me sharing this. Mr. Norm was around 90 when I was introduced to him. He was a saint, and very rarely missed a service. Sunday morning, he was there. Sunday night, he was there. When we started a second service to reach out to the twenty-somethings, he was there. He never one time complained about the electric guitars, drums, videos, blue jeans, shorts, and the coffee that flowed during that service, as so many others in that church did. He was just tickled to be there.

One Tuesday night, I got a phone call from Mr. Norm's son. He had taken Norm to the hospital that afternoon because Norm had fallen. Mr. Norm was at all 3 services the Sunday before, but remember he's over 90 now, and a fall at that age can be life threatening, so I got up and went to the hospital.

When I walked into his room, he literally looked like he had been mugged. This saint of the Most High God was bruised from head to toe. Deep purple and black bruises, and they covered practically every part of his body except his face. But...they weren't new bruises. This fall had not happened that day, and you could tell just by looking at him.

I asked him, "Mr. Norm, when did you fall?" He raised his head with what strength he could muster, and said, "Oh, last Saturday, I think."

I asked him, "Did you go to the doctor when you fell?" He said, "No, I didn't go."
Then I said, "Mr. Norm, why not?"

I will never forget this next moment as long as I live and breathe. He looked into my eyes, and said..."I didn't want to miss church Sunday." He knew that if he went to the doctor on Saturday, they would admit him into the hospital and he wouldn't be able to be at church on Sunday.

"I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'" - Psalm 122

I have been blessed to lead worship in many different places and in more than one different style. We have worshipped in beautiful sanctuaries, in the basement of a conference center, under a shade tree out back, by a creek, and looking out over the lake. I have been a part of worship with a pipe organ that you can literally feel in the very core of your body, and I have worshipped with a seven piece band, a full orchestra, an acoustic guitar, or no music at all.

What I don't see much in a lot of worship experiences is joy. Real, honest to goodness, joy. Maybe it's just because I'm Methodist and somewhere in our 300 year history we have convinced ourselves that enthusiasm was bad and that signs of joy should be checked at the door with our wet umbrellas. I see a lot of sleepy faces and distant looks. I see a lot of closed mouths when the hymns are being lifted to heaven. I have seen one or two hands raised in worship, but only one or two because we have been taught that we can't look silly in front of God. I'm just not convinced that we are Psalm 122 people anymore.

Mr. Norm lived for worship, and was an active part of that congregation until the last couple months of his life. He brought with him a spirit of pure joy when he came to worship; no pretention, no unrealistic expectations out of clergy or congregation, no worries about image or what other people think, no sense of duty, just the desire, nay, the need to spend time in the presence of his Creator.

This is just Jamie, and I own that up front, but I feel that in a lot of places we have become so concerned about our image that we have no room left in our spirits for rejoicing. We are too guarded, and I'm just as guilty.

But not Norm. If I have met one person in my ministry who has taught me about the spirit I need to bring with me to worship, it was Norm. I'd love to be a fly on heaven's wall just for a minute, just so that I could watch Norm do what Norm did best...rejoice in the presence of God. Psalm 122, I absolutely love that one.


Friday, November 5, 2010

I Yam What I Yam...

(photo from
He is a middle aged sailor with thinning hair, a "squinky" eye, bulging forearms, a corncob pipe, 2 anchor tattoos, and a can of spinach hidden somewhere on his person. He's not much to look at, and even less to listen too, with a voice that can be described as "gravelly" at best, but he is what he is. He'll even tell you that, "I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam."

I grew up with Popeye. I guess it was already in syndication by then, but it was a staple of my cartoon diet as a kid. I loved the constant good vs. bad scenarios and the way that Popeye loved Olive Oyl. I even loved the fact that Bluto, every now and then, had a soft moment. It very seldom lasted very long, but it happened occasionally.

Without going back and researching every episode, I can't remember any, or at the very least, many times when Popeye pretended to be something other than what he was...a sailor with a weak spot for a skinny brunette. I'm sure it happened, but I can't think of any at the moment, and I have to say that is what I appreciate about him.

He didn't pretend. "I yam what I yam, and that's all that I yam." I love that! It is so transparent and honest. When you tuned in you got the same Popeye today that you would get tomorrow. If a cartoon can be real, he was. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Scripture even gives us some examples.

The Life Journal readings for today come from Job and Galatians. Paul, if indeed Paul wrote the letter to the folks in Galatia, is writing to encourage them to stand strong in the face of persecution. Evidently things were getting tough in Galatia and the church was beginning to see that this wasn't going to be easy. Not even the leadership in the early church was exempt from the struggle.

Paul listed three men who were "pillars" of the early movement; James, John, and Cephas. But there was a problem. One of three wasn't exactly what he appeared to be. Paul says that he even "opposed him to his face" in Antioch because of it. You see, Cephas had no problem sitting down at the table with his Gentile buddies, and I can imagine they would laugh and cut up, and have a large time together. But...when certain folks came into town, Cephas abandoned his Gentile buddies. Why? Because it would look bad for him to be seen eating and carrying on with them. They weren't circumcised and therefore, weren't some of "ours."

