Eddie Rabbitt Theology

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I open both our 8AM Contemporary Worship Service and our 9:15AM Rock and Worship Service with a Music Video. It is originally produced- I crank a new one out each and EVERY week- and built around a secular (non “church”) song. The song speaks directly to the theme or emphasis of that week’s sermon.

This past Sunday’s sermon was the last week of our recent sermon series The Long Journey Home- built around the Gospel story of The Prodigal Son. The song I chose for the video was One More Day by Diamond Rio. The theme for the sermon was reconciliation. The song focuses on the reality of wishing you had one more day with someone you love.

I was sick on Sunday…but at church. (You will have decide for yourself if that makes me a hero or an idiot…or both!) Every Sunday, one of the many things I do before folks start walking in the doors is “:test drive” the video to make sure it runs fine and set the sound levels. So about 6:30AM, I was in the sound booth, running the video. It ran…and it ran fine. As the video came to an end, our Worship Director flashed that wickedly sarcastic grin he is capable of and said, “I can TELL you’re sick…you’re playing country music!” Amen, Mike, amen!

Believe it or not, ALL of that was just a lead-in to explain how I know any songs by Eddie Rabbitt! A Country Western singer/songwriter (he wrote Kentucky Rain for none other than Elvis Presley!), one of Rabbitt’s big hits was Driving My Life Away. The song is basically about spending your whole life, your whole existence, behind the wheel of a truck- driving your life away.

That song popped into my head recently. (Almost EVERYTHING reminds me of a song lyric!) And while I don’t know a lot of people who are DRIVING their lives away, I seem to know a decent amount of people who are WHINING their lives away. With that Eddie Rabbitt paraphrase firmly ensconced- after only FIVE paragraphs!- let dig a bit deeper.

There seem to be a decent amount of folks who are unhappy with their lives. And I get that. There have been times when I was pretty unhappy. (And no- you don’t have to read too much into that. Not my wife. Not my kids. Not my job. Me!) But it seems that often that unhappiness manifests itself as “the grass is always greener”.

An awful lot of people are always looking- waiting, hoping, pining- for something that is yet to come. “I can’t wait to grow up.” “I can’t wait to graduate.” “I can’t wait to be on my own.” “I can’t wait for Friday.” “I can’t wait for the weekend.” “I can’t wait for summer.” “Vacation.” “Retirement.” “Promotion.” “Job change.” Whatever. And they seem to spend SO much time looking to that distant time when that distant thing will happen which will make every GROOVY! And all the while, the calendar is just RACING by. And then, one day, you wake up and…it’s over. Life is in the twilight. The spirit might still be willing but the flesh is weak. And what are you left with, at that moment? Regrets. But sadly, you can’t get in the DeLorean and go back to change things. The die has been cast. The moving hand has writ.

Don’t drive your life away. Don’t whine it away. Don’t whittle it away. The hand you have is the hand you were dealt. If you can discard a couple from your hand, draw two new ones from the deck and upgrade- do it. But in the end, the cards you have are the cards you play. Make the most of it. This is your mission field. This is your sphere. This is your life. And it’s a gift. Make the most of 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!

Modem? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Modem!

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I have shared before that, about 12 years ago, the “tech committee” at the church we were serving at the time was charged with ordering a new computer for my office. It was to be a desktop model. They came to me with the specifications they were proposing. I will admit right up front that I knew a LOT less about “tech stuff” then than I do now. But I knew enough to notice the COMPLETE absence of a modem. If you are reading this and thinking, “Modem? Modem? That SOUNDS familiar!”…a modem is the thing that connects a computer to the internet!

I looked over the specs again, just to make sure I was reading it correctly. When I brought it to the attention of the committee, I presented it from the perspective of, “Of COURSE this was simply an oversight.” But no- it wasn’t. They left it out on purpose. The reason? They simply couldn’t imagine any treason I would have to get on the internet while at church!

Well BOY have things changed in those 12 years! I look at the how technology and the internet impact my ministry and I am amazed. From this blog- which has been published DAILY since September 15, 2009- through the church website to mobile apps, in-house produced videos, all-church robo-calls and online giving, technology has a HUGE impact on today’s ministry.

