Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do All The Good You Can...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 20, 2010

Baby Jesus...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 10, 2010

Letter From a Friend...

(photo from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Exclamation Point Faith...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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