Saturday, July 31, 2010

Signs, signs...

"Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs. Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this. Don't do that. Can't you read the signs?" That is a song that Tesla released in 1991 as a cover of the song by the Five Man Electrical Band in 1971. It's a great song, if you're a rebel, which I've been accused of being. But everything they are singing about in that song points to something bigger, which is exactly what signs do...they point to something other than themselves.

"And the sign said, 'Long haired freaky people need not apply, so I put my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why." This sign was pointing to a prejudice that the shop owner must have had against long haired freaky people. Well, ok, aren't long haired freaky people also created in the image of God? I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud.

"And the sign said, 'Everyone welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray.'" That sign is pointing to something bigger than all of us. It points to someplace, maybe even just an ideal, where everyone really is welcome, even long haired freaky people. (I was thinking of getting my big boy hair cut for the summer, but I think I just changed my mind)

In today's Life Journal reading, John is talking about a sign. On the surface, it's just a wedding where the host had miscalculated the number of folks who would be there, or how much wine each would drink. The wine ran out, and that's not good. So, Jesus, being the rebel he was, took a bunch of jars that were used to hold the water for their ceremonial washings and turned them into wine jugs holding real wine. It's just a sign, don't get too torn up.

I mean, we could go into that if you want to. It was real wine. Jesus made it. Therefore real wine can't be all bad, but I'm not going there today. This is bigger than real wine verses grape juice (and by the way, without refrigeration, grape juice will turn into real wine all by its little lonesome). This is about a sign pointing to something bigger. The Gospel of John is full of them.

This was an act, the first public act in John's gospel, pointing to Jesus, who he really was, and what he was about. This sign pointed to the fact that he was, indeed, the Son of God and that his divinity was just as real as his humanity. This sign would be the beginning of his public ministry, and we can all read about what happened after this point.

You can tell a lot about what a writer, especially a gospel writer, thinks is important by looking at the first thing they record about Jesus. For John, it was the fact that Jesus was coming to bring God's kingdom right here, right now. The cool thing is, it started at a wedding nearly 2000 years ago, but we still get to be part of that today.

So, the question then becomes, what do the things we do, say, and stand for point to? Do we get hung up in the minutia of things like "Was it real wine"? Or, are we focused on the fact that prejudice still exists, oppression still runs rampant, brothers and sisters in Sudan are still being martyred, and right here in the good ol' United States, we have people sleeping on the streets and eating out of trash cans and soup kitchens? Those things cannot be part of God's kingdom on earth. Jesus gave his life fighting against the system that kept those things in place, and we have accepted our place as Jesus followers, so our signs must be pointing down similar paths.

Personally, I'm not ok with the status quo. Our brothers and sisters in Sudan, long haired freaky people, the oppressed, the hated, the snubbed, the outcast, and the homeless are all God's children and I long for the day, and am doing what I can to help, when those things cease to be a way of life and the signs of God's kingdom come are everywhere and everyone has a place where they know they belong. I guess this is one of my passions, and gives credence to why I am the way I am. I despise suits and ties and have no patience for politics in the church. My heart breaks when I see someone that I know must live on the streets, and will go out of my way to let those long hair freaky people know that God loves them too.

So, if you're going to hold up a sign, make sure it's one that God would be pleased with. Fight for the underdog, love the unloved, stand up for the weak, touch the untouchables, and welcome the outcast. That's what Jesus' sign must have been pointing to.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Come and See...

(photo from
I've said before that I'm very strongly right brained. I love the abstract and the creative. Still, my left brain won't let go. In college, I had to memorize hundreds of scientific names for hundreds of different things; Platanus occidentalis, Hyla versicolor, Cornus florida, Quercus alba...and I could keep going. I learned those things, the trees, the animals, and their latin names by spending time with them. I studied the scale pattern on snakes so that I could tell the difference between the genus Agkistrodon and the genus Elaphe... I would look at the stem of a Prunus serotina leaf and find that tiny little node that lets you know it's a Prunus serotina.

In my dendrology (tree ID) class, we didn't just sit in a classroom and listen to lectures. Dr. White would load us up in a van and take us out into the middle of the woods, and then say, "Come and see what we've been talking about." That's how I learned. In my herpetology (snakes, reptiles, and amphibians) class, Dr. Zimmerer would lecture, but then we'd load up in a van and head out, pillow cases in one pocket, field guide in the other, snake stick in hand, and we'd go catch snakes. "Come and see" was the way we operated. Hands on. Real time. I learned a lot about which ones to leave alone, and which ones I could handle, and I came away from more than one trip bleeding from snake bites.

So, why is it that when it comes to the greatest field guide ever written, we forget that our teacher told a bunch of guys to "Come and see"? We seem to be content showing up on Sunday morning for a couple hours, maybe a Wednesday night something, but what about the rest of the week? Are we offering an invitation for folks to "Come and see" what this Jesus life can really be like?

In John 1, that's what happened. A couple of John's disciples were sitting around one day and Jesus walked by. With all of the questions they could have asked the Son of God, the one that came out of their mouths was, "Teacher, where are you staying." Now, let me go just a little deeper for a second. They weren't really asking Jesus where he was sleeping that night, they asked him, "Where are you abiding?" There's a difference.

What was his answer? "Come and see." He was inviting them to be a part of his mission, to show folks that the Roman Empire did not get the last laugh, and that all of the difficulties of day to day life then was not what God had intended.

I have friends that have been turned off of church because of some of the attitudes they find there. My home church, the one that I came out of to enter the ministry, is evidently hell bent on self destruction because some of the folks there have forgotten that our mission is to help folks on this "Come and see" adventure. I have served churches that have self destructed for the very same reason. They have forgotten that this Jesus life begins with a desire to "come and see," but that it doesn't end there. We are then commissioned to help other folks "come and see." So, how are we doing?

Do our attitudes and behaviors as a group of Jesus followers reflect, not only our desire to follow on the "come and see" mission, but also our desire to help others do the same? Folks will learn some by reading the field guide, but they will really begin to learn when someone invites them to "come and see." My question is, if they decide to get up and come with us, what do they see?

My heart breaks for folks who have been turned off by the way some church folk behave. Because of us, they are missing out on one of the greatest stories ever told. They may never hear that Jesus loves them regardless of how bad they have screwed up their lives. And they may never find the peace that I know they are looking for.

So, if you are a member of a church, and you have your mind focused on ANYTHING but becoming a closer follower of Jesus, AND helping others along after they decide to "come and see," STOP IT! For crying out loud. Grow up...Stop being selfish...Realize it is not about you...And allow God to do through us what God wants to do. AND, if you know someone who is behaving like this, feel free to send them a link to today's blog. That type of behavior is not what Jesus invited those first two guys to come and see.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Man of Sorrows...

(photo from
I'm not a bluegrass fan at all, in fact, you could almost say I despise it. It's too twangy and whiny. I guess the one time I actually really enjoyed bluegrass was on a trip Steph and I took to Mountain Home, Arkansas. We rolled into town late one Saturday afternoon and the court square was packed. Folks were sitting in little groups all over the square, so curiousity getting the best of us, we went into one little shop and asked what was going on. The clerk looked out the window, and said, "Well, looks like a bunch of folks just decided to come to town tonight." Thanks for that Captian Obvious. I figured that much out all by myself.

Turned out it was just a Saturday night thing. Folks would come into town and the sound of bluegrass would fill the air. That night was fun, but I'm still not a fan. Now, that being said, one of my favorite movies in the world, and favorite soundtracks, is "O Brother, Where Art Thou." Totally bluegrassy, if that's a word, but I love it. And of course, you can't think of "O Brother, Where Art Thou," without thinking about the Soggy Bottom Boys singing, "Man of constant sorrow." And I can't think of the Soggy Bottom Boys singing, "Man of Constant Sorrow" without thinking about Isaiah 53.

