Follow-through

March 28, 2016

Many years ago I took a group of mostly Middle School aged kids to New York City and southern New Jersey on a mission trip.  We worked in a soup kitchen in NY and planted flowers in a park in Jersey… in over 100 degree heat, I might add.  We had numerous other adventures during that week that I might communicate at some point in the future… or not.  Before we pulled out of the parking lot of the church I had to lay down a few “laws” for the trip.  Most of them were basic things like: 1. Do whatever I tell you.  2.  Read # 1 again.  3. Review #1`and #2.  Part of the instructions related to certain phrases that kids are wont to say.  I told them that there were 3 things that REALLY bothered me and if they said them they would have to stand (wherever we were) and yell at the top of their lungs, “I’M SORRY, I’M SORRY, I’M SORRY!”  You might be interested in knowing what the three phrases were?  They were, in no particular order of importance, “Oh God”, “Shut up”, and “Stupid.”  I especially recall one student on the Staten Island Ferry screaming “I’M SORRY, I’M SORRY, I’M SORRY” for all the other passengers to hear.  The short of it is this… I find those phrases to be immensely disrespectful.  Did I happen to say “IMMENSELY?”…Unless of course they are used “tongue in cheek.”  Hold that thought.

Occasionally, I hear folks lament the fact that “things are not what they used to be.”  I find myself doing that as well, at times.  One of THE more popular laments, “You know, when I was younger everything was closed on Good Friday from noon to 3:00 and NOTHING was open on Easter.”  Implied in the lament is the notion that “we were more religious then and we ought to return to that level of respect for the Faith.”  I don’t really know what to say or think about that but I do know this:  There were at least two Good Friday services in our immediate vicinity last week and I didn’t see many folks at either one.  And I saw very few “lamenters.”  I should add that Wal Mart and Giant Eagle were bustling.  I’m inclined to say, “Listen, if you’re going to fuss about things and do NOTHING constructive to change them then just ‘SHUT UP’.”  Whoops, did I just write that?  Some folks might need to head for more compassionate “safe spaces.”  I’m sure I meant to say something much kinder and gentler like…  uh… um… nope I guess I said what I meant.

Truth be told… many of us are great at “talking” about things but not always so good at “doing” them.  Yours truly included.  Honestly it can be really guilt producing!  It’s one thing when we fail to complete certain tasks for a day or a week, but when we find months, years and even decades passing and we still haven’t gotten too ______________, well, that can be just downright demoralizing!  We might even begin to wonder if we will EVER get certain things completed?!  Or if we will EVER discipline ourselves to do ______________?  Or will we ever take a stand on things that we have proclaimed to be important?  I know many Christians, for example, who have started Genesis with the greatest of intentions only to get bogged down within a few days or weeks; or folks who have made a financial commitment to the church or some other organization and then “life” happens.  “Life” as in a hot water heater goes or someone runs into their car.  There goes the “commitment.”  Or maybe there are some reading this who have verbally taken a “social” position but have done absolutely nothing in support of it.

Why do we do that?  Why do we say things that in our heart of hearts we don’t really mean?  Or on which we don’t act?  I’m not sure either.  Here are a few possible explanations:

  • When we say things, we do mean them… but the flesh really is weaker than the spirit.
  • We say certain things because… well… it’s the thing to say.
  • We say things without counting the cost.
  • We say things without thinking them through.
  • We say “yes” because we’re often not good at saying “no.”
  • We lack discipline.

There must be a thousand other reasons.

You know the Bible is very clear about being careful regarding the things that come out of our mouths.  It normally refers to saying things that are hurtful or blasphemous but I suspect saying things that reflect badly on our integrity are probably not good either.  Ponder these verses:

Hezekiah 2:2

Consider what you are saying before putting your tongue in gear lest you say something you regret.  Just “shut up!”

Psalm 34:13

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.

