Friday, August 27, 2010

School's In Session...

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I'm not going to say that I hated school, I really didn't. I'm not going to say that I loved school, I really didn't. Highschool was ok, I guess. I'm definitely not one of those folks that wants to go back and do it again, but it wasn't too bad. College was, well, it was college. The first few years were pretty rough. I just wasn't into the whole school thing anymore. I had other things on my mind, but I got it done. It only took me 14 years but I got it done. Then came seminary.

I have to say that it wasn't what I expected. My first class in seminary, very first one, was under Dr. Parrish. I was expecting an old man in a brown tweed jacket with tan suede elbow patches, horn rimmed glasses, and a comb walks this guy with a pony tail, T-shirt, and flip flops. I thought, "I like this guy. This is going to be alright." And it was. Most of my professors were absolutely great. I was pushed away from my lifelong image of God as this old white guy with a long white beard. I was pushed into thinking theologically about everything. But most importantly, I was pushed into looking at the world through a different lens. It took me 5 years to finish seminary, but it was life changing.

It's an 87 hour program. Most Master's programs are 32 hours or so, mine was 87. I have never been more glad to finish something than I was the day I walked across the stage and Dr. J handed me that degree. 87 hours of class time...5 years of making at least one trip a week to Memphis...but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Funny thing is, when I finally got that folder with my name on it followed by "M.Div," I thought I was done learning. I thought I was through being taught. Not so much.

Psalm 143 says, "Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground." I have found, though, that learning to do God's will, and then following through with what you've learned, is not always popular, but I don't remember reading anywhere that it would be. I think that is what makes my job so cool. I get to stand in the gap, every week. I get to stand up for the underdog. I get to spend 40 hours a week, at least, trying to make a difference, and I love it. I'm constantly amazed at who God uses to teach us God's will, and sometimes it's not at all who you would expect.

Dr. Parrish taught me the stories behind the story. Dr. Hudson taught me to see the sacraments in the day to day. Dr. Ramsey & Dr. Schaller taught me how to love my people when their worlds are crashing. Dr. Minor taught me to think against the grain, as uncomfortable as it might be sometimes, and I could list so many more that taught me so much...but, then I had a class with Dr. Gathje. You've heard me mention him before, just not by name.

I learned a lot through lectures and class discussions in most of my classes...I admit that I got nothing out of small group work (hated that)...but I was really taught how to do God's will through the hands on stuff. Working with the hungry makes you realize hunger cannot be part of God's kingdom. Spending time with the homeless makes you realize that there is no way God's kingdom has been completed yet, even though Jesus started it 2000 years ago. Talking with the oppressed makes you realize just how spoiled we really are. I would have probably done none of those things if I hadn't taken his classes.

But school is still in session. I'm still learning, and one of the things I'm learning is just how impatient I really am. I want everyone to be as passionate as I am about feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and making room for the least of these. But I've realized that not everyone has taken an ethics class, or a "food, faith, and farming" class. Not everyone has been taken to the slums of Mexico, or to the "hood" in Memphis, and therefore, don't have the same experiences I have. So, now, the student must become the teacher...with love...with patience...with a sense of call...with a hope of bringing THE kingdom, right here.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pulling Splinters...

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When I was a kid, I was always into something. Most of the time I wound up getting hurt, but that never stopped me. I don't know how many nails I stepped on because I refused to wear shoes (still hate wearing shoes), I've broken both arms (one twice), crashed numerous times on my bike just to have to dig gravel out of my hand or knee, crashed my minibike, fallen out of trees, gotten hung on fences, and the list just goes on and on. I never learned the fact that if I just didn't do the things I did, more than likely I wouldn't get hurt. Call it stubborness, like I mentioned the other day, or curiousity, or just being a boy. I just didn't learn.

Of all of those, though, the one thing that happened more than any of them, and one that I didn't mention before, was having to dig splinters out. I hated that. I was always having to dig splinters out of somewhere. It's like I was a magnet for splinters. In my palms, in my feet, under my fingernails, it didn't matter. And when I started building houses for a living it got even worse. I kept bandaids in my wallet just for splinters. If I got one, I'd stop what I was doing, take out my trusty utility knife (which was always clean), and dig until I got it out. Dang it hurt. Then I'd clean it up, dab on a little antibiotic cream, cover it up, and go back to work. Infection was the last thing I needed.

There is one sure fired way to prevent splinters...stay away from wood. It only makes sense. If you stay away from wood, you don't have to worry about splinters. The only problem with that is...I love wood. I love the way it smells. I love the way it feels. I love taking a stack of 2x4's and turning it into a house. I love being around, splinters will always be an issue.

Over the last few days, I've posted a quote by Dan Berrigan a couple times. This quote has become my new mantra: "If you want to follow Jesus, you had better look good on wood." The other night, I was chatting with one of my professors, the one who told me about these words of Berrigan's, and he said, "Watch out for the splinters." I knew immediately what he was talking about. I could stay away from the splinters, but I'd have to stay away from the wood, and I just can't do that. What I've learned the last couple weeks is that if you really intend to follow HIM, there are going to be some splinters.

I finished reading Jeremiah this morning, finally. All 51 chapters of it. They called him "the weeping prophet," did you know that? Did you know that he stood up against kings and the leaders in the church, over and over again, because what they were doing was wrong? Did you know that the priest asked for his execution? The priest! Did you know that the king let his men drop Jeremiah into a cistern so that he would starve to death, and his blood would not be on their hands? Great bunch of folks. Did you know that God was so put out with the way people were behaving that he told Jeremiah to quit praying for them? Yeah, when you tick God off to the point that God doesn't want to hear prayers on your behalf, it's gotta be bad.

Jeremiah spent his entire adult life pulling splinters. Now, of course, he wasn't a follower of Jesus because Jesus wouldn't be born for nearly 600 years, but he was very serious about the call God had placed on his life. If listening to God meant a lifetime of pulling splinters, that was ok with him. And it's ok with me.

So, I'll keep a stash of bandaids and a sharp knife or pair of tweezers. I'll keep doing what I've got to do, and deal with whatever happens because of it, until God tells me to stop. I'll stand up against injustice, for the outsider, for the hungry, and for the unloved. I'll keep reminding myself that splinters only hurt for a few minutes. And when it's all over, (which may be sooner than later if I stand up to the wrong folks), I'll be able to say that I wasn't afraid.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

He Just Didn't Listen...