I don't know that the two have anything to do with each other, but Isaiah says "Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not."

Now some say that refers to Christ. Some say it refers to the nation of Israel. You can decide what it says to you, but what it did to me this morning was remind me of the number of folks who feel like they are folks of constant sorrow. Some folks just cannot catch a break, and "Man of Constant Sorrow" has become their theme song. But when I hear that song, and remember the words of Isaiah, I understand that they are not alone, never have been, never will be. They're actually in pretty good company.

Now, is that going to make them feel better about their situation? Probably not. But there are times when I think that is one of the beauties of the incarnation. God became human to experience first hand what it feels like to be a man of constant sorrow. So, now can God not only sympathize with us during those times when the whole world seems to be against us, God can empathize with us, because God has been there...and, it might just be easier for us to trust someone leading us through a tough time if we know they've been there before. Just a thought.

So, sing on Soggy Bottom Boys, even if it's twangy and whiny. I'll listen. Speak on Isaiah, whichever Isaiah you are. I hear what you're saying. And for those times in my life when I feel like a man of sorrow, I'll remember that someone else has been there before, and is waiting to help guide me through it.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Half of What You See...

(photo from
You've heard it, I know you have. "Don't believe anything you hear, and only believe half of what you see." There's a lot of truth in that. You can't always believe what you hear. We all learned that in elementary school, or at some retreat, where you line a bunch of folks up, whisper something into the first ear, and just see what it becomes by the time it gets to the last person. And as far as what we see, if there are 10 witnesses to a car crash, there are going to be 10 different versions of what happened. That's just the way it goes.

I have been blessed to be witness to God's hand at work in a lot of things, from something as simple as a hunting trip, to situations that could make or ruin a life. Some of those things I'm not sure I would have believed if I had not witnessed them with my own eyes. But at the same time, I've heard other stories of things that God has done in other lives, and I have no reason to doubt them. So, what do we do? Life is funny like that.

In this morning's readings, Peter is talking to an audience unknown to us. I could probably do a little research and get an idea of who this letter was written to, but all he says in the greeting is: "To those who through the righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours..." That could be anybody, literally.

And maybe that's what makes this so cool. Anybody could hear this and believe, but they can't be eyewitnesses to the things Peter witnessed. All we have is what he is telling us, and here is what that is: "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.' We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the mountain."

We have the stories, lots of stories...and we have the list of those things in our lives that we have no explanation for, except that it was an intersection with the Divine. The question then becomes, how do we get folks to believe our stories and the ones recorded in scripture? I guess the short answer is, allow them to become eyewitnesses. Let them in on what has happened in your life through the way you interact with them. Going to church on Sunday is no good if you cuss the checkout clerk at Walmart on Monday, or throw the other guy a bird on the way to work.

I will be the first to admit that I'm not perfect, and there would probably be lots of folks willing to bear witness to that. And I do realize that the way I deal with folks says alot about whether or not even I believe the stories. And if they think that I don't even believe the stories, how can I convince them to? Just a thought.


Monday, July 26, 2010

When You Love Someone...

(photo from
Well, Kid Rock has done it again. I'm not saying that I agree with his lifestyle, or even with a lot of what he says, but my daddy used to tell me that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then. You wouldn't know that Kid Rock was one of the writers for this song unless you knew what his given name was, but there it is in the credits, R.J. Ritchie.

Ok, now that you know who wrote it, the song actually speaks for itself. Now, honestly, I don't know the story behind it, but I do know what it says to me when I hear it. "When you love don't matter what you say. When you love someone you will dance the night away. When you love someone there ain't nothing you can't do...ain't that right?"

It's funny the things you can do when you love someone. It's funny what is important and what's really not. It's funny that if that love is real, some of the things that you would think bother you, really don't. Now I'm not saying that it's all wine and roses, actually Kid Rock said that it wasn't all wine and roses, but it's different somehow. Priorities change. Tough times are easier to handle.

What if, and I'm just thinking out loud, what if the one that we were singing this song about was God? Or, what if God was singing this song about us? I'm just thinking. What could you do if you knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God loved you, and that you were doing whatever it was you were doing out of a return kind of love? I'm always amazed at what we can say "yes" to when we realize that this love is real.

Now, I know that Kid Rock was talking about a love between a man and woman, but dog gone it, why not? Why not think about our relationship with God, and the love that God has for us, when we hear a song like this? Have you read the Song of Songs lately?

Why not think about there being nothing we can't do when God has asked? And wouldn't it be cool to think that the love God has for us makes God dance the night away? It just kills my soul when I hear that some folks can only see God as a God of judgment, and there are denominations who basically preach only that. They've totally missed the big picture. God

So, if you've never felt loved let me tell you something. If you feel like all you have done is screw up your life, I've got a little something you need to hear. Kid Rock said it...God said it better.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Live Like You Were Dying...

(photo from
Tim McGraw released a song a few years ago, "Live like you were dying." If you're not familiar with it, it talks about a guy who, has evidently, developed some disease and has realized that he's not going to be here forever. It goes through the emotions of the first days after the diagnosis, then he was asked how it felt when he heard the diagnosis, and then, "Man, what did you do?"

It's a good song, and I guess you could say this guy started talking about his bucket know, the things we want to do before we kick the bucket. He started talking about skydiving, mountain climbing, riding a bull, letting go of old hurts, forgiving folks, being a better husband, well, you get the idea.

That song hits me kind of close because this guy was in his early 40's and I'm just a few months away from 40 myself. I'm starting to realize that this ride doesn't last forever, especially since I've come into the ministry. Funerals, life celebrations, whatever name we give them, drive home the fact that at some point, we're all going to take that last ride, and I have officiated at a bunch of them.

Then, this morning, I was reading the Life Journal texts and something hit me. King Hezekiah is sick and about to die. Evidently he has a boil that has gotten infected and he is on his way out. Isaiah comes to him and tells him to get things ready, he's about to shove off. Evidently Isaiah has terrible bedside manners. Hezekiah did what any of us would do if we heard the same thing, he shot up a death bed prayer. Here's what he said:

'"Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.' And Hezekiah wept bitterly."

He didn't ask to be healed, or for long life, just that God remember how he had lived. Evidently God did, because Hezekiah was given a second chance...another 15 years. Now, here is my question: What would you do if you knew how much longer you had to live?

If I knew that I was going to check out on a certain day, and knew for sure that it wasn't some divine practical joke, I would definitely go sky diving. I don't think I would get on a bull named Fu Man Chu. I would try to be a better husband and father. I would spend more time on the important stuff, and less on the stuff that's not so much. I would try to finish up with no regrets, and mend relationships (and yes, even preacher's have some relationships that could use some work). I might start my own list, like Earl did, and make right all of the things I had made wrong. (I've already tracked down all of my old girlfriends and apologized, so I'm good there.)

And here is the rub, why do we not do those things anyhow? I mean, think about it. Why do we put off healing relationships, having a little fun, and just living life in general? It just doesn't make any sense. Now, I don't run around acting the fool...much...but by dang, it's time to start living like I was dying.

I've always said that I don't want to just sit around and give up, waiting for everything to break down, I want to go sliding into that last bed on two wheels, screaming, "Dang, what a ride!" I don't want to be lying there, even if I go today, with folks filing by and wondering about things I might have left undone. I don't want a bunch of blubbering and stuff like that, I want a party. Life is too short.