Now, I certainly understand and appreciate the power of self preservation, but I think it would have been a lot better for all involved had Cephas just been honest. Either tell the Gentiles that he couldn't eat with them because it was against Jewish law, or tell the men that came from James that he was called by God to include even the Gentiles in his kingdom work. Popeye would have.

What if we in the Church were that honest on a global scale? I mean, one of the greatest condemnations I have heard about the Church is that it's full of hypocrites. I'm sure you've heard that too. So what if we could fix that? I know it wouldn't solve all of our problems, but that would be one less image to overcome.

Just be who you are, as individuals, and as churches. I guarantee that folks will appreciate the honesty. They might not come worship with you, but they will appreciate the honesty. The question we have to ask ourselves, then, is: "Are we ok with that?"


Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Gospel Train Wreck...

(photo from
I have read that story hundreds of times but I still get choked up when I read it now. It never gets old. I have read it from the pulpit. I have read it in every different gospel account we have of it. I have read it in the morning, and at night by candlelight. I've read it as we've stripped the sanctuary, removed everthing in the whole place that was symbolic of Christ. I've watched it on the big screen and in more than one documentary. It never gets old. It's the crucifixion scene in Mark's gospel.

I try to put myself in the scene...hear the sounds...see the the anger of the crowd, and the pain of his family. I have wanted to be a fly on the wall as Pilate tried to decide his fate, and watch him waffle between doing what was right and pacifying an angry mob to keep Rome off of his back. I have sat with a broken heart and read about how those leading the church also led the charge to have the Son of God murdered, and I've said before that it wasn't the Jews that killed him, it was fear. I have wondered what was going through Judas' mind when he realized that the scene unfolding before him was not at all what he had intended, but that now it was way too late to stop it.

It's almost like watching a train wreck. You want to turn away, but you just can't. You want to stop reading, but are somehow drawn back into the story. We've read it enough now that we know how it ends, but we read it over and over again. And the description we get of the brutality doesn't even scratch the surface. I can't imagine what he went through...and why. Then I think about what we have turned it into.

Politics...heated discussions over which type of worship is best...watered down gospel so as not to offend...cliques...parking lot's like watching a train wreck. You don't want to watch, but you can't look away. Oh it's not everywhere, certainly, but it's in enough places, and it keeps us from being the resurrection people we have been called to be.

Maybe I'm just a sentamentalist, I don't know. Maybe I'm still new enough at this that I'm overly optimistic and naive. Maybe it's just that Christmas is just around the corner and Easter is on the horizon. Maybe I have realized that I have, at most, 32 years left in my career to make all of the difference I can for the kingdom. Maybe I have realized that I'm just as much a part of the problem and want to be part of the solution instead.

Whatever it is, it has made me look at this scene differently today, and I ask you to do the same.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Need a Favor, Jesus...

(photo from
I can just picture it, and I have to is funny. It is in Mark 10, and happens after a very somber teaching moment between Jesus and the Twelve. Jesus had been going along, doing the stuff Jesus did, and the disciples were following, probably only paying about half as much attention as they should have been.

This is all happening right on the heels of the Transfiguration and the healing of the demon possessed boy at the bottom of the mountain. Jesus has already told the disciples that whoever is not against them is for them, and that if they see someone doing things in His name to just leave them alone and let them do it. He has thrown out some teachings on sin and divorce, and has already gathered the little children in his arms, then chewed the disciples out for trying to keep the kids away from him. Now, he hasn't just once, or even twice...but three times, tried to tell the Twelve what was going to happen to him.

"They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 'We are going up to Jerusalem,' he said, 'and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise. Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. 'Teacher,' they said, 'we want you to do for us whatever we ask...'

See what happens when we take out the chapter and verse separations? James and John didn't hear a word he said. They were too busy thinking about what he could do for them. I'm guilty too. I've done it. In fact, I'll bet we have all done it. I will admit though, until I went into the ministry, I didn't realize I had been doing it. I didn't realize that I was giving my time to worship, and my body to worship, but not always giving my mind to worship. I was busy going over my to-do list, or thinking about lunch, or where the race was that afternoon, or how nice a Sunday afternoon nap would be. I might have been thinking about something I had asked God for but hadn't gotten yet, or...well, you see what I mean.

When I started planning worship, and then later as I was trained on how to plan worship, I began directing everything towards one moment in the service...the invitation. The music...the liturgy...the scripture...the message, all point to that one moment. Call it a response to the word, an altar call, invitation, whatever language you might choose, but the entire service is pointing to a moment where we can respond to whatever it is that Jesus has said to us during that time. Sometimes it's more overt than others. Sometimes it's very subtle, but it's always there...and then it happens...

The music was great...the scripture spoke...the message wasn't too bad...the invitation has been extended, and then...wait for it...somebody in the congregation says, "Oh wait, I forgot to say something..." or "Jamie, can I make an announcement?" And that is the sound of the wind being sucked out of the sails of worship. Oh, it doesn't happen often, usually only once or twice a year, but when it does I can't help but giggle, even in frustration, because evidently some of the Twelve did it too. What's cool is that God can even use those moments. Yeah, worship didn't end as I had it pictured in my head, so what? Worship is bigger than what I had planned for that day anyhow.

