What are we doing?

September 26, 2014

Some time ago a dear friend called to encourage me regarding these ruminations. He also challenged me. In particular he suggested that I be a little more specific and confrontational in my musings (my words not his). And, that I consider writing something related to “what the Church should do in regard to the children and mothers showing up on our borders from Central America.” I have thought long and hard about this. And in the process of my contemplation it seems that this issue has gone out of the public consciousness. I’m not really sure why. I don’t know if those children are no longer coming, or if the press has “bigger fish to fry.” But the truth is, whether we know about it or not does not negate the need to answer the question. What do we in the Church do about these things?

It’s easy to hand this off to the government and say it’s their responsibility and not ours. True, it may not be our role to figure out the politics in all of this, but we are surely called to care for orphans, widows, the elderly…. The degree to which we abandon these things to the government is the degree to which we cease to be the Church of Jesus Christ. I know, I know. “So what am I supposed to do here in western PA with problems in Texas or Arizona?” I think that’s a fair question. So let me answer a question with a question. Then what are you doing in western PA to care for orphans, widows, the elderly, the homeless? As much as it’s helpful, putting money toward ministries who do these things is only a small part of the answer. I think the real issue is this: What are you doing? Not, what is your local church doing, or your denomination, or some ministry that you support. What are you doing that indicates your life as a believer in Jesus Christ?

There is an interesting comment by Jesus in Matthew 26.

11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

This text like so many others has been used over the years to justify the lack of action by Christians, i.e., “Well even Jesus says that poverty is inevitable, so why should we do anything about it? It’s just the way things are. Not to mention the fact that people are poor because they are lazy and don’t want to work.” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah! Seriously?! So we just ignore Mathew 25?

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

If we choose to ignore these commands then we do so at our own peril.

Again, this doesn’t address the question of children at the border of Texas or Arizona. But it does address the question of children at the borders of western Pa, or Pittsburgh, or McKeesport, or even Elizabeth. You might say, “But I don’t know about any of these things.” There is an old phrase about “ignorance”…. I’m sure you know it.

I need to finish by saying this. First, these issues are amazingly complex and I have been overly simplistic here. But that does not excuse our lack of involvement. Second, I am aware that we cannot fix all the world’s ills. So pick one thing that you will work on in the Name of Jesus. Last, I am not pointing the finger any farther than the end of my own nose. If Jesus is my Lord… what does that mean for my life?!

Old age

September 16, 2014

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH……

You’re never going to believe what happened this morning. It was about 6:15 and I jumped out of bed… well okay maybe “jumped” isn’t quite accurate. I… um… creaked and groaned out of bed. As I passed the mirror in the bathroom I looked and, again… you will simply not believe what I saw…. My hair is ALL GRAY! At least what’s left of it is. I know… right?! When did that happen? When I went to tell Ellen she informed me that my son David is 37… WHAT! It was only yesterday that I was reading bed time stories to him. And then she went on to inform me that we have three other children as well. When will this nightmare end? I was just beginning to get my head together when I went out into the driveway and saw something called a Kia Soul parked there… where is my 1963 Corvair?!?! What’s happening here? Where could all those years have gone? Decades of my life just… vanished. The earliest memories of my childhood include my maternal grandparents living next door. They were the age I am now. How is that possible? I mean… they were OLD! Well okay, enough of that.

I heard a dynamic speaker recently. He used a phrase over and over again, “Life is short.” We all have heard that and I’m sure many of us have said that. His point however was this, “Don’t wait to do what you are called to do. If you are a Christian you have a calling in life… figure out what it is and get to it because ‘life is short.’” If you are anywhere close to my age or older you know that decades can slip by while we leave things undone. “Life is short.” None of us want to stand before the Lord (and I confess I have no idea how this will all play out) and have Him say, “So, what were you doing? I had things for you to accomplish!”