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I'm kind of hard headed, I will freely admit that. I pretty much do my own thing, and I guess I have since high school, at least. There are a few people I'll listen to, but not many, especially when it comes to advice (and you know who you are), so sometimes I've learned my lessons the extremely hard way. It has cost me dearly at times, and I'm sure it will again.

But I'm not alone, and for that I give thanks. I know a lot of hard headed people, and most of them I love dearly in spite of their stubbornness. Still, I just can't figure it out. The doctor says, "Quit smoking or you're going to die." That sounds simple enough, but do we listen? Yeah, AFTER the heart attack. The doctor says, "You've got to get some exercise or you're going to die." But do we listen? Yeah, after we've been diagnosed with any number of diseases related to obesity (which, by the way, I could drop 30 pounds and it wouldn't hurt me any). A friend says, "You might not want to say that to them, it could really strain your relationship." Do we listen? Yeah, after we've had to apologize for saying it anyhow.

I don't know if it's because we have all the answers already, or if we know what's best for us better than anyone else, or if we just don't hear sometimes. That's usually what happens around here. My girls just don't hear me, or just don't listen. And I have to say, I hate being ignored. But that's just me.

This morning, I was reading from Jeremiah. It's a really long book, and Jeremiah had a really long career as a prophet. I don't know how many different kings came and went while he was doing what he did, I guess I could look it up, but there was one king in particular that just would not listen. Jeremiah told him that if he just did what he told him to do, everything would work out pretty much ok. It wouldn't be perfect, but it would have certainly been better than what actually happened.

Maybe it was ego, or bad information from someone closer to the king than this crazy prophet. Maybe the king had hoped Jeremiah was wrong, and that what he had told him would happen really wouldn't. But it did.

All he had to do was surrender to the Babylonians and he would have lived. Now, true, this wouldn't have been the ideal situation, but it would have been better than watching your sons executed, having your eyes gouged out, and being dragged off as a prisoner of war, but hey, he had a chance. He just didn't listen.

We don't always listen either. Jesus said, "I am the way." We think we can get there by keeping traditions. Jesus said, "Feed my sheep." We set criteria to determine which sheep we feed and which ones we don't. Jesus said, "Love each other as I have loved you." We'll love you, but you need to change clothes and stop living like you are. It's really not that tough, you know, what he's told us to do and become, and how he taught us to live. It's really not. It's actually kind of cool to see the hungry walk away with food, or the broken lift their heads for the first time in years, or the thirsty find something to drink, or the hopeless find hope. And all we have to do is listen.

I don't know. I wonder if Jesus ever looks at us and says, "Why won't they listen?"


Monday, August 23, 2010

Jesus was a Hippie...

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Jesus was a hippie. Yeah, think about it. He didn't have any place to live. He had long hair and a beard. He hung around with a bunch of other guys with long hair and beards. He had ideas about how to live that ran totally counter-cultural. He was very spiritual. Yep, Jesus was a hippie. Oh, he wasn't into the drugs or anything, but he must have been a hippie.

Think about it...why else would he constantly talk about unconditional love? He was always talking about "love your brother" this, or "love your neighbor" that. One time, he even said something about loving your neighbor JUST LIKE you love yourself. For crying out loud, the signs were everywhere. How did we miss it?

It makes perfect sense. Only a hippie would talk about loving someone else with absolutely no conditions. Of course there are conditions on love, always have been, always will be. Maybe not so much between parent and child, but that's probably about it. I can't think of anything my kids could do that would make me stop loving them; other folks, however...well, you get the point. Love is conditional...unless you're a hippie like Jesus.

Oh, it's not a bad thing...that Jesus was a hippie. Talking about peace and love is a good thing. Getting a bunch of folks to follow you, talking about peace and love, is a good thing. They'll go tell their friends about this peace and love that you're talking about, then their friends will tell their friends, and on and on, until most everybody is talking about peace and love. I think it's actually pretty cool.

But something clicked for me this week. Most of the people in the world are not hippies...unless you're a child of the 60's, then maybe. I kind of hate that I missed all of that by a decade or so. So, since most of the people in the world are not hippies, then this one hippie's message of peace and unconditional love sounds almost foreign to them.

It sounds good in theory, and we talk about it a lot, but when it comes to putting it into practice, not so much a good idea. We have to have conditions. That's what keeps us safe. If we love unconditionally, like this hippie Jesus told us to, there's a real good chance we're going to be taken advantage of. We can't have that.

We sit and listen to our pastors' messages on unconditional nod in a agreement. Heck, we might even toss in an "Amen" every now and then, but when it comes to putting the boots to the ground, there will be conditions...always is. And it breaks my heart.

Maybe I'm just a big ol' softie, I don't know. But I do have a tendency to display some righteous anger when I see conditions being put on love, a holy temper tantrum maybe. When folks are excluded, picked on, or hungry and we think we have the right to decide who gets in, keeps their dignity, or eats, I get mad. I can't help it. Most of the time I can control it pretty well, sometimes, not so much.

But hey, even though Jesus was a hippie, every now and then he threw a temper tantrum over the exact same things. Peace and love...unconditional love. What's wrong with wanting that?

Peace...and love,

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"What's Love Got To Do With It..."

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Dog gone it, there it is again. I usually don't blog on Sunday morning because I'm busy getting ready for services. And maybe I shouldn't this morning, but I'm going to. Yesterday I wrote a pretty raw blog. I intended it to be that way. It wasn't whining, I don't do that. It wasn't "poor me," I love my calling, I love being able to help folks, and I love standing up for folks that the rest of the world tries to keep down. It was simple frustration that finally found it's way through a crack in my filter. I'm usually much better at holding it in, but this past week finally got to me.

I answered this call nearly 12 years ago now, and in the beginning, I admit that I had no clue what I had signed up for. The brochure left a lot of stuff out, but that's cool. It has been one heck of a ride so far, and I know that's not going to change. But you know, I look forward to it.