If you read this blog at all or know me at all, you know that I not only embrace technology…I LOVE it. I readily admit that fact. But I worry about those folks who steadfastly refuse to see the benefits of technology to today’s ministry. It doesn’t really matter if you like it or not. There are aspects of ministry that I don’t particularly care for- the nature of the beast, so to speak. But if we REALLY want to connect people to Jesus Christ, we have to be willing to go where they go and do what they do. And the reality of life in the 21st Century is that technology is the order of the day.

If you read the Gospels, Jesus met people where they were. He went to their homes, their events. That’s what He calls us to do. Be willing to embrace the culture. Why? Because that’s where all the people are! Meet them where they are and then help them get to the place Jesus is called them to. What better way could you spend your life?!
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: Reconciling

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     Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

 

     It was Saturday morning and Mom was making pancakes for her two boys- Kevin who was 6 and Ryan who was 4. The boys, both hungry, started arguing over who should get the first pancake. They bickered back and forth until Mom intervened. She saw the situation as an opportunity to teach the boys about the power of sacrificing for others. “You know, boys- if Jesus was sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ Do you understand what I’m trying to say?” Kevin, the older brother, said, “I think I do, Mom.” He then turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, what Mom is trying to say is…you be Jesus!”

 

     Today, we bring our current journey to an end. 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’ve been asking all of those questions- and many more- as we have taken The Long Journey Home. Each week, we’ve focused 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 hasn’t be a day when we heard the whole story at one time, I’ve offer what I’ve called 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. The third 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. The fourth week, he got home and his dad ran to him, hugged him and kissed him. The younger son confessed that he had sinned against both his earthly and heavenly fathers and wasn’t worthy to be called “son”. Week 5, the father interrupted him and called for a robe, a ring and a pair of sandals for his younger son. He also instructed that the fatted calf be prepared because his son who was lost has been found, who was dead is now alive. Week 6, the illusive older son came home and found out from a servant what was going on- walking into the middle of a party he didn’t even know about. Last week, the older son reacted to the situation by letting his dad know, in no uncertain terms, how hurt and angry he was about the whole thing. And that’s where we pick up today’s Scripture.

 

     Luke 15:31-32 ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

 

     Dad’s response is tender- “My son”. The Greek literally translates to “my child”. There is great love in what the dad says to the older son, because Dad loves his son…BOTH of his sons. Dad also says that everything he has is already the older son’s. He is showing the older son his value.

 

     And then, to that Dad adds, “We had to celebrate”. Not, “We should”. Not, “We probably ought to”. Not, I had to”. But, “WE had to”. “We HAD to.” There’s a strong sense of necessity, of urgency.

 

     There are two truths in this story. The first is that we have a home with God. When we’re lost, it’s often because we’ve strayed from the place we’re supposed to be. We each have a God-shaped hole in our heart. And we try SO hard to fill that hole with all sorts of things. And we’re never truly satisfied. And that’s because the ONLY thing that fills a God-shaped hole is…God. We were made to be deeply connected to God.

 

     The second truth is that Jesus is looking for us- actively, aggressively, passionately looking for us. The Good Shepherd is actively looking for His lost sheep. The Bible offers us example after example of Jesus looking for the lost in all sorts of unlikely places. He comes to us in the midst of our lostness. “Being found” is simply another way of saying “coming home”.

 

     So who’s lost in this story? The younger son, right? Yes, he is. But I would argue that the OLDER son is lost as well- he just doesn’t know it. He never strayed from the path. He never broke the rules. But he STILL misses out on the gift of the father’s extravagant love. And the older brother doesn’t really understand the idea of forgiveness. Remember, he even bring himself to claim the younger brother- “YOUR son…!” But Dad- the Father- corrects those words and reinstates the relationship when he says, “This brother of yours…”

 

     Notice this- BOTH sons change throughout the unfolding of this story. The ONLY character that remains constant throughout is…the Father. It’s not by accident that the story of The Prodigal Son is often referred to as the greatest short story ever written. It’s GOOD stuff! But as great a story as it is, I think it’s misnamed. At the end of the day, the story shouldn’t have been called The Prodigal Son. Regardless of WHICH son you think is The Prodigal, he isn’t the hero of the story. The story should really be called The Loving Father- it tells us much more about a father’s love than it does about a son’s sin.