Jesus could have done what practically every parent has done when James and John pulled that little stunt, "Boys! Dang it! You didn't hear a word I just said, did you? I have told you three times and you still aren't listening! Don't make me pull over!" But he didn't. He took it in stride, and turned even that moment into one of the greatest teaching moments on humility in the scriptures. I think this is a very honest look at his inner circle. We forget that they were just as human as we are.
So, here's what I'm going to do, and I ask you to try it with me. The next time we go into a house of worship, let's go in body, soul, and mind...all of it. For one hour, turn off the outside world. For one hour, give God what is due. Forget about lunch. Forget about the meetings coming up that week. Forget about what you didn't get done before church, and just be. I'll bet, I can't guarantee, but I'll bet you'll come away more transformed than you ever thought possible.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Walk Around Me Jesus, Walk Around...

I'll never forget him as long as I live. His name is Gary, and I had the privilege of welcoming him into the family of faith. Gary is a simple man, and a bachelor. In fact, he is one of the simplest people I know. It doesn't take much to make him happy, and I don't think it ever will. He just showed up one morning at a church I was serving, wearing old bluejeans, a T-shirt, and a ball cap. When he dressed up, it was in his one good flannel shirt...and ball cap.

We hit it off immediately. He came up to me after attending a couple weeks, asked if he could help with the music, and I told him that he absolutely could. We practiced on Tuesday nights for the non-traditional service and Gary showed up that very week. When he picked up a guitar, he was transformed. He became more confident. His face even seemed to change, but he couldn't read a lick of music. Everything was played by ear, and if I remember correctly, the first song he played was, "Walk around me Jesus."

I hate bluegrass, with a few exceptions. Always have, but when Gary played that song, I melted. It came from his heart. There was not a pretentious bone in his body and when Gary played, he played for God and God alone. Now, why did I tell you about Gary? Because that song was what came to me when I read this morning's Life Journal readings.

Today we're in Mark 6. My absolute favorite chapter in Mark's gospel. I have read that chapter at least a hundred times. It's my go to when I'm asked to do an impromptu devotional. It's got the story of the feeding of the 5000, and the flashback to the time when John was martyred. In Mark 6 Jesus calls the disciples away to get some rest, and then there is the story about Jesus walking on the water. That is where scripture meets real life for me today.

Look at the story again. Jesus had just finished feeding the 5000. The disciples had just picked up the leftovers and cleaned up the kitchen. Jesus didn't even let them sit down after supper. Immediately, he made them get into a boat. He stood there watching and saw they were having some trouble. So instead of borrowing a boat, he just started walking. Here is the "Aha!" moment for me this time...

"He was about to pass by them..."

Have you ever noticed that before? I'm sure I had, but something clicked this time. It jumped out at me and screamed, "Look at me!" Jesus didn't walk on the water straight to the terrified disciples who were getting tossed around in a little boat, he was going to walk past them. What kind of Jesus walks past you when you're in a storm?

Now, I'm not questioning his motives, well not much anyhow, and I'm certainly not in a position to judge, but part of me is absolutely dying to find out why he was about to pass by them. Maybe he thought the disciples just couldn't handle seeing him walking ON TOP of the water, so he was going to flank them and slip into the boat unseen. Maybe he was wanting to see if they would recognize him. Maybe he had walked out there to guide them on across. I have no clue.

I do know this, though. There are folks all over who are in the midst of a great storm, battling against the oars, straining with all they've got, and still getting nowhere. There is a world full of folks who desperately want Jesus to walk around them, but all they can seem to see is Jesus walking on past them. This is where we come in.

Our role is not to judge, condemn, or criticize, but to welcome those who look to us with questions in their hearts, years of struggle written on their brows, and tears in their eyes and remind them that even though the storm is raging, and the boat is being tossed like a ragdoll, and it seems as if Jesus has walked past them and out of sight, he hasn't. He is in fact, walking around them.

That's a great image. Jesus...Second Person of the Trinity...Prince of Peace...Wonderful Counselor...and now...Night Watchman...walking around and protecting that which is dear to him in the midst of their storm.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cutting Holes...

(photo from
I used to hate doing it. When someone would call me and say, "I've got a spot on my roof that needs to be fixed" I knew what it was going to mean. I was a contractor, and calls like that were common. I'd load my ladder in the truck, head to the house, climb up and assess the situation. Sometimes, it was as simple as taking my flat-bar, sliding it under a couple shingles, popping a few nails loose, sliding a new shingle in, and nailing it all back down.

Sometimes, however, I'd get on the roof and see immediately that this was going to be big. The shingles would have to be taken of, I'd have to get the saw out and cut a hole in the roof decking, nail in more supports, replace the decking, replace the shingles, and say a little prayer that we didn't get a blowing rain until they had sealed. Those kinds of jobs were an all day deal. It was dirty, hard on the hands, and made my back scream.