I know I know… some of us will say that we don’t have the resources to do what God has called us to do. Oh contraire! If we don’t have the resources it’s because we have not looked for them, we are not willing to sacrifice them, or we are not called to do what we think we are called to do. I’m pretty sure God will not ask us to do things that we are not equipped to do.

Someone else might say, “But I’m too old.” If you think you’re too old, well… you probably are. At least in your mind. Older might mean slower. Older might mean different values. Older might even mean failing health. But older doesn’t have to mean “cant;” at least for most of us.

I would encourage you today to ask yourself these questions, no matter your age. “What am I doing for the Kingdom? What am I doing in the Name of Jesus Christ? What am I doing for the poor, widows, orphans, elderly??? WHAT AM I DOING?!” Life is short. If you going to do anything you better do it now.

Below is an anecdote sent by a friend. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

A C-130 (a large cargo plane) was lumbering along when a cocky F-16 fighter jet flashed by. The jet jockey decided to show off.

The fighter jock told the C-130 pilot, ‘Watch

this!’ and promptly went into a barrel roll

followed by a steep climb. 

He then finished with a sonic boom as he

broke the sound barrier.

 

The F-16 pilot asked the C-130 pilot what he

thought of that?

The C-130 pilot said, ‘That was impressive, but

watch this!’  

The C-130 droned along for about 5 minutes

and then the C-130 pilot came back on and

said: ‘What did you think of that?’  

Puzzled, the F-16 pilot asked, ‘What the heck

did you do?’  

The C-130 pilot chuckled.

‘I stood up, stretched my legs, walked to the

back, took a bathroom break, then got a cup of coffee and

a cinnamon roll.’  

When you are young & foolish – speed & flash

may seem a good thing!

When you get older & smarter –

comfort & dull is not such a bad thing!  

Us older folks understand this one, it’s called

S.O.S.

Slower, Older and Smarter….

 

Pets

September 8, 2014

In our family of 4 children and much later 5 we had our requisite number of pets while I was growing up; cats, fish, and the occasional tadpoles that we would catch in a local creek with the idea that we would nurse them into frogs. Well mostly we had little tadpole corpses floating in mason jars. But it was our beagle Susie who was the constant through my childhood. I don’t know how old I was when we got her. Suffice it to say I have no memory of that event; she was just always there. I think my dad got her with the hopes that she would be a hunting dog but that never transpired. She was “gun shy” for some reason and the roar of a shot gun only made her run and hide. To think of her as a hunting dog is somewhat difficult since she looked more like a sausage on legs. She had weight problems. That didn’t prevent her from trying! We had a large hill behind our house covered with tall brown grass and an assortment of jagger bushes and weeds. I can hear her now running across that hillside barking and chasing those rascally rabbits.

She wasn’t my dog. In many ways she wasn’t anyone’s dog… just the family dog I guess. She didn’t tag along when I or my sisters went out to play. And we didn’t really play with her much either. Mostly we fed her daily (including table scraps AND chicken bones) and pretty much left her alone. Like I said, she provided “consistency” in my life and I believe in the life of my family.

When I turned 14 my world changed dramatically. I have documented the changes in other writings so I won’t bore you with them again. Suffice it to say I went to live with my father and my stepmother and Susie came along. Her life changed also. For her entire existence she had been permitted to roam at will as there were no leash laws where we lived. But our new locale required her to be chained 24 hours a day. She had never been an indoor pet so her dog house was at the top of our property at the farthest point from the house. My job after school each day was to bring her food and water.

In the Fall and Winter it was dark by the time I walked the hill to see her. I could hear her come out of the dog house as the chain rubbed against the floor or the side of the opening. I guess I was 16 the day I didn’t hear the chain. I called her name but… nothing. I found her plump body lying in the grass, still and cold. I fell apart. She was one more connection to my childhood and in some ways a previous life that was now gone. I didn’t know what to do. I was so distraught. I left a note on the table for my dad and I went to a friend’s house. When I got home he had already buried her. Not unlike my childhood and most of my family… just… gone.