 

     In this story, the younger son isn’t found, he isn’t brought back to life because of some great spiritual revelation. He doesn’t suddenly get his act together and change his evil ways. It’s important to remember that, like every good fisherman, God cleans the fish AFTER He catches them. The turning point happens when he comes to his senses- he makes a wise choice. He says, “This is stupid. I don’t have to live like this. I have a home and a father. Maybe he’ll take me back…even if it’s as a servant.”

 

     So what is this story about? If you had to sum it up in one word…what would that word be? Honestly, you could make a compelling case for any number of words. Forgiveness. Sin. Relationship. Family. Greed. Redemption. Those would all be very appropriate, very accurate words.

 

      But the word I’m going to offer up today is- reconciliation. Call it reunion. Call it resolution. Call it restoration. Call it what you like…but I think that reconciliation is at the heart of this story. This family was broken. We have no idea where Mom was, but it seems safe to assume that she is no longer in the picture. But the relationship between Dad and younger son, Dad and older son, older son and younger son- they are all strained…at best.

 

     But when push comes to shove, it is Dad- the Father- who steps up and seeks reconciliation. He could have been mad at the younger son. He could have been mad at the older son. He could have put his Dad Pants on and busted some heads. But he didn’t. Instead, he offered love, compassion, caring, understanding, forgiveness. He set aside his own agenda, his own frustration, humbled himself and brought his family back together. He was the clear and present agent of reconciliation.

 

     Reconciliation is at the heart of who we are called to be as Christians. We’re human- there WILL be strained relationships. But as the hands and feet of Jesus, we are called to be the ones to humble ourselves and offer the olive branch. Religion is often about rules and regulations. Faith is always about relationship. Our faith is built on relationship- with each other and with Jesus Christ. And if we place that high a value on relationship, then reconciliation should be…HAS to be…the core of who we are and what we strive for.

 

     Which are the strained relationships in your life? Who are you estranged from? Whoever it is, God is calling you to reconciliation. The other person might be unable- unwilling- to take the first step. So…you take that step. Reach out. Offer your hand. Seek reconciliation. Try and repair the damage.

 

     Let’s be clear on one thing here- you can’t FORCE someone else to reciprocate. You can’t make them willing to reconcile. In other words, you might do everything RIGHT…and still not be able to rebuild the relationship. That’s a genuine risk of stepping out in faith. BUT- if you do everything YOU can to rebuild the relationship…you will have the peace of mind that comes with knowing you left no stone unturned.

 

     Who do you need to reach out to? Who needs your forgiveness? Who do you need forgiveness FROM? Don’t wait one more day. Life is simply too short. Every day is a gift. And NO day is guaranteed. And when it’s too late to do anything about it, you will wish for one more day. Don’t put yourself in that position. Today IS that day.

 

     One last thought about this story- the story of The Prodigal Son is the third of 3 successive Jesus stories about things that were lost and then found. But they are NOT simply three ways of stating the same thing. In the first story, the sheep is lost because it simply doesn’t know any better. In the second story, the coin is lost through absolutely no fault of its own. In our story, the younger son deliberately went lost, turning his back on his family and his life. But God can overcome our lack of understanding. He can overcome the seduction of the tempting voices. He can even overcome our deliberate rebellion of the heart.

 

     Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

 

These Kids Today!

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There is this expression- “These kids today”! It’s an expression that gets bandied about a lot these days. And frankly, it’s an expression that has been bandied about…since there have been kids! Every generation has thought that the next generation was going to be the death of civilization. Seriously. Since the dawn of humans, that has been the case.

And so, I here it a lot. Why? Because there are, you know…HUMANS running around. And in response to the notion that the current generation is the worst ever, I have two bullets points. And…here they are!

  1. Are there rotten young people today? Of course there are. EVERY generation has its share of rotten people. Sorry- may seem a bit harsh, but we all know it’s true. But are they representative of ALL young people today? Not even a little bit.

Between having a son in High School and being a pastor, I spend a lot of time around a pretty wide variety of young people. And, based on my experience, we are in pretty good hands! Whether it’s the kids and youth who populate the churches I have served or the ones who are in the variety of things our son is involved in, I see a LOT of really fine young people. They are smart. Pleasant. Good social skills. Respectful. Fun to be around.