I'm not the only one that has ever had to cut a hole in a roof, though. Mark's gospel has a great story about a hole in a roof. You see, Jesus couldn't go anywhere now because the stories of what he was doing had gotten out into the community. Everywhere he went crowds surrounded him. People were bringing their sick family members, and those that were demon possessed. Each one of them hoping to get close enough that Jesus could heal them.

I can imagine the scene, and I'm guessing that the folks crowding around Jesus the closest were the disciples, those who had decided to sign up as followers. Now, I don't know that for a fact, but I can imagine that would be the case. Then, further back in the crowd were the ones looking for healing, and maybe behind them, hanging back a bit, were those who were just curious. There had to be some kind of heirarchy, even in that group.

Then, maybe entering from stage right, come four guys carrying another guy on some kind of litter, a stretcher. They've heard about this guy Jesus and care enough about their friend to get in touch with each other, meet at his house, pick him up, and carry him to where Jesus is. Imagine the way their hearts must have sank when they saw the obstacles keeping them from him. The crowd was huge! There was no way they would be able to get their buddy close enough for Jesus to even know he was there, much less heal him...but then they saw their way in.

They might have known whose house it was, but they might not have. They knew that if they could open up a big enough hole in the roof, they could drop him down right in front of the Master. It was brilliant! Except for the fact that it wasn't their house, nor was it their roof, and scripture doesn't say who went back and patched the roof.

This story has gotten me thinking this morning. What lengths are we willing to go to in order to get someone to Christ? There are so many obstacles in their way, even today. Oh, we don't notice the obstacles anymore, because to us, they're not obstacles...but to someone on the edge of the crowd, scanning the scene, looking for a way in, these obstacles might as well be as tall as the roof of a house. What are they? You know what I'm going to traditions, church dress, church image, "that's my pew" mentality, "we've never done it that way before" kind of thinking, and the list goes on and on. Anything that we are doing, which prevents someone from feeling comfortable enough to approach Christ, should be reconsidered.

I wish Mark had given us more details. We know that Jesus noticed the lengths these guys went to so that their friend could be brought to the Great Physician. I wonder if he looked up above his head, saw what was going on, stopped what he was doing, and just grinned. You know it had to make him smile. He must have been tickled that these guys didn't care what it took, or what it cost them. Their friend was going to get to Mark does give us one tiny little hint.

"When Jesus saw THEIR faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" Then, when the folks in the crowd got on to him for it, he took it a step further and said, "Get up, take up your mat, and go home." And then the guy walked right through the crowd. That, my friends, is the power of the gospel for those who can get close enough to hear it.

I would cut a hole in a roof without batting an eye.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Haven of Rest...

(Check out this link)

(photo from
Ok, I admit, I have a soft side for The Cathedrals. I'm not a southern gospel kind of guy at all. My style is straight up new traditional (thanks for that, Adam Hamilton) but...when I hear Glen Payne at the mic, I absolutely melt. There's a link above the picture if you want to melt too. I did go through a southern gospel phase when I first entered the ministry, even took dad to see Gold City in concert, but I have found a home in the music of Chris Tomlin, Third Day, Jennifer Knapp, Kutless, Toby Mac and folks like that.

This morning, however, I cannot get "The Haven of Rest" out of my head. I'm at Lakeshore United Methodist Assembly in Eva, TN for a meeting of the Fellowship of the Orders of Elders, Deacons, and Local Pastors. It's early. The sun is not even up yet, but is getting ready to come up over the lake. It's quiet. There's only a couple other people up right now. It's peaceful...almost a haven of rest.

I don't know which part of that phrase, "haven of rest," hits me harder this morning. Rest is always welcome, and I take it when I can get it. But I'm not sure that the part of that phrase resounding more strongly for me this morning is not the "haven" part. You know what that is, right?

I found a definition at that says a haven is a "harbor or anchorage; a port." or it is a "place of refuge or rest; a sanctuary." That is an awesome image. I have realized just how important having all of those are recently, not just the sanctuary or place of refuge and rest. Those are great too, and I'm thankful that I got to be here for this meeting this week. But I have realized recently just how important it is to have an anchorage, you know, something to tie off to when the waves begin beating against you.

Ministry, whether as a profession or not, if you do it right and do it well, will leave you looking for something to remain anchored to. I've said this before and I guess I say it again this morning to remind myself more than anything, if you sign up to follow Jesus and not just admire Jesus, you had better make sure you are anchored to Jesus.

For me, personally, when I signed up for this I knew that there would be long days and that, at times, my work would be physically exhausting. I knew that there would be days of great sadness and days of great joy. I knew that there would be times when I questioned why I was doing this at all. I knew the nature of the institution, and that at times confidences would be broken. I knew there would be costs to my family, there would be stress, there would be days when I just wanted to hide. I knew all of this, but signed up anyhow, and I have never regretted it for one minute.

Why? Because I'm anchored. I know where I can find a haven of rest. I have never been more sure of my call than I am right now. I know who holds me up and who keeps me from sinking when I'm called out of the boat, and I hope you know that the same is being offered to you.