James 1:26

 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

 James 3:5-6

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Matthew 5:37 (J.B. Phillips New Testament)

33-37 “Again, you have heard that the people in the old days were told—‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord’, but I say to you, don’t use an oath at all. Don’t swear by Heaven for it is God’s throne, nor by the earth for it is his footstool, nor by Jerusalem for it is the city of the great king. No, and don’t swear by your own head, for you cannot make a single hair—white or black! Whatever you have to say let your ‘yes’ be a plain ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ a plain ‘no’—anything more than this has a taint of evil.

 Blessings

P.S. There is no Hezekiah in the Bible.

Stress

March 22, 2016

We have a cat.  His name is Yoda and he’s 17 or 18 years old.  He actually belongs to my son David, but David has come and gone several times in the past two decades and we get the honor and deep, deep privilege of living with Yoda.  Did I mention what a deep privilege it is to have DAVID’S cat?  Ellen really likes him (the cat that is).  Others who live in our house (me) tolerate him (the cat that is).  Yoda has taken to blessing us in recent years with regular puddles of vomit.  Thankfully, he is considerate enough not to do it on the bare floors lest it might be slippery so most of the time he makes sure there is a carpet under his feet when he barfs, yaks, ralphs… you get it right?  We have been told that this “heaving” problem (you can’t imagine the number of words for this relatively simple act) is a result of “stress.”  And for sure I can see why that might be.  After all he sleeps 18 hours a day and eats and defecates for 15 minutes or so.  Then the other 5 hours and 45 minutes are reserved for resting up after all that work and sleep.  STRESS?  NO KIDDING!!!!  I’m told that we are really going to miss him when he is gone… um… yeah I’m… uh… sure “we” will.

Did you know that “stress” is one of THE top issues that plagues young people in our country?  Seriously… STRESS!!  On one hand, it’s easy to ask, “Why?”  On the other hand, it’s about all they see modeled by adults so it must be the way we are called to live our lives, right?  Whether we like it or not and whether young people want to acknowledge it or not, they emulate adults.  Is it any wonder that many abusers come from abusive homes; alcoholics from homes with alcoholic parents; smokers whose parents smoke; foul mouthed kids from foul mouthed adults; critical kids from critical adults; unchurched kids from unchurched parents; divorce begets divorce… the list is endless.  Of course this principle is not true for EVERY family… just most.  Whether we like it or not, our kids will “become and do” much of what they see from us.  We live under the delusion that prosperity will bring about peace and lack of stress.  Wow, how naïve we are!  The truth is, prosperity only brings about a desire for more prosperity.  The wealthy want more wealth.  The middle classes want more wealth.  The poor want more wealth.  We are all into the dream.  And yet we are also plagued by STRESS no matter our socioeconomic status.

Don’t get me wrong… I have my own addiction to stress.  I love it.  I love it so much that I think about it often and I stay awake at night pondering it.  I succumb my body to the ravages of stress and allow my diabetes to be fed by it.  Yep… I just flat out love STRESS!  I must, right?  If I didn’t I might focus on more profitable/valuable things in my life.  But nope… stress is my PASSION and my HOBBY.  I know, I know… what could a minister have to stress over?  That’s just the point… I love it so much that I seek out things to stress about.  Even things that aren’t current!  I’m good at it.  Sorry let me clarify… I’m GREAT at it!

Well, maybe enough of that.  What is this stress thing about anyway?  I suspect that for Believers it has something to do with “who’s driving the bus,” i.e., do we trust the bus driver or not.  Do you know what I mean?  Personally I am not a good passenger.  When I’m sitting in the right hand seat of an automobile I often leave finger prints behind on the dashboard.  Or my foot prints permanently embedded in the floor.  I’m much better about the whole thing if I can steer and operate the gas pedal and brake myself.  I guess one might say it’s a little bit of a control problem… a little bit.

