A King James Thanksgiving

November 26, 2014

It was Thanksgiving Eve 2001. We used to have a worship service on Thanksgiving morning back then and like Saturday nights before Church, I couldn’t sleep. I had a silly little “story” of sorts running through my mind so I finally dragged myself out of bed around 2:00 am and wrote it down. I later sent it to a Christian publication and low and behold they printed it! It was originally entitled, If Leviticus Were Written Today but the magazine changed it to A King James Thanksgiving. Some of you might have seen this before, but for others… well… enjoy.

A King James Thanksgiving

The fourth Thursday of the 11th month shall be designated as a day for a Feast of Thanksgiving, dedicated to the Lord in celebration of the blessings He has bestowed upon His people.

On that day the people of God shalt thaw and sacrifice a fowl of the turkey variety on the altar of your dining room tables. The women of the clan shall remove the sacred bird’s entrails and boil them in a pan designated for these occasions. Half of the boiled entrails shall be fed to the canine of the family while the other half shall be diced and mixed with the juice of the consecrated bird and thickened with the “powder of maize.”

Take the grain of the wheat stalk and pound it into a fine dust. Make the sanctified bread from this powder. Cut the bread into 1/2 –inch squares and allow to harden for 3 and ½ weeks. Mix the hardened bread with onion and celery and fill the hollowed cavity of the sacrificed bird. Thou shalt then roast the bird for 1 hour for every 5 pounds at 350 degrees.

On that most Holy Day, thou shalt take the skin from the hallowed potato and pulverize it in the refuse dissipater. Procure the meat of the potato and macerate it into a fine paste. Place the heaped paste onto your best tableware and cover it with the bird juice and entrails.

It would be a most grievous sin unto the Lord if thou did not procure the consecrated can opener and open the “jelly of thanksgiving.” Not two cans of the jelly of thanksgiving shalt thou open, neither shalt thou open three cans, but one, and one only. Thou shalt serve the sacred jelly mashed or whole observing the traditions of thy clan.

As a wave offering to the Lord, lift an elongated crock filled with beans, liquid fungi and fried onions. Wave the crock before the Lord and then place in the sacred oven next to the consecrated bird ½ hour before consuming.

Lastly, thou shalt take the liquid of the sacred Halloween fruit and pour it into a spherical pan lined with the somewhat moist powder of the wheat. Bake the hallowed fruit and eat topped with emulsified cow milk.

At the conclusion of the feast, the men of the clan shall retire to an adjacent room for the festival of belching, story-telling and football while the women cleanse and retire the sacred dishware for another year.

Let it be so.

Dearest friends, thank you for taking the time to read these musings each week. Blessings to you and your family and may we all give thanks to a GREAT GOD.


Comfortable lives

November 18, 2014

Sometime back in the late 1980’s I took a group of mostly middle schoolers on a short term mission trip to New York City and then to southern New Jersey. We were from a community in the North Hills of Pittsburgh not unlike where I live now. We were very suburban and very white. The 12 kids who went with me were pretty typical of white middle to upper middle class kids of the day… and frankly of this day. They were up on the current trends for kids. They wore the right clothes, liked the right music, played the right video games, wanted to have the right friends… And of course the converse of that. They didn’t wear the wrong (uncool) clothes or listen to the wrong music… you get the idea. Truth be told, as much as they might have wanted to think of themselves as cool and street wise… uh they were fairly protected. Again, not unlike the community I live in right now.

I remember three things in particular from that trip. First, we worked at a soup kitchen in Manhattan. I recall the tears on the faces of my kids at the end of the day when they talked about seeing entire homeless families come to eat – parents, teenagers and babies. Or the shock on their faces as we literally stepped over men sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk. It wasn’t always clear if they were alive. And last on a 98 degree day in July the bus I borrowed from a friend for this trip blew an engine on the N.J. Turnpike. I left my 12 kids on the bus with the other adult and hitch hiked to the next exit. No one had cell phones back then so like Superman I looked frantically for a phone booth. Found the booth and scanned the yellow pages looking for the closest Presbyterian Church. It was a Saturday afternoon. What hope did I have of finding anyone?! But God is pretty cool. The church was in the midst of a Session retreat and all of their Elders were there. When I told them my predicament they said, “Hang on. We’ll be right there.” They picked me up and then it was down the turnpike to a distant exit so we could turn around… you get the idea. By the time I got my crew to the church they were tired, cranky and HOT. We were greeted by a banner hastily produced and hung across the front of the building by someone at the retreat, “WELCOME BILL AND KIDS!” That was 25 years ago. All of those kids are now young adults. I can assure you however that they remember. In particular they remember the Christian people from a church who never heard of us opening their doors and giving us free reign to their (mercifully air conditioned) building.