So, why not? Live today as if it's the last day you've got. Tell the folks you love that you love them. Do something absolutely insane (just try to stay legal). Live on the edge a little. Give thanks to God for life itself. And recognize the fact that, every day, we are given a second chance.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

All We Need is a Little Patience...

(photo from

In 1988 Guns 'n Roses released a song that I guess we danced to at every high school dance we had my senior year. It was a love song, and since they were a heavy metal band, it was one of their few ballads. But it was a good song.

"Said woman take it slow, it will work itself out fine. All we need is a little patience..."

"Patience" was the name of the song, and it talked about, I guess, a guy and a girl trying to get things worked out between them. But this song from Guns 'n Roses is not the only place we hear about needing patience.

James talks about it this morning (not me, the other James. The one that got a book named after him). Here's what he says about it..."Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near..." Then he goes on to mention Job, the very symbol of patience itself. We've all heard "He/she has the patience of Job," but it's not Job's patience that James is talking about.

Now, I know that James was writing to a group of folks that were probably experiencing persecution for their faith, and was probably not talking about having patience in the day to day stuff we deal with, you know what I'm talking is tight and the bills keep coming, somebody in the family is sick, the kids are being royal whatevers, work is a bear, the kitchen sink is leaking, the lawnmower is broken again, and now the car is making a funny noise. Those are the things, that by themselves, might not be that hard to deal with, but piled one on top of the other, they can drive a person right to the brink of despair. And what do we tell them? "Just be patient. It will all work out." Well, I'm not intentionally going to say that anymore.

You know, it is real easy for us to tell someone, "Just hold on, it's all gonna work out. Just have patience." I've said it myself, alot. But the more I think about it, that's almost totally dismissing whatever it is that they are stressing over, and I don't think that's fair anymore. Maybe it's just one of those churchy pat answers we've come up with over the years, I don't know. Maybe it's all we can think to say when someone's world is crashing. Maybe it does help some folks feel better.

But if you look at what James was saying about Job, it wasn't his patience that got him a gold star. He wasn't patient at all. He shook his fist at God, cursed the day he was born, griped, grumbled, and eventually called God out. James talks about Job's perseverance, not his patience. He didn't give up until he got what he wanted...a face to face with God.

And I think that maybe that's what I'll start saying, "Just don't give up. You're not alone. I'll go with you as far as I can, then God will go with you where I can't."


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Puddle Fishing...

(photo from; "Calvin and Hobbes" is owned by Bill Waterson)
Yesterday, I had a break for a few minutes, so I pulled out an old Calvin and Hobbes book that I have and started catching back up with that little boy and his tiger. I love reading and researching, but sometimes, my mind has to have a breather. That little guy absolutely cracks me up. There is nothing he won't try, and being a typical 6 year old kid, some of the things he does makes us as adults really stop and think.

In one of the comic strips yesterday, Calvin and Hobbes are decked out in trench coats, standing out in the pouring rain, Calvin has a fishing pole, and as you look, he's fishing in a puddle on the sidewalk. Now, anybody with any real sense knows you're not going to catch fish in a water puddle on the sidewalk, well, usually. But did that stop him? Oh no, not Calvin. Calvin is going to do what he wants to do and it doesn't matter who likes it, or likes him for doing it, for that matter. He has jumped out of windows with a blanket, taken his mom's umbrella and used it as a parasail, and then there's all those times in the school cafeteria where he tries to gross Susie out with a squid eyeball sandwich.

But puddle fishing? Come on Calvin, that's a stretch, even for you.

And here is what hit me. I love it when stuff like this happens. I don't have any profound theological revelations today, just an observation. One of the big dirty words in a lot of churches is evangelism, that dreaded "E" word. It seems that I remember my Jewish carpenter boss, one time, saying something to a couple guys that sounded something like this, "Come with me and I'll make you fish for people." I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure he said something like that.

Most churches, however, are doing nothing but puddle fishing. I don't know if they're scared of the water, or scared of falling out of the boat. Maybe they're scared of what they'll actually catch if they cast a line into a body of water bigger than a puddle on a sidewalk. their defense, they are fishing. At least, they think they are.

But what if? What if just a few churches stepped off the sidewalk and began casting their lines in bigger water? Would it really make any difference in the bigger scheme of things? Well, if standing out in the rain holding a fishing pole is your goal, then no. It won't make any difference at all. You can stand out in the rain holding a fishing pole over a puddle on the sidewalk, just like you could over an ocean, and the people passing by would see you holding your fishing pole, in the pouring rain, and say, "Look at that, they are standing in the rain holding a fishing pole, just like they said they were going to."

But, if catching fish is your goal, you're not going to do it in a puddle on the sidewalk. You have to get to a place that actually has some fish to catch. Silly little Calvin. Silly little churches.

My folks at First Church have taken that first step off of the sidewalk and have decided to cast a line into some much deeper water. I'm sure some are a little nervous, because as much as I say I'm not, I'm terrified. I'm not scared of stepping out of the boat, or of failing. I'm not worried about the extra work, or casting a longer line. Actually, terrified might not be the right word, awestruck maybe. I'm in awe of a God who would call us to fish in waters bigger than a sidewalk puddle, and I'm awed by a group of folks who have heard that call and have begun to say yes, and I don't tell them nearly enough how proud I am to be their shepherd.

I guess there is one thing to be said for puddle fishing; there's no worry of having to clean any fish. But, best I've got figured out, cleaning them isn't up to us anyhow. It's our calling to fish for them.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Nothin' At All...

(photo from

I have no idea how many times I heard that when I was a kid, and you know what I'm talking about, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say nothin' at all." Forgive my improper grammar, it should be "anything at all", but who cares. Third Day has a song out with the title, "Nothing at all." Here's a link if you want to check it out.

Saturday, I mentioned that the Life Journal readings had started with James, and that he was gearing up for something that I already had a rant ready for, well, here it is. James 3 is where I'm at this morning and here is what he says:

"When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell...All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison."

Don't hold back James, tell us what you really mean. That's what I like about this particular book. He does not mince words. Paul sometimes talks in circles, James goes in straight for the kill.

I've been doing this for 11 years now, and if I could get back all of the time I had spent dealing with the damage gossips have caused in the churches I have served, I could slip off to some Caribbean island for a couple months and never be missed. If there is one thing that I absolutely abhor, that's it. Not Caribbean islands, I'd be all over that, but gossips. I despise it, have no use for it, zero patience for it, and will call you out on it in a heartbeat.

Some folks thrive on the turmoil gossip causes, and I believe it is pure evil. Sorry, but I do. It doesn't mean they can't be good people at times, but James said, the tongue can be a restless evil full of deadly poison. A small spark, setting fire to great forests. A small part making great boasts. Gossip is not just damaging to the victim's self esteem and reputation, but it's from the very pits of hell and smells like smoke. So if you do it, STOP.

I'm dealing with a situation right now over this very thing. I don't know if it's born out of jealousy, some physiological condition, an underlying agenda, or what, but it's getting old. I'm just trying to do my job, keep my nose clean, and mind my own business (like most folks, honestly, who are victims of gossip) and this person just will not quit. (So, if you know who I'm talking about, and know him, tell him I'm onto his game and his day of reckoning is quickly approaching). Honestly, it hasn't caused me any major problems yet, but the potential is there, so I've had to go on the defense with some folks and make some pre-emptive damage control moves. Right now, it's just an annoying distraction.

Sorry, but I said in the beginning that this was a rant. I own that. You see, I think there was a reason James hit on this so hard, and this is just Jamie. Not only is it pure evil, it distracts the victim from the more important things they should be doing. It casts doubts where there were none, and causes folks to question their self worth. Pure evil, and those who thrive on it, and continually and intentionally engage in it, in my opinion, while they may be good folk at times, have an evil vein running through the very core of their soul.

