If You’re Gonna Be a Bear…Be a Grizzly!

      I said something in my sermon yesterday that I would like to dig a bit deeper into. Here’s what I said- “Whatever you do, you’re going to be criticized by someone. Even if you do nothing, you will still be criticized for it. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be criticized for doing SOME thing than for doing nothing. I’d rather be persecuted for doing the right thing than be rewarded for doing the wrong thing. I’d rather be called a fool for following a God who’s a party person than be called wise man for NOT following Him.”

     That observation is based on 14 years in the ministry. Before that, I thought…I honestly thought…that I could please everyone if I tried hard enough. (I know… naive…right?) I was a pleaser, born and bred. And that just didn’t work very well. When I first entered the ministry, I continued being a pleaser. (I mean, we are what we are…aren’t we?!) But as time went by, I began to figure it out- you simply could NOT please everybody. And not just all the time, but never! Can’t do it! 
     And once you figure that out, the logical next step is to focus on pleasing yourself. Think about it- as that great theologian Ricky Nelson said in the song Garden Party– “But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”  We all fall into that at times. Look out for #1. Take care of yourself because no one else will. Do what’s best for you. And all that!
     But somewhere along the way, between trying to do what everyone wanted me to do and trying to do what I wanted me to do…I figured out that the only way to find real peace in the middle of it all was to do what GOD wanted me to do. Ultimately, you can’t do what everyone else wants you to do. And you sure can’t simply do what YOU want all the time. But you CAN do what God wants you to do.
     BUT…when you do that…you WILL hack some people off. You will ALSO make some people very happy. If you change your approach to try and make the first bunch happier…you will make the 2nd bunch madder!! Then, if you decide that doing anything makes people mad, you are prone to do…nothing. Well, let me assure you that just makes people mad as well! If I choose to pick THIS music for Sunday, then THOSE people are as happy as clams…but THESE people are madder than wet hens! 
     So…I choose to do what I feel God is calling me to do…and let the chips fall where they may! Happy with what I did? Thanks…but just wait…I’ll do something else soon that will hack you off. Unhappy with what I did? Sorry about that…today just isn’t your day…and tomorrow isn’t looking too good either! If you’re going to follow God, at some point you just have to take a big, deep breath…and jump in the current! You have to grab life with both hands and refuse to let go. In other words, if you’re going to be a bear…be a grizzly!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Jesus: The Party Person

    I have a retired
preacher friend who is…shall we say…colorful! He used to smuggle Bibles into Communist-bloc
countries. He’s been detained by KGB agents. He yearly leads a men’s ministry
group in the French Quarters of New Orleans in the middle of Mardi Gras, the
wildest party in the world- 50 guys, marching 5 across, carrying a cross down
the middle of Bourbon Street in the midst of debauchery that is hard to describe.
He also used to hang out in the local bars of the town where his church was. He
would sit near the men’s room (his philosophy was that, when you spend time in
a bar, everyone is going to end up in the restroom!), and when guys would come
by, he would get their attention and say something like, “Jesus loves you. Brother.”
The responses ranged from ignoring him to cussing at him to spitting on him.
But he said that, as the night wore on, and people got more…lubricated…they
also became more receptive to his message. When asked why he did it, he would
say, “Jesus told us to try and save the sinners…and there are a LOT of sinners
in those places!”

David Brown said, “Never
be the first to arrive at a party or the last to go home
.”
We
are in the 4th week of our current Sunday sermon series- “Who Is Jesus?” Based
on a book by United Methodist Bishop William Willimon. In this series, we peel
back the shiny, pristine veneer that we use to cover Jesus and look at who He
REALLY is…and some of it is shocking. The 1st week, we looked at Jesus the Vagabond.
The 2nd week it was Jesus the Peacekeeper. Last week- Jesus the Storyteller.

And today we look at Jesus the Party person. Ann Landers said, “At every party there are two kinds of
people – those who want to go home and those who don’t. The trouble is, they are
usually married to each other!”

     One of the most common portrayals of Jesus
in the Gospels, and yet one of the more under-appreciated and under-recognized,
is that of him enjoying dinner and having fellowship at the table with people
in their homes…Jesus the Party Person.

There are people who
seem to think that Christians shouldn’t have a good time- it’s improper and
undignified for us to…GASP!…have fun! But regardless of what the
puritanical party-poopers think, when Jesus is present, it’s “Party on Wayne!
Party on, Garth!”. Pull up a chair and grab a plate!

     Did Jesus EVER turn down a dinner
invitation? It doesn’t seem like it! He visited all kinds of homes and shared
all kinds of meals with all kinds of people. Whether it was a Pharisee or tax
collector, a friend or a religious opponent trying to catch him in a trap, a
small gathering of the spiritual elite or a large, raucous party full of
sinners, Jesus would sit with them, talk with them, tell stories, laugh, enjoy
their company, discuss important issues…and challenge their accepted notions.
Jesus’ habit of relating to people at parties reminds us that
God is personal and social- intensely interested in personal fellowship with
His people. It also challenges us to remember that the only effective way to touch
people with the Gospel is through face to face personal human contact—being
present, listening, sharing, making connections. We all know Jesus spoke to
crowds, but often it only served to provide an opportunity for the REAL work of
the ministry, which took place with an individual or small group, in a more
intimate setting.

Mark 2: 13-17Once again Jesus went out beside the lake.
A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he
saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth.“Follow me,”
Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner
at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his
disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law
who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they
asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On
hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but
the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

You know…nothing makes
you more tolerant of a neighbor’s noisy party than …being there!
The most controversial part of Jesus’ habit of
partying with people was his choice of parties. He frequented places the pious
folks avoided religiously. He associated with characters who were
well-known…and NOT in a good way. He touched people…and let people touch
Him…when it was SURE to cause scandal. He welcomed spiritual losers and
enjoyed the company of common folk who had less social clout than your average
houseplant. When He HAD the opportunity to shine in front of the paparazzi, he
wasn’t appropriately deferential or cheesy but instead challenged their
spiritual snobbery and questioning their hidden idolatries.

     I have heard it said,
“I’m thankful for the mess to clean after a
party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.”
There is nothing like a feast. We celebrate
all our holidays and special days with marvelous traditions, awesome, delicious
comfort foods, rich desserts, and extensive preparations and presentations that
we save for just such occasions. We anxiously await warm weather holidays when
we get to have people over for a cookout. We gather at tailgates, local pubs
and sports bars to watch games and cheer on our team around tables piled high with
food and drink. Churches (WE do it best!) are the acme of partiers; we bring
our folks together for potlucks and pleasure.

     Nowhere is Jesus’ human-ness more apparent
than in the image of Him moving from one party to the next. He’s no puckered,
pious Puritan- He’s a party person! He wasn’t a temple priest bathed in
incense; he was a wandering rabbi who did some of his best teaching amid the
festivity of the dinner table. Jesus was accused more than once of behaving
like a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. His
response? “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I haven’t come
to call the righteous, but the sinners.”
When Jesus wasn’t
preaching or teaching…you’d find Him at a party. It might be at a tax
collector’s house or at Pharisee’s home. The guests might include power men in
the community…or the real riffraff. And what seemed to bother the stuffy,
“religious” types wasn’t that Jesus went to parties, but that He
seemed to enjoy Himself a bit too much.

     In fact, it was at just such a party that
Jesus performed His first miracle. Remember the wedding at Cana of Galilee?
They run out of wine, and Mary tells Jesus to do something. Does she want him
to make a beer run down to the Cana 7-11? No. Does she see this as His time to
shine? Yes. And what does He end up doing? He turns water into wine…about 400
gallons of it!
I’ve heard many people try and explain away this
first miracle. “Jesus simply sped up a natural process- in nature
grapevines turn water into wine,” or “All miracles are really just
nature sped up.” But they’re missing the point. The point is this- running
out of wine is the surest way of bringing a party to a grinding halt, and
Jesus’ act allowed the party to keep going.