In the beginning, I wouldn't have been nearly as brazen as I was in yesterday's blog, and I'm sure there are some folks who wish I weren't now. But as I've I've studied the Jesus that I had heard about as a kid, you know, the one we sang about "Jesus loves me this I know," the one that calls us to follow I've read his stories, who he helped, what he did, and who he stood I learned from him, I realized that if I am going to be a follower and not an admirer only, I can't just stand around with my hands in my pockets.

So, what you may have seen yesterday as ego or pride, was neither. It was frustration born out of passion. Frustration because this week I have been engaged in spiritual warfare and there were times when I felt like the other side was winning. Passion because I finally, in my late 30's, realized that John was serious when he said "love one another." And that he was just as serious when he said "Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you." And that he was really serious when he said, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

It's not always a very popular stand, you know, laying your life down for your brothers. It's sometimes a pretty tough sell, actually. As admirers of Christ's, we're not asked to do that. But, if we want to follow him, and if we want to claim to the world that we follow him, it's not just asked, it's expected. I finally realized that, and you know, I really don't mind.

So, when I get like I got yesterday, recognize it for what it is...frustration born out of passion. I'm passionate about doing what I can to bring this kingdom thing here on earth. As long as this group hates that group, or this person feels hated by that person, or that person is hungry while this person sits down to a $100 steak, I will stay frustrated. In fact, if you read his stories again, Jesus stayed frustrated alot, so I'm in good company.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Am Not Afraid...

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Ok, in the beginning I said that this space was where I would post my devotionals, random thoughts, and perhaps even rants. So far, I have remained true to my word. Six days a week, most weeks, I spend an hour or two in the morning with a cup of very good coffee reading, reflecting, and writing. Sometimes what comes out is a devotional. Sometimes it's a random thought. Sometimes, it's a rant, pure and simple. I completely forgot to do my devotional this morning, and here's why. I must confess, this has been one hell of a week (and yes, preachers can say hell), so I'm not real sure if this will be devotional, random thought, or rant...or maybe some combination of all three.

It started Sunday morning, before church. I did something that I will not do any longer, I checked my facebook page before worship, and what I saw posted by a FB friend made me absolutely livid. It's one thing to disagree with what someone else, or even a group of someone elses, is doing. It's another to make sport of their desperation. And it's still another, to be a leader in a local church and post something for the world to see that humiliates and belittles any of God's kids. Call me sentimental. I don't care. I called this person out on what they had done and it created a cyber war, one hour before I had to lead worship. So, God forgive me, but I was not on my game Sunday.

Then it continued into Monday, and Tuesday, over the same issue. One of my professors in seminary, and actually one that I'm glad to call friend now, took me to the slums of Nogales, Mexico to see first hand why men and women were risking their lives to try to get here. At that moment in my life, immigration was no longer political. Immigration became spiritual. Hate me if you want, I really don't care. True we have a system for entry, and ideally, it would work flawlessly. Did you know, though, that our system was intentionally designed to force people from the urban points of entry into the desert where extreme heat and lack of water will probably kill them. This was intentional. I'm not going to argue with anyone, so don't even post comments about immigration, they'll just be deleted. This is how I feel, I'm fairly convinced Jesus would agree, so I'm not backing down. Until you stand face to face with a husband and father, and listen to his desperation with tears in his eyes, you cannot understand. So, I refuse to argue anymore.

Wednesday or Thursday, I don't remember, I heard for the first time that there were plans to build a mosque in Mayfield. Actually, I was kind of surprised there wasn't one there already, or at least close. Again, I'm not interested in arguing politics. In fact, I despise politics as they have become. I'll discuss social justice all day long, and will be glad to show examples of why I feel the way I do about a lot of things, but I will not argue politics. I found a story on a local news website,, about the proposed mosque. Then I noticed the hundreds of comments that had been made since the story broke a couple days before. Curious, I took about an hour and read them. You know, I'm a pastor, so I felt that discussions of faith would be something I should stay abreast of. What I found was not so much discussions of faith, but words of hate, hidden under claims of being in the Christian church's best interest.

Jesus said it, not me, so I will be danged if I become afraid to repeat..."Do this and you will live." What was the "this" he was talking about? The expert in the law said it, not me; "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" Do this and you will live. It doesn't say do this and you will be safe and secure today, it says, do this and you will live.

So, here's the bottom line. I don't care what people think about me. I have answered a call to follow. I have laid down my nets, left a much, much easier life, given up living in my home and raising my kids in their house, said I will move my family wherever God sends me, willingly and with a very glad heart get up and leave my bed in the middle of the night because one of God's kids needed some help, meet folks at my door who are hungry and need something to eat...I have held the hands of the homeless on a freezing January morning, and walked the deserts of Mexico trying to get my head around the fear and despair that would drive someone to walk that walk in the middle of the night. I don't care if you're rich or poor, white or black, Christian or Muslim (even if you want to kill me because your idea of Allah says you have to)...I don't care if you're straight or gay, or legal or not, by dang I'm going to love you. I don't care what you look like, what you smell like, where you slept last night, or what's in your past, I'm going to stand up for you when I hear someone belittling you.

And frankly, I don't care who likes it. I am not afraid. First Church, the flock that I absolutley love serving, if this has embarrassed you, or if I have cast our church in a negative light, please let someone on the PPRC know and I be will glad talk to them. FB friends, if you don't like that I'm a Jesus freak and will, by dang, say what I'm led to say by a being who loves me in spite of me, and loves you in spite of you, there is a very easy solution: go to my profile page, scroll down on the left side of the page, and unfriend me. I promise it won't hurt my feelings. I may not be politically correct, and my stand may not be very popular. Jesus said that if they hate you, don't sweat it, they hated me too. So, I answer only to one person, and tonight, I will sleep like a baby because my conscience is clear.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Do Ya Love Me?...

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"Tell me, do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? Now that I can dance?" Ah, the Countours...sing it boys! I love that song. "I can mash-potato. And I can do the twist. Now tell me baby, do you like it like this?" Impatient little cusses, they are, though. Three times they ask "do you love me?" and barely even give a body a chance to answer in between.

What is it within us that has this need to be loved? Is it born within us? Do we develop it as we grow? And why would they sing a song about it, just repeating that question over and over again? This is where I wish I had majored in Psychology instead of Biology. I would love to be able to find the answers to questions like this.