Ok, so James might not have been talking about gossip, exactly, but what he is saying sure covers it. If I were to ever preach hellfire and damnation, this would be the topic. But since I'm not a hellfire and damnation preacher, I just stay away from it in the pulpit.

Ok, I'm done. (to kind of quote South Park...) "Gossip is bad, nkay? If you gossip, you're bad, nkay? So don't gossip." But the funny thing is, and after this I really am done, grace even covers gossips. Imagine that.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Listening and Doing...

(photo from
Confession time. It's been a really long week. I just finished mowing and I'm tired. I've been running all day today, and honestly, I just didn't want to do a blog. But...I'm going to, and here's why. The readings for today jumped to James, a short, but powerful book stuck towards the back of THE book. And James, whichever James it was, has a lot to say in a few words.

Chapter one...he wastes no time..."My dear brothers, (and sisters I might add), take note of this; Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires..." This is a quick little preview of something he gets into in more detail just a little later, and I've got a whole rant ready for that one. But I'll save it.

The next paragraph is where I want to hang my hat today. "Do not merely listen to the word... do what it says..." Now, in case any of my seminary professors ever read this, I'm not prooftexting (taking a few lines from here and there to prove a point). I'm just kind of hitting on the high points in this first chapter of James.

Listening and doing. What are we supposed to do with that? Now James does something with that idea that Luke doesn't (Insert subliminal message for tomorrow's message here). The scripture I'm using tomorrow is Luke 10:38-42, the story of Mary and Martha, and what has come to me is that listening and doing are both important.

How many folks listen to God's word every Sunday, but then never do anything about it? And on the flip side, how many lead a Jesus life, but have never really taken time to hear the Word? If Jesus says to take care of the widows, orphans, outcasts, and those no one else wants to deal with, and we hear Jesus say that, but don't do anything to help them, why do we even bother?

This is one of my passions, I guess. I have been accused of aiding and abetting criminals for not checking greencards in a Hispanic ministry I was a part of. I've spent time with the homeless, spent time in the slums of Nogales Mexico, and it changes you. I know today's blog is not going to be some huge, earth shattering revelation, but this is just one guy thinking through the keyboard. I also don't want to use guilt to try to convince folks to lead a Jesus life after they hear about other folks leading Jesus lives, too many churches do that already. But I do wonder sometimes, how many folks actually take what they hear, or read, and then go do something with it.

I'll admit, this idea of listening and then doing came rather slowly for me. It wasn't until I was in my mid thirties that it really started sinking in. Then, it was driven home for me at a place in Memphis called Manna House. The folks there listen to the word, and then go do it. It's not complicated. It's not rocket science. It's just a group of folks that I have come to know and love, who have put feet on the Word, and the work they do there is absolutely amazing. If you're ever down that way early in the morning, head on over to Jefferson, (that's right, it's in the hood) ask whoever is working that morning to show you how to put feet on this Jesus life you've heard folks talk about, and I guarantee, you will not come away the same person.

It's funny how that works. We hear the stories... Jesus lines out pretty much exactly what his followers have been called to do... and if we actually set out to do it, well, let's just say it's life changing. Imagine that, listening to someone who told folks their lives could be changed, following his guidelines, and watching our lives transformed while we do. Genius!

May God get in your ears and not get out until God gets in your feet.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Never Alone...

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I've mentioned before the symbolism behind my tattoos. The one on my left arm is an image, that to me, could be a representation of Christ. Now, I know about the whole, "Thou shalt not make images..." and that's not it. But to me, having that image on my arm reminds me that I'm not alone. A tshirt covers it if I want it covered, but sometimes I just want it out there.

Last night was bike night for me and some buddies. We ride every Thursday night, when we can. Sometimes there's only 4 or 5 of us. Sometimes 15 or 20. We've had motorcycles stretched out over a mile before, and I love it. There are two places I like to be in the pack, either right up front, leading the group, or dead center. Riding second isn't too bad, because the guy in front gets most of the bugs, but if I'm not leading, I like to be in the middle of the pack and here's why...when I'm in the middle, I've got bikes stretched out in front of me, and bikes stretched out behind me. I know I'm not alone.

There's a lot to be said for not being alone. Honestly, and I'll be first to admit this, sometimes I just need quiet and want to be alone, but not always. When we're riding, whether there's 4 bikes, or 20 bikes, we all know that if something happens to any one of us, the whole pack stops. No one is left behind. That's a funny thing about bikers. Most folks see them as rough, uncaring, lone wolves, who'd just as soon cut you as look at you, and maybe some are. (And you should see the way folks react when we roll into a restaurant, dirty from the road, all leathered up, and then I pull my jacket off...there's usually a Jesus freak T-shirt underneath it. It just blows folk's minds) But still, as rough as they may seem to be, if one of their's was in trouble, they wouldn't be left alone. When a bike is broke down on the side of the road, who usually stops? Another bike. Maybe some churches could take lessons from some bike groups. Just a thought.

Anyhow, this morning, Paul said it, and here is what "it" was: "...because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; Never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'"

Some have called me a lone wolf simply because I don't fit the norms, and that's ok. I can't imagine how boring my calling would be if I tried to be a cookie cutter pastor, so I don't even pretend anymore. I am who I am. There have been times in my ministry when I have stood out front, all by myself, and it might have seemed as if I were alone, but hey, I've got that tattoo...oh, and this thing from Hebrews this morning. It used to scare me, and I'll be honest. I used to think that I had to have everyone's approval before I did something, but then I realized just how many times Jesus seemed to be standing alone. Yeah, it got him killed, and I guess the same could happen to me, it sure has for a lot of others.

But in the end, wherever I'm led, or whatever happens...this tattoo is permanent, and so are Paul's words this morning; "Never will I leave you." That, my friends, is all the encouragement I really need. So, don't be afraid, God has promised that God will never leave you. I know it may seem sometimes that you're alone, but God promised.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Consuming Fire...

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I absolutely love listening to Third Day. They are probably my favorite Christian rock band, and most of their songs have a message that goes a lot deeper than just what you see, or hear, on the surface. I actually got to see them in concert a few years ago and I have to say, we had church.

It's not a secret that I'm not a traditional kind of guy. I love the old hymns, but they don't speak to my soul like some of the new songs do. That's just me, and I certainly don't expect everyone to agree. Our hymns tell our theology, some of the new songs might not as much, but they tell a story.

As I was reading this morning from Isaiah, and then from Hebrews, it hit me just how negative some of our scriptures can sound to someone who has not been brought up with the "rest of the story." Isaiah is speaking hellfire and damnation on just about everyone in the last few day's readings, and Hebrews really isn't much better today. I was brought up in the faith, so I understand that there is another part of the story, but it hit me this morning, if I were to post a link to today's readings, how would those words build up someone who feels as if life is trying to tear them down?

I think that's where we come in. I don't know who it was that said, and this may be a paraphrase, "It comes to every generation the responsibility of interpreting scripture for that generation," (If you know who said that, let me know), but that's exactly what we have to do. The message never changes, God loves us enough to send God's Son for the entire world, but how we present it must. Maybe I'm just beating a dead horse, but this is what hit me as I was reading.

As a shepherd, one of the difficulties of my job is presenting scripture in a way that it speaks to as many as will hear. Maybe I'm wrong in that, I don't know, maybe all I'm really doing is getting in God's way. But nonetheless, I feel that is part of my calling. How can I do that in one hour on Sunday morning? I don't know for sure. Maybe I'm not supposed to.