      In 1966, Time Magazine announced that God was dead. In 2005,
George Barna pronounced that mainline denominations were basically dead after
hemorrhaging members for decades. The United Methodist Church in the U.S. is no
exception, having gone from 13 million members in 1968 to 8 million members in
2004. We have been called a sleeping giant…and we are just that; a body 8
million people strong…poised to be used by God. I believe with all my heart
that we have a relevant message for our generation- God’s unmerited grace. It’s
what this world needs…and what we need to hear regularly from our pulpits. We
need to experience it in our relationships with each other. We need to come
face to face with the living God and receive forgiveness from sin, freedom from
guilt, and healing from our brokenness. We need to NOT get so caught up in all
the pomp and circumstance, tradition and ritual, that we fail to remember that
Jesus…THAT Jesus…the one we claim to follow when we claim the name
“Christian…was the life of the party. He was in the middle of the action- He
WAS the middle of the action- NOT turning away from those who need Him the most
but instead breaking bread with the sinners, ne’er-do-wells and flawed humans
of the world…in other words…us.

     WE engage in revelry because parties offer
a breather from the dull, humdrum world we live in Monday through Friday. But
in HIS partying, Jesus
rejects the notion of
taking a temporary break from the world and instead offers a glimpse of the
world healed, redeemed, and restored to what God originally intended. God
promises to be with us, celebrate with us. And that all sounds all fine and
good until God dramatically makes good on His promise and actually shows up…
not as the thoroughly moldable God we want him to be but rather as “He who
parties with sinners”- Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever you do – you’re going to be
criticized by someone. Even if you do nothing – you’ll still be criticized for
it. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be criticized for doing
SOMEthing than for doing nothing. I would rather be persecuted for doing the
right thing than doing the wrong thing. I would rather be called a fool for
following a God who is a party person than to be called a wise man for NOT
following Him. Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we
should dance.

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

What Do You Know About the Bible?

     The Bible…and amazing book…regardless of your beliefs. But what do we know about it? Bits and pieces? Fractions of stories we’ve heard? here’s some Bible trivia that you may find interesting!


The Bible is the most shoplifted book in the world. (That should tell you something!)

About 50 Bibles are sold every minute

The Bible was written by over 40 authors from three different continents-Asia, Africa, Europe

The Bible is actually made up of 773,692 words and would take someone 70 hours to read!

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek but now the Bible is written in 6,000 different languages around the world!

Abraham was the first person in the Bible to be called a Hebrew.

The oldest person in the Bible was Methuselah, who died at the age of 969!

There are two men in the Bible who never died- Enoch and Elijah…God took them directly to Heaven.

A raven was the first animal to emerge from the ark.

The word “Christian” only appears 3 times in the Bible.

The word “Trinity” is never mentioned in the Bible.

The very last word used in the Bible is “Amen”.

     Did you know these things? There is SO much to found in the Bible. My challenge to you is this- pick up the Bible…and reads it. If you haven’t really read it before…don’t start at the beginning and try to work your way through. I KNOW that is the logical way to read a book, but THIS book is different! The first 2 books of the Bible- Genesis and Exodus- are a good read. Lots of familiar characters and a great deal of stuff happens. But then you get to Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. If you make it through those, you should get a T-shirt commemorating the event! So, read genesis and Exodus. read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John…found at the start of the New Testament)…they tell the story of Jesus. Read The Book of Acts (found in the New testament, right after the Gospel of John)…it tells the story of the beginnings of the Church. Read the Book of Psalms and the Book of Proverbs (both found in the Old Testament)…they offer great wisdom and insight into what it means to have a relationship with God. From there, wander around the Old and New Testaments and see what you find. If you hit a section that just seems to bog you down…flip to something else. As you get more and more comfortable with reading the Bible, those areas that bog you dowen will get fewer and fewer!
     The Bible really is a life-changing book… give it a try! Thanks fro stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

How Will YOU Be Remembered?

     I meet with an attorney today. Not just any attorney…my dad’s attorney. I am the executor of my dad’s estate (that always sounds funny to me…it sounds like there should be some “Tara-like” manse on a big hill overlooking the entire plantation!) and that means stuff needs to be done. 

     As I have begun to think through the “disposition of the estate”, it makes me think of the legacy we leave behind when we are gone. We all know people who have died leaving LOTS and LOTS of physical assets. We also all know people who have died leaving basically NOTHING physical behind. The reality is that most of us will fall somewhere between the two extremes when our time her is gone. 
     So…what will YOU leave behind as a legacy when you are gone? The bedroom set, the dining room furniture, the Savings Bonds, the car with lots of miles on it…the list goes on. But what will you REALLY leave behind when you’re gone? Don’t misunderstand- the “stuff” we leave behind is great…at least SOME of it is! BUT…if that’s all we leave when we shuffle off this mortal coil…then we’ve really missed the mark. 
     Stuff has a lifespan…it only lasts so long. After a time, there will be no more of the stuff left. But if we make positive, deep, lasting connections with other humans, then our legacy can live far beyond the half-life of a dining room chair! 
     My dad leaves some stuff behind…to be sure. But for me, the best “stuff” he left behind won’t fit in a box (or my living room decor)- instead it resides in my “dope cranium”…and my heart, where it continues to impact me and inform me daily. One of the cardinal guidelines I live by was taught to me by my dad. If you are faced with a problem, always try the easiest solution first- it’s the easiest to try and it is often the right one. I can’t tell you how many times I have used that philosophy…and how many times it has paid off in spades. (The funny thing is that, when I told my dad that I used that often, he said, “I said that? Really?”) 
     How do you remember those who have gone before you? And how will YOU be remembered when you are gone? make a conscious decision today to leave a legacy that WILL stand the test of time…a legacy of love that your family and friends can pass on to future generations! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

     Today I do one of the hardest things I have ever done…bury my dad. And I don’t just mean attend his funeral…I mean perform his funeral. I officiated at my mom’s funeral, and today I do the same for my dad. It’s interesting- I have had many people say (either regarding my mom or my dad) “I can’t imagine how you could do that!” or “Isn’t there someone else?” or even “Bad choice, pastor!” And while I understand that those folks are well-intentioned…for me…in my situation…they’re wrong. 

     It’s not a matter of “I can’t imagine how you could do it.” Instead, it’s more like “I can’t imagine NOT doing it.” Neither of my parents had a real relationship with a pastor; well, not counting ME! And I have done dozens and dozens of funerals for folks like that- folks who had no pastor to call upon to perform the funeral. And so…they get a total stranger. Now, I try HARD to provide a meaningful service for those people…they deserve it…but in the end, it’s just not the same for them. It couldn’t possibly be. And nothing irks me more than when a preacher gets up there and makes out as if the deceased was their bestest friend in the world while everyone in attendance knows they never even met! So I would want ANYBODY to have their funeral officiated by someone they knew…someone who knew them. Wouldn’t I therefore want that all the more for my own parents?
     Sometimes, you get to push the “easy” button and that’s a good thing. Sometimes, however, the “easy” button is broken and you have to roll your sleeves up, plant your feet, steel your resolve…and just do it…because, while it’s NOT the easy thing to do, it’s the RIGHT thing to do. Today is just such one of those days. 
     When you are faced with difficulty, challenges, roadblocks…look at the situation. Is there an easy way out that is also a GOOD way out? Great…take it! But if the easy way out is NOT also a good way out…take a big deep breath and do what has to be done, knowing it won’t be easy but it WILL be right! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
     

Hope “Springs” Eternal!

     It’s getting closer! I can feel…can you? On February 13th, pitchers and catchers report to the Spring Training camps to begin the process of getting ready for another season of Major league Baseball! (At least the St. Louis Cardinals report that day, and since they are my favorite team…I will admit that I don’t REALLY care when the other teams report!) Soon mt beloved sports magazines will be filled with what REALLY matters…baseball news! And soon I will be able to watch my Cardinals play ball, or at least follow it pitch-by-pitch on my phone and/or laptop! (Yes…I’m a geek! BUT…I embrace my geek-ness…or is it geek-hood? I guess I could always check that out on Wikipedia!!) And like all good baseball fans, I enter Spring Training every year confident that THIS is the year when my team wins the World Series. For baseball fans…for sports fans all across the spectrum for that matter…hope springs eternal. 

