Who’s on first?

September 29, 2015

There are different kinds of people, of course. There are those who tell you way more about themselves than they ever want to know about you. There are those who struggle to carry on conversations about you or them. And there are those who want to know you and your “story.” Honestly, the first ones are a little hard to take after a while. Know what I mean? It’s fine to share our lives and our thoughts with other people. But when others NEVER seem to stop talking about themselves… UGH!!! I’m going to guess that if you are reading this some names and faces just came into your brain. You know who I mean? People in your life who are so self-absorbed that the Universe orbits around them and their interests. Again… UGH!!!

I have a rule of sorts that I try to abide by. I’m not always successful at it, but I try none the less. The rule is something like this; when I meet with people in different circumstances, I try to leave those encounters knowing more about them than they know about me. Not that I’m trying to hide anything, I just know that most people need an outlet to share their lives a bit. And honestly, I’m naturally curious.

Sometimes because of my lack of hearing… well, it gets a little adventurous. I met an elderly man at a gathering sometime ago. We began to talk and I went through my “list” of “getting to know you questions” that I ask folks with whom I’m not familiar. At one point I told him that I assumed he was retired, so I went on to say, “So what did you do for a living?” Men are usually willing to talk about the work they did for major parts of their lives. He told me he had been a “carpet salesman.” That opened up a conversation about that particular profession. I told him a good friend’s dad was in the same line of work. I asked if he sold retail or wholesale. Then I said something like, “There must have been a lot of modifications over the years. What were some of the major changes?” He said something like: “Well it used to be that you had to use wax to get a shiny finish but now outside of the buildup of dirt it just stays shiny.” Imagine my confusion. “Shiny carpet???” It was then that I realized he said he had been a “car paint salesman,” not a “carpet salesman.” So much for getting to know someone. 

Anyway, this is really about how or when we should put the lives and interests of others above our own. Allow me to share a verse with you that I have talked with several folks about recently. I have discussed it in the context of, “What is one verse you might memorize or hold onto above all others?” I know that’s a hypothetical question but go along with me for now. I don’t doubt that many might say John 3:16 or a number of other well known Words from the Bible. Let me suggest this one… John 3:30. I’m going to guess that not one person reading this even knows what that verse is. Allow me to share it in context.

John 3: 27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.” Read it again.

Do you get what’s going on here? John the Baptist recognized, acknowledged and embraced the reality that he was 2nd fiddle when it came to Jesus. And then this wonderful statement in v. 30… “He must become greater; I must become less.”

What would the Christian world look like if we took only this teeny, tiny verse to heart? What would our families and work relationships be like if we tried to emulate Johnny B? What if we actually lived our lives with a passion for making Jesus greater than ourselves and for allowing “us” to be diminished a bit? Yeah… I don’t know either. I have rarely seen it nor have I practiced it very well.

Mostly I’m around “Christians” who want everyone to know that they have a handle on the faith. They want folks to know that their brand of “Jesus following” is THE brand. While at the same time making themselves greater and Jesus less.
Years ago I was at a ministers’ conference in New Jersey with a dear friend who was also a Presbyterian Pastor. On the first day of the conference we were sitting at a lunch table with a group of other ministers whom we didn’t know. There was the casual conversation for a bit until we got down to professional “totem poling.” You know what I mean right? “What church are you with, how many people, blah, blah, blah.” At one point my friend and I were asked what Denomination we were with. When we answered them (i.e. “Presbyterian”), that was the last word spoken to us by any of the other ministers.

Set aside for a moment the current issues with the PCUSA since this encounter happened 30 years ago. REFUSED TO SPEAK TO US!! It seems to me that they and their issues superseded Jesus. I don’t think Jesus would have ostracized us at that table if He had been there. He might have corrected us on a few things… but Ostracize? I don’t think so.

Let me encourage you, if even for the next hour, to meditate on this verse… 30 He must become greater; I must become less.

What on earth and in heaven might that mean for your life?



September 21, 2015

Much of the quality time I spent with my father over the years took place in his garage. If we weren’t in the garage we had our heads under the hood of a car outside of the door of the garage. That garage had a particular smell to it. Not a bad smell… just a unique one. I suspect it was some combination of oil, grease, and old things that he couldn’t bear to get rid of. We moved when I was 14 to a different house with a smaller garage. Many of the things from the original space were moved and the new crowded place eventually smelled the same as the old one. His garage was like mine… or shall I say mine is like his was… messy and filled with nondescript “stuff.” A couple of years before he died he asked me to come over and clean his garage and take all of the things that he had kept for years to a dump or scrap yard. Even then he couldn’t bear to part with a lot of it. I would hold each item up and he would say “uhhh, no you better put that back… it could be used for ______” I sadly returned one thing after another knowing that the next time someone touched them my father would be gone.

