February 26, 2016

I think I may have mentioned previously that Ellen and I watch ZERO contemporary television.  (Well, except for Steeler games.) What I mean by that is everything we watch comes via a DVD or “streaming” where the shows are at least a year old. Frankly it simply allows us to pick and choose what we want to enter into our living room and our brains through the TV. We are not interested in being at the mercy of local broadcasting. Much of the programming we watch is British. One of our favorite shows is “Doc Martin.” It’s about a highly qualified surgeon who finds himself (mostly against his will) practicing General Medicine in a very small coastal town in England. To say he is a curmudgeon is to WAY understate the case. As you can imagine, part of the show is about the strange array of patients and “unique” characters who inhabit the village. There have been a number of episodes where folks come to him with a variety of symptoms looking for a prescription that will offer a quick fix.  In some cases they try to deceive him into getting their drugs.  It strikes me that that describes our world doesn’t it? We want quick fixes. We want things and we want them now. The cheaper the better.  And of course, the less effort the better as well.

BTW does anyone believe politicians when they say, “I trust the American people.”  Because if they do they are either nitwits or they are saying something that is other than true (how surprising would that be?!).  Or what about when they say, “What the American people want is….”  Um…. Which American people are we talking about here?

Why is it that when people choose not to go to church it’s almost always someone else’s fault?  Seriously?  Take responsibility for your choices.  Stop blaming your life on someone else.  You don’t go to church because, for most folks, you choose not to do so.

Honestly… sometimes when I see folks in a store that I know, I deliberately avoid them.  I just don’t want to deal with (fill in the blank.)

Ellen and I rarely go out to eat.  When we do it’s usually someplace not near where we live.  Why?  See above.

Why is the standard for driving, “my driving”??  Know what I mean?  “Too fast” means people who drive faster than I do.  “Too slow” means people who drive slower than I do.  Too long in the passing lane refers to those who are blocking my way in the passing lane.  Boneheads who pull out in front of me are much more irresponsible than I am when I do it. It’s a mystery.

Why do so many sons have “father issues”?

Why do so many daughters have “mother issues”?

Does family history get more important as we get older?  If so, how come?

When Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he must have meant something else right?

Pastors of the fastest growing churches in America are for the most part not seminary graduates.  Hmmmmm… I wonder what that means?

I can’t do things physically that I could 30 years ago.  WHAT is that all about?!

It doesn’t seem like I think much differently than when I was 18… oh my goodness!

I have a 45th high school reunion coming up in a year or so… gotta go hang with old people.

If we don’t like parts of the Bible, or think them too difficult or outdated and we ignore them.  Where do we stop?

When Jesus said he was the only way to the Father, he couldn’t have meant that literally, could he?  That must be a metaphor for something else.

Racism is alive and well in your neighborhood and maybe in your home.  For those who don’t believe that, I have some property to sell you.

Sin and depravity are even more alive and well.  I have other stuff to sell also.

Is marriage becoming an outdated institution?  I refer to old timey marriage.  You know, man and woman stuff.  I know I’m old fashioned.

I have performed marriages for folks who have lived together for years.  I’m glad they get married I guess, but I really don’t get it.

I have never met a young couple who know why we baptize babies.  They just know they are supposed to get their “kid done.”  Or grandma is pressuring.  And grandma doesn’t know why we do it either.  I guess that’s probably the fault of clergy… seriously.

Someone called the church last week looking for the phone number of a person who attends a few events at Mt Vernon but doesn’t actually go to the church so I had no information.  Guess what the caller said?  “That’s okay I’ll look it up in the phone book.”  Seriously… who does that anymore?  Or who even knows what that is?

I have an idea… slap a smile on your face every time you see someone on a cell phone… it might change your life!


What does God care about?