Yet, as a group of Jesus followers, trying to get this God story into as many ears as we can, how are we doing? Third Day's "Consuming Fire" talks about God's love burning deep within our souls. "Yesterday was the day that I was alone now I'm in the presence of Almighty God." I know folks who need to hear that, and I bet, you do too.

It wasn't that many years ago when this ol' boy thought anything that wasn't a southern gospel quartet was junk...until I stood shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of kids at Annual Conference listening to some band from Jackson, TN, ("Adam's Apple" I think was their name) and watched how that band was connecting with those kids...then I got it. I realized that I'm not sure God really cares HOW we get God's word out, just THAT we do.

So, keep reading the scriptures. Look at the whole picture, not just one or two chapters. There are some things that might seem to put folks off, but when you step back and look with open eyes, you can see that the gist of this God story is that we know a God that is wanting so bad to let you know that your personal God story is one of love. I just love to watch the different ways that God gets the point across and kindles that consuming fire.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

By Faith...

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It's not secret that I'm a little stubborn. I like to think that's something more than stubbornness, but maybe it's not. I like to think that there's just something in me that won't give up. I talked yesterday about holding our ground, and this morning Paul talks a little about what it is within us that allows us to do that.

By faith...just two little words, but they speak volumes. In Hebrews 11, Paul goes through a long list of folks who did what they did by faith, from Moses to a prostitute that became part of Jesus' ancestry. All of these folks did something that, under normal circumstances, they probably wouldn't have done. Some of them were positive things, some not so much. By faith, Abraham sacrificed his only son Isaac. What's up with that? But by faith, Rahab the prostitute, that's right folks, I said prostitute, hid the spies that God had sent into the promised land and therefore her life was spared when the city fell.

Here lately, I have leaned pretty heavy on this whole "by faith" idea. I've always been one to do what I felt I had to do anyhow, but when I realize I'm doing it "by faith," then I REALLY don't care what other folks think about me. I never have much, anyhow, but as long as I know that what I'm doing, I'm doing by faith, folks can say what they want.

By faith, I spent years in a church that I really should have left after year one. But by faith, lives were changed and folks found their way back to a relationship with God so that they could begin, again, living their "by faith" stories. Was it tough? Let's say that my beard wasn't grey when I got there, but it was when I left, and leave it at that.

Now, I didn't bring that up to get patted on the back, that wasn't it at all...because I wanted to leave, but couldn't. By faith, God kept watch over me just enough for me to keep my sanity while God continued to draw folks back home. But, those are pages that were turned long ago in my "by faith" story and now the rest of that story is beginning to open up.

What is it that you feel called to do by faith? Who knows, maybe one day our "by faith" stories will be written down beside those of a murderer, a wanderer, a drunk, a prophet, and prostitute. Now, tell me you're not good enough for God to use you by faith.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Standing My Ground...

I'm not a veteran. I wish I were. My Granddad was a WWII vet and a tank machine gunner. My dad is Vietnam vet. But I'm not. I tried. I had my orders in hand and was told that I was going to be assigned to the 807th MASH out of Paducah. The army's allergy specialist called me to Memphis and released me because of asthma. Part of me is thankful, because it wasn't long after I was released that the first Gulf War started and I would have been deployed. But part of me can't stand the fact that I wasn't able to do something that my dad, granddad, and millions of others have.

The other night, Steph was watching Forrest Gump. It's a good flick, but that war scene gets me every time. Forrest, Bubba, Lt. Dan, and the rest of the unit came under fire and men were dropping all around Forrest. Lt. Dan told them to fall back and Forrest took off running. Then it hit him that there was no one else running with him, so he went back. As he did, he saw one of his buddies lying injured, so he picked him up, tossed him over his shoulder, and carried him to where the medivac could pick him up. Then he went back to look for Bubba. Every time he went back he found another soldier lying injured, so one by one, he tossed them over his shoulder and carried them out. He even carried out Lt. Dan, who was shouting orders and cussing Forrest for not letting him die with his men. He ordered him to put him down and let him die, but Forrest just wouldn't do it. He stood his ground because he knew that what he was doing was the right thing to do, even against orders. He did finally find Bubba and carried him out, but it was too late. Bubba didn't make it. Forrest would not fall back until all of his buddies that could be save, were.

This morning, Paul is talking about not falling back. In the letter to the Hebrews, he says this: "So do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, he who is coming will come and not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved."

At no time in my life has this spoken more clearly to me. I have finally found the call God has for me, and I will not shrink back. Hopefully, you have a similar resolve for whatever it is God has called you to do.



Monday, July 12, 2010

I Blew Out My Flip-flop...

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Ok, I have a confession to make. I love Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville." In fact, I've spent some time there myself. I love it because the whole song is just so laid back and just has this easy feel about it. Now, you know me well enough, by now, to know that this is not just about a cool island song. That's right, God can even speak through a song about margaritas.

Now, if you remember the song, Jimmy sings about blowing out his flip flop, stepping on a pop top (which my kids have never even seen, but I have stepped on one before), had to cruise on back home...but all the way through, as tough as it seemed to get, there was this sense of "Oh well" in Jimmy's voice. Maybe it was because of what was waiting for him in the blender. Maybe he just realized that some things just weren't worth getting torn up over.

As I was reading this morning from the Life Journal readings for today, I admit that none of them were screaming at me. In fact, they weren't even whispering to me, and I had almost decided that today was going to be one of those days where I didn't blog because I wasn't hearing anything to blog about. Then I went back to the beginning and started over. Isaiah 11 is where I landed.

In Isaiah 11, the author is talking about God bringing home the remnant, those that actually made it through the exile and were getting the opportunity to come back home. It talks about all of the things that God will cause to happen so that these folks can find their way back. Then it says: "The Lord will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian Sea; with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand over the Euphrates River. He will break it up into seven streams so that men can cross over in sandals. There will be a highway for the remnant of his people..."

Isn't that cool? Imagine God making a way for you to get back to God in your flip flops! And...from what Isaiah is saying, God was being VERY intentional about making a way for the remnant to get home. And I think, and it's just me, but I think that is where the church still has some work to do. We're getting better about it in a lot of places, but we still have some work to do as far as making a way for the remnant to get home. Some of them might be listening to Jimmy Buffet and wearing flip-flops. Would it be ok for them to wear them to worship with us?

Now, it may just be that I'm a "Margaritaville" kind of guy in an "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" world, and that the things I see as possibilities are really just pipe dreams. And if that's the case, one of these days God will straighten me out. But I really don't think it is. If God would go to the trouble of drying up the gulf of the Eyptian Sea, and drying the Euphrates up to the point where you could cross it in flip flops, to me that says it's time we were just as intentional about making a way for folks to get back home today.

And it's not just about getting them into worship, which I would love to do, it's about showing them that there is another way, and they don't have to keep living like they are. So what if the only shoes they own are flip flops? Goodness knows I'd wear mine to church if I knew I wouldn't get fired. Shoot, I might do it anyhow sometime. So what if they show up with margaritas on their breath? So what if they finally realize it's their "own damn fault" (to quote Jimmy)?

The point is, when someone gets to the point where they realize they are ready to come home, we have the God given responsibility to make sure the trip back is as easy as it can possibly be. If we're not doing that, we're not being the church.

So, if you are part of a worshipping body take a look around at everything you do. Are those things pop tops lying in the sand? And if someone cuts their heal on them, are they something we can scoop up out of the sand and throw away? Or are they things that are so imbedded in our traditions that there is no point in talking about removing them?


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Prince of Peace...

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By dang it's hot outside. I'm not complaining though, because I'd much rather complain about the cold. I will say, however, that I miss some of the things that go along with winter, like; hot spiced apple cider (I can drink it by the gallons), a roaring fire in the fireplace (but I don't like packing wood), the crisp winter morning air, and Christmas.