If Jesus drives the bus of my life, why am I so stressed?  Because I don’t trust Him.  Don’t fuss at me… I know!  That being said, what’s your excuse!?  Honestly sometimes I’m better at being a passenger in the bus than at other times.  Occasionally I want to drive and that’s almost always a disaster.  How do we learn to trust God?  How do we?  I only know of one way.  We must come to the place in our faith where we understand that IN THE LONG RUN God has the best things in mind for His children.  But like our own children, sometimes that is a painful process filled with uncertainty and lack of understanding.  Two year olds just don’t know why they can’t put a fork in the wall socket.  Nor will they likely learn.  They just know that trying it brings a strong and sometimes painful reaction from adults.

Maybe you don’t like stress as much as I apparently do.  Or maybe you do?  If so, let me encourage you to allow Jesus to drive the bus.  Even when you’re grabbing the seat in front of you and pushing your foot through the floor… let Him drive.  I know that my life is so much better on those occasions when I sit back and enjoy (or not) the ride.  Trust God.  The alternatives are hopeless and… well… stressful.

Gotta run.

“YODA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  GET OFF OF THE CARPET!”

Blessings

Easter

March 17, 2016

Hey guess what?  IT’S ST PATRICKS DAY!  WHOO, WHOO!  Okay that’s as much celebration of that as I can stand!

I don’t know what your Easter was like growing up.  Maybe it was similar to mine… or maybe some of the things I remember will resonate with you.  Allow me to reminisce a bit.

  • Easter meant new dresses for my sisters. Since my two youngest sisters were only a year apart and were often thought to be twins, their dresses often were the same or very similar.
  • Easter meant “bonnets” for the ladies. “In my Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it…”
  • Easter meant family coming for dinner… ham and scalloped potatoes.
  • Easter meant looking for my good shoes the night before. I had shoes that were reserved for special occasions. That meant I wore them once or twice before they didn’t fit me any longer.
  • Easter meant flowers blooming.
  • Easter meant an egg hunt in our living room. I can recall finding eggs months later that my mother forgot about.
  • Easter meant chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, marshmallow chicks, malted milk eggs, and some very large jelly bean looking/candy coated things with white, very sweet confection inside.
  • Easter meant a bushel basket of fruit from our grandparents. They were ahead of their time.
  • Easter meant eating on the family good china that I can see from where I’m sitting right now. I can’t bear to use it anymore. Too emotional… and fearful it will get broken.
  • Easter meant going to church for one of the few times in the year. Not my dad however.
  • Easter meant ladies with corsages.
  • Easter meant some sort of sport coat or other item of clothing that I NEVER wore any other time of year.
  • Easter meant a bow tie… see above.
  • Easter meant a bath and clean underwear… whoops did I just write that?
  • Easter meant good feelings because there was a sense of “family.”
  • Easter usually meant my cousin Glenn coming over… that was always a highlight for me.
  • Easter meant making “bonnets” in school. Even the guys had to do it. I always thought it was stupid… still do. I suspect it was the result of a woman-dominated educational system. At least in the elementary classrooms anyway.
  • Easter meant light blues, greens, yellow… everything.
  • Easter meant dying eggs… and those wax crayons.
  • Easter meant the Easter Bunny. An odd aside… I have no memory of ever believing in Santa Claus. I guess because I was the last to come along (other than my youngest sister who came 10 years after me.) Anyway, I think because I had 3 older sisters they just couldn’t keep up the Santa charade. But strangely enough I do recall believe in the Easter Bunny! Go figure.
  • Last year on the way to the Easter Sunrise Service I hit and killed a rabbit with my car… weird… eggs went everywhere. 😉