February 16, 2016

You are not going to believe the week I have had.  I mean you just will not believe it!  I like bagels.  Not the store bought kind, but a good New York deli bagel.  No doubt sometimes I have to settle for the “pretenders” (yuck!), but nothing can compare to the “boiled then baked” bagels that one gets in many places in Jewish communities.  I have a special recipe that I have developed over these many years.  It’s brilliant. What I do is cut them in half and put on a thin coating of butter.  Sometimes (depending on the kind of bagel) I sprinkle on some garlic salt, then put them in the broiler until slightly brown, slather on cream cheese (and green olives if we have them)… heavenly.  So I was making my bagel.  The butter was applied and as I transferred it to the mini oven… I fumbled it and it fell on the floor!  It all happened in slow motion… as it was tumbling through the air, I was screaming to myself:, “NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO…” (in slow motion of course).  BUT, miracle of miracles… it landed butter side up!  Can you believe it?  BUTTER SIDE UP!  When does that EVER happen?!  So I picked it up, brushed off the cat hair (okay, not really) and into the oven it went.   Like I said… you just won’t believe it.

It only got better after that.  The next day I put on a pair of pants that I had not worn in a while.  At one point I put my hand into my pocket and pulled out a $20.00 bill!  Seriously… 20 dollars!  Can you believe it?  I was there and I can’t believe it!  First the bagel and then the money.  I am on a hot streak.  I might even be indestructible.  Today I’m going to run with scissors.  Not the sissy kind with the rounded ends that we used in 1st grade, but the actual pointy ones.  I mean what could possibly happen?  Or maybe I’ll go over Niagara Falls in a barrel?  Why not?  How dangerous can it be?  I might even shoot a BB gun without goggles.    Yep, for some reason God has chosen to cast His shadow of blessing upon me.

Alright, time to take my tongue out of my cheek.

I remember in seminary many years ago one of our professors asked us this question:  “Do you think there are things that God doesn’t really care about?”  Read the question again.  What do you think?  This particular professor was/is one of THE premiere New Testament scholars in the world.  What do you suppose he said?  Wait for it… wait for it….  He said this, “Yes, I believe there are things in the world that God doesn’t really concern Himself with or care about.  For example do you think God really cares about whether you picked a blue or green shirt to wear today?”  I was stunned.  I had never heard or thought about the notion that the “all seeing, all hearing, all knowing, all loving” God of the universe could be… indifferent… to some things.  If it’s true… that there are things God does not particularly care about… well, we don’t live our lives that way.

From our perspective, God cares about everything, and if it is “good or even neutral” by our standards then it must be from God.  If it is “bad” by our standards then it must not be from God.  (By the way, the problem with the previous sentence is the “by our standards” part.)  For those who think that “bad” things are never from God… um… begin at Genesis 1 and read for a while.  We just can’t find it in us to believe that God is really the God of the Old Testament.  We don’t want to believe in or worship a God who doesn’t have the same standards we do.  Or who doesn’t have the same concerns and interests we have, i.e., if it’s important to us it must be important to God.  Really?

Henry Blackaby in his landmark Bible Study Series “Experiencing God” writes about how we should go about discerning God’s will.  One of the things he says is this:  Do not go before God in prayer with any preconceived notions or agendas.  You get that?  Start with “nothing.”  Allow God to deal with you as an empty slate.  Seriously do you know anyone who does that?  I would be very surprised if you did.

That being said:

Isaiah 6:7-9

With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Yeah right!  That sounds okay for an Old Testament prophet but we all have too much at stake to just put ourselves out there and do and believe whatever Gods wants us to.  That’s why we have developed a God who agrees with us and who has the same values and standards that we do.  The other option is too scary, too unpredictable and too hard.

So… yes.  God cares about everything that I care about.  That’s why He put $20.00 into my pocket to please me and turned that bagel ½ more revolution before it hit the floor.

By the way… I have some property to sell you in the Everglades.