Are they perfect? Of course not- again, they’re human. I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. (Sorry to break that to you, if you didn’t know!!) None of God’s children are perfect. But they have a great deal going for them. And I feel pretty darn good knowing they are the future.

  1. What about the young people who aren’t doing so well? What about those kids who seem to always be in trouble, who seem to always be disrespectful, who seem to not really honor anybody or anything? What about them?

Well, first off- my heart hurts for them. I look at the way I grew up and I realize that I could have ended up there myself. One more stray step, one more bad choice and I could be in a MUCH different place than I am. So I am very empathetic for young people who have tough lives.

But I have to ask myself one question- how did they GET to be in that situation? Behavior, good or bad- isn’t learned and developed in a vacuum. Where do kids learn the words, the attitudes, the behaviors?

The truth is that there seem to be some who are simply predisposed to that kind of behavior. But my experience is that they are the exception and not the rule. So, again, where do the rest of those kids learn what they have clearly learned? Someone had to teach them…or allow them to be taught by others.

I’m amazed when parents exhibit negative behavior on a relatively consistent basis and then are amazed when their kids struggle. The old “do as I say, not as I do” may be a worthwhile punchline, but it is NOT a foundation for solid parenting.

And then there are the parents who consistently exhibit the behavior they want their kids to model but then let them be around people and situations that fly in the face of that approach. It is our responsibility to not only consistently model the behavior we want out of the kids we impact but to also draw the lines that need to be draw to ensure that they receive that same reinforcement from their other influences.

Am I saying that EVERY time a kid “goes bad”, the parent is at fault? No. It’s not that simple. But I AM saying that, when kids end up in places and situations that we don’t want them to be in, we HAVE to ask ourselves how they got there. And we HAVE to be honest…brutally honest…with the answers.

Impacting kids in a positive way is NOT an easy job. And a large part of the reason it’s hard is that there is NO vacation- it’s a 24/7/365 kind of deal. They are ALWAYS watching and therefore we are ALWAYS impacting them- either negatively or positively. God entrusts us- as parents, extended family, a church, a community, a nation- with raising our kids to be the best humans they can be. That is THE most important job we have!\

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

So Good He Needed 3 Preachers!

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     I wrote yesterday about a funeral I was going to perform. Well, the funeral is, as they say, “in the history books” and it went well. One of the many blessings of the service was the music. The young woman who is our staff pianist/accompanist played. (We recently switched from a 100+ year old pipe organ to a brand new Yamaha Clavinova. The organ needed a LOT of money to be repaired and didn’t have anybody to play it. Meanwhile, the Clavinova that we got is THE best instrument they make and sounds amazing!) She also played a solo on…the harp! 

     When she was recommended for the staff position, the person who recommended her said, “Oh, and she also plays the harp. And I told her that, if she got the job, she WOULD be playing the harp!” And BOY did she! She played Amazing Grace and it was awesome. As we were preparing for the service, she asked, “How many verses do you want?” I replied, “When you start…we’ll listen. And when you stop…we’ll move on. Other than that…play what works for you!”  

     In addition, a gentleman who’s a member of the church sang a solo- I Will Rise. He sings in the choir. He sings (and plays guitar) with one of our Praise Bands. He has sung at a TON of weddings and funerals. And he is…good! He has such a pure voice that it is always a joy to hear him. 

     The other thing about the celebration of this man’s life is how many preachers were involved. I was the “officiant” as the pastor of the church. I had the sheer pleasure of knowing…and loving…this man, so it was an honor to perform his funeral. But another local pastor had a very special, almost father/son, relationship with the man who died. He delivered the eulogy.  

     While the funeral was yesterday, the burial is today in the man’s home community, which is about 3 hours from where we live. The gentleman who is the United Methodist pastor in that community is…ready?…a former pastor of the church I currently serve and was, therefore, pastor to the man who died. He graciously agreed to perform the graveside service today. So three different preachers, all for one man. He was SUCH a great guy- it took three pastors to perform his funeral! Gotta love it! 

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

Crud on a Cracker

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    Let me preface today’s blog with the following disclaimer: Today’s blog is in NO way a shameless attempt at sympathy. I am not looking for “there there’s”. I am simply doing what I try to do every day- reflect a daily look at life as a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming United Methodist minister! 