The Contours aren't the only ones who asked that question, and they're not the only ones who asked it three times in a row. "Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?...Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?...Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He barely had time to answer, "Yes Lord, you know that I love you..." before the next "Do you love me?" was already in the air. Why the impatience, Jesus?

I think, and this is just me, but I think the Contours were probably singing about a girl who obviously wasn't paying one of them enough attention. Evidently, he sucked on the dance floor, as do I. For Jesus and Simon Peter it was different. Peter had totally denied even knowing Jesus, and I can imagine that must have hurt. Imagine, one of your best friends, someone you have spent most of every day with for years, suddenly saying they don't even know you. Worse than saying it, acting like it. It had to cut deep.

Jesus didn't act like we would have though. I would have been all, "Yeah, well, your loss baby! I didn't really like you anyhow." But not Jesus. After THAT night, after that next day, after that morning a few days later, Jesus looked him in the eyes and gave him another chance. Sometimes that's all we need, you know, a chance to prove ourselves. "Simon, son of John, do you love me? Then feed my sheep." What's so cool is that we get those same second chances...Peter isn't the only one that Jesus asks that question.

This week, I have been hammered with hate from practically every side. Not directed at me, it's actually been a pretty good week for me so far, but comments that I've heard folks make on Facebook. Hateful comments. Totally not-Christian comments. I have to say, it ticks me off, but more than that, it makes me wonder if we actually love him at all. I just don't know, and it makes my job so frustrating sometimes. Don't get me wrong, the comments I'm talking about haven't come from any of my folks. My folks are great, and it is a privilege to serve them. However, some of the folks making these comments ARE leaders in their churches, whichever church it may be. Which makes me wonder, "Do ya' love me?"

I'm terribly afraid that Jesus would be terribly disappointed in the true answers from some of his admirers. Notice I didn't say followers, but admirers. You know the folks that show up on Sunday morning to be seen. Don't forget the ones with the cute little, "In case of rapture this car will be unmanned" bumper stickers, right next to the "Kill them all, let God sort them out" bumper sticker, right next to the "Honk if you love Jesus" bumper sticker while they were flipping someone the bird for cutting them off in traffic...on the way to church. Just saying.

"Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep." I don't know how Jesus meant for him to feed them, I don't think it was a physical meal. I'm not real sure how Jesus wants us to feed them. But I do know we are being asked, "do you love me?" and if we say yes, then we show that love for HIM by loving THEM...all of THEM.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How Do You Know My Name?...

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I was not very good at introducing myself. In school, I was a band geek. Granted, I was a drummer and that made you band geek royalty, but still a geek. I wasn't the loud, outgoing type that I have morphed into over the last decade or so. I was fairly quiet, and fairly reserved outside of my circle, so it might have been kind of easy to look over me in school. Not so much now. I'm extroverted to the max now. I have no problem walking right up to anyone and introducing myself, and usually, when I'm in a room folks know it. I don't know what happened. Maybe it was the whole "Moses Complex" that I had to overcome, "But God, I can't lead your people, I'm slow of speech..." At least that was what he tried to pull.

Since I wasn't very good at introducing myself, there probably weren't a lot of folks who actually knew my name, outside of my circle. I was the guy that played the quads, the one making all of that noise. I actually was asked to leave a district tournament at Ballard County because I was so loud, but the guy that tried to kick me out never one time asked my name.

Names are important. When you know someone's name, you hold a certain amount of power. Especially middle names. Darren... When I was in trouble as a kid, I got "JAMES DARREN!" When I heard that, I knew I had messed up. We're very protective of our middles names for some reason, maybe that's another discussion for another day, but not today. Today, first names are all we need.

A couple years ago, I was in Walmart one day and walked past two elderly ladies. One of them looked at me and said, and I quote, "You just never speak anymore," and then called me by name. I had NO CLUE who she was. I just said, "You'll have to forgive me, but your name has left me." She never did give me her name, just that she was a friend of one of my church members and had been to my church...ONCE. Names are powerful, and I couldn't remember hers. In fact, I'm not sure that I ever had her name to forget.

Two weeks ago I was in the southside McDonald's checking email and drinking a cup of very mediocre coffee. I got finished with what I was doing, got up, and started walking out. I met a lady at the door, held the door for her like my daddy taught me to do, and she looked up and said, "Hi Jamie!" I granted her a cordial "Good morning, how are you?" but I have no recollection of ever seeing her before. Names are powerful. I was in a rush or I would have stuck around to find out a little more about her; like where we had met, how we knew each other, those kind of things. Names are powerful. Calling someone by name is even more powerful.

"Mary." That was all he said. She was torn all to pieces at the moment. He had been murdered by the empire, very hastily buried in a borrowed tomb so that Jewish law wouldn't be broken, and now she had come to finish what Joseph and Nicodemus had started a couple nights before. But when she got there, he was gone.

She thought he was just he gardener when he first spoke, so there evidently wasn't anything very special about his voice. He had spoken two whole sentences to her before, but that one word got her. "Mary." Her name. He called her by name, and that was when she recognized him. Of all of the accounts we have of the resurrection, for me, this one in John is the most tender.

He could tell she was hurting. He knew she was confused. He could see that she was crying, but she couldn't see him...yet. And then, "Mary." One word...her name. Speaking her name at that moment in her life changed everything. John says "She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means Teacher.)" Only after hearing him speak her name did she recognize who he was.

Do you see how powerful it can be when we take time to learn someone's name? Those two examples I mentioned earlier are just two out of many. People are always coming up to me, calling me by name, but their name leaves me. Maybe if I worked a little harder at it. Maybe being able to call them by name would let them know that someone actually cares what happens to them. I don't know, but I do know that it couldn't hurt.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

You're Not The Boss of Me...

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Ok, actually he is. He is the boss of me. I just don't always like to admit that I have someone to answer to, you know, being the anti-rules guy that I am. This week, he told me to do something. Actually, he told me to do nothing.