Maybe you noticed a certain lack of something in my memory banks.  Yeah… not a lot of Jesus there.  Matter of fact, there are NO memories of Jesus within the context of Easter for me.  I guess like most kids I was so caught up in the paraphernalia that the actual significance just went right over my head.  Or it was never even directed at my head.  It could be that the significance of the most important week and day in the Christian faith is too difficult for young children to grasp.  Could be.  I think there are some legitimate “excuses” for kids not “getting it.”  But honestly what is “our” excuse (“our” meaning “adults”)?  What reasons do we give for not recognizing what occurred on that first Holy Week?  Well certainly, if the Christian faith is just not your thing, I understand that.  And frankly I applaud those who don’t go to church because it’s “just the thing to do on Easter.”  Why get caught up in that hypocrisy?  But for those who claim to belong to Jesus, you are without excuse.  You know better.  You ought to rejoice in the notion that at a time and place in history the God of the Universe went to a cross for you and defeated death on that first Easter morning.  Go ahead and do the bunnies and clothes and ham dinners.  But let us not forget what is truly important about the events of the first Easter.  Let us not forget the cosmic significance of a cross on a hill outside of Jerusalem.  Let us not forget the events that lead to forgiveness and salvation.  Let us not forget.

Facial recognition

March 9, 2016

So, I was watching a show on television and I saw an actor whom I had seen before.  That often happens to me.  I do “faces.”  Not names… but faces.  There have been occasions when Ellen and I have been out in public and I will see someone with whom I went to Jr. high school and I still recognize them after all these years even with the wrinkles, gray (or no) hair, weight and drooping… everything.  There is actually a part of the brain that is the “face recognition” part.  In some folks that part of their gray matter is overdeveloped.  If I’m going to have a strong part of my brain I would like to think it could be something a little more important than knowing faces… (sigh).  In some people, the face recognition part of their brain is underdeveloped.  I saw a show several years ago where they had a doctor who specialized in this field.  He brought with him a woman who did not have the ability to recognize her own children!  When she picked them up at school she only knew who they were by the clothes they were wearing.  How awful is that?!  By the way… this condition is called prosopagnosia.”  (10 points if you can actually pronounce that!)  If you are interested in discovering your face recognition talents go to: http://www.businessinsider.com/people-with-prosopagnosia-cannot-recognize-faces-2014-4  and take the quiz.  I got them all… ha ha!

Anyway, back to our actor.  It annoyed me that I couldn’t remember where I had seen him… and then it came to me!  The last time I saw him was 5 or 6 years ago sitting at a table across from me at a restaurant in upstate New York grilling me about Christianity.  He is a friend of my son David.  When I realized who he was I immediately went to that place that we all recognize.   You know the place where we are all enraptured because we “know” a celebrity.  You know what I mean?  We get all giggly inside when we are able to say, “Hey, do you know that I know __________?  Yep, they’re my friend.  We hang together.  We have the same interests… yeah, yeah, yeah… it’s me and _________.”  It’s actually a little embarrassing and… well… disgusting.  Celebrity worship that is.  I’m sure it has something to do with age but meeting “famous” people gets less and less thrilling as I grow older.  But we all have our weaknesses.  I would faint like a little girl if I met Paul McCartney.  Well, okay, maybe not faint, but I might scream like a teenager.  Well, okay, maybe not that either.  But I would be duly impressed… you know… in like an old man sort of way.  So what does this have to do with anything?  I mean short of you being impressed because of who I know?  Read on.
In the gospel of John, chapter 8 Jesus says this:   58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 

What’s really going on here?  The short of it is this… Jesus is quoting God from the third chapter of Exodus where He’s talking to Moses: 13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Do you remember conjugating verbs when we were in elementary school, or Jr. high?  You know the whole “I am, you are, he/she/it is?”  The word that God uses here is simply the verb “to be.”  The “first person” part of that verb is “I AM”.  But what does that mean?  Simply this.  God is saying, “I am, that I am.”  Or “I exist because I exist.”  Think about it.  You and I exist because our parents existed… and them because of their parents.  God is saying to Moses “I exist and there is no one before me.”  This use of the verb “I AM” was so sacred that the Jews wouldn’t even say the word.

In John 8 then Jesus claims to be God, “before Abraham was born, I am!”  Is it any wonder that verse 59 says, At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” In the eyes of the Jewish religious leaders he had just spoken blasphemy!