The Church of “not”

Years ago I was with a friend driving through some rural parts of West Virginia and we passed a church that advertised themselves on their sign:  “We are the church that doesn’t use a common cup.”  Seriously?!?!  That’s the message we want to send to the world?!?!  I have never seen a kiddie pool that shallow.  And yet many of us want to belong to “the church of not.”  What does that mean?  It refers to the churches and people who define themselves by what they don’t believe or what they are “not” in favor of or what they are against.  You know what I mean?  “We are the church that is not in favor of:  drinking, smoking, dancing, playing cards, premarital sex, homosexuals, abortion, pro lifers, divorce, any Bible but the KJV, guns, anyone opposed to guns, democrats, republicans, nuclear arms, welfare, liberals, conservatives, birth control, Priests, seminary education, unions, adult baptism exclusively, infant baptism, and of course using a common cup.”  I’m sure I could go on.

There are many things to “believe” in “the church of not.”  Maybe it’s not “the church of not” that you resonate with… maybe you espouse the “faith of not,” i.e., “I believe that we should not __________.”  You fill in the blank.  Again, nothing wrong with having a clear theology.  It’s troublesome however if “the faith of not” is the “sign” we hang on ourselves.  And I should add, the sign we show the rest of the world.

Do not misunderstand me.   Do not misunderstand me.  Do not misunderstand me.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t have clearly defined standards based on good theology and the scriptures!  I would never say that, encourage that, or personally believe that.  I am simply talking about how we “portray” ourselves and what kind of things we choose to focus on or prioritized in our faith.

Allow me to give an example.  For those with children… if you were asked what sort of parents you are, or what your philosophy of parenting is, what might you say?  You could say, “We are strict.  We believe that children ought to be disciplined when they do things that are opposed to our family values.”  Frankly, for the most part I have no problem with that.  (Depending on how we might define “strict” and “discipline.”)  But I would wonder about anyone who would portray themselves that way from the outset.  Might it be possible to say, “We are parents who love our children unconditionally.  We believe in Christian values.  We believe families are best served with a mother (female) and a father (male)…”  We can say all of that while still valuing discipline.  Get it?  Would you leave your children in the care of those first parents?  I wouldn’t.  Not because I don’t agree with discipline but because I’m concerned about how they prioritize their parenting.

So when we think about a church… or even our own faith, do we focus on the “nots,” or do we focus on the “yeas.”  Yes, I believe in and practice the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Yes, I believe in, and receive and give Grace.  Yes, I believe in and strive to practice the unconditional love of God.  Yes, I believe in expressing the Fruit of the Holy Spirit – Galatians 5: “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

I would encourage you to do a study on the things Jesus talked about.  How often did he express the “not” sentiment?  Surely he did on occasion, so I am not denying that.  Clearly he talked about things that people ought to eschew.  But what were those things?  Primarily the things that really got Jesus riled up were when religious leaders led people away from the faith for their own ends.  Or when the Law was used to oppress people rather than to show forgiveness, mercy and love.  Or maybe do a study on the things Jesus NEVER mentioned like slavery or oppression of women.  He actually did address these things, but not directly… not in a “not” kind of way.  What he did was talk a lot about “love” and “forgiveness.”  Self sacrificial love, IF PRACTICED, sort of takes the ammunition away from oppression and slavery as we knew it in this country.

I would say that the way we behave and the way we choose to describe ourselves and our priorities has much to say about our hearts, i.e., do we begin with our anger, or do we begin with God’s love?

One of the great lies in our culture these days is worthy of combating.  We are told in any number of ways that we cannot possibly love someone and disagree with their values or life style.  THAT IS A LIE!!! We can surely do that… we just don’t.  The accusation that it can’t be done is wrong.  The accusation that we can but we don’t (if that accusation is ever made) is right on.

We as “Christians” have spent enough time giving lip service to our belief in expressing the love of God.  Maybe it’s time that we stopped talking about it and actually started doing it.

Here is a practical exercise.  Begin by thinking of 3 persons or types of people that you have a really hard time loving.  You know who I mean… at least for you, you know.  And then pray this prayer, “God, how do I express Your love to ________________________.”   If the answer to your prayer comes back, “Condemn them.”  Or “do not forgive them.”  I think you are not hearing from God.

What are the two greatest commands according to Jesus?  1.  Love God.  2.  Love everybody else.  If we can’t show that then we are not walking with Jesus.