Truthfully? Living in a comfortable, fairly safe, relatively uneventful community is… well… safe and uneventful. And it is so easy to fall into a life that cares little for those outside of our… well… safe, uneventful place. As a matter of fact we might even go out of our way to deliberately avoid those places that are not so pleasant. From a human perspective that makes all the sense in the world. But from a Christian perspective, it’s probably just downright sinful.

As I read the words of Jesus there is little there about seeking comfort. There is a whole lot about sacrifice. There are many words about caring for the poor, elderly, widowed, orphans, but little about comfort. What do you make of that? Or better put, how do we ignore that? And how do we call ourselves “followers” of Jesus if we choose to simply discount His very clear commands? Seriously? Don’t just fuss at me because I am raising threatening, uncomfortable questions. Have some courage and answer them.

Here is my hope for you. I hope some evening you can’t sleep. Not because you drank too much caffeine or because of stress at work or in your family. I hope that you lay awake at the same time I do with the Holy Spirit bugging you about your faith. Asking what you’re about that is anywhere close to what Jesus desires. Reminding you that we are called to be radical in the way we live out our faith. I really hope you can’t sleep.  And when you finally stumble out of bed you have this prayer on your lips, “Okay God, I’m ready for whatever you have for me.” I don’t know about you, but that prayer frightens me.


What is “church”?

November 13, 2014

Years ago I knew a woman that I disagreed with on a number of issues. We had a wonderful relationship and even though the issues that separated us were serious we didn’t allow that to get in the way of our respect and fond affection for one another. We had regular conversations about the things we believed and why we believed them. She would point out the error of my ways and I would do the same to her. Then one day she said something to me that I will never forget. “You know what your problem is?” she said. I wanted to answer, “You want them in alphabetical order?” but I didn’t. She went on to say, “Your problem is that you are an idealist. You actually expect the best in people.” She was right. Sadly I have “grown” since then.

What a condemnation of our society when hoping for the best in people is “a problem,” or “naïve.” I confess that I have grown more cynical as the years go by. And my expectations are dramatically diminished. I now “hope” for the best but don’t “assume” it any longer. That being said, I still have high, unrealistic expectations for those who claim to know Jesus. I really think Christians should love God, their neighbor… and each other. I really do. I know… silly, huh? Alas, the way we behave toward one another too often makes a mockery out of that hope.

Don’t get me wrong. I am equally disappointed in myself. Rarely does a day go by when I am not humiliated by my sinful attitude toward others. Not unlike last week’s rumination. I know what I’m supposed to do; I know what’s right; I know what God expects… I just don’t do it. It can be maddening!

Let’s turn our attention for a moment away from ourselves and ask a similar question of “the church.” What should we be? And what should our expectations be for church? Every one of us knows someone (or maybe even multiple “someones”) who used to be regularly involved in a church somewhere. For one reason or another they dropped out one day and have never looked back. There are two categories of those folks. There are those who left one church to attend another, and there are those who left a church and never went back to any organized gathering of Believers. It’s the second category that I want to discuss briefly.

Many in my generation “grew up” in the church. We attended Sunday School each week with our obligatory quarter in hand for the offering. Each summer we were present at the annual VBS. We sat patiently or not so patiently in the pews coloring, drawing, playing with little toys, eating candy, and waiting for the old, boring guy to be done talking and for the ancient songs to finish so we could go home and do something fun. Sometime right after the last Sunday of Confirmation Class we had enough gumption to tell our mom or dad that we didn’t want to get out of bed for church… and we didn’t. And they didn’t make us. And we still don’t get out of bed Sunday morning. Well, we might get out of bed but we have more interesting and compelling things to do now. Or so it’s believed.

And now, the two generations that follow me… well, they don’t have to convince their parents to let them sleep in. There have never been other options presented for Sunday morning. Church and Christian faith are not on their radar – at least until they need a nice location to get married, or in a very few cases they want to get a baby baptized. But even those two things are falling by the way side at the advent of dual purpose wedding chapels and reception halls. And baptism… who cares?