You see, I have a confession to make. I'm a workaholic. I admit it. Being a pastor is so much different from being a carpenter. I don't punch a clock. Some weeks are 30 hour weeks, and some weeks are 80 hour weeks. I don't have a regular time to clock in or clock out. I do what needs to be done when it needs to be done; maybe it's 8:00 in the morning, maybe it's 2:00 in the morning, so there is never really a sense of separation between home and work. So, instead of trying to find a separation between the two, it's just easier if I stay on all the time. At least I thought it was easier. Maybe it was out a sense of guilt, I don't know. Maybe it was the desire to feel fulfilled in ministry. Maybe it was ego, or just that the needs of my people and the community really are that great. I don't know. Something kept driving me.

Steph told me a few weeks ago that she and I haven't been on a vacation together since October of 2007. I just had too much going. I was serving two churches, finishing seminary, and trying to get our house finished on my days off. I didn't even realize that I had lost my sabbath time, but I realize it now.

At our clergy meeting this week, my boss asked us if we were taking our time off, keeping a Sabbath, and taking care of ourselves and our families. I thought I was doing alright, but I wasn't, and it didn't hit until I had commented about not taking a vacation in over 2 years (In secular America that is a badge of honor) and he looked at me and said, "And you have your vacation scheduled for when?" I didn't have one scheduled.

That was Wednesday of this week. In the couple days since, the realization has hit me that I am burned out. For the 5 years I was in seminary, 80 hour weeks happened practically every week. For 5 years I worked 2 full time jobs. The year after seminary, office work cut back to 30-50 hours a week, but my time off was spent driving nails. Now, after 6 years of running non-stop, I'm burned out. I'm tired. I need a break.

My boss isn't the only one telling me, and you, to take some time for a Sabbath. Jeremiah does it too. Well, actually, God does it through Jeremiah. God talks about keeping the Sabbath a lot, so it must be important. And it is. I've talked about it some, but I have to admit that this is one of those things I've preached...but not always practiced.

I think that my lack of Sabbath keeping goes back to a conversation I had with one of my committees at a church I used to serve. There was griping and complaining that I wasn't doing enough, so I had them list the things they expected me to do each week, and exactly how much time they expected me to spend doing it. When they got done, and I totalled it all up, they had me working 140 hours a week. Their expectations were unrealistic, and those unrealistic expectations led to a constant sense of guilt for me as their pastor, that maybe I should be doing more.

So, here is where this thing is going to land today. Do you want a better pastor? I'm going to tell you how to get a better pastor than the one you have now. It's easy, really. Here goes: Make her/him take some time off. Keep your expectations realistic. Recognize that ministry is not a 9 to 5 gig and that if your pastor doesn't answer your phone call or email immediately, it might be because she was at the hospital with a parishioner all night. Encourage him or her to take a weekly Sabbath, and give her permission to do so. Set up time in the worship calendar for your pastor to be away with their family, create a space for your pastor to get away for his or her own spiritual formation. Be realistic in your expectations. Set up a little cash in his or her continuing education fund so that he or she can actually spend some time working on real weaknesses. Did I mention keep your expectations realistic?

Now, this will work if your pastor is a workaholic and not just lazy, which there is some of that too. I have learned this week, and I knew it all along really, that I CANNOT take care of my flock unless I'm taking care of myself first. Neither can your pastor, so it will actually be advantageous to you, to your church, and to the community if you help make sure your pastor is taking some time for Sabbath rest.

Here's a link to an article that was emailed to me yesterday.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Rotten Apples...

(photo from
I didn't blog yesterday...on purpose. This is number 137 today, and I had said that if I couldn't keep it fresh, I wouldn't do it. Yesterday, after I read the Life Journal texts, and reread them, and reread them, I had nothing. So, instead of just making something up, I didn't blog. I'm struggling now with which is more important: the discipline of writing every day, or writing when scripture speaks. We'll see where that struggle goes, but this morning I'm back on.

"One bad apple can ruin the whole bushel." How many of us heard that growing up? And we know what it was about. It was about that one bad kid that mom and dad didn't want us hanging around with because they knew, as we know now, that you are at least in part, a product of who you spend your time with. If you spend your time with a bad apple, more than likely that bad apple behavior will rub off on you, at least to some extent.

I have to say, I think I belong to the camp who's credo is "Everyone has at least some good in them." There are days when that is challenged within my very core; having to share the road with stupid drivers, whiney people in McDonald's, folks with more than 20 items in the "20 items or less" line at walmart, spandex where there should be heavy denim, and I could go on and on. But in general, I like to think that no one is all bad, even the folks with more than 20 items in the "20 items or less line" (Read the sign people, go to another line, and quit ruining my life!), but there is one place in scripture that makes me wonder. Ok, at least one place.

This is from Jeremiah 13, and here is what it says: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." So, Jeremiah, are you saying that once you're a bad apple, you're always a bad apple? Maybe something was lost in translation, I don't know. Maybe I missed the context. But that sure sounds like what he's saying. So much for transformation, I guess.

You see, I know folks who were bad apples growing up. They were always in trouble. They were the ones that kept the teacher mad at the rest of us, and just in general, made life miserable. BUT, as they matured something happened. Call it grace, call it guilt, call it "Finding Jesus," whatever you want, but something changed.

Now, certainly, some folks have their good side hidden a lot deeper than others, and you have to look much harder to find it. I don't deny that at all, and all you have to do is turn the news on to see that is true. But, is Jeremiah saying that the sin within us, however deep it's buried, is beyond the reach of God's transforming grace? Sorry, but I'm just not buying it.

I posted a quote by Soren Kierkegaard yesterday or the day before that said, "God creates out of nothing. Wonderful, you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is more wonderful still; he creates saints out of sinners."

Sorry Jeremiah, I gotta disagree with you on this one.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dirty Feet...

(photo from
I hate feet. There, I said it. I don't like anything about them. I don't want to see them. I don't want to touch them. I hate feet. I might have seen one or two pairs in my whole life that were fairly cute, but for the most Mine are no exception. I don't do foot massages, so don't ask. I like having my feet rubbed, but I pay someone to do that so that there is no fear of having to return the favor. Did I mention I don't like feet? But...

There is one time during the year when I set aside my hatred of feet for a little kingdom work. Maundy Thursday. It's the Thursday before Easter...the beginning of the Triduum...the Big Three...Holy Thursday, Good Friday, through to Easter Sunday. There are lots of special services during these three days, and one of them is the Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday) service...which, if you are so inclined, just happens to include a service of foot washing. Have I mentioned that I hate feet?