     I am sick! Let’s just get that out in the open- sick. Not well. Cold. Flu. Crud on a Cracker! (Did you see how I cleaned that one up?!) I am almost NEVER sick. Seriously. Not counting the brain tumor I had, I have not missed ONE Sunday due to illness in 20 years of ministry. (And I can only remember a couple that I probably SHOULD have missed! Especially Christmas morning, 2005. All four of us were sick and I dragged my sorry carcass out of bed to go do the Christmas Day service. Probably NOT my best effort!) 

     Seriously, I am rarely sick. Good genes. Can’t keep a good man down. Too stupid to know better. Call it what you will- I rarely slow down. And so, when I do- it’s pretty doggone noticeable! I traditionally take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, and this past December was no exception. I led the Christmas Day service (another year when Christmas fell on a Sunday!) and then started vacation. I got sick within about 36 hours! Hit me pretty hard. The worst of it lasted about 5 days. The residual effects lasted about 2-3 weeks! 

     Fast forward to Tuesday, February 11. My wife got sick. It seemed to be some variation on what I…and half the free world…had. It hit her HARD. She went 11 DAYS without stepping foot out of the house. 11 DAYS! She finally turned the corner started getting better- bust still trying to get her energy back. Then, a couple of days ago- BLAMMO…it hits me again! I don’t know if this is what I had in December that never quite let go and is rearing its ugly head. I don’t know if what my wife had came from me and we have now swapped it back. I don’t know if I got it from someone else- I come in contact with a LOT of people. All I know is- crud on a cracker! 

     But I am too stubborn and to strong-willed to let this get me down. So today, I will put on my suit and tie, lace up my shoes, head to the church and perform the funeral of one of the kindest, most gentle souls I have ever known. It will be both my honor and my pleasure. And no little flu bug is going to upset THAT apple cart! 

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

Doctrine and Dogma

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During yesterday’s Bible Study, we talked about two words- doctrine and dogma. (We actually talked about MANY more words than that, but I am going to focus on those two today!) Those two words are FULL of all sorts of potential- both good and bad. So let’s take a moment and unpack them.

Dictionary.com defines “doctrine” as- “a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government, something that is taught; teachings collectively, a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject”. So the doctrines of the church are those things that form the teachings of the church- “this is what we believe”.

Dictionary.com defines “dogma” as- “an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior, etc., as of a church, a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church, prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group”. So dogma could be perceived as doctrine that is seen as “unquestionably true”.

In class, we talked about both words and what they mean. The group was more comfortable with the word doctrine than they were dogma. And it seemed that part of the reason for that comfort level- or lack thereof- comes from the realization that the word dogma often carries with it a rather negative connotation. And then we talked about why that was.

Think about the difference between the words- doctrine and dogma. Doctrines form a set of beliefs. Dogma is doctrine that is “unquestionably true”. And it seems to me that the term “unquestionably true” is the sticking point. With doctrine, there is what I would call some wiggle room. There is a basis of belief, to be sure. But there is some potential interpretation to be had within the construct of that doctrine. Dogma, on the other hand, is unquestionably true.

And that is the problem, isn’t it? Us humans struggle with ANYTHING that is unquestionably true. We don’t deal well in absolutes. And when they are presented to us, we tend to buck against them as best we can. Stubborn- that might be THE biggest hurdle to spiritual growth! (It usually is for me!)

And while there are other things that fall into the dogma category, for Christians, there is ONE that is The Big Kahuna. And that one is the deity of Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, God in the flesh, Emmanuel- God with us. He is the Messiah. The Savior.

Now, notice this- I was CLEAR to say “Christians believe that…” I can’t speak for any other group but Christians. (And frankly, I really wouldn’t try to speak for them, either…except on this topic!) But the very definition of “Christian” means we believe in, follow- Jesus. You can’t say “I am a Christian” and “I don’t Jesus was actually divine but a great teacher” at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.

So, is some effort by the pastor to be exclusive? Not even a little bit. Instead, it’s an effort by the pastor to clarify- Christians believe Jesus is God in the flesh, other individuals and groups do not. For us…it is dogma!

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