     Hope is a marvelous thing- it brings a ray of sunshine where there isn’t any. It shines a light in the darkness. It breathes new life into a lifeless situation. Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. Hope is looking ahead with a positive attitude. 
     Hope is also one of the greatest gifts that is offered in the Bible. For Christians, Jesus is the source of that hope. In fact, the New Testament says, “In His (Jesus) name the nations will put their hope.” 
     We can put our hope in Jesus, knowing that He will ALWAYS be with us, always be guiding us, always be molding us into the people He would have us be. Hope in Jesus isn’t some pie-in-the-sky kind of thing. Instead, it’s a powerful, and very genuine, thing that can change your life…forever. So, as Spring Training draws near, my hopes for the St. Louis Cardinals is on the rise…but my hope in Jesus Christ, and an eternity with Him, is strong, faithful, steadfast. What a GREAT thing that is!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Things Didn’t Turn Out the Way You Planned

     That great theologian Pablo Cruise said it best when he said, “things didn’t turn out the way you planned!” It’s the truth- often things simply do NOT turn out the way you intended them to. Case in point- I would hazard to guess that, while there TONS of football fans celebrating this morning because they root for the Packers or the Steelers, there are tons MORE who are disappointed  today because the team they picked at the beginning of the season to “go all the way” is at home right now, on the collective couch (it’s a BIG couch!), jockeying for position and waiting to watch the Super Bowl! 

     Likewise, there are kids who were SURE that it would snow enough last night to cancel school this morning. many of this kids are now sitting IN school…lamenting the fact that their plans went awry! 
     I have had SUCH a case of “things not turning out the way you planned”-itis lately. It started last Saturday. I got up, knowing what the day would be like. Or at least THINKING I knew what the day would be like. And yet, a phone call in the 9 o’clock hour from my brother, saying that my dad had died, totally changed all that! Then I began to go into “regroup” mode, thinking about what I needed to do before the funeral. So I plan to go into the office Monday-Wednesday to get as much done as possible before I leave for the funeral. But that plan went awry as well! My Office Administrator is experiencing HORRIBLE back problems and is therefore not in the office. There go THOSE plans as well!
     We’ve all heard the old saying, “The best laid plans of mice and men are often gone awry.” By do you know where it came from? Scottish poet Robert Burns, in 1785, wrote To a Mouse, which included the following words, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, gang aft agley, an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, for promis’d joy!” WHAT? Is that English? (No…it’s Scottish!) But here’s what it means- “The best laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain for promised joy!” And BOY…isn’t that true? We plan and plan and plan…and then it all go to heck in a hand basket and we’re left with grief and pain. 
     I have learned one way to address that fact. Don’t follow YOUR plans…follow God’s plans FOR you. (I have heard it said, “Want to make God laugh? Tell Him YOUR plans!”) Anyway, what does that mean…follow God’s plans? In a nutshell, it means pray about what God wants you to do with your life…and then…DO IT! I have people say, “Pastor, I have NO idea what God wants me to do!” My response is this- I believe, with all my heart, that MOST people DO know what God wants of them. They just are either too afraid or too resistant to do anything about it! I have found, however, that when you DO admit…and embrace…what it is God has for your life, things just kind of…fall into place. Not that everything is perfect…just that it’s…right! 
     So what are God’s plans for YOU? (And don’t say, “I don’t know”…because I’m not buying that!) Embrace those plans…grab hold of them…commit yourself to them…and it will just be…right! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day. Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Father…Remembered

     When the phone rang at 9:15 last Saturday morning, I was making B & G’s. For those of you who may be uninitiated, B & G’s are, of course, biscuits and gravy! My sons LOVE B & G’s! I make both the B’s AND the G’s from scratch, and my youngest is not a fan of sausage so my G is pure milk gravy! So there I was, making B & G’s, when the phone rang. I saw by the Caller ID that is was brother, and since I was right in the middle of cooking, I decided to let it go until after breakfast. 

     I finished cooking, we cleaned up, and then I listened to the voice mail- “I need you to call me back as soon as possible.” That’s NEVER a good message to get! So I called him…and got HIS voice mail. I then tried his home number and got his wife- she got him. I already feared it had to do with my dad, and when my brother started the conversation with, “It’s not good news”, I pretty well knew what was coming next. My dad had died. He was 83 years old. 
     We lost my mom almost 7 years ago and my dad had been living by himself ever since. He WANTED to live by himself, because it was the house he and my mom had lived in. He STILL drove. He still functioned on his own. He had his share of physical issues- some minor, some not so minor- but even collectively they weren’t enough to force him out of his house, his life. In the end, it appears he got off the phone with my brother, got up out of his chair, had a massive heart attack, collapsed on the floor in front of his TV…and died. The cleaning lady found him the next morning. 
     He was NOT your stereotypical dad- no one would have confused him with Ward Cleaver. But over the past 8 years or so…he changed. He began to work HARD on family relationships. He WANTED to talk to you. He WANTED to see you. He actually TOLD you he loved you at the end of the conversation. It was a truly remarkable…and beautiful…thing to experience! 
     My dad taught me more things than I could possibly share here. He taught me how to work with electricity and plumbing. He taught me how to think outside the box. He taught me that we are never too old to change. Maybe the ONE thing he taught me that I quote (and use) the most is this- when you are faced with a problem, don’t over-think it. Try the easiest solution first. It is the simplest to try…and it is often the RIGHT answer. For instance, if the car won’t start, don’t automatically assume there is something horribly wrong with the starter. Instead…make sure you have gasoline! I use this bit of wisdom he taught me nearly every day. (The funny thing about it is that, when I told him how much I use this marvelous nugget of wisdom he taught me, he said, “I said that? Really?”)
     I will miss him…I ALREADY miss him. My heart aches over the loss of my dad, but I am comforted by the fact that he didn’t suffer, he got to stay in his own home, he never had to go to assisted living or a nursing home…or languish in a hospital bed. He lived the way he wanted to and, in the end, died the way he wanted to as well. Thanks, Dad, for all that you were, all that you gave me, and for loving me for who I am!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Jesus: The Storyteller

         It
was about 9 years ago. My youngest son was not yet 2 years old, which would
make my oldest son not yet 14 years old. We were living in the parsonage of my
last church. If you’ve ever had back problems, you know that, sometimes, all it
takes is one simple act to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and put you
into MAJOR back pain. Well, this particular day…that straw came down! My
wife’s back went out in a major way! I left my oldest in the Family Room
watching my youngest while I tended to my wife, who was in bed, writhing in
pain. Then, the comedy of errors began. The first thing that happened was that
my in-laws arrived. When they rang the doorbell, the dog (a LARGE German
Shepherd) started barking. So the dog is barking, my in-laws are coming in the
house, my wife’s in the bedroom writhing in pain, and the kids are in the
Family Room. I get my in-laws in and yell at the dog, who continues to bark. As
I go through the kitchen to get back to my wife, I remember that I was cooking
something on the stove when all this started…and it is now…burning! So the
dog is barking, my in-laws are wanting my attention, my wife is calling to me
from the bedroom, the kids are in the Family Room, and the food is burning. I
run into the bedroom to check on my wife when…the smoke detector goes off! So
the dog is barking, my in-laws are wanting my attention, my wife is calling to
me from the bedroom, the kids are in the Family Room, the food is burning and
the smoke detector is going off. Well, the smoke detector is LOUD and it scared
my youngest son, who starts crying! So the dog is barking, my in-laws are
wanting my attention, my wife is calling to me from the bedroom, the kids are
in the Family Room, the food is burning, the smoke detector is going off and my
youngest is crying. Just when I think it can’t get any worse, the phone starts
ringing. So the dog is barking, my in-laws are wanting my attention, my wife is
calling to me from the bedroom, the kids are in the Family Room, the food is
burning, the smoke detector is going off, my youngest is crying and the phone
is ringing. I run to the phone, trying to block out the barking, crying,
calling and alarm, and answer the phone. It’s the alarm company! I realize that
I need to call the Fire Department, which is only about 4 blocks away, or they
will show up at the house. So the dog is barking, my in-laws are wanting my
attention, my wife is calling to me from the bedroom, the kids are in the
Family Room, the food is burning, the smoke detector is going off, my youngest
is crying and I’m trying to call the Fire Department when I hear…the sirens!
So I end up at the front door, trying to explain all of this to the firemen,
while the dog is barking, my in-laws are wanting my attention, my wife is
calling to me from the bedroom, the kids are in the Family Room, the food is
burning, the smoke detector is going off and my youngest is crying! Oh, and
just then…the alarm company calls back! Hans Christian Anderson said, “
Life
itself is the most wonderful tale of all
.”

