The Goose on the Grassy Knoll

goose-flying-blue-sky-clear-39343992If you have ever read anything about the Kennedy assassination, you are probably familiar with what is known as the “lone gunman” theory. In this scenario, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone that fateful 1963 day in Dallas. The other side of that coin is the “multiple gunmen” theory, which places people at various places, the most famous of which is the grassy knoll. (Some even think there was a gunman who lifted a manhole cover on the street and shot from that vantage point!)
Well today, we are NOT going to talk about the “lone gunman” theory, but rather the “lone goose” theory! A few days ago I saw one single goose…the lone goose, if you will…flying along, all by himself (NO specific reason why it’s a “he”. It probably should be a “she”, since it was clearly willing to actually show emotion!!) and honking…loudly. As I watched him…OK, her!…flying along, calling, calling, looking for other geese, I was struck by the sheer sadness of the whole thing. This goose was clearly trying to find the rest of her group. We all know the story about how they fly in a “V” formation, with the position of “lead goose” changing periodically, to give each goose a chance to rest. They are clearly social animals and depend on each other. And for some reason, this particular goose had gotten separated from the rest of the group and was desperately trying to find them- calling out, hoping to hear a response.
I fear that many of us are more like that goose than we would care to admit. We wander through life, trying to convince ourselves – and anyone else who will listen – that we don’t need other people…we are perfectly fine all on our own! But deep down, in those places we don’t like to talk about at parties, we long for companionship. We long for relationship. We long to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are all looking for something, someone, that will help us to be more…complete. (Apologies to Jerry Maguire!)
Relationships are important…essential. We need other people in our lives. They help us fill that void we sense inside us. But in the end, that void has a specific shape- it is a God-shaped void. And the ONLY thing that can fill a God-shaped void is…well…God! If you’re feeling incomplete. If you find yourself searching for something that missing, look to God. He can fill that void AND at the same time nudge you in directions that will allow you to build better, deeper relationships with other people! 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!

You’re Entitled to Your Opinion…Unless you Disagree With Me!

fake_smileA pastor friend of mine once pastored a church that decided it was time to grow their church. They KNEW they wanted to grow their church. But they didn’t know how. So they bought a book- 10 Ways to Grow Your Church. It HAD to have great information on how to grow a church! They all read the book…and agreed that most of the 10 were simply too hard and wouldn’t work…because someone in the church tried something like that…once…a gazillion years ago…and it didn’t work! BUT, there were some that had real promise! In the end, they chose #4- Pave Your Parking Lot. They found a contractor, had their parking lot paved…and braced for the onslaught! They were SHOCKED when it didn’t work! “See! I TOLD you it wouldn’t work!”

     Another pastor friend had his church tell him that they wanted more kids in the church. “Go to it, pastor! Tell us when you’re done!” He noticed that some of the neighborhood kids were setting up skateboard ramps on the church parking lot on Saturdays. He started talking to them and struck up a relationship. So much so that he went to his Trustees Committee to suggest that they look into adapting their property and casualty insurance to cover these skateboarders. His rationale was that, if they were actually welcomed onto the church property, they might start coming to Youth Group…maybe even worship services. He reminded them, “You said you wanted more kids in the church.” Their response? “Well, we DO want more kids in the church…(ready?)…just not THOSE kids!”

     So many Christians, with the best of intentions, do these same things. They WANT more people in their church. They WANT their church to be active, to flourish. BUT (ah, there it is!), they only want those things if the people are A. like them and B. do what THEY want them to do, in the way they want them to do it!

     What’s the ONE thing that will hold the Church back more than anything else in 2017? A narrow view of what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be the Church. Churches, especially mainline churches, are dying all over the country, simply because they are unwilling to try new things, unwilling to do things they’ve never done before. The bottom line is this- if you want what you’ve never had, you have to be willing to do what you’ve never done. Otherwise, it’s Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity- doing the same thing and expecting different results!