So what happened? How have we in the church lost several generations of people? What have we done… or not done? Truthfully there have been volumes written on this subject. Some have taken to analyzing what has gone wrong and others to recommending how we should go about “correcting” things. Under the category of “what went wrong?” I suspect the answer is fairly simple from a broad perspective. I have a sneaking suspicion that we in the church have simply become irrelevant. We no long “scratch where people itch.” The “News” that we put out there just doesn’t seem so “Good” any longer. Is it any wonder that the decline of the church parallels the advent of prosperity in our country? Think about it for a moment. When things are going quite well for the vast majority, the need for “Good News” is dramatically diminished. I mean things are pretty “good” already. It only follows then that church has progressed into the entertainment business. It’s no longer sufficient to proclaim the Gospel. Now it has to be done with a flair that keeps the masses amused and entertained so they will have some reason to come back. Once the uniqueness of that wears off… well…

I suspect much of this has to do with our distorted sense of “church.” We have almost always approached our involvement in “church” from the perspective of “What does it do for me?” Or “What do I get out of it?” That’s the crux of the problem. Our faith is not a “what do I get from it” sort of thing. It’s actually a “what do I put into it” sort of thing. Rick Warren in his book The Purpose Driven Life begins with this reminder, “It’s about God… It’s always about God.” As long as we approach faith from the perspective of “what’s in it for me,” we will not understand or embrace the Good News. And honestly that’s what we in the church ought to be about – proclaiming the Good News.

Personally I would rather go under with the Good News of Jesus Christ on my lips than with a theology of entertainment on my agenda.

So take a moment to evaluate your faith… is it all about you? Or is it all about God? Be honest.


Doing the right thing

November 6, 2014

Doing the “right thing” can be hard; gut wrenchingly hard. Being a person of integrity can be painful and emotionally devastating. You may have heard this but “integrity” has been defined as, “The person you are when no one is around.” I shudder to think. It can be traumatizing to do the right thing, to go against the flow, to buck the system… is it any wonder that we too often choose to simply let things go? To say or do nothing when something clearly needs to be addressed? Folks in the work place who “blow the whistle” on illegal or immoral activities; how do they do it? After all, losing friends, loved ones and maybe our livelihood… is it really worth it?

There are a few occasions in my life where I think I did the right thing in the midst of intense pressure to remain silent. The sleepless nights, the emotional trauma, the depression, the chest pains… is it any wonder that I think twice or more before putting myself in those situations again? I know, I know, as Believers we should do what’s right regardless of the cost. We ought to honor God in our lives by being people of honesty and veracity. But it’s so… HARD! I’m ashamed of those times when I have allowed myself to turn away and not do the things that I know I should. I wonder if there are others who feel the same?

The Apostle Paul comments on this dilemma in two ways… First he says that we live in a perpetual state of emotional/theological turmoil. He refers to our pre Christian state as the “old self.”

Romans 6:6

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin….

Ephesians 4:22

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires….

 The “old self” is that part of us that continues to sin or not do what God desires. It is particularly exasperating that even though we have been delivered from our sinful lives we continue to sin anyway.

I once heard the story of a farmer whose dog wouldn’t stop killing his chickens. So he took a dead chicken and tied it around the neck of the dog and allowed the bird to rot and putrefy. It wasn’t long before the dog no longer wanted anything to do with chickens. Our old self is not unlike that. It hangs around even though it is dead and disgusting. Tragically, it isn’t revolting enough that we can abandon it fully, so we continue to live lives filled with sin and regret.

Paul, in a moment of personal vulnerability, documents his inability to do what is right. Take a moment to look at Romans 7.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

This thought has often crossed my mind; “Wow, if Paul can’t do what he knows is right… what hope do I have?!” Thankfully our hope is found in v. 25. “Thanks be to God.” If it’s not too inappropriate to question Paul’s words… uh… well… I would say that is an understatement!

It would be easy for me to end this with a platitude. Something like “So live as those who have been freed from sin. From this day forth you no longer have to be in rebellion against God. Starting today ‘repentance’ will not be necessary because sin is in your past.” But of course I know what life is. And I, along with Paul, know what it is to want to do the right things, but not be able to.

So, don’t live your life in perpetual guilt. Live your life as one struggling to do the right things. And live your life with the full knowledge that your sin has been paid for on a cross. Thanks be to God!

Oh yeah, a healthy dose of repentance wouldn’t hurt either.