    This
is our 3rd week of “Who Is Jesus?”, a sermon series based on a book by William
Willimon and designed to pull back the shiny, pristine veneer and look at who
Jesus REALLY is. The 1st week He was a Vagabond. Last week He was a Peacekeeper.
Today, He is a Storyteller. Jesus told stories…the Bible refers to them as
parables. He told a LOT of them- depending on what you identify as a parable,
there are somewhere between 35-50 of them in the Gospels. Even His disciples
said, “Why do you talk in parables?” Parables were a prevalent method
of teaching for Him. But what IS a parable? A parable is a short, allegorical story designed to illustrate or
teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. It’s a statement or
comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or
the like.
A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
Parables- pithy, strange little stories from everyday life- are the most
distinctive…and unusual…aspect of the teaching of Jesus. Mark says that
Jesus never said anything in public that wasn’t a parable. Some people, when
asked a theological question, respond with thoughtful, general principles that
are high-sounding, serious and uplifting. Dr. Phil comes to mind. But not
Jesus! Jesus often explained God with unexplained stories, most of which lack
neat endings or immediately apparent points.

    Did
you notice that a parable conveys its meaning INDIRECTLY? They’re often veiled
in subterfuge. Here’s an example- Matthew 5:13-16- “You are the salt of the
earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It
is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on
its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let
your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify
your Father in heaven.

    Former
presidential candidate Ross Perot was know for saying some… interesting
things. He often spoke in parables. here are some examples…actual quotes- “Be
careful about picking a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel and paper
by the ton
.” “Life is like a cobweb, not an organization chart.” “If
you see a snake, just kill it – don’t appoint a committee on snakes
.” “If
we decide to take this level of business creating ability nationwide, we’ll all
be plucking chickens for a living
.” “There’s nothing worse than driving
home a point when a guy’s fiddling with his salad
.” How…parabolic!

    People
love to say, “It’s hard to say anything definitive about God. He’s so
large, nebulous, vague.” Don’t we wish! By rendering God into an abstract
idea, we try and reassure ourselves that we’ll always be safe with God. But God
has other plans. By sending Jesus, it’s as if God is saying, “You want to
know what God looks like? Look at Jesus! There, that’s who I am.” With His
parables, Jesus made the scandalous move from, “We’ve always believed and
done…” to “But I say to you…” His critics replied that nobody should talk
so subversively and disruptively…unless He’s God. Jesus holds little interest
or charm for people who are comfortable with themselves here, now, in this
place, living their lives as the world tells them, content as pigs in mud.
Jesus comes to people where they are…but isn’t content to leave them AS they
are. It’s as if Jesus is saying that God is met amid the stuff of daily life,
in the tug and pull of the ordinary. Yet God is rarely self-evident, obvious,
or with uncontested meaning. Hear these words-

    Luke
10:30-37- “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked
by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving
him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he
saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came
to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as
he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put
the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The
next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after
him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense
you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man
who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one
who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

    Did
you hear the one about the traveling salesman going down from Jerusalem to
Jericho who was mugged, beaten, stripped naked, and left to die like a dog in a
ditch? Now, by chance, down the road comes a priest…and we all know what a
PAIN clergy can be! He spies the bleeding man, lying helpless in the ditch,
and…and…and…passes by on the other side. Just like a pastor! Then along
comes a pious but not priggish, religious but not showy, good old, plain old
Methodist…like you and me. He catches a whiff of this…MESS…in the ditch
and, being religious and…quite cautious person- passes by on the other side.

    Imagine
you’re the man in the ditch. You’ve lost a lot of blood. Time’s running out.
With your last ounce of energy you look down that hot, dusty road and what do
you see coming toward you? A nice looking, spiritual but not one of those
fanatics, possibly Republican, traditional-values person like you? Nope. You
see a despised, worthless, good-for-nothing, low-down, racially impure,
theologically uninformed… Samaritan. Yep…your last best hope is a man you
hate! “It’s only a flesh wound. I’m OK, I’m OK! Just DON’T touch
me!”But no, this rotten Samaritan has the gall to rip up his designer suit
to bandage your wounds. Then, if that’s not bad enough, he lays your bleeding
carcass on the fine leather seats of his Porsche, he takes you to the hospital,
shells out all of his credit cards, and tells them to spare no expense in your
salvation. Boom. End of story. But wait! Jesus isn’t done. He has to add,
“Go and do likewise!” Is this a joke? Is He kidding? I’m supposed to
do…that?

    In
parables, the joke is on us. What is God like? Well, He’s like a dragnet thrown
into the sea. When the net’s hauled in, it’s teeming with all sorts of stuff- a
few good fish but lots of trash as well. The servants ask, “Master, do you
want us to sort the good fish from the bad?” “No, let’s worry about
the sorting on another day. What a huge haul!” THAT’S what God is like.
Any questions? Don’t be troubled if you don’t quite “get” the story- the
disciples didn’t really get it either. Jesus comes across at times as this
Zen-like teacher whose greatest desire is to NOT pass out the right answers but
rather provoke even more questions. You and I tell stories in order to explain
what sort of world we live in- stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Jesus, on the other hand, tells stories NOT to create more answers but to
elicit more questions. They just begin, out of nowhere, often in the middle,
without context. They are frustratingly lacking in important details. Few of
them have satisfying conclusions. They seem more intent on confusion than
clarification. Surely, Jesus could have found a more effective way to explain
his message…unless explaining wasn’t his chief goal.

    Sometimes,
Jesus reaches out to us; sometimes, Jesus pushes us away. Jesus is God WITH us
– not God controlled, explained, and tamed by us. Jesus not only speaks in
parables; in a way, Jesus IS a parable. Many people think Jesus told lots of
these stories because He was trying to put difficult ideas into simple,
everyday settings. But that doesn’t do justice to the complex, disarming, disorienting
quality of most of these parables. Their surprise endings, or lack of endings,
their cryptic, enigmatic quality, the way they delight in making heroes out of
scalawags and Samaritans suggest that parables are meant to disrupt more than
to explain. Story by story, Jesus moves us from the safe, secure world we
thought we knew to another world where everything is strange and things don’t
turn out as expected. Jesus’ parables often involve an element of surprise or
an unexpected twist- they catch us off guard. They move from the very familiar
and understandable to a sudden turn of events which challenges us…and invites
further reflection. His parables enlighten us…IF we approach them with an
open mind and heart, ready to let them challenge us. But if we approach them
convinced that we already know the answer…we look but don’t see, listen but
don’t hear.