Once a year, or once every other year if I rotate the Maundy Thursday service with a Seder meal, I gather up tubs and towels, a little splash of bleach in some warm water, not my good jeans in case the bleach water splashes on me (bleach because I hate feet, but I hate germs even more, and bleach is lethal to germs), line up a couple chairs, invite the ones that want to have their feet washed to come up, and I wash them. I did say that I hate feet, right?

Why do I do it if I dislike it so much? I do it because Jesus did, and it's one small self-sacrificing gesture that I can make to love folks on his behalf. In the book of John, Jesus does this for his disciples. Now, let me take just a second and mention why that was important. Folks then didn't have Sketchers, Shape Ups, Work boots, Rockports, or anything like that...they wore sandals. The roads weren't paved, they were dirt. Sandals + dirt roads = stinking, dirty, nasty, ugly feet. Therefore, the teacher didn't wash feet, the slaves did. As soon as you came into the house, if the host was a good host, a servant would come and wash the dirt of the road off of your feet. It was a gesture of hospitality.

So, this one night, Jesus got up, took off his good robe, wrapped a towel around him, knelt down in front of each of them, and washed their dirty, nasty, stinking, ugly feet. Jesus. The Son of the Living God. First Born of all creation. Author of the Universe. Second person of the Trinity. Took a slave's place and washed the dirt off of their feet. Dang it Jesus, why feet? Have I mentioned that I don't like feet? Couldn't you have washed their hands?

So what? Why is this important? It's what he said next that makes this important. He said that since he had done this for them, they should do it for each other. Not necessarily because their feet were filthy and nasty, but as a sign of love and humility. That's why I do it. I set aside my disgust at touching someone else's feet to remember that I'm not all that.

Where I stand each week, it's easy to get the big head. Several of my colleagues have fallen victim to that and developed a sense of entitlement with their position. Jesus would throw a fit about that. But it's more than just washing each other's feet. This is why we feed the hungry, why we serve as volunteers, why we go out of the way to help. It's HIS example that we're trying to follow, and I just think that from time to time we need a reminder. I know I do.

So, I wash feet. I could just wash one set of feet and then have that person wash the next person's, but it wouldn't be the same. I wash all of the feet. I can't think about it or I'll wig out, I just do it. Thank God I can serve in other ways most of the year, I don't mind at all. But I have to say that, for me, washing feet is the most powerful example of loving each other in his name.

Here's the challenge for today...find your least comfortable area and then find some way to use it to serve others. It's humbling. It's powerful. It's kingdom work.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Because of Him...

(photo from
I would love to be accused of that. Just saying. I would love for folks to say that because of me, they are coming to see him. Scripture actually says, "On account of him," but that just didn't really sound like me. Maybe it was curiousity, I don't know. Maybe they had heard about what had happened and just wanted to see for themselves. Maybe they had been walking with the crowd, grieving, and throwing dust into the air as they carried his lifeless body to the tomb.

On account of him, though, now folks were coming to get closer to HIM. Yep, that's what I want to be accused of. I've been accused of a lot of things in my very nearly 40 years....nearly burning the house down when I was 4 because I thought I needed a smoke, didn't like it, and threw it in the trash...scraping the car fender along the TV antennae pole when I was 12 because I was trying to wash the car before dad got home from work...tying my bicycle to the back of the 3 wheeler when I was maybe 13 because my chain had broken...walking past a tobacco sucker that was way down on the ground and I was tired, and it was hot, and I just didn't want to bend down to pull it...swapping out going to Intro to Botany lectures with a buddy of mine, I'd go Tuesday, he'd go Thursday and we'd compare notes...I've even been accused of righteous pruning by asking some folks to find another place to worship, because the spirit they brought to the church was nothing but negative. Sad part is, they're all true. Every one of them. But that's not what I'd really like to be accused of.

I'd really like to be accused of what he was accused of...on account of him. I would like to be accused of leading a life that made folks just a little more curious about this Jesus guy. John says that not just because of HIM, but on account of him, folks were coming to see HIM. I would like to be accused of having the same effect on folks that Lazarus had, that because of me, folks were coming to HIM. But there's a problem, and it's a big problem. It's a freakin' huge problem.

For Lazarus, the reason folks were coming to see HIM because of him, was that HE raised him from the dead...which means, for me to have the same "because of him" effect on folks, I have to die and be raised again...which sucks. Unless, I could get by without physically dying and being raised. I mean, I'm all for a trip to that big construction site in the sky, but not really looking to go today. So what if, I died to the old me and let HIM raise me to a new me? That might just work.

I try, but it's tough. It's hard to let go of the old me, because the old me used to have a whole lot of fun. Not that I don't now, it's just different fun. Like I've said before, I never was a real hellraiser, but to quote Hank Jr. "Me and my rowdy friends done settled on down." So what if, this new me is so much different from the old me that folks actually come to check out what's going on?

That would be cool, and that, my friends, is what we are called to.


Monday, August 9, 2010

His Soft Side...

(photo from
Sometimes, and I'm being totally honest, theology wears me out. The constant arguing between this group and that group over interpretations, literal vs. metaphorical, context, audience, all of the things that are part of our theological discussions sometimes just wear me out. Then you have to throw in questions about God: where was God in this story...what was going on that caused God to act/react in a certain way...and sometimes I get lost in the complexity of this God story if I let myself.

But then there are times when you don't have to ask God questions, you don't have to wonder if this is a text we need to take literally or metaphorically, there's no need to argue's just there, simply. I like those sometimes. Don't get me wrong, I love wrangling with the difficult stuff, but every now and then, it's nice to take a break and just let a text speak for itself.

And that is what I found this morning. Two little words: "Jesus wept." John 11:35, the shortest verse in the bible. It's found in Lazarus' story, well one of his stories. You see, he had gotten sick, and his sisters sent word to Jesus that he was sick. I've wondered why Jesus waited two more days to go to him, especially since he loved Lazarus and his sisters the way scripture says he did, but the story tells us. He waited because he knew that Lazarus was going to die, but that he wouldn't stay dead, at least not this time. At least four days after hearing that he was sick, Jesus finally showed up.