I'm not one of those folks that hates the holiday season and can't wait for it to be over. In fact, we don't even take our tree down until January 6, or Epiphany (there'll be another blog about that in January). I get frustrated over the commercialization of Christmas, but I love the spirit of Christmas. Unfortunately, it's one of my busiest times of the year so sometimes the spirit gets lost in the shuffle. So...maybe I could take a few minutes in July to hit on it a little bit. You know, a "be still and know" kind of thing.

In the Church, Christmas has it's own set of scripture readings, and I love them all. There's the nativity story, which is spread out over more than one gospel and doesn't look exactly like it's depicted on most mantles. There's the stuff in Isaiah, you know, "unto us a child is born." Then there's one that's probably a little more obscure, but is actually one of my favorites. It was the Old Testament life journal reading for today, is in Micah 5, and says:

"But to you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, though you are small among the tribes of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times...He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord, his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach the ends of the earth, and he will be their peace."

Now, I have to be honest. Micah could have been talking about some earthly king, I don't know for sure. I could do the research, but the research, to me, today, is not really what's important. Most of the time it is, but I think I just want to let this one speak to the heart today. We'll do head work some other time.

What if, since Christmas is only 167 days, 6 hours, and 31 minutes away (but who's counting, right?), we took a few minutes today to think about how cool it would be to finally be at peace? That would be a pretty awesome Christmas gift if you ask me.

Think about it for a second. How would it feel to be able to totally let go of everything that kept you up at night? Or what about not needing all those Tums anymore? Stress is a bear, I know, I've dealt with it most of my adult life (and not too well most of the time).

So, here is my early Christmas gift to you. I give you permission, for at least one day, to accept an invitation from the Prince of Peace, on a trial basis, of course. If you can let go for one day and find that you like it, sweet. There is an invitation on the table to enjoy it longterm. If not, you are perfectly free to pick your worry back up. I won't say a word. Shoot up a quick little prayer, "God take it and keep it." Just give it a shot. If you want, shoot me a message and I'll pray it for you.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Gotta Have a Plan...

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I admit that I'm a "fly by the seat of my pants" kind of guy. As OCD as I am about some things (a clean house being one), when it comes to some of the things I do, I'm game for just about anything. When we go on vacation (which I found out yesterday hasn't been since October of 2007, need to do that) I very seldom make plans. We might decide which direction we're going, and might go ahead and reserve a hotel somewhere, but that's about as far ahead as I plan. I despise itineraries, because they always leave me feeling rushed to get to the next place. But I do realize that there are some areas of life that need a little planning.

That being said, as I was reading this morning, I realized again that God does indeed have a plan. Unfortunately, it may not be exactly what we thought it was. I like God's plan, though, and I think I've already signed up to do what I can to help. Here's what I found this morning. It comes from Micah 4, and says:

"'In that day,' declares the Lord, 'I will gather the lame; I will assemble the exiles and those I have brought to grief. I will make the lame a remnant, those driven away a strong nation.."

I like that plan. I like the thought of being part of something that gives folks a place to belong. I like the idea of God intentionally gathering the exiles, and those with broken hearts. And I really like the idea of these folks becoming a strong nation. Now, the language is a bit old, but the message is the same. "If you don't feel you belong anywhere else, don't give up, God is looking for you and is intentionally making a place where you belong. And since God is making a strong nation out of you, you definitely won't be alone." How many folks do we know need to hear that?

The questions I have for most churches is this: "What are you doing to intentionally help make this new plan of God's a reality? And if you can't list specific things you are doing to make a strong nation out of the exiles, why not?"

I have found that most folks who are not actively a part of a worshipping body, were at one time. Now, I know that some folks never really have been, but most folks have at some time been part of a church, and for whateve reason, are no more. And what I have also found is that for most of them, the reason they are no longer attending is that they didn't feel welcome for whatever reason. I know that there are some who have been dealt some serious life blow and because of confusion, anger, or whatever, have chosen to stop worshipping the God they feel is at fault. God is big enough to handle that and patient enough to wait. What are we doing for these folks?

Now, it may seem as if I pick on organized religion alot, and that I paint a negative picture for a lot of churches. That's not intentional, but as a pastor, I don't think we focus enough on those who feel exiled, and that we focus too much on our walls and doors.

So, I would like to hear your thoughts. If God's plan is to make a strong nation of the exiles, and if we set aside the reality that God was speaking of returning folks who had been exiled from Israel, and if we see this as a promise God continues to make today, what are we doing to make God's plan a reality? What is your plan, as a church, for making God's plan a reality? I think it begins simply enough; maybe an invitation, a smile, call them by name at least once while they are there, and an assurance that whatever seat they choose in the sanctuary doesn't belong to someone else. Just a thought.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why Not?...

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Ok, it happened again yesterday...someone asked me a question that I really don't have a good answer for. I know I've said that I don't have all the answers, but dog gone, I don't like being proven right. The question came from a dear friend of mine through a private facebook message, so I'll not let any names slip, he knows who he is, and here is what he asked...and I'm paraphrasing: "Why do we as Methodists never say "amen," and always seem really laid back during worship?"

I have to admit, it's a question that has burned within my very soul for the 11 years I've been leading worship. My short answer is, "I don't know, but by dang, I'd like to crank our worship up a bit myself." Now, I'm all for reverence and decorum, don't get me wrong. I'm not into pew jumping and running up and down the aisles, that's just a show. But I, too, have wondered why Methodist worship, in most places but certainly not all, seems rather staid and stale. Every now and then we'll get a hand clap going if someone does a Gaither song, but that's about it.

Worship, to me, is a celebration and should be entered into as such. Personally, and this is just Jamie, but I think God belly laughs when God sees and hears us enjoying ourselves in worship. And it's not even about worship styles, because I have to say, that battle gets old.

I don't know if our "method" has squelched the Spirit to the point that we don't think the Spirit can move during worship, or if we just aren't in to it on Sunday morning. I know it's early, and for most folks, it's their only day off during the week. I know most sanctuaries are hot, especially during the summer, and we all know that when we get still and warm, we get sleepy. Or is it that our own spirits have gotten sleepy? But couldn't we crank things up a bit? Why not?

This morning, one of the Psalms in the Life Journal readings is my absolute favorite Psalm. For most folks, it's the 23rd Psalm, but for me, it's Psalm 100. I think it not a coincidence that I was rolling this question around in my head last night, and then this Psalm was there for me to read this morning. I don't do coincidences anyhow. But here is what it says:

"SHOUT for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with GLADNESS, come before him with JOYFUL songs. Know that the Lord is God, it is he who made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with THANKSGIVING and his courts with PRAISE; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfullness continues through all generations." (emphasis mine)

In one of my appointments as a pastor, I tried to convince the folks that it was ok to actually give themselves to a worship celebration experience and I had one guy that was on the verge. I looked up during a song and he was raising his hand to God, but then he looked around, saw that he was the only one, and made some move like he was wiping his forehead or something. I admit that I was a little disappointed.

So here's my question, why not give ourselves wholly to a worship celebration experience? We don't have to go and act the fool. But would it hurt anything for the folks sitting around us to see that somehow, someway, God has hit a soft spot in our souls and we don't mind responding to that?

Maybe we just need a little encouragement, I don't know. I do know, that a few months ago, one of my choir members did something for me that I will never forget. I had made some statement during a message and then said, "That was an 'Amen' moment, right there." In just a few minutes the sanctuary was full of giggles and smiles and I had no clue why. I found out later, that on a whim, one man in the choir took a blank piece of paper, wrote "AMEN" on it, and every time he felt an "AMEN" moment in the message, he would hold the sign up for the congregation. Kind of like a worship cue card. I loved it!