    A
parable is told of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church one Sunday
to hear their duck preacher. After they waddled into the duck sanctuary, the
service began and the duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the
ducks wings with which to fly. He pounded the pulpit with his beak and said,
“With these wings, there is nowhere we ducks cannot go! There is no God-given
task we ducks cannot accomplish! With these wings we no longer need walk
through life. We can soar high in the sky!” “Amen!¨ was quacked throughout the
duck congregation. The duck preacher concluded his message by exclaiming, “With
our wings we can fly through life! WE CAN FLY!!!!¨ The ducks quacked out a loud
“AMEN!” in response. Every duck loved the service. In fact all the ducks that
were present commented on what a wonderfully convicting message they had heard
from their duck preacher….and then they left the church and waddled all the
way home.

     Too often we walk away
from Jesus the same way we walked in…. unchanged. But Jesus meant for His
parables to provoke a response. If we listen with faith and humbleness then we
WILL understand and receive what Jesus wants to speak into each of our hearts. Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Spiritual Rheumatic Fever

     When I was 5 years old, before In started Kindergarten, I got strep throat. We weren’t big on running to the doctor every time we got a sniffle, so I didn’t go, at least not right away. Then one morning I woke up and my arm hurt. Based on my description, my mom thought I had “slept on it wrong” and that it would be OK in a little bit. It wasn’t. The pain continued…and spread. My mom took me to the doctor’s office…a clinic that sat down the hill from the hospital. (The building is STILL there, by the way…just saw it while I was home for Christmas. It’s no longer a doctor’s office, but nearly 50 years later and the building is still there!) The doctor did…whatever it is that doctors do under those circumstances…and announced that I had rheumatic fever. I wasn’t even allowed to go home first- I was driven straight up the hill to the hospital- do not pass go, do not collect $200!

     Now, you might be asking…what IS rheumatic fever? Good question! Well, it’s an inflammatory disease that occurs following a Group A streptococcal infection like strep throat or scarlet fever. It can involve the heart, joints, skin, and brain. (Please, hold all “that explains the way your brain seems to work” jokes until the end!) I spent about a month in the hospital and then moved to a hospital bed at home. I was off my feet so long that I had to learn how to walk again…my legs were too weak. I ended up starting Kindergarten in January and I had to take penicillin twice a day every day until I was 12 years old! I also had a heart murmur as a result that I outgrew.
     I have to be honest…the whole experience wasn’t what a 5-year old would call fun! BUT…as I think back on it, it brings up a larger, more spiritual issue. Physical heart disease is one thing- it might be treatable, it might not. It might have long-term repercussions, it might not. But it can NOT have an impact beyond the earthly realm. Spiritual heart disease, on the other hand, can have an eternal impact. It can deeply impact your quality of life in the here and now…but that deep impact can go on for eternity if unchecked. 
     So…how’s your heart…spiritually speaking? Are you connected to God in real, tangible ways? Or do you feel distant, disconnected from God? The beauty part? That can change! All it takes is a conscious decision to turn TO God, GO to God, confess your sins TO God, and give your LIFE to God. Do that, and a whole new world opens up. Once that happens, your life will NEVER be the same. It will be better…than you ever imagined! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The Bonding Power of Snow!

     I have noticed a interesting phenomenon recently. (I actually have noticed it many times before…it just comes up again every year!) The revelation revolves around the fact that it is snowing as I write this. And here’s the revelation- people are nicer when it snows! No, really…they ARE! I’m sure you’ve seen it too! 

     Here’s the scenario- you go to the grocery store on a “regular” (non-snowing) day, and people are, sadly, way too…normal. They ignore you, they grumble, they grouse, the get impatient waiting in line at the check-out and the cashier seems to think customers are a major inconvenience that keeps them from fulfilling their TRUE mission of standing around and complaining! (For me, at least, a rather normal visit to the grocery store!)
     BUT…put 3-6 inches of snow on the ground, with a good, solid snowfall happening, and suddenly…everybody is your best friend. The folks who wouldn’t talk to you if you were blocking the entrance to the store by laying in it and choking to death now treat you like the long-lost relative with the rather large bank account! And the cashier  suddenly thinks you are the most interesting in the world…at least based on her willingness to engage in positive, pleasant conversation! There is a… camaraderie that grows out of a collective “braving of the elements” that seems to transcend things like gender, race, age, economic status and what not. It’s like “We are all in this shared experience, facing the best that nature has to give, and therefore we have this marvelous common bond!” And I must admit…I LIKE it!
     But then…the snow stops. And the streets get cleared. And the parking lots get plowed. And, sadly, like goes back to…normal. We are all back to not really caring to much about our fellow humans, but instead slipping back into full-bore self-absorbed mode. And what a shame that is. Why do we have to wait for challenging weather to appreciate the fact that our similarities far outweigh our differences? 
     Here’s my challenge to you- live EACH day as if you are in the middle of a blizzard! Pretend that the conditions are bad out there, and treat everyone else that way. Treat the folks you come in contact with today as if they are next to you in line at the grocery store and it is SNOWING like you read about outside! I guarantee 2 things: 1. you will get some strange looks as people wonder what you might have been smoking in your car before you came in, and 2. you will feel better by the end of the day- certainly mentally and spiritually, quite possibly physically as well! Be the one the “break the ice” so to speak. Be the one to treat others the way you truly would like to be treated. Be the one who lives each day the way God would have us live!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Where Do We Go From Here?

     Directional signs are marvelous things. They can either show us EXACTLY where we need to go…or they can make a bad situation worse…like the sign to the left! Have you ever thought about where YOU are going to go? I know I have other folks tell me on  occasion where THEY think I should go! (But that’s another story entirely!) But do you ever wonder about that? I mean…really wonder?

     I have known folks who believe in a literal heaven and a literal Hell. I have known other folks who believe in a literal Heaven but NOT in a literal Hell. I have known folks who think that none of it is literal but instead more metaphoric- there is no PLACE that is Heaven or Hell. Instead Heaven is being with/a part of God while Hell is NOT being with/a part of God. And I have known folks who think that the whole thing is just a big steaming pile of hooey and that when we die…we die. Period. End of sentence. Ashes to ashes and all that! 
     I will admit up front to being what I would term a Literalist when it comes to the Bible. I had a seminary professor who chastised me pretty openly about a paper I wrote on the Tower of Babel story. “You write this as if you ACTUALLY believe that any of this REALLY happened!!” “Well, can YOU prove it DIDN’T?” “Well…hem…haw…mumble…stream of words that sounded intellectual but really had NO bearing on the conversation.” “Just as I thought…NO! So why make fun of me for believing it?” My bottom line is this- we really can’t, with any degree of certainty, prove OR disprove anything in the Bible. We REALLY can’t say who wrote what or what happened (or didn’t happen) to whom. But I’m good with that, because the whole thing is an exercise in faith. If I believe that God created the universe (which I DO, by the way!), then it is certainly NO leap of logic to think that the Tower of Babel story, or the parting of the Red Sea, or the burning bush, or whatever, are within God’s “wheelhouse”. And if I DON’T believe that God created the universe…then the rest of it really  doesn’t matter, does it?
      In the end of all things, I believe that our time here on earth is fleeting…in the grand scheme of things. I believe that it is but a precursor to an eternity elsewhere. And WHERE that elsewhere IS depends on…us! Do I claim to KNOW what Heaven…or Hell for that matter…is really like? No! Do I know in my heart that they both exist and that we have a choice as to where we end up? Yes! So again, where do we go from here? What waits for us after death? What do YOU think? And does what you think influence the way you live your life here and now? How? Why? Heavy things to think about…but important things to think about!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Big Gush…Or Steady Drip?

     I had an interesting conversation with some folks from my church recently which got me to thinking- who you describe your faith journey as a big gush…or a steady drip? Let me explain.