Some of the things in his stash that day made their way to my garage where they have sat for the past 14 years. There must not have been enough to allow the smell to permeate my messy space because my garage does not smell like his. Yesterday it was time to finally throw it all away… electric motors that had been operating something since before I was born; a horizontal shaft, 2 1/2 horsepower engine that was on my go cart when I was 10. Some copper tubing… and sundry other items and junk. I placed them all in my van yesterday. Imagine my shock when I got in today to take it all to the scrap yard and I smelled my dad’s garage for the first time in 14 years. I guess the van was small enough to allow the smell to concentrate in that compact space. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that a tear or two came to my eyes.

You know our senses can be SO powerful. A smell we have not detected in years can take us to another place and time; the sight of something we have not seen since childhood can move us beyond words; a voice from the past can cause the aforementioned tears to roll… I wonder how often we think about the fact that all of our senses can be and should be used in some capacity to worship God? That being said, because so many of us are trained to be “reverent” (better known as “stifled in our emotions”) or “afraid to be vulnerable,” we don’t often use many of our senses within the confines of the church walls. I think worship, as best we are able, should run the gambit of emotions and to the best of our abilities should use all of our senses.

It might be an interesting study to use a concordance and find everyplace in the Bible where senses are used. Do you know what a concordance is? It’s a device that allows us to find verses based on one word. You might be familiar with https://www.biblegateway.com/. Go to the website and type a word into the search engine. It will tell you every verse in the Bible where that word appears. Take for example the word “smell.” The first two listings are not unlike my story above:

Genesis 8:21
The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

Genesis 27:27
So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.

The smell of someone or something elicits a response… first from the Lord and second from Isaac.

Last weekend my son Ben was married. I didn’t do the service. I told my kids a long time ago that I just wanted to be their dad on their wedding day. My dear and long time friend (and mentor) Dale Craig conducted the service. Dale was responsible for both Ellen and I coming to the faith while in High School. When I hear his voice I am transported back to a crowded, nondescript living room in 10th grade hearing the Gospel for the first time. Forty five years ago and the sound of his voice makes it as if it were yesterday.

So, what are you hearing, or seeing, or touching, or smelling or even tasting that draws you to the Gospel? It might be a good idea to pay attention to those things.
I got rid of all that stuff in my van today but it still smells like my dad’s garage. I ought to open the windows and let it air out a bit… NAH!!!



September 16, 2015
Yeah I know… it’s been a while again since I have written one of these. I’m not making excuses but my son Ben got married this past Saturday and… well… my brain has been someplace else. I know that generally I have used this blog to write mostly “practical Christian/Spirit thoughts for laypeople”. That’s not to say of course that everyone will agree with me on these things, but I do try to be somewhat down to earth. I’m not “Captain Obvious” for nothing. But the truth is there are no rules here. I can write whatever I want, right? I mean, if I want to write something that is other than spiritual that’s okay, right? And if I just want to be silly, that should alright, right? So without any further ado…
When Ellen and I first got married we lived in Hawaii for 18 months. We got into the habit/routine of treating ourselves to artichokes regularly. They always seem to be in season out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Have you ever eaten an artichoke? I don’t mean the kind that comes marinated in a jar. I mean the whole, fresh artichoke. If you have not… well, it’s a little hard to explain. The short of it is this; they can be boiled in garlic water and lemon, or they can be baked and I suppose in this day they can be nuked. But after they are cooked the outer leaves are torn off and dipped into garlic butter, or mayonnaise and maybe other things I don’t know about. You then place the inside part of the leaf into your mouth and scrape off the very small amount of “artichoke meat.” Honestly, there really isn’t much to them.
In our stay in Hawaii we also had a handy little device that neither of us had grown up with called a garbage disposal. I’m sure I don’t need to describe what that is. What you might not be aware of however, is the list of things that should and should not be placed into one of these handy spinning monsters. For example ARTICHOKES! Don’t put them in your disposal. Don’t EVER put them in your disposal! If you do within a matter of seconds you will fill the cylinder with green fibers that are next to impossible to peel off of the blades that spin at the bottom. As a matter of fact you may find green fibers in your disposal… oh I don’t know… 6 months later! So this got me to thinking. What other sort of objects and dangers should we avoid? Here are a few things I came up with that you probably should not put in your disposal.
1. Spoons, forks, knives or anything else metal that one uses for eating.
2. Artichokes… did I say Artichokes?
3. Plastic bottle caps
4. Teenagers… whole or in part.
5. Road kill… no matter how fresh.
6. Evidence… well depending on how incriminating it is….
7. Dogs and ca____ well… uh… dogs.
8. Your hands while it’s running!
9. Bricks
10. Anything explosive including bullets, shot gun shells and nuclear weapons if you got em
11. Your wife’s good jewelry
12. Your wife’s books
13. Your wife’s clothing
14. Pretty much anything that belongs to your wife.
15. Used oil
16. Drugs… I mean medication
17. Gold fish.
18. Your mother in law
19. Stink bugs
20. Freshly caught mice… EW!
21. Peach pits, cherry pits, apricot pits, orange pits (okay just wanted to see if you were paying attention)
22. Steak bones… for those who can afford steak!
You may not have a handy guide like this in your kitchen. I would suggest that you print this article and display it in a prominent place above your disposal to avoid accidents. Or not! I’ll write something a little more spiritual next time. Until then, if you want to add to my list then hit the “comment” tab.