You can almost feel the emotions in this story, and don't we need that sometimes? Jesus had lost someone very close to him, and since he was fully human as well as fully God, it hit him kind of hard. It does the same to us when we lose someone close. It doesn't say why he wept, only that he did. We can assume that it was because of his love for this family. Some might say that there were other reasons, I don't know. But today we see a very human Jesus in the midst of a very real loss.

He was a rebel, no doubt. He totally bucked the system for sure. He stood up against an empire, and told the folks around him that life as they knew it was not what God had intended for them. But today, in this story, he has lost one of his closest friends and we get a glimpse into his softer side.

Tim McGraw did a song about grown men crying. There's nothing wrong with it, even if you're Jesus. But in this story his tears didn't last long. They took him to the tomb, he commanded them to roll away the stone, and he yelled to the body, "Lazarus, come out."

We could wrestle with the question that was asked that day, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" We could do that and it would make for a good discussion, but today, let's just give him a minute. Lord knows we need that sometimes. Today, let's allow him into our pain and brokenness, those moments in our lives that drive us to tears, let him cry with us, and then wait for his healing word to be spoken. Sometimes, it's as simple as "You are forgiven." Always, though, it's "I love you."


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Throw Him Out...

(photo from
I mentioned the other day that I was born about a decade too late to catch all of the westerns on TV, but I did watch them in syndication as a kid. One of the things I loved to watch was the old saloon scenes, you know the ones. Somebody gets in a fight, the whiskey has been flowing free, so before long it's a full fledged brouhaha, and somebody is going to get thrown through a window out onto the street.

I loved it. Now I know it probably wasn't real glass, and that there were some Hollywood special effects probably involved, but just the idea of taking the rascal and tossing him out the window was great. I have to admit, there have been times that I've wanted to do that, even as a pastor. I'm not proud of it, just being honest. Just for the record, though, I never have.

But...there were some that did. If they didn't like what you were doing or saying, they would just throw you out, and to be thrown out then was a major deal. There is a story in this morning's life journal readings about that. There was some guy who had been born blind, and some other guy healed him, and then these other guys didn't like it, so they threw the used-to-be-blind guy out of the synagogue. I know! Can you believe it?

It started simply enough. Jesus and the guys, or guys and gals, were walking along and they saw the blind man. The disciples wanted to know who had messed up so that he had been born blind. Was it his sin? Or was it his parents'? You see that was what they believed then. If something bad happened to you, it was because you had done something bad. I'm just glad no one thinks like that anymore (Insert shameless attack on Pat Robertson's comments on Haiti and John Hagee's comments on Katrina here).

It boils down to this: Jesus had healed the man's eyes, so he was becoming a follower. He wasn't ready to call him Lord yet, but he was getting there. When he actually stood up for Jesus against the powers that be, they got mad and threw him out. Well, well, well. It happens, don't kid yourself.

If you stand up for the same things Jesus stood up for, somebody is going to get mad. Their problem was that this healing took place on the Sabbath. That's where all the trouble started, but I've already done the breaking the rules thing.

I love stories like this, and here's why. If you keep reading in John 9, you'll get to a place where Jesus learns this guy has been kicked out, goes looking for him, and finds him. Isn't that cool? Then, Jesus, like he does so many times, turns this whole thing into a teaching moment. He says that those who are blind will see and those who see will become blind.

I told you, he came to turn the world on its ears, and by dang, he did it. The question now becomes, can we keep up the momentum? Can we continue standing against systems and institutions that would rather throw you out than try to understand God working in your life? Can we continue opening blind eyes? Can we continue going after those who have been thrown out of other places? I'm game.

I know what will happen though, and I'm ready. I'm going to keep on, saying the things I say, doing the things I do, standing up for the underdog, and fighting for the marginalized, until I wind up laying on my back in the street picking glass out of my hair. But that's ok too. Jesus will find me.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Letters in the Sand...

(photo from
I wonder what he was writing. You know, as he bent down with her standing in front of him, and both of them surrounded by this angry mob...I wonder what he was writing in the sand. Maybe he was making a list of the things she had done wrong, I don't know. Oh, oh, oh, wouldn't it be funny if he was making a list of the things THEY had done know, the men standing there with stones in hand? That would have been hilarious. That's what I might have done, you know, if I were Jesus and some group of men brought her to me. Only I wouldn't tell them what I was doing, I'd wait to see how things went, if needed, I could pull that ace out of my sleeve.

I wonder what he was thinking while this was going on. We know what THEY were thinking. THEY were thinking that she had been caught doing something she wasn't supposed to be doing, and what the heck, we haven't stoned anybody today. We can imagine what she was thinking: terrified that her life is about to end, abandoned, angry that he wasn't there facing condemnation with her, but what about Jesus? What was he thinking? I'm sure this wasn't the first time he had been dragged into something like this. But this time it seemed different. He might have been thinking, "When are they going to get it? How many times do I have to tell them that this is not how Father wants them to live?" We all know it takes two to tango, yet where was her lover? Why didn't the angry mob drag him to Jesus too? Maybe Jesus was wondering that very thing, I don't know. I'm just thinking. I would have wondered that.

And there she stood...alone...ashamed...condemned in the eyes of men...waiting to hear him agree with the angry mob. After all, he knew the rules, and this angry mob knew that he knew them, so all he had to do was drop the gavel and it was all over for her. Everyone there knew that. It was the law. Moses had given them the law and you couldn't break the law.

You see, this very story is why I love being a Jesus follower. The other ones are cool, but if I had to pick one story out of all of them...only one that I could read and preach for the rest of my life, this would be it. Why? Because this is one time out of many when the law condemned, but Jesus said "To hell with the law." I love it! He knew what Moses had said. He knew that if she was guilty this group had every right to stone her, according to the law. He also knew that those angry men were just as guilty of just as many sins, so who did they think they were judging her??!!

"If any of you have never messed up, you can throw a rock at her. Throw it good, aim straight at her head. Hit her hard. But...if you have EVER messed up, you had better not throw one." That wasn't exactly how he worded it, but ok. Then he went back to writing in the sand.