     Tsunamis are frighteningly powerful forces of nature. Triggered by volcanic eruptions, landslides, earthquakes, and even impacts by asteroids or comets, a tsunami represents a vast volume of seawater in motion. many call them tidal waves, but they have no really connect to the tide. The amazing thing about them is that, if you were on an ocean liner and a tsunami went past…you may not even notice. Out in the open ocean they spread out and hunker down, Even though they are often traveling near 500 miles per hour, they are usually only a few feet high out in then open ocean, so therefore they could be easily missed. However, they go thousands of feet deep, and it is that energy that, when they get in more shallow water and begin to rise up, makes them explode onto land with such devastating force. 
     On the other hand, the Grand Canyon was formed by the steady influence of water over millions of years. Now, let’s be honest, the Colorado River is certainly more than a drip…but by comparison to a tsunami…! So water has the ability to radically impact something in the blink of an eye…and it also has the ability to slowly, gradually change something from what it was into what it is becoming over a LONG period of time. The big gush and the steady drip.
     Faith development is that way. Some people have the “big gush” experience- they see the blinding light as they walk along the road…and in the blink of an eye nothing is ever the same again. Others have the “steady drip” experience- God works on them slowly, over time, and while they can’t necessarily point to one  specific  instance that “changed” them, them can certainly recognize the change that has occurred. Why is that? Why does God seem to work on some folks ONE way, while working quite ANOTHER way on other folks? I think it has more to do with US then with God. I think God knows which method will be better for us, which one we will respond better to, and then He carried that method out. 
     I am of the “steady drip” sort. I have NOT had the blinding flash of the big gush in my spiritual journey. I wasn’t raised in the church. I knew very little about God. And then…God started working on me. The steady drip. It took a LONG time, during which God showed great patience and persistence while I showed great obstinance. But God’s patience and persistence won out (no big surprise!) and I finally relented and answered the call. 
     What has been YOUR experience? Did you have the big gush…or the steady drip? Another question would be- why do you think you have had the experience you’ve had? What work has God been doing in you…and what, so far, has been the outcome of that work? Let me know- I’m curious! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Amazing Love

     My first date with my wife was on her 16th birthday. I was in the school musical…Oliver!…and we had a show that night. We met the previous October on a hayride, and had been getting to know each other ever since. I was perhaps the BIGGEST geek ever around females, but I really  wanted to date this girl! I finally got up the nerve to ask her to attend the musical. (Interesting first date- you sit in the audience by yourself while your date is on stage!) We went to a restaurant afterwards and had sauted mushroom and stale birthday cake (I had called ahead for the birthday cake…but did NOT request  “stale”!) while listening to the dulcet tones of Mr. Mike Zikovich as he sang and played his synthesizer! (I should have known that would be a special day…there was also a solar eclipse that day!) The rest, as they say, is history!

     Almost 34 years have past since that night. That means this woman has put up with me for almost 34 years! I DO wonder how in the world she has managed that. And to top it all off, she tells me every day that she loves me. I would call that an amazing love! Who loves YOU the most? Who is it in your life that loves you no matter what? Those people are somewhat rare and beyond amazing. Think about that kind of love- they love you not only because of who you are but sometimes DESPITE who you are. As I said…amazing!
     Now, take that love…and multiply it times…oh, let’s say…infinity…and you get the kind of love that God has for you. God loves you with a love that passed all understanding. We can’t possibly fully wrap our heads around the level of God’s love for us. It’s…um…let’s see…what would that word be?…oh, yeah!…amazing! Today, celebrate the people in your life who love you, to be sure. But also celebrate the fact that God is your biggest fan. God loves you more than you could possibly imagine. What a gift…amazing!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

I Have a Dream

     It was ABOUT 12 years ago…give or take. I was pretty new to the ministry…still wet behind the ears, theologically speaking. I was the half-time Associate Pastor at the church I served- it was my first appointment as clergy. Called me Associate pastor, call me what you want- in reality I was th part-time youth guy. No more, no less. I was working 20 hours/week…OK…I was being PAID for 20 hours/week. In fact, I was working closer to full-time…that’s the way it works in the ministry! At the same time, I was a full-time seminary student. It was an…interesting time of life!

     We had been involved in some joint ministry projects with a United Methodist church in a neighboring town…a rather…scary…neighboring town! It was a community that many folks in MT town avoided at all costs- high crime, low economy…just a difficult place to live, let alone visit! That year, we made arrangements with the pastor of that church, a FINE man and outstanding preacher, to join with them in a march to remember and honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the anniversary of his birth. So we loaded up about 15 folks from my church and headed to this other community. 
     As we got closer and closer to our destination, you could feel the anxiety level rising…at least MINE was! We got there, we connected with the other pastor and the members of his church that would be marching, and then we set out. So, picture this- about 50 people walking down the middle of the street. About 35 of them are African Americans from the community and beyond. About 15 of them were pasty white folks. (I can say that because, if you look under “pasty” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of my legs! I am so white I’m nearly translucent!) I had my then 10-year old son with me…I had more than one person tell me that I was nuts to even GO into that community, let alone take my child with me! We marched down the street, signing. And YES, we DID get some strange looks. We walked to the town hall, where a couple of folks got up and said a few words. Then we marched back and all had lunch together in the church basement. Then we went home.
     It dawned on me that day, and I have revisited that revelation several times since, that the events of that day were, at some level, a perfect way to honor Dr. King. A group of people came together, despite the amazing diversity of color, age and economic standing, to worship God and remember a man who had a dream. We were always comfortable with each other OR our surroundings…but we did it anyway. And although we didn’t change the world that day, we DID change a few people…myself included. And I believe, with all my heart, that Dr. King would have been pleased with that!
     What will YOU do to remember and honor Dr. King? How will you pay tribute to a man who ultimately gave his life in a effort to help us all see that the color of our skin is NOT that which defines us? I encourage you to say a prayer today. Offer thanks for Dr. King and people like him who sacrifice for what they believe in. And pray that God will continue Dr. King’s dream in the hearts of folks all across the globe. Ultimately, THAT’S what will change the world!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Jesus: The Peacekeeper

     Peace signs- when I was
growing up, they were jewelry, they were clothing decoration, they were a
visual way to thumb one’s nose at the establishment…a way to engage in “stick-it to-da-man-osis” to paraphrase jack Black. In fact, I remember having a tie-dyed t-shirt with a big peace sign on it…I
wore it with my massive, two-toned bell bottoms! I WAS all that and a bag of
chips! And who can forget Richard Nixon flashing matching “V for victory” peace
signs at every turn? But there have been other “peace signs” before that one-
the olive branch, the dove. What IS peace? And how do we define a Peacekeeper?

     Last week, Jesus was a
Vagabond. Today, we start at a different, and rather unusual, place- Christmas!
Mary has had the visit from the angel, telling her she’s pregnant. So she goes
to see her cousin Elizabeth, who is ALSO pregnant…with a baby boy who will grow
up to be John the Baptist- the herald of Jesus. Mary visits for 3 months, heads
home, and then…John the Baptist is born. His dad, Zechariah, who has been
struck mute throughout the pregnancy, is now able to talk, and so…he SINGS!

     Luke 1:76-79- And
you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on
before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of
salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of
our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those
living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path
of peace.”

     If you Google
“peacekeeper”, you get a lot of info about…a missile! So I learned a lot
about…the Peacekeeper missile. It was an intercontinental ballistic missile
system that was deployed in 1986 and decommissioned in 1995. The Peacekeeper
was over 70 feet long and weighed 198,000 pounds.
It was a four-stage missile with a range of just under 6,000 miles. Each missile carried up to ten MIRVs (multiple independently
targetable reentry vehicle)
.
Each of the ten carried a payload 25 times more powerful than the bomb dropped
on Hiroshima. Puts “Peacekeeper” in a totally different context…doesn’t it?

     What does “peace” mean? Peace means “being in a right
relationship.” So peace between you and someone else means being in a
right relationship with each other. Peace within means being alright with
yourself and peace with God means being alright with God. People often go the
opposite direction, though, don’t they? It’s all about “me”…and what’s in it
for me! A young Christian visited an older believer to ask for prayer.
“Will you please pray that I have more patience?” The older man
agreed. They knelt together and the older man began to pray, “Lord, send
this young man tribulation in the morning; send this young man tribulation in
the afternoon; send this young man tribulation in the evening….” At that
point the young Christian blurted out, “No, no, I didn’t ask you to pray
for tribulation. I wanted you to pray for peace.” “Ah,”
responded the wise Christian, “it’s only through tribulation that we learn
peace.”