     Are you willing to stretch? Are you willing to change? Are you willing to welcome folks who don’t look like you or act like you? Are you willing to accept people doing things in, with and through the church that aren’t the things YOU do? Powerful things can happen within the body of Christ when we accept people for who they are and support them as they carry out the ministries for which God has gifted them. Powerful things!
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

 

The Long Journey Home: Confessing

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Isaiah 53:5 But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.

     A young woman stepped into the confessional, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”   “What is it, child?”   “Father, I have committed the sin of vanity. Every day, I gaze at myself in the mirror and tell myself how beautiful I am.” The priest stopped, slid open the screen separating the two halves of the confessional, and looked at the younge woman. “My dear, I have good news. You don’t need to confess- thinking you’re beautiful isn’t a sin.” “It’s NOT!” As he slid the screen back in place, he muttered, “No- it’s simply a mistake!”
     Today, we continue our current journey. The New Testament story of the Prodigal Son is one of the best known, most scrutinized stories in the Bible. But at its heart…what is the story REALLY about? Who IS the Prodigal? And what does it have to tell us about our lives? Through January and February, we’re asking all of those questions- and many more- as we take The Long Journey Home. Each week, we’re focus on a few verses from the Prodigal Son story- unpacking it to see what is underneath and, more importantly, what it has to say to us.

      Since there won’t be a day when we hear the whole story at one time, I’ll offer what I’m calling my Reader’s Digest version every week. Here it is!

     “A man has two sons. The youngest decides he is tired of the simple life. He demands his share of Dad’s inheritance. He gets it, goes off to the big city, squanders every penny on proverbial wine, women and song and ends up eating hog slop…literally. He crawls back to Dad, who welcomes him with open arms and throws a big party. The older son is hacked off about it but Dad says, ‘Buck up.'” The end. Hey- I WARNED you it was the Reader’s Digest version!

     The first week, he demanded and got his inheritance, set off for a far-away land and squandered everything. The second week, a famine hit, he ended up as a hired man feeding pigs…and longing to eat the hog slop. Last week, he came to his senses, realized that his father’s hired servants have food to eat and a place to sleep a decides to go home and confess his sins to his father. That’s where we pick up today’s Scripture.

     Luke 15:20b-21 But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

     Imagine what is going through the younger son’s mind as he draws closer and closer to home…a home he’s not even sure he is welcome in any more. He is terribly excited to see his dad…and terrified to see his dad- all at the same time. He’s going home. And if you know where your TRUE home is, it’s painfully obvious when you’re lost. BUT- knowing you’re lost is a good thing, because that awareness is the first step toward truly coming home.

     The description of his homecoming- and the welcome he receives from his dad- are as vivid as the description of his leaving in the first place. There are a number of details that serve as beautiful touches to an already powerful story.

     First off- notice WHEN his dad saw him. It wasn’t a knock on the door or a “Hello?” through a now-opened door that got dad’s attention. It wasn’t that dad was out rotating the tires on his oxen and just happened to see the younger son. Dad saw him from “a long way off”. What that tells me is that Dad is WAITING for him. Dad has MISSED him. Dad is hoping against hope…praying…that his younger son will return. He is grateful for the older son who never left, but he is also heartsick about the younger son that…perhaps…he has lost.

     I can picture that, when Dad has something he HAS to do- chores, responsibilities- he keeps an eagle eye out down the road. But when he doesn’t have pressing things, he is sitting on the porch…waiting. Hoping. Dreaming. Wishing. Praying that ONE day…today…he will see his son round the bend and head for home. What a day of rejoicing that will be!

     And then, one day…there he was. I imagine Dad did a double-take. A triple-take. “REALLY? Is that REALLY him?” And then- reality set in. “YES. It IS him!” The Scripture tells us that Dad was filled with compassion and RAN to his son. One of the commentators I read said that behavior points to the fact that the dad somehow knew what had happened to his son. The commentator speculated that word had made it back to Dad from the “far-off land”. I’m going to go with, “Nah!”