So, to answer the question, I don't know. But why not? The next time you enter a worship celebration somewhere, take everything of yourself that you can. Laugh a little, pray a lot, sing loud (on key would be nice but not required), maybe even raise your hands once or twice. Who knows, you just might start a revolution and create a space for an intersection with the Divine.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To the End of the World...

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I love to read, when I get a chance, which is odd considering this adult ADD thing I have going. I can't just sit down for anything, except to read. Right now, I'm reading the Chronicles of Narnia again...all of them. Last night I finished one of the books in the series, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," and it was about a grand voyage that Caspian, King of Narnia, Lucy, Edmund, Reepicheep the mouse knight, and a little snot named Eustace all went on.

Their mission was to discover what happened to the seven lords of Narnia and avenge their deaths if they could, and then, travel on to the very end of the world. Of course, we know that our world is round and has no ends, but this was Narnia and things were different. They had hoped to find Aslan's land at the end of the world but had no clue what it would look like or how they would know they had arrived.

I have to say, that took guts. Most good stories do. Here was this group of kids, or young adults, and a talking mouse, setting out on the adventure of a lifetime. I have to admit, part of me was jealous. I would love to set out on something like that, I think. At least, part of me would. (Warning, spoiler alert) I think that part of the reason I'm jealous is that they knew their mission and they weren't going to let anything get in their way; not a slave trader in the Lone Islands, an enchanted pool on the island of Deathwater, or even one of their own turning into a dragon. They just kept going, ever eastward, trying to accomplish their mission.

Have you ever wanted to do something like that? I mean, have you ever felt so strong about something you felt you needed to do, that you wouldn't let anything get in your way? I think I'm there now. Having a purpose feels good. Being on a mission helps keep this ol' boy focused, and like King Caspian and the others, I keep sailing even though I'm not sure exactly where I'll wind up.

Life is an adventure, if we let it be. The trouble is there are so many folks who are just like I was up until involved in the rat race that they can no longer hear God calling them into something bigger than they are, or to somewhere they have never been before.

Last Monday I had an epiphany, a revelation if you will. I set out on a hike, with a purpose, and because of that, I have been given my new heading and told to keep sailing. So, if you're tired of the same ol' same old, give me a shout. I can't sail this ship by myself.

Maybe, one of these days, someone will be telling our stories. Stories of one adventure after another, and how we conquered the giants, or how we kept going even though the mast had been broken off in a storm, and then how we finally got to where we were going. Dang, I love a good story.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Finger on the Smite Button...

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I saw a "Farside" cartoon years ago, (Gary Larson is a genuis, just saying) and in this cartoon God is sitting at God's computer watching the screen. On the monitor, there is some poor sap who is walking down the sidewalk, and just as he walks under a piano hanging from a rope, God's finger hovers over the "smite" button.

Now, tell me if I'm lying, but I almost guarantee that most of us have felt, at one time or another, that God is watching us on some divine computer monitor, just waiting to press the "smite" button. Murphy's Law hits us on every side, if something can go wrong it will, and we feel as if God is toying with us in some cat and mouse game. I don't think that God does that on purpose, but it sure feels that way sometimes.

All some folks want is a little break, and I don't blame them. You can only tread water so long, and when life hands you one blow after another, we want someone to blame. One of my favorite scenes in "Night at the Museum" is when Jedediah and the boys have Larry tied to the train track and Jed says, "Somebody's gotta pay!" When Larry asks, "Pay for what?" Jed says, "I don't know, just pay!"

Tell me we don't feel like that sometimes. Life has gone to hell in a handbasket and we need someone to take the rap for it. Why not God? God can handle it. Hosea 6, this morning, seems to back up the idea that God has us in the divine crosshairs and is just waiting to wipe us out, so why not God?

Here is what it says: "Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us; he has injured us, but he will bind up our wounds." I know folks who feel exactly that way. Whatever has happened to them, at least the bad stuff, God did it. They feel as if God is watching and just waiting to smite them. But that's not all Hosea says.

He does say God has injured them, and I don't have a quick answer for that, but then he says that God will bind up our wounds, and that he has torn us to pieces but he will heal us." I know this could open a Pandora's box of questions that folk have been asking for years, and honestly, I don't have the answers. I do know, though, that God is not watching us on some divine computer screen just waiting for the right moment to smite us.

So, what do we do with this? How about giving God a second chance? What if we tried, for a few minutes, to forget the idea that God has it out for us, and focus instead, on the fact that God wants to heal us and bind up our wounds? I'm not saying everything will be instantly better, reality is, it probably won't...for a little while. But as we learn to do this, to allow the healing to take place, peace begins to take the place of anger, and little by little healing takes place.

I've been there, and I know what it's like. I don't know exactly what you're going through, but my family has been through our own personal hell over the years. I was a very angry man, mainly because I had no control of the situation. I cried out, I shook my fist at God, and I wanted some answers. They eventually came, but not in the form I was looking for. Now, God and I have reconnected and that is what Hosea was asking for in the first place.

So, give it a shot. I won't intentionally lead you wrong. There will be some pain as you wrestle the underlying issues, but I promise that God does not what to smite you, but to welcome you back home.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Can't Touch This...

(photo from
Ok, I admit it. I listened to some MC Hammer when I was growing up. I never could dance like he did though, and honestly, don't know that I'd want to. It almost looked painful. But he did have one song that I liked, U Can't Touch This. I don't know why, but I liked it. That was a time in my life when I was blaring Hank Jr. on the truck stereo as I cruised the Plaza in Mayfield, but I liked this Hammer song.

"U can't touch this" almost became a battle cry for a whole generation of kids, and it's good to have those things, I reckon. I never thought, though, when I was listening to that song 20 years ago, that I would be sitting here today writing a blog about it and tying it to scripture. But, that's what makes my job so cool. I had a professor in seminary who said you can find God words in almost everything if you look. He called it "keeping your homiletical mind on." Just about everything will preach if you keep an open mind.

So, this morning, MC Hammer and Jesus are on the same page. U can't touch this. But over 1900 years before Hammer made it a rap hit (when rap was actually kind of cool), Jesus said the same thing to a group of folks who had been on a mission under his flag.

Yesterday, I hit on this story in the message at First Church, but I stopped a little early in the scripture. Today, Jesus told this group of 72 (or 70 depending on which version you read) after they had returned from this little trip he had sent them on, "I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning from the sky. See what I have given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the enemy. No one can put a hand on you..."

How cool is that? Back up and read the story to see what Jesus had sent them to do. This group of folks had been sent out without any extra clothes, shoes, money, or food, to prepare the towns that Jesus had planned on hitting personally. They went, maybe some were scared to death, maybe not, but they went. And because they went, he has now told them that no one would be able to put a hand on them now. Talk about cool.

It feels good to know that Jesus has got your back. It takes a lot of the risks and questions out of what we're being asked to do, which gives us, or at least me, what I need to go ahead and do it. Dang the consequences. I know that as long as I'm doing what my Jewish carpenter boss is telling me to do, U can't touch this. It's not cocky or arrogant, it's just being confident.

So, if you're not sure, go back and check out Luke 10 again. See for yourself that Jesus has got your back too. When it comes right down to it, if Jesus has our back, no one can touch us.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Outside the Walls...

I've had a lot of God touches over the last nearly 40 years. There have been several times when God spoke straight to me, or showed up in some unmistakable way, mostly uninvited and totally unexpected. I love those moments, and will be glad to swap stories, but I have a confession. Out of all of those, only one has actually happened inside a church. I know, that's where they're supposed to happen, but for me, they usually don't. And that's ok with me.