     Notice in the Scripture passage I just
read- even as he rejoices over the birth of his son, Zechariah recognizes the
greater glory that is coming. He says that this Savior that is to come will
shine on those living in darkness. He will guide our feet where? Into the path
of…wait for it!…peace. Jesus was heralded as the Peacekeeper even before He
was born! But what exactly does it mean to call Jesus a Peacekeeper? The truth
is that the birth and life and death of Jesus have precipitated a lot of
violence. And Jesus warned it would be so, saying he did not come to bring
peace, but a metaphorical sword.  

     The man who never raised
a sword, even in self-defense, nor allowed His disciples to carry or use
swords, openly referred to His message as a sword. He also says, “Do you think
I’ve come to bring peace to the world? No, I tell, but rather division.” Jesus
DOES bring peace…but His peace often is precluded by disruption and despair.
Jesus’ peace is a threat to what we would call world peace.

     To call Jesus a
Peacekeeper is really a bit oxymoronic. A political leader who doesn’t make war
when national security is threatened is nor prince. And peace that is based on
anything other than a balance of military power is inconceivable. Jesus is as
strange a king as there ever was.

     It would have been one
thing for Jesus to say, “I always turn the other cheek when someone wrongs me”
or “I refuse to return violence when violence is done to me”. I mean, Jesus IS
the Son of God…we EXPECT that of Him…right? But NO…Jesus has to take it a
step further, and command US to act the same way! “How do we get back at our
enemies again, Jesus? Oh, that’s right…by LOVING them! What do we do to those
who persecute us, Jesus? Oh yeah…PRAY for them!” Let’s be honest…we DEEPLY
wish Jesus had said something else…ANYTHING else! We want to justify violence
Scripturally, but sorry…Jesus just won’t play along!
Jesus supports nonviolence, non-retaliation and forgiveness NOT on
the basis of their effectiveness in changing the hearts and minds of our
enemies- “it’s SURE to bring out the best in them!”- but rather because it’s
what God would do. There is not ONE single incident where Jesus condones
violence or reacts with violence. The fact that Jesus got dragged into this
bloody mess is testament to how little people know about Jesus and how
unfaithful the world has been at following Him.
The truth is that Jesus the peacekeeper never backed away from an argument, scurried
away from a howling mob or blanched at a confrontation with a scathing critic.

But the interesting
thing is that, from the beginning, Jesus was the cause of a great deal of
violence and bloodshed- but none of it was initiated by Him. Jesus came in the
middle of the infamous Pax Romana…Roman peace. On the surface, this was a time
of unprecedented peace in the Roman Empire. But dig a little deeper, and it had
a more…uneasy…imposed…feel to it.
For
the enemies of Rome, the Pax Romana didn’t signal much in the way of peace or
tranquility.
And let me assure you- Jesus was an enemy of the
state!

     There are many
rationales for violence…but none of them can reference Jesus to defend them. We
can argue that violence is sometimes effective, or justified by circumstances,
or a possible means to a better end, or practiced by every nation on the face
of the earth— but we can’t drag Jesus into the argument with us.
Jesus is the perfect revelation of God’s character, and as it
turns out, God is not really very much like us.
 And if God wins victory in this world by accepting
death on a cross…then all our values have to be reevaluated- what we claim as
COMMON sense becomes NON-sense when it comes right down to it.  God’s
kingdom has a very small door, sized for the lowly to enter. Have you noticed
that while there are many instances in the New Testament of people harming and
killing Jesus’ followers, apart from the one instance in which Peter takes up a
sword and is rebuked by Jesus, there are zero, zip, nada in the way of
instances of followers of Jesus using violence against their torments.
 Instead, they are called to pray for their enemies, bless those who curse
them, and leave vengeance in God’s hands, not take weapons up into their own
hands.  How did Jesus react to his crucifiers? While dying on the cross he
simply said ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do”, and then of
course he called us to take up our crosses and follow the same path and the
same response to our tormentors.

     Gandhi said, “An eye
for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind
.”
Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of one of the
greatest seekers of peace in our lifetimes- the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. He said much about keeping the peace, but one of the most profound things
he said was, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear…
That old law about “an eye for an eye” leaves everybody blind… The
time is always right to do the right thing… Peace is not merely a distant
goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

     Do you remember what the
heavenly host of angels said to the shepherds the night Jesus was born? “Glory
to God in the highest and on earth peace on those whom God favors!”
Interestingly, it sounds remarkably like Caesar’s royal proclamation, which was
“Glory to August Caesar, God in the highest, and on earth, peace to those
with whom he is well pleased.”

Luke shows Jesus as the
reality of that to which Caesar is only a parody. The angels’ song isn’t just a
birth announcement- it’s a proclamation announcing a change in leadership.
There is a NEW king in town…the Prince of Peace…the Peacekeeper. God is fixing
things through this Jew from Nazareth who refused to fight back and who dies
NOT threatening, “One day I’ll get even!” but rather praying, “Father, forgive
them, for they know not what they do.”
In Jesus, we see peace…a
peace that truly passes all understanding. It’s not a peace that we achieve by
studying the course of world history or by meditating on the human condition.
Instead, this peace comes from the One who is paradoxically known as the Peacekeeper.

     Do you remember the
words that Jesus first spoke to His disciples following His resurrection? They
were in the upper room and they were scared for their lives. Their leader was
dead, their future uncertain. Then…Jesus appears through locked doors and
speaks to them. Do you remember what He said to them? “What a bunch of failures
you are. Where were you when I really needed you?” No, His first words were short
and sweet, “Peace be with you.” The ONE thing they DIDN’T have was the VERY
thing He offered – peace. And He’s still offering it today. Do you have it? Did
you bring it with you to church this morning? Or do you find yourself saddled
with burdens that are too heavy to carry? The bigger question is this- are you
going to leave here today still saddled with those burdens? Or will you turn
them over to Jesus? You have the opportunity to just do that this morning…will
you come?

     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed Sunday! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

The “It’s a Bit Pitchy, Dawg!” Confession

     After all these years…now it can be told! When I was in high school, I was a band geek! (I know…shocking…right?!) I was also a theater geek. (Even more shocking…right?!) But this “midnight confession” deals with the fact that I was a band geek. 

     There is a certain dynamic that seems present in nearly every band/orchestra in the country…certainly every one I’ve been a part of! That dynamic is that, often, during rehearsals, the percussion section is left to their own devices for sometimes long periods of time while the director works with other sections. This is understandable. It is also, from my experience, a dangerous thing to do! 
     Why, you ask? Because drummers are NOTORIOUS for FINDING something to do if they HAVE nothing to do. And usually what they FIND to do is not perceived as terribly productive! And me confession is about just such a thing!
     In band, we had an old-school tuning machine that the director used to make sure the band was in tune before we would practice. The way it worked was this- he would go though the band, section by section, having them play. As they played, the wheels on this machine would spin. Once the pitch the machine was hearing was in tune, the wheels would line up and you would know that the band was in tune as well! Sounds easy. But the director’s fatal flaw was that he put the tuning machine on a small table up against a rather large square pillar that helped hold up the building. When I say rather large- it was large enough to, oh, say, completely hide a high school kid standing on the other side of it!
     Here’s what I would do- I would stand on the opposite side of the pillar from the tuning machine, where the director couldn’t see me (a VERY important element to this story!) and wait. The director would go, section by section, through the band until each section was in tune. He would then triumphantly bring the entire band in together, to hear the melodious tone they created and to watch those wheels line up in perfect harmony! BUT, that was precisely when I would put my simple yet nefarious plan into action. I would whistle the same pitch the band was playing…then slide about a half step down or up from them! The result would be that wheels on the the tuning machine wouldn’t line up! He would then go BACK through every section and, eventually, every instrument, trying to find the culprit. They, of course, would all be on pitch. He would then again have the whole band play, and I would whistle, and the wheels wouldn’t line up! Oh, I could have gone on like that for hours!!
     What devious, but harmless, things did YOU do as a kid? Do you regret them…or still revel in them? Drop me a line and let me know! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Dummy Leading the Dummies!