I don't know what he wrote...but I know what he said: "Where are they? Is no one left to condemn you? Then neither do I. Go and sin no more." What he said was that his love for her was stronger than any of man's laws, that God's love for her was greater than the things she had screwed up in her life, that she was just as good as anyone else, and that this was a new beginning...and by dang, we know people who might like to hear that.

What are we writing in the sand? Letters of condemnation because they aren't like us? Love letters because, like them, we have been forgiven much? Rules? Laws? Freedom? Traditions? We've never done it that way? I don't know what he wrote in the sand, but whatever it was said, "I love you."


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Holy Chicken Batman...

(photo from
I wasn't a comic book fan growing up, really. I mean, I had a few, but I don't remember having a childhood hero from the pages of Marvel like a lot of folks did. I grew up watching the Incredible Hulk, the original one, with Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby. The Hulk wasn't scared of anything, but he wasn't really a hero for me. I missed all of the old westerns by a decade, so I didn't really have a gunslinger hero. A sports fan I wasn't, even as a kid, so I didn't have any sports heroes. I did love watching CHiPs, because Ponch and John didn't seem to be scared of anything. I had a Luke Skywalker action figure (no it wasn't a doll, so hush), but still, at nearly 40 years old, I've never watched Star Wars all the way through.

Childhood heroes are great to have. They give us someone to look up to, and might be a positive example for us to follow. But what do you do when that hero has a moment of weakness? Or at least appears to? I mean, would Lucas McCain back down from a fight? I think not. Would Starsky and Hutch hide from the criminals? No way. What about Luke, Han, the Princess, Chewy, Obi Wan, and the droids? Not on your life.

My dad told me when I was a kid that if I ever started a fight at school I would be in trouble when I got home. He also said that if I ever didn't finish one, I'd be in trouble when I got home. Luckily, I haven't had to worry about it so far. But others have, and one of those is someone we might not have expected to back down from anything.

John talks about it. It's one of those stories in scriptures that we might just read over. There's nothing that really stands out in it, just a few lines in a much bigger story. But today, those few lines jumped out at me. Here is what it says:

"After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposefully staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life." Jesus seems to be running from the very thing he will set his face toward later on. But for now, the time's not right.

On the surface, it looks like Jesus is just running scared, but I don't think that's what's going on. I mean, yeah, they were trying to find a way to kill him, but he knew that would happen when he started out. If you're going to go against the system, you've got to be ready to make a few enemies. He certainly did, and lots of others have too...Dietrich Bonhoffer, Martin Luther King Jr., Dusty Miller, Janani Luwum, and a host of others who's "right time had come." These folks gave up their lives rather than back down, and later, we would see Jesus do the same thing.

So the lesson for me in this passage is that this is just one more example of our need to look a little deeper into a text to get the message buried in it. Jesus wasn't scared of the Jews, like this story would lead us to believe, Jesus wasn't done yet. Had he died prematurely, there would have been lots left undone. He was anything but a chicken. Are we as willing as that to stand up for what is right? To fight for the underdog? To reach out to those on the margins? If not, we should be.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Holy Water...

(photo from
When I was in Israel in 2006, we were staying at Ginnosar, in a kibbutz. It's just north of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, which really isn't a sea at all, more of a large freshwater lake. If you're not familiar with the village, you may be familiar with what they found there: the Jesus boat, a first century Galilean fishing boat. But that's not what I'm writing about today.

While we were staying there, I slipped down to the lake one day and filled up a water bottle with water from the Sea of Galilee, and slipped it into my suitcase. I wanted it because I knew that the water in that lake would eventually flow into the Jordan River, and water from the Jordan River, to some, is the holiest water on earth. I wanted to bring it back with me so that, when I did a baptism, I could use some water from Israel. It's just kind of neat to be able to say that you were baptized with water from that area.

The water itself is nothing special, it's just water. But the signifance it has, we have given it, much like the healing pools of ancient Jerusalem. There might have been some chemical difference about some of the water that might have eased aches or something like that, but it's healing symbolism came from those coming to the water seeking healing. There's one story of one particular healing pool, and I just absolutely love this story.

Jesus and the guys, or guys and gals, were coming into the city one day and happened to come in by the sheep gate. As they did, they wandered into, or around, the Pool of Bethesda, one of the most famous healing pools in the city. Now, it's ruins but it is still a beautiful place.

I love the story about this pool, and the healing that took place there on that day for several reasons. The poor guy in this story hadn't been able to walk for 38 years. He felt that if he could just get into the water after it had been stirred (it was stirred by a spring but the people of the time thought it was done by some angelic force) he would be healed. Without fail though, every time he tried to make his way into the water after it was stirred, someone would beat him in, and only the first one in received a healing. Jesus asked the guy if he wanted to be healed and, of course, he said yes. So, we might think that Jesus would help him into the pool like any good neighbor would have done, but no. Jesus just told him to pick up his mat and go home. That's it, no holy water needed.

But as awesome as that is, even that is not what hits me when I read this story. You see, there were folks watching as this took place, and what they saw was not the healing, but the fact that this guy was packing his mat on the Sabbath. Yeah, I know! They totally missed what had just happened. They didn't notice that this guy had been unable to walk for 38 years and now he was packing his mat, headed to the door, on his way home. What they saw was that he was breaking their law. How stupid is that?

It breaks my heart that this still happens today, and it does, so let's not pretend. Jesus is still healing folks without the assistance of whatever means we have put in place for healing, but so many times we miss it. What we see, instead of a soul given a new birth, are the tattoos and piercings, the nose rings, eyebrow rings, loud music, flip flops, shirt tails untucked, long hair, and get my point. Go back and read the story again: John 5:1-15. It really is a cool story.

Jesus didn't go through all of the rituals...he didn't offer the prescribed sacrifices in the temple...he didn't follow the rules (actually, he very seldom followed THEIR rules)...but what he did was give a guy who might have begun to lose hope, a second chance at life...a new beginning. Now he didn't have to live with the shame of who folks thought he was. He didn't have to beg. He didn't have to sit and wait, hoping he could slide in before someone else did. He got up, picked up his mat, and walked. All because Jesus told him he could.

Wouldn't it be cool if we could see those things happen today? Well my friends, we don't have to look far, but we do have to look past our expectations of other people.