I was so thankful for my friend that day. I just didn’t want to be alone. Do you know what I mean? He didn’t have to say anything, or do anything… just be there. I’m sure this passage out of Genesis has much more significance than my dog dying but… Genesis 2:18 – The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…”

The truth is we are social creatures. We are built to need others, especially when we are in crisis. Even the most introverted people still need to have loved ones around them. I think this extends to the church as well. We are not designed to go the Christian Faith by ourselves. It is essential that we have a supporting cast of Believers around us if we expect to walk the walk.

Paul wrote 12 or 13 of the New Testament letters (depending on who’s counting). By far the most intimate and loving of those letters is written to the Christians in Philippi. I’m struck by the affection and love Paul shows for and to them in these words in chapter 1. They obviously were an important part of his life and faith walk.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Friends, I don’t know what your life looks like. And I don’t know who you have supporting you. I can only hope and pray that if you are a Christian, you are reinforced by other Believers who care about you and walk with you through the mine fields of this life.

There are days when it doesn’t seem like we will make it without them.

Blessings.

Preparation

September 3, 2014

Years ago I served as the pastor of a smaller church. We didn’t really have enough kids to run an effective “youth ministry” so I joined with a larger church in the community and took my kids to their youth group each week. I became very close to the youth pastor and we did ministry together for several years. It still remains one of the most fulfilling times in my life.

I recall one year when we were planning for our annual youth retreat. My friend and I spent weeks preparing. We had decided to use videos as much as possible and since kids like to see themselves, we plotted with their parents. We chose about 12 kids and arranged with their folks to barge into their teenagers rooms around 4:00 in the morning with music blaring, lights flashing… again, we videoed each encounter. It was great fun… watching kids diving for blankets or waking up in total confusion. It was harmless and everyone including the kids really enjoyed it. Since we could only do one or two videos on each occasion it took several weeks of periodic 3:00 am mornings to get all we needed. The videos were then shown during the weekend retreat. Suffice it to say that all of our planning was vindicated and the retreat was a rousing success. I seem to recall that we thought that our planning and creativity was a major reason for that.  Hold that thought.

The next year, for whatever reason, neither of us had the energy to plan for the impending annual retreat. Seriously… we got together on Thursday before the Friday of the retreat and said, “So, what are we going to do?” Now I do need to acknowledge that a certain amount of experience is helpful in these circumstances, however… The retreat went off without a hitch. And frankly, it was as “successful” as the year before. I’m not advocating that we do away with planning. I’m simply raising the question, “Why were these two events both so successful given the total lack of planning for one of them?”

I think the answer is fairly simple. Christian retreats are about promoting relationships – relationships between people, and relationships between people and God. They are not about fancy, complicated, expensive programming. Don’t get me wrong, programming can indeed be very effective in building relationships, but the end game is in fact, relationships. I have been to too many events over the years where it’s obvious that an extraordinary amount of time and energy has been spent on programs, but it did little to advance relationships.

If I were to ask a cross section of Christian people what the faith is all about no doubt the answers would be diverse: “Good theology, a good life, following the commands of Jesus, evangelism, scripture, being born again, church, love etc.” Can I suggest what might be the most correct answer? The Christian life is about a relationship… In particular between individuals, the Church and Jesus Christ. What we do and how we do it comes out of that relationship. If our lives indicate little of our faith in Jesus… well that seems to be a comment on our relationship, doesn’t it? Paul says the following to the Christians in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 2: 2

2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

You know, the apostle Paul was a brilliant maniac! He subjected himself to torture, ship wrecks, poor health, persecution, rejection, but he was very clear about one thing… he wanted to know Jesus; to have a relationship with Jesus. Truthfully? I have only met a handful of people in my life who seem to fit that category… people who were willing to sacrifice the comforts of life to know Jesus… people who were willing to forego the “successes” of life to follow the Lord of the Universe. Is it any wonder that Jesus says this in Matthew

Matthew 7:12-14

12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. 13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

How is your relationship with Jesus these days?

Blessings