So, answer the call. Say, "Here I am Lord, send me." Step out of the boat and feel the water at your feet, but remember before you do any of that, find your anchor and hold on. It may get a little rough, the storms may blow, the winds may howl, the waves may crash, but I guarantee you, your anchor is going to hold.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It Gets Better...

(photo from

Ok, I have to own something today. This blog is not about the life journal. I read the readings this morning, but today there is something else bothering me. I saw a news story from ABC News this morning and then saw another one from the Houston Chronicle, and they bothered me. If you are easily offended, or narrow minded, please stop reading. Before I go any further, I just want to say again, this is my blog...these are my thoughts...and if you don't like it, you don't have to read it.

His name was Asher. He was 13, and his parents buried him last month. He shot himself in the 13 years old. 'Why?' you may ask. I'll get to that in a minute.

His name was Tyler. He was 18, and his parents buried him last month. He jumped off of the George Washington bridge. 'Why?' you may ask. I'll get to that in a minute.

His name was Seth. He was 13, and his parents buried him last month. He hanged himself from a tree in his back 13 years old. 'Why?' you may ask. Just a second.

His name was Billy. He was 15, and his parents buried him last month. He hanged himself from the rafters in a 15 years old. 'Why?' you may ask. Because he had been bullied, just like Tyler, Asher, and Seth.

My heart breaks for these families. I can't imagine the pain they are going through right now. I can't imagine the questions they will never find answers for. I can't imagine the struggles they are going through wondering what else they could have done to prevent the deaths of their kids. Suicide is tough enough to deal with, but when you factor in the reason these boys felt their only option was death, it magnifies the overall effect.

Maybe I'm just naive, I don't know, but it looks to me like if a person felt so much hate for another person, or their way of life, that they would continue harassing that person until they were driven to suicide, somewhere we have missed the message of grace.

Oh, I forgot to mention why they were harassed...they were either gay or perceived as being gay.

Now, when I hear stories like this, it stops being about whether or not I agree with the lifestyle, because honestly, it's not for me. But last time I checked, I had not been appointed judge nor executioner. There are way too many pastors and church folk who have assumed that role for themselves, so I refuse to play their game. When I hear stories like this, I see ministry potential, and I ask myself, "How could the church have shown these kids that God loves them regardless?"

Honestly, I don't want to hear "But the bible calls it an abomination." Yeah, well, the bible also speaks about gluttony as one of the seven deadly sins...think about that the next time you belly up to the buffet. (Our stomachs are the size of our fists, compare that to the pile of short ribs on your plate). You may say, "You're a pastor, it's your job to condemn sin." Ok, I'll give you that, but you had better be ready for me to condemn your sins too. I'll preach against all of them if you want, or...I can preach grace. Your choice.

I have to admit that I don't have the whole story for any of these deaths. I don't know how long it had been going on. I don't know what the circumstances were. I don't know what help had already been offered, or denied. I just know that there are 4 kids who couldn't see that life really does get better, and now there are 4 families with an empty seat at the dinner table.

So, here's the question, and one I've struggled with for a while: "Is it more important for me to keep a legalistic understanding of a 4000 year old set of laws, or is it more important to see that I'm a sinner, saved by grace, and therefore have no right to condemn anyone else?"

Oh, and if you look around today, you might notice a lot of folks wearing purple. They have heard stories like Tyler's, Asher's, Walt's, and Billy's and have realized that it's time for the hate to stop. And one sidenote, if you know of anyone who may have had suicidal thoughts, please let them know that it really does get better.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Picnic Blankets...

(photo from
There's just something about them, isn't there? I mean, I don't understand why we do it. Steph and I have a nice dining room table and chairs, just bought them this summer. The house is air conditioned, and relatively insect free, but there's something within us that causes us to load up a cooler and picnic basket, drag them out to the Explorer, drive for an hour or so, pack the cooler (which is way heavier now than it was in the kitchen for some reason) and spread all of our food out on a blanket on the ground.

I don't know what it is, but I have to say, I really enjoy doing it. We try to do that with our girls 4 or 5 times a year and they love it too. It's usually a day trip to the Land Between the Lakes or Shawnee National Forest. We usually go on a little hike or hit one of the attractions, but we all know that the most important thing is the picnic.

Did you know that scripture even mentions picnic blankets? Yep, right there in the Book of Acts. Peter is sitting on the roof of his house one morning and thinks, "Man, I'm hungry." And while his meal is being prepared he has a vision of this sheet being let down from heaven with all of this food on it, but there's a problem. Peter was a good Jew and all of the food on that blanket was food he had been taught all of his life that he couldn't eat.

Then he hears a voice, which he can only assume to be God, tell him that it's ok to eat because whatever God has made clean is good to go. This didn't just happen once, but three times. Evidently, someone really wanted him to get the message. But...there's a catch.

This picnic scene really wasn't about food. Peter probably didn't realize it at first, but he would in a couple days. You see, just as the picnic blanket was being pulled up for the last time, 3 men were being sent to fetch Peter for a man named Cornelius. Now, in case you missed it, Cornelius is not a Hebrew name...which meant he was a Gentile...which meant that Peter, being the good Jewish man that he was...couldn't associate with them. Er go, the importance of that little picnic scene.