     That doesn’t seem very likely to me. I doubt Dad heard what had happened. And I don’t think that is necessary to explain Dad’s behavior. He has missed his son. He has worried about his son. He has felt a hole in his life without his son. And so- he is overjoyed to see him. Plain and simple. He runs to him. Embraces him. Kisses him. The sheep that was lost has been found.

     So, Dad is overjoyed to be reunited with his son. But notice what the younger son does- first thing. He confesses. He delivers the carefully thought out, thoroughly rehearsed confession that we first heard last week. ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.’ There is no, “Dad!” No, Boy am I glad to see YOU!” No, “You would not BELIEVE what I’ve been through.” The younger son doesn’t try to downplay or sugarcoat his situation. He doesn’t angle for the pity or sympathy vote. He doesn’t blame anybody else. He claims, right up front, “Dad, I messed up…BAD!”

     The younger son takes his confession a step further- I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ He tells his dad that he has sinned against BOTH fathers- earthly and heavenly. And to drive that point home even further, he tells his dad that he isn’t even worthy to be called “son”. That’s a hard place to be. That HAD to be hard for the younger son to say. And it had to be hard…maybe even harder…for the dad to hear. So, if it’s so hard to say and so hard to hear…why do it? Why not just let that sleeping dog lie?

     The key to answering those questions is found in one word- confession. The younger son knows he needs to confess. He is so convinced of that fact that he plans it out and rehearses it before he even goes home. And the FIRST words out of his mouth upon returning home are his confession.

     So, here’s a question- if Jesus’ death on the cross washed away our sins…then why do we need to confess? If God is all-knowing, then why do we need to confess? It doesn’t make sense. And as long as we see confession our way to get our guilt removed and have God declare us righteous, it won’t make sense. As long as we think it all hinges on Go needing to hear “what we did”, the whole construct falls apart.

     But once we begin to understand that confession is about us seeking sanctification- that is, striving to be more holy- then suddenly things start to make more sense. The puzzle pieces start to fit together. Confession for the Christian is less about offering amends and more about seeking holiness.

     But why do we have to tell God at ALL? Doesn’t He already know? And if He DOES already know, then isn’t confession simply Him rubbing our nose in it? We need to articulate our sins. We need to be able to name them, claim them and begin the process of putting them behind us. We don’t confess because God needs to hear it- He already knows it. We confess because we need to say it. We confess because Jesus tells us to confess regularly. We seek forgiveness because The Lord’s prayer focuses on it.

     1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

     Authentic Christian living involves honest and ongoing acknowledgement of our sins. Confession is identifying the problem (sin), naming who is responsible (us) and asking God, through His mercy and grace, for forgiveness. A crucial part of the Christian life is us asking for God’s forgiveness for our sins and then seeking His power to help keep us from further sin. And the result of confession is the recognition that we need Jesus more today than we needed Him yesterday…but only half as much as we will need Him tomorrow!

The Doomsday Crock

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     As I write today’s blog, I begin with a prediction. MANY who read this will not really care. On the other hand, a few stand to be fairly offended! I don’t intend to bore OR offend- I just felt the need to discuss! 

     Perhaps you have seen the recent information about the Doomsday Clock. (If you are thinking, “The Whatsday What?” right about now, you are among the many who will not really care!) The Doomsday Clock came into being in 1947. It was begun by a group called the Chicago Atomic Scientists- they had worked on the Manhattan Project. The began publishing a journal called The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the Doomsday Clock has been featured on the cover since the publication’s inception.  

     The Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock face that represents to possible global catastrophe. And on Thursday, the time got reset! It had been set for 11:57PM- 3 minutes shy of “midnight”- Armageddon. But on Thursday, the group who governs it held a press conference to announce that they had moved the clock 30 seconds closer to midnight- 2½ minutes shy of goodbye! 

     I read the information put out by the group. And I clearly saw words like “symbolic” and “represents”. And, of course, those words point to this not being a literal measurement of time but “a symbolic instrument informing the public when the earth is facing imminent disaster”. Got it. But then I read their rationale for moving the clock closer to midnight and I began to get a different sense of the whole thing.  