I have led worship in some gorgeous sanctuaries. The one I lead worship in now is absolutely beautiful. It's almost gothic looking; tall ceilings, heavy wooden beams holding everything up, stained glass everywhere, and a pipe organ that just makes your innards rattle. It's a little big right now because we don't quite fill it up anymore but we're working on it.

But for all of the beauty in some of the places I've led worship, I have to say that, for me, it's not in those places where God and I connect the deepest. They're gorgeous, and I certainly don't want to take anything away from them, but I have noticed that when God tags me, and this is just Jamie, it's usually somewhere else.

This morning, Paul did it again...if Paul wrote this letter to Philemon. Here's what he said: "To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home...Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ..."

Now, before I get in trouble, let me say this. Our worship spaces are holy ground, beautiful and consecrated, and we really should kick our shoes off when we go in just as Moses did when he stood by the bush that was on fire but didn't burn. But it does make me want to ask some questions.

Philemon and the others met in his home probably because they were afraid to meet anywhere else. Claiming to be a Jesus follower then could cost you your head, so they needed a place where they could lock the doors and be safe while they worshipped and studied. We, on the other hand, do not. We are perfectly free to worship wherever, whenever, and however we want, so here's the big question...

What if, and I'm just thinking out loud, what if we took what we do when we come together outside to a place where folks could see us, hear us, and maybe even join us? Some of the greatest battles I have had to fight in my ministry were over a church building, not over programming or outreach, but the building itself. This person doesn't like where the table sits so they move it, but that person put it there to start with and they move it back. These two pews are in the way of handicap accessibility but we can't take them out because then it wouldn't look right. The carpet has to be red, the flowers have to be in just the right place, and nothing can be hung on the walls.

I think that's why FaithRiver has taken the form it walls. If there's no building, there can't be any arguments over the building. Even when we begin offering worship celebrations, there won't be a building. Maybe we'll meet in somebody's home, or in a park. Maybe in a school, or down by the riverside (pardon the cliche'). In fact our first Jesus-life celebration will probably be at Columbus Park overlooking the river. But the point is, if we want to get back to our roots, then maybe a little less emphasis on building maintenance, and a little more on going out 2 by 2 is in order (insert shameless plug for tomorrow's message here). Just a thought.

Now, please don't think that I'm disrespecting our worship spaces, I'm not. More folks than not feel God's presence in the colored light of the stained glass and I respect that. For most folks they are havens of peace, and the walls themselves whisper Godstuff to them. I recognize that I'm different and in the minority, and honesty, sometimes wish I weren't. But I'm just wired differnt, and for me, as one knucklehead in the crowd, if we're going to be effective disciple makers, it's time to take at least part of what we do away from our buildings and into the streets or parks or parking lots.

Just thinking out loud today.


Friday, July 2, 2010

I'm Not Sure...

Ok, I've got it all figured out. I've been to seminary, have all the answers, and I'm just waiting for someone to ask me to impart my theological wisdom on them. Ok, I lied. I don't have it all figured out. I do have a seminary degree, but that doesn't mean I have all the answers. In fact, I don't think I would want to have all the answers because then the thrill of discovery would be gone.

Unfortunately, a lot of church crowds kind of want you to have it all figured out before you become a part of them. They think they've got all the answers, therefore, there is no need for your questions. The problem with that is, either those of us who still have questions sit there in their discussion groups pretending we don't, or we just don't go at all. Wouldn't it be cool if scripture actually gave us some guidelines on that? Oh wait, it does.

First, I apologize for being late today, I couldn't get online this morning. But when I did, and finally got to do some reading, I found myself in the book of Jude. It's one of those books that you just skim over in the New Testament, way in the back, mainly because of its size. Just a couple pages. Honestly, I know very little about it. I could do a little research but today, the who, what, when, and where really aren't as important as what is written.

Here is what I read this morning: "Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear..."

Hmm, imagine that. Some churches claim to follow scripture to the letter, but somehow miss this little jewel. It has been my experience that those churches who claim that are usually the ones least open to questions from the outside. I don't know why. Maybe their faith really is that strong and they honestly don't have any questions. Maybe their faith isn't as strong as they claim and any question causes them an uncomfortable uncertainty. Maybe they have one heck of a poker face and just wish there were an opening for them to ask the questions that are gnawing at their souls. I don't know. What I do know, is that I'm not alone in this whole, "ain't got it all figured out yet" thing.

And that is one of the reasons FaithRiver was born. Our goal is to give a Godshout to those folks who feel as if they are on the outside. I need to go ahead and own this up front, FaithRiver wasn't designed for church folks. Anyone is welcome, churched or not. But our primary purpose, our God given quest, is to reach out to those folks who don't feel they fit in a traditional church setting, who have some serious faith questions and are looking for a place where their questions, and others like their's, are honored and they are shown mercy.

That is why I have been posting a mix of Christian links and good ol' rock songs that can have a Christian message. God doesn't always speak in the way we think, and I know, God wants to answer some questions, even if God has to use Led Zeppelin to do it.

So, if you have it all figured out, I need you. You can be a big help. If you don't have it all figured out, I want you, and so does God. If you thought you did, but now you're not sure, hey, I have just the place for you. I love sitting down with folks and hearing their questions, giving them a safe place where they know they won't be judged, and watching as God begins speaking to them in a way that no one had ever thought possible.

May God be in your asking and in your answers.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Third Chances...

There is an old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." I know you've probably heard that before, but what about after twice? I know that in my very nearly 40 years I have messed up a lot. I've done some really stupid stuff and have hurt folks that I really cared about.

I went through a spell where I didn't care what anybody thought about me, I was going to, by dang, do what I wanted and some folks got burned. I never was intentional about it, but it just happened. I've been called hard headed, a rebel, and lots of other things I won't repeat here, but as I've aged, I've also mellowed.

Honestly, I never was a real hell raiser, I just did my own thing. When I realized I had messed up, I would feel sorry about it, but that was usually as far as it went. I'd apologize when needed and try to fix whatever situation I had messed up. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.

Personally, I think everyone deserves a second chance, goodness knows I've used some. But what about after that? When someone continues to hurt folks, do stupid things, or just make a general mess out of their lives, at what point do you say enough is enough? Jesus talked about it and said let it go 70 times 7 times. That's not a literal 490 times, but a reference to the fact that forgiveness should be offered continually, regardless.

But Paul, if Paul wrote the letter the Titus, says different. He has more of a 2 strikes and you're out kind of thing. Now, he was talking about folks causing problems in this very young faith movement, but he didn't see the need for a third chance. He says, "Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time, after that have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned."

Personally, I think that's a little harsh and that is why FaithRiver was born. I tend to lean more towards Jesus on this one than Paul, but don't want to just get ran over either. That's human nature, I guess. We want to follow the example we've been given, but at the same time, we know there must be accountability and responsibility.

Now, I know from experience that some folks are just trouble makers, even in the church. They aren't happy unless somebody is hurting at their hands and will do whatever they can to keep something stirred up all the time. I have zero patience for that and totally agree with Paul. Warn them twice, and if they don't straighten up, give them permission to Christian love, of course. But that's not what this passage said to me this morning.

This morning, as I read these words to Titus, which by the way, I wasn't even supposed to read. None of us were. It hit me, that Jesus wants us to create a space where folks who have used their first and second chances, get another shot. Who knows? Maybe I'm just dreaming, but I would like to think that if folks who had used their first and second chances knew that they could have a clean slate and start over, they just might give it a shot. I guess we'll see.

So, First Church and FaithRiver Flock, if you know someone who has used up all the chances they think they have, send them to me. I just happen to know a guy that would love to talk with them for a minute.