God has told him, through something that was sure to get his (he was a guy, and everyone knows the best way to our hearts is through our stomachs), that it was okay for him to sit down with Cornelius, and even spend a few days with him...and he did! That is huge!

Think for a few minutes about the folks we feel are unclean, how different would our worlds be if God showed us that they weren't? How would it change their life, but just as important, how would it change ours? And we've all got those folks. For me, and I'm just being honest, it was the person living on the street...then God showed me that they were human too, and even allowed me to sit down and share a soup kitchen bologna sandwich with a new friend who just happened to be homeless. It absolutely changed my entire world. I think that all he wanted out of me was to be treated as equal, and I admit, at first it was tough. But sharing that sandwich changed everything. It was a holy moment for me.

So, look for ways this week to take that which you thought to be unclean and see it in a new light: the homeless person...the addict...the prisoner...the poor...the AIDS victim...whoever it might be for you...and follow Peter's lead. I'll bet it will be a life changing experience for everyone involved.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ministry of Presence...

(photo from
I'm not a very patient man, I admit it. Last night I was watching Dual Survival with Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin and I said to Steph that I wished I were more like Cody. He never gets in a hurry, never rushes through anything, seems so calm, speaks softly, and if he doesn't have anything to say that will contribute to the conversation, he just doesn't say anything. That is an awesome character trait.

In the earlier years of my ministry, I felt like anytime someone had a problem it was my bounden duty to have the right words to say, and I would keep trying until I was satisfied that I had said the right thing. Unfortunately, sometimes I never got to that place and just wound up sounding stupid and fumbling for words.

This morning, the Life Journal readings have at least 3 great stories in them. One is the stoning of Stephen, God bless his soul. That man wouldn't shut up even when they started throwing the stones. He kept on saying what he felt led to say and it got him killed. I think he is part of the reason I am the way I am. But I digress. The second story is of the choosing of the first deacons. This group was upset that their widows weren't being taken care of like that group's widows so they started complaining to the disciples and the disciples had them choose 7 men to take charge of that. But the one I'm going to land on this morning is the Old Testament text, the story of Job.

Now, I'm not going to hit on the whole "poor Job, lost everything he had but look how patient he was..." deal because Job wasn't at all patient. Job threw a freakin' fit and demanded a one on one, face to face with God. He appeared patient in the first few chapters, I think, because he was in shock. But that's not what hit me this morning. It was his friends.

Yeah, his friends. Do you remember what they did? They had heard about everything that had happened to him, got together, and went to him. It's beautiful. They wept when they saw the shape he was in and sat down with him. For seven days they sat there and never spoke a word. For seven days they were just there with him. We don't know what they did for those seven days, but we know what they didn't do... "No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was." That is a ministry of presence.

It's an amazing thing to watch. When someone we know finds themselves at a place in their life when the walls have caved in, and they can't even think beyond their next breath, what they need is someone to just be with them. They don't need fancy words, and they don't need for someone to find the right thing to say. They need someone to hold them while the cry, to listen while they rant, to let them know just by their presence that God has not left them, and that God's heart is breaking right along with theirs.

If only we could do more of that and less of the talking. I never cease to be amazed at some of the stupid things I've heard people say to other people in a time of crisis. At the death of a child, I actually heard someone say to the mother, and this is a direct quote: "You just have to accept this as part of God's perfect plan..." Would someone please tell me how that helped her. I can't speak for her, but I do know from listening to her that she was already struggling with theodicy (justice of God) issues, and now she gets to add to that the thought that God planned for her baby to die. Please.

This is one area where we inside the church have a lot of work to do. We feel that there is an explanation for everything that happens and we have to keep trying until we have convinced the one in pain of that. The truth is, we live in a fallen world, and sometimes, things just happen. That doesn't mean that, at some point, we won't see how God can redeem any particular situation, but there is not always a reason why it happened.

God needs us to be a source of God's presence in a hurting world, not necessarily to have the right words all the time. Now, that doesn't mean that there is never a time to try to make some sense out of a situation, or that sometimes, what someone needs is to hear "I love you and so does God, and we are both here with you in your pain." Maybe, taking a few days to pray for the right words is not a bad idea. Job's friends had this one nailed. They knew there was nothing they could say that would make Job feel better about what had just happened to him, so they didn't say anything. They knew that any attempt at an explanation would be empty and shallow at best. And they held out for a week before they messed up and opened their mouths. Dang, so close.

God, help me keep my eyes open and let me know when to keep my mouth closed. Let me be your presence more and your voice less. And God, please, let me speak only when you have given me the words to say.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alms For an Old Ex-Leper...