     It seems more than a little arrogant to use one’s position as a scientist to espouse political beliefs under the guise of “scientific information”, scaring the living daylights out of a decent subset of the population at the same time. It also seems more than a little arrogant to present “symbolic” information that is clearly built around predicting/announcing, as those great theologians over at R.E.M. would say, the end of the world as we know.  

     Is The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists a scholarly journal? Is it built upon a solid foundation of science? I would argue that at least the Doomsday Clock is…not. The explanation they offer as to why they reset the time is clearly based on political leanings and not anything terribly scientific or scholarly.  

     In the end, there is a book that talks about this very subject. It says, regarding the end of all things, and I quote, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36 ) People have been trying to predict the END of time since the BEGINNING of time. And there simply isn’t any point in wasting precious energy and emotion on something that you can’t DO. Should we care about what the world is doing? Of course. Should The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists worry about nuclear proliferation? If it makes them feel better- sure. But if I hide in the closet with a blanket over my head every time a world leader says something potentially stupid, I’m not going to get a  whole lot of living done!  
     Pray for our leaders. Pay attention to what’s going on in the world. Care. BUT…don’t spend your precious time worrying about how many seconds shy of midnight the Doomsday Clock is set to. In the end…who cares? They’re guessing. You’re guessing. Anybody who is trying address the end of the world is guessing. Live life…plain and simple. Leave the heavy lifting to God. 

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

“It SOUNDS Like a Squirrel…!”

squirrel

     There is a joke that my wife and I reference often. In fact, we probably like it a BIT more than we should! Rather that try and explain…I’ll just “tell”!
     A pastor was giving the children’s message during church. For this part of the service, he would gather all the children around him and give a brief lesson before dismissing them for children’s church. On this particular Sunday, he was using squirrels for an object lesson on industry and preparation. He started out by saying, “I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.” The children nodded eagerly. “This thing lives in trees (pause) and eats nuts (pause)…” No hands went up. “And it is gray (pause) and has a long bushy tail (pause)…” The children were looking at each other, but still no hands raised. “And it jumps from branch to branch (pause) and chatters and flips its tail when it’s excited (pause)…” Finally one little boy tentatively raised his hand. The pastor breathed a sigh of relief and called on him. “Well…,” said the boy, “I know the answer must be Jesus…but is sure sounds like a squirrel!”
     For my money- great joke! And yet there is a GREAT deal of truth at its core. For Christians, the “right” answer seems to always be Jesus. And I will admit- in my pre-Christian days, that aggravated the CRUD out of me! I got tired of hearing about Jesus all the time.
     I had an aunt who was, I am relatively sure, THE most devout Christian I have ever known. She was also one of the sweetest people I have every known. I used to LOVE it when she came to visit. And yet, when she left, there would often be some snickering about how much she mentioned Jesus.
     I have come to understand a couple of things as I have gotten older and grown in my faith. One of those things is that Christians can be a pretty easy target. And that used to bother me. I had a pretty short fuse and it didn’t take much to set me off. Now, I take it as a compliment. I figure if somebody wants to take potshots at me because of my faith, it must be having some kind of impact.
      The other thing I have come to understand is why my dear, sweet aunt mentioned her Jesus so much. He changed my life. He made me new. He saved me. Literally. I certainly wouldn’t have found the vocation that I was meant to do if it weren’t for Him. But I am also relatively sure that I would even be alive if it wasn’t for Him.
     For me, whether or not it sounds like a squirrel, it probably IS Jesus. Foe me, He is the answer to the question- regardless of the question. He is the foundation of my life. So, thank you to my aunt. Thank you to the squirrel. And thank you, Jesus, for saving me!
    Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Why Go?