     A couple of days ago I started teaching a new class- The Bible For Dummies! I intentionally “borrowed” the title to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to how hard it is to really KNOW the Bible. I made it clear to the class on this very first night that the Chief Dummy is the one leading them! I shared rather embarrassing stories about myself and my amazing lack of Biblical knowledge at different times in my life. (When I was a freshman in college, I took an “Intro to Christianity” class…as a requirement because I certainly wouldn’t have taken it for any OTHER reason at that point in my life!…and had to ask my buddy, who is now a nationally-know bread-baking Benedictine monk, why the professor kept talking about the Axe of the Apostles. “Why did the Apostles have an axe?” In my first year of seminary I thought the Book of Hebrews was in the Old Testament! Makes sense…right? Hebrews? Old Testament? Work with here, people!) 

     So I want to offer YOU the quiz I gave THEM on the first night of class. Now, to my defense, they didn’t actually have to take a test- it was all projected on the screen and we all guessed/answered them together! Anyway- here it is…please to enjoy! (The answer key is farther down!)

1. True or False- The Bible is the best-selling book of all time.

2. The word “Bible” comes from:
A. a variation on the word “Babylon”, which had an extensive library
B. the Hebrew word “biblius”, meaning “scroll that has no end”
C. the Greek word “biblos”, meaning “book”
D. an acronym for “Boy It’s Big, Leather and Expansive!”

3. The original languages of the Bible are:
A. Hebrew, Latin and Greek
B. Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic
C. Hebrew, Latin and Assyrian
D. 100% King James English

4. Which of the following are NOT books of the Bible?
A. Haggai and Philemon
B. Zephaniah and Zechariah
C. 2Chronicles and 3John
D. Philistines and 2Phillip

5. “Canon” refers to:
A. an overweight 1970’s detective played by William Conrad
B. Civil War weaponry
C. A Greek word for a measuring device
D. writings that are accepted as authentic and inspired

6. the “Apocrypha” is:
A. a group of writings purported to be Scripture but not accepted as such in every tradition
B. a British term for a drugstore
C. the hill in Greece where the Parthenon was built
D. another name for the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse

7. the total number of books in the Bible is:

8. the number of books in the Old Testament is:

9. the number of books in the New Testament is:

10. What is the only domesticated animal not mentioned in the Bible?

11. What word appears roughly 773,692 times in the King James Bible?

12. Which two wicked cities were destroyed by God in Genesis?

13. What biblical place name means “pleasure”?

14. What animal is mentioned most frequently in both the New and Old Testaments?

15. How much time did Jonah spend in the belly of the fish?

16. According to the Bible, what substance was used to caulk Noah’s ark and to seal the basket in which the infant Moses was set adrift on the Nile?

17. According to the Bible, how many pearly gates are there?

18. How many books of the Bible are named for women?

     Well…how’d you do? Oops…you aren’t sure because I haven’t gi
ven you the answer key yet! Well…here it is!

1. T, 2. C, 3. B, 4. D, 5. D, 6. A, 7. 66, 8. 39, 9. 27, 10. cat, 11. Amen, 12. Sodom and Gomorrah, 13. Eden, 14. sheep, 15. 3 days and 3 nights, 16. pitch, 17. 12, 18. 2- Esther and Ruth

     OK…NOW how’d you do? If you didn’t do so good…DON’T despair! In my opinion, how much of the Bible you can quote, chapter and verse, is not nearly as important as how much of it you are trying to apply to your own life. As you grow in faith, you will grow in knowledge. And as you grow in knowledge you will want to know more. So you will naturally, organically come to know more of the Bible- NOT because you are trying  desperately to memorize it but because you have seen the positive impact on your life and want more of it! And how awesome is THAT?!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

May All Your Wishes Come True!

     When I was a kid…I had BIG plans! I wanted to be a famous actor. I wanted to be a famous magician. I wanted to be…well…famous! I wanted to live in i big mansion with a gozillion rooms and a garage FULL of cool, exotic cars. I wanted to marry the most beautiful woman on the planet and have awesome kids. Oh, and I wanted a horse!

     Looking back…I didn’t do too bad! I am NOT a famous actor or magician. In fact, I’m not a FAMOUS anything. I don’t live in a big mansion. I have TWO cars, and neither of them is remotely exotic. I did, however, marry the most beautiful woman on the planet and I DO have awesome kids. AND…and…and…I DID have a horse when I was growing up. He was a HUGE, beautiful chestnut-colored Tennessee Walker named General who was much less a horse and much more a really big dog!
     Today is “Make Your Dreams Come True Day”. So…what were YOUR dreams when you were a kid? How did you do? What are you dreams NOW? How radically have they changed from when you were a kid?  Dreams are interesting things- we ALL them. We all have things we want to do, and be, in our lifetimes. Some of them are reasonable and  achievable…and some not quite as much! But it strikes me that nearly ANY dream is achievable at some level- I mean look at the people who are doing what you have dreamed of! 
     I have also figured something else out about dreams. Often, the dreams WE have for ourselves are NOT the dreams God has for us. I can’t tell you how long and how hard I struggled with the whole “famous actor” thing. I was SURE that’s what I was supposed to be. And yet, God kept pushing me in a different direct. And at first I didn’t recognize that fact. But later, I DID recognize it…and resented the heck out of God for it! “It’s MY dream…leave me alone!” But after several rather miserable years, I finally came to the understanding that I could either continue to struggle with what I wanted OR I could relent and follow what God wanted. As SOON as I had that realization and made that shift…amazing things happened. And as a result, God has shown me ways that I can still use my theater training in my current role…as I have shared before. 
     So, again…what are YOUR dreams? Do then seem reasonable, achievable? Or are they simply cause for disappointment and strife at this point? If that’s the case, I would encourage you to pray about it. My experience says that God WILL reveal to you what He has for you…if you are willing to be open to Him! Pray about it. DREAM about it. And be willing to go where God sends you, do what God calls you to do. 
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and stop by again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Memoirs of a Good Man

     There is a gentleman in my congregation who is a navy  veteran. He spent much of his adult life out on the ocean. He has seen parts of the world I will probably never see…except on the  Discovery Channel! 

     He is a PK…which for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, means “pastor’s kid”. That alone can be a tough cross to bear! (Just ask MY kids!) Much is expected from PKs…from their church, their school, their community, their parents! Then, to grow up and go off to see the world aboard ship…the man has had quite a life! 
     Along the way, he saw action in World War II- which makes him a part of The Greatest Generation. Now, not to take away from any OTHER generation, but for my money, that “Greatest Generation” designation is one that is well-earned and well-deserved. The men and women who protected our freedom during the Second World War sacrificed things many of us cannot even fathom. And that generation is quickly dwindling- more and more of them are ending their time here on earth every day. 
     Which brings me back to the gentleman in my congregation. He came up to me yesterday at church, held out what looked like a bundle of papers, and said, “Here.” I had heard that he (along with a woman from my congregation who is a faithful reader of this blog) was writing his memoirs…and THAT is what he put into my hands. It was an 8 1/2 X 11 booklet, spiral bound, with a clear cover. Under the clear cover was the title page, which included a 5 X 7 black and white photo of him from early in his adult life, decked out in his uniform. I skimmed through it, marveling at the pictures he had included in the book about his life. 
     When I went to hand it back to him, he said, “No, that’s yours…to keep.” I was delighted he would think of me and give me a copy! He then said, “I didn’t sign it or anything.” I assured him that he NEEDED to sign it…and he did! “To my loving pastor” He then signed his first name. It is a gift I will treasure for the rest of my life…this memoir of a good man! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!