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Ok, it's stupid and irreverent. It's more than just a little offensive to a lot of church folk. But I can laugh at myself, even as a Christian, and I try not to get offended by the everyday things. It's "The Life of Brian," a Monty Python flick, and it's not quite as well known as "The Holy Grail." But it's funny, at least for the not so easily offended. Still, I don't recommend it, so if you watch it, don't say that I told you to.
It's a total spoof of practically everything in the gospels so I'm not going to recommend it to any of my folks, but there is still some good stuff in it. From the very beginning of the movie, Brian is being exalted as a messiah (Which literally means one who is anticipated as a liberator. We have made it a religious term) and all the way through the movie he tries to deny it, but folks just won't listen. Even his mum tries to convince the townsfolk that he's not the messiah..."He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy."

There is one scene, however, that made me stop and think about something. We have all kinds of healing stories in the scriptures. Jesus was always healing this person of that, or casting demons out of that person, opening the eyes of this person, or restoring that person. And I've wondered what happened to these folks after their healing. I mean, we get some of the stories: one blind man gets kicked out of the temple because Jesus healed leper out of ten comes back to give thanks... But were there any folks who had been healed that had just as soon he had left them alone?

What I have wondered is this: were there any who were more comfortable in their disease than in their healing? In this scene from "The Life of Brian" there is...

Ex-leper: "Okay sir, my final offer; half a shekel for an ol' ex-leper?"
Brian: "Did you say, 'ex-leper'?"
Ex-leper: "That's right sir. 16 years behind a veil, and proud of it."
Brian: "Well, what happened?"
Ex-leper: "Oh, cured, sir."
Brian: "Cured?"
Ex-leper: "Yes sir, bloody miracle, sir. Bless you!"
Brian: "Who cured you?"
Ex-leper: "Jesus did, sir. I was hopping along, minding my own business, all of a sudden, up he
comes, cures me! One minute I'm a leper with a trade, next minute my livelihood's
gone. Not so much as a by your leave! "You're cured, mate!" Bloody do-gooder."

He was perfectly content in his dis-ease. Now that he's been healed, he has to get up and do something. Hmmm, now there's a thought. Someone who was once outcast by a condition, encountered the healing touch of Christ, and now realizes that because of that healing, there are things to be done. I wonder if they ever wanted to go back to business as usual. I wonder if they ever thought, "You know, it wasn't the best scenario, but it wasn't really that bad..." I wonder if they had ever thought about a compromise, you know, being healed some from what they were, so that they can function in society again, but not so much that the people around them were going to have very high expectations.

Brian: "Well, why don't you go and tell him you want to be a leper again?"
Ex-leper: "Uh, I could do that, sir, yeah. Yeah, I could do that, I suppose. What I was thinking
was that I was going to ask him if he could make me a bit lame in one leg during the
middle of the week. You know, something beggable, but not leprosy, which is a pain
in the *** to be blunt, and excuse my French, sir."

I think that if we're honest, we can look and find that most of us have some of the ex-leper mentality. We want to be healed as long as we don't have to do much afterward. We don't really want to be like we were, but we're not quite sure that we're ready to be what we have been re-created to be.

We know that since we've been healed, Jesus is going to put us to work. Maybe if we held on to a little bit of our dis-ease (hyphen intentional) then we can still celebrate the healing without being put to work. I don't know, but I do know has been my experience so far that the folks who have been healed the most are usually the first ones on the battle front. They don't want to go back to the way they were, and can't wait to be put to work for the kingdom. So, maybe a little dis-ease wouldn't be a bad thing for a lot of us. It would remind us just how powerful the One we serve really is, and from where it is we have been brought.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Holy Hand Grenade...

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Wednesday, before I started getting ready to come to Kansas City, my girls and I sat down and watched Monty Python (one of the greatest movies of all time, by the way. Just saying.) If you've ever seen it, you will remember the Book of Armaments and the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. It's almost a contradiction in terms, really, holy hand grenade. But there it is, and here's how you're supposed to use it.

"And the Lord spake, saying, 'First shall thou take out the holy pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thou foe, who being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.'"

Ok, it's pretty stupid, I admit. But dog gone it's funny. Sadly thou, it's not completely without scriptural support. Jesus didn't tell the disciples to lob the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards their foes, but he did tell them to be armed for the battle that was ahead.

Luke 22:36 is where it starts. "He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors;' and I tell you this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching fulfillment."

Then the disciples looked around and said, "Look Jesus, here's a couple." Then he told them that would do.

What do we do with the fact that Jesus tells the disciples that they are going to need swords to be who they are being called to be after he is gone? For me, this is just another reminder of two things: one, that what we are to be about is not just about "us", those on the inside. I've said that before and I'll keep saying it until churches start turning their focus away from what they want and need, to the needs of the greater parish. Two, that who we are, if we truly follow Jesus, will not be easy.

This may sound like broken record stuff, but folks just aren't getting it. This is not easy. Being Jesus followers in today's world is tough. For crying out loud, being Jesus followers in some of today's churches is tough. Folks will hate you for the things you are called to do, say, and be. Folks will call you names. Folks will threaten you if you get too close. But...none of this caught Jesus by surprise.

Here's the beautiful part, though. It's not about carrying a holy hand grenade, or even a sword. We have something much greater keeping us proctected. So, don't be scared to stand up. Don't be afraid to speak up. God has got your back.