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     Remember not wanting to go to school when you were a kid? You might have feigned illness, injury or even death to avoid going! But your mom would remind you that if you didn’t go to school, you couldn’t go to “soccer/band/rehearsal/playtime/insert your event here” after school. You suddenly made a miraculous recovery! Why didn’t we want to go? We always thought we had something better to do. But looking back on it, we can (hopefully!) see the difference an education made in our lives, and we are grateful our mothers were as steadfast as we knew them to be! (At least I HOPE we are!)
Church attendance is much the same. We find a variety of reasons not to go. Traveling, sporting events, family time and just plain tired are all seemingly good reasons to miss Sunday morning worship. Perhaps the worship time you like and the music you like don’t coincide. Let’s be honest- some people don’t go to church because they just don’t like the pastor! All of this begs the question: why DO we go (or NOT go) to church? And what does it matter? Let’s look at both sides of the coin:
·        Maybe you go to church simply for the music or the fellowship. Perhaps you go to church because you like the pastor. Maybe you go to church out of a sense of duty or obligation. If any of these are your sole reason for going…you’re missing the point.
·        On the other hand, maybe you DON’T go to church because of the music or the fellowship. Perhaps you don’t go to church because you DON’T like the pastor. Maybe you don’t go to church because it seems like a duty or obligation. If any of these are your sole reason for not going…you’re also missing the point.
We should go to church to proclaim that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. We should go to church because what better place could we POSSIBLY be on Sunday morning than with fellow Christians in the presence of our Creator? We should go to church to praise and worship God- pure and simple. THAT’S the point. Anything else is just gravy…or a minor inconvenience!
    When we look back on our education, we see the value of it. And yet, as valuable as that education is, it pales in comparison to the value of praising and worshiping God. One deals with our level of knowledge, the other deals with our eternal soul. Whether you go to church or don’t go to church, ask yourself, “Why or why not?” If your answer doesn’t begin with praising and worshiping God, reconsider. Our souls are simply incomplete without the connection to God that group worship offers.
Thanks for stopping by today- have a great Saturday! Please share this with others, please make sure and stop by tomorrow, and please stick with Jesus!

A Random Act

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     You are probably familiar with the expression “pay it forward”. It simply refers to having something good done to or for you and then turning around and doing something good to or for someone else in return. However it manifests itself, it starts with a random act of kindness. And we had just such a thing done for us yesterday! 

     As I tell this story, it is going to feel more than a little…cryptic. And that’s because…I did that intentionally! There are decent..and pertinent…parts of this story that I simply can’t reveal. But you WILL get the gist of the point, and that’s what matters today! 

     Yesterday, late morning, we had something come up at the house. What it was simply doesn’t matter. (In other words, I’m NOT going to tell you because the person involved has some expectation of privacy!) And that “something” that came up required some expertise that we simply do NOT have. So…we had to call someone to come and help. 

     They were in the middle of something but asked if they could come in about an hour. We assured them that was just dandy. In about 45 minutes, they pulled up to the house. I greeted them and explained the problem. They went with me to where the problem was and, within about 10 minutes of stepping out of their truck, had the situation corrected. I was stunned, amazed and extremely appreciative.  

     I had not brought payment out with me because he came earlier than we expected. So I said that, while he packed his things up, I would run in and get his money. He IMMEDIATELY said, “No!” I stopped in my tracks and stared at him. “No charge!” I was stunned. “Why?” “Because…I’m in a good mood!” I assured him that he didn’t have to do that, but he insisted. “I was already out and it didn’t take any time, so…” I gave him EVERY opportunity to take payment. It is, after all, the way he makes his living! But he insisted. So, I thanked him profusely and he drove off into the sunset!  

     So, what’s the “takeaway” from this story? (I mean, other than you might still be thinking, “What the HECK did I just read? There were more holes in that story than an slice of swiss cheese!”) The “takeaway” is this- there are still good folks in the world. There is still plenty of room for kindness. And when you receive a random act of kindness- like we did yesterday- you need to A. appreciate it and B. pass it on to someone else. Pay it forward. Let it be the catalyst that causes you to offer a random act of kindness to someone else. Think of what a world it would b if we would ALL offer a random act of kindness every day! 

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