Predictability – Part 2

September 2, 2015

Years ago I was at a conference where the featured speaker was one of the well know “gurus” of the “church growth movement.” If you don’t know what that means, well… not sure how to explain but I’ll try. You may remember Robert Schuler. He was one of the first proponents of this “movement.” Essentially it was the intended direction of many churches in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and into the 2000’s where the emphasis was/is on getting more and more bodies through the doors on Sunday morning. Sadly, too many people saw it as a way to “save the church” and not as the way to “save souls” or draw people closer to God. Anyway, the conference I attended featured one of the well-known speakers from that movement. He told the following story. He was doing consulting work for a local congregation and was told about an older man who attended worship each Sunday but had no other connection to the church. He sat in the back, came in at the last minute and departed as soon as possible. He was gruff, cynical, impatient and most folks just avoided him. The consultant decided he wanted to visit the man and discover why he attended church at all since he didn’t seem to like anything about it. When he asked the question the response was this. The older man got very somber and said, “Because church is the only thing in my life that doesn’t change.” Setting aside for a moment how we might feel about change in the church, that statement is very “telling.”

Last week I wrote about God being a God of surprises who is unpredictable. Not inconsistent I should add, just difficult at times for us human beings to get a handle on how He might respond to His creation. So we worship a God of surprises and yet I believe that most if not all of us long for what the older man was seeking. I really think we desire predictability and consistency in our lives. Think about it for a moment. What do you want at the end of a long, hard, tiring day? Do you want a surprise party in your house where people act in all sorts of outrageous, maybe comical ways and don’t know when to leave? Do you want to have an adventure on your way home by getting lost? Do you want to stop at your favorite eatery and discover that it’s under new management and everything is different? Not at the end of the day you don’t! You just want to go to YOUR home, and walk into YOUR front door, and flop into YOUR bed. We want what we know; we want our norm; we want predictability. And yet we worship a God who is not predictable.

Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy “change” and “variety” as much as the next person… under the right circumstances. Mostly that means under the circumstances with which I feel comfortable. Which of course implies predictability which undermines the notion of change which… get it? Even those of us who appreciate change… well, we don’t really want it a good part of the time. I know, someone is going to say, “But young people like change.” Really? Tell a 12 year old you are moving to a different state. They will be leaving behind everything they have ever known along with friends and family. “Oh boy!”, they say, “I love change!” I think not. As a matter of fact they may be so angry they refuse to speak to you. They just think they like change. And yet they can watch the same thing on television over, and over, and over again. What they really like is not being bored. But they like their bed at the end of the day as much as we like ours.

Ah yes, the God of surprises in the midst of a world desperate for stability and certainty. What do we make of that?

Well let me say something seemingly contrary to all I have said so far… God is in fact VERY predictable. It’s predictable that God will love us no matter what. It’s predictable that God’s grace is free and undeserved. It’s predictable that God is present in all circumstances. What’s not predictable is “how” God might do those things. Love for example means saying “no” at times. We don’t live in a world of “no.” We live in a world of permission, tolerance, acceptability and varied lifestyles, but not a world where the word “no” is appreciated or practiced. So when God says “no” we question who He is, whether He exists or whether He is in fact a God of love. Doesn’t love mean “never having to say you’re sorry” and “yes” to all things?
Well, not only is God a God of surprise and predictability, but He is a God of “no” on many occasions. Read through the Old Testament and you will find over 600 laws, many of them laws of “no.” Jesus himself spoke in terms of “no” on many occasions. Maybe the most well know of those “no” passages is one that is often quoted incompletely:

John 8: 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I have heard this passage used as a proof text for “not judging” others. I’m okay with that on some levels, but the conversation about “judgement” will have to wait for another time. Notice how the passage ends. Jesus tells her that he does not hold her life choices against her. BUT he goes on to say “NOW STOP DOING WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN DOING!”, i.e., “No.”

The great deception that has been perpetuated by many in our culture is that you cannot say “no” and love someone at the same time. (Good thing my kids don’t think that!) Granted it’s hard, but it’s who we Christians are called to be.

Don’t be surprised when God says “no.” Nor should we be surprised when God “predictably” loves us beyond measure.