So, dream with me. Adam Hamilton told us yesterday not to give up, to keep dreaming about what can be, to not just look at the decline but to hope for the future. And that my friends, is where I'm going to put my energy now.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Rose Colored Glasses

(photo from
"Confession is good for the soul." That's what they say, whoever "they" are. I guess I can see that. I'll admit though, it's painful at best, you know, to confess those things that you had rather remain hidden or buried. The question then becomes, can healing begin until the confession is made.

Now, let me clarify, I'm not talking about some dark sin of the soul, those are sins of commission. I think what has hit me this morning is more of a sin of omission. Something we haven't done, more so than something we have.

This morning, I'm sitting in the Drury Inn in Leawood, Kansas, just outside Kansas City, waiting for the trip back over to the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. I came up yesterday to a leadership conference the Church of the Resurrection is hosting. Last night Adam Hamilton spoke about leadership in the church, and I have to say, it's gotten me thinking about a few things this morning.

I've said before that I've been doing this for 11 years now and during most of that time, the buzzword has been "church revitalization." Why? Well, because the church needs revitalizing, obviously. I've heard the blame placed on clergy and laity both, and I have finally realized that it really doesn't matter who has killed church growth. What matters now is, what are we going to do about it?

That's where the confession comes in, at least for me. And that, my friends, is the sin of ommission that hit me this morning. Before we can be healed, we must admit that we are broken, and some folks, clergy and laity alike, have not yet confessed that we are broken. I think John Conlee said something about "rose colored glasses."

Maybe, and I'm just thinking out loud, maybe instead of clergy blaming apathetic parishioners, and laity blaming lazy clergy, we ought to stop for a minute, confess that what we are currently doing is not working, and hit our knees asking for guidance. I don't know, but it might work. Maybe, instead of jumping on the latest church growth bandwagon, we should take a step back, look at our Wesleyan heritage, begin journeying back to our roots of social justice and holiness of heart and life, and see what happens. It worked nearly 300 years ago, it might work again.

Until then, I'll keep coming to these leadership workshops and bringing the information back home, and we'll keep looking at each other and scratching our heads, wondering why we are still in decline.

O God, forgive us for placing our own wants and desires above the mission of YOUR church. Forgive our self-centeredness. Forgive our stubborness. We confess to you today that we are not where we should be. We confess that discipleship is no longer our primary goal, but God, we want it to be again. Guide us, strengthen us, grant us grace. And God, may your will be done...finally.


Monday, October 4, 2010

If It's In Him, It's Got To Come Out...

I love listening to Hank Jr. I was one of those kids cruising the plaza in Mayfield with Hank blaring instead of rap. I didn't have all the bass thumping, but I didn't mind cranking up a little "Country Boy Can Survive..."

He recorded a song, and I can't for the life of me remember which one it was, but the intro has his mama and daddy talking, and his daddy says, "Audrey, if it's in him, it's got to come out. Let the boy boogie woogie." If you know which song that was, let me know. It's driving me nuts.

It never ceases to amaze me the things we have within us, sometimes they need to stay there. Sometimes they need to come out. Words slip out when that internal filter really should have caught them, and we spend a lot of time and energy trying to repair the damage. A kind word, that might really make a difference in someone's day, goes unsaid and we never know the difference it could have made. True feelings get held in between family or friends until it's too late and the conversation can be nothing by one sided, and the list goes on and on...ideas for ministry, words of forgiveness, hopes and dreams, you see where I'm going.

Scripture even talks about things being within us, and there is one thing that scripture says is within us that we might not have even realized was there. You see, this one thing that scripture is talking about being within us, most of us only see as some far off, future event. But...if you read this particular passage, that's not necessarily the case. The words are in red in my book, which means, tradition says they came out of his mouth...

..."The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." Hmmm, how about that? Here we thought we had to wait for that. Evidently not so much.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I don't know exactly what it will look like, but if Christ says it is within us, then evidently we have a part to play in its appearance. I can imagine that the kingdom will mean that no one goes to bed at night hungry because we all share what we have with those who don't. I can imagine that no one will be oppressed because we have taken a stand against institutions and establishments that keep people down. I can imagine that everyone will be welcomed everywhere regardless of borders, boundaries, race, income, ethnicity, and anything else we currently use to categorize folks.

Personally, if it's in me, it's got to come out. I'm not convinced one person can make that much difference, but a whole bunch of people, letting the kingdom life that is within them come out, can make a huge difference.
So, here's the challenge...if you are a member of a body of believers, take the next month and be intentional about letting the kingdom of God within you come out. Here's what that will mean...those little things that most folks in church complain about, don't complain about them. It's a human institution and as such is flawed, that's all there is to it. If the pianist hits a wrong note, let it go. If the sermon is boring, look for something positive in it. If the person next to you is getting on your nerves, give them a hug in Christ's name. If you see someone on the side of the road this week, stop and help. Shoot someone an encouraging email or text. Pick up the phone and let someone know you were thinking about them. I can't guarantee it will take hold overnight, but eventually there will be more kingdom living on the outside than there is on the inside, and that, is a good thing. Just a thought.