So what does any of this have to do with “knowing” celebrities?  Simply this… I “know” the Great “I AM.”  Get it?  I know the God of the universe.  Knowing particular human beings so pales in comparison that it hardly deserves mentioning!  The next time someone tells you that they are tight with _______, you tell them that you know the One who created all of this.  And you get to hang out with Him regularly.

Gotta run… going to hang with the Lord for a while.

Who is in charge?

March 3, 2016

I don’t want to make assumptions here but I am going to make some generalities.  Do you know what I mean when I say that occasionally we go through ups and downs in our lives?  I suspect you do.  Sometimes all is well.  We are feeling great, the future is bright, we’re singing in the shower, we love the unlovable, etc.  And then there are those “other” times.  All is not well, we are not feeling great, we don’t want to think about the future, singing is not an option and we could care less about the whole “love” thing.  I’m not talking about this in a pathological sense, but most of us “get” or understand this cycle of life.

Under the guise of being a bit vulnerable I admit I have been in the second category for a while now.  I’m allowing myself to be emotionally exposed because I doubt anyone reading this has not been there themselves.  Anyway, if you know what I’m talking about you also know that it can be difficult to climb out of an emotional hole.  And it is so hard not to be constantly focusing on “self.”  That in itself is a reason for all of this “other” stuff!

ANYWAY… I had a meeting at the church this past Wednesday evening that Ellen was a part of.  When we got into the car to come home she gently laid her hand on my leg and softly said “I need to tell you something.”  Occasionally in those situations I am inclined to make jest.  You know something like, “What, you’re pregnant?”  But that felt like a moment where I needed to just listen.  She went on to say that she had received a Facebook message before we left for our meeting (she didn’t want to tell me before lest it be a distraction) that our longtime friend Steve _______ had died.  He was 59 years old and had a heart attack in his car on the way HOME from the Doctor’s office.  Actually some folks in the church met him a year and a half ago as he was visiting and he came to the church golf banquet.  Anyway…

I had known Steve since High School.  He was two years behind me.  After school and after the Navy I went to college.  He ended up at the same college and lived in the basement of the house that Ellen and I rented off campus.  As is typical Steve and I spent a lot of time playing basketball, ping-pong, hanging out and generally not studying much.  Steve was very bright.  He didn’t need to study… unlike yours truly.  We also did some ministry together in our younger days… mostly youth ministry.  After College our paths crossed numerous times.  Mostly in the oddest or most unlikely places.  Three years ago I was sitting in my office at the church getting ready to leave for an appointment.  I left my office and locked the door.  The hallway was a little dark, but I could see a figure coming toward me.  It was Steve.  I hadn’t seen him in years.  I regretted that I couldn’t change my appointment and I had to leave so we only spent about 10 minutes together but we promised to see one another again.  I saw him 18 months later as mentioned above.  I am deeply saddened for his wife and his 5 young adult children.

One might think that already being in the “other” place this might “push me over the edge” whatever that means.  Surprisingly not.  At least not yet anyway.  In the midst of this grief over Steve and the sadness for his family, I am reminded of how blessed I am and of how trivial and small my issues are.  And how “self” centered I have been regarding them.  And frankly of how much I allow things to bother me that God needs to be in charge of.  The biggest problem with the “self-centeredness?”  It prevents me from being “Jesus/God centered.”  That’s a problem… a BIG problem.  We can’t both be central in my life. When I’m central, it’s always a mistake.  When God is central, I find peace and freedom from the troubles of this world.  I can’t very easily take a poll here but I’m going to guess that many of us struggle to keep God central.  We allow ourselves to worry over finances, our kids, our future and any number of other things.  And honestly when I am in a non-God centered place I find little comfort in Matthew 6.

Matthew 6:25-34

Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Here’s to keeping God central!  Allow yourself to be immersed in His love, peace and care. 

I lost another friend from my childhood several years ago and I still think of him regularly.  I suspect the same will be true with Steve.  Even though we did not see one another much in recent years we actually stayed in touch through this blog.  He was one of the few who read it and responded regularly.  Steve, I will miss you my friend and I look forward to seeing you once again in Glory.