Hidden Sin

May 25, 2016

There is not one of us who doesn’t carry around secret sins (or “indiscretions” for those who don’t like the word ‘sin’). Do you know what I mean?  Things from our past that we have never told anyone, or maybe only a few.  And it doesn’t have to be from your past right?  It can be your VERY REAL, VERY AWKWARD present.  Your sin could be illegal, or immoral, or just plain embarrassing.  I doubt that it will take much effort to remember a few.  Most of us carry them around in a special compartment in our brain entitled “dumb things I have done” or “things I would like to forget, but can’t.”

One wonders how these memories affect us. Some people, I suspect, live in perpetual guilt.  Others seem to move on with few thoughts or concerns for their previous indiscretions.  And there must be many places in between those two extremes.

Many years ago I worked at a counseling center where we dealt primarily with drug abusers (including alcohol which of course IS A DRUG!). We ran small groups of 10-12 people where we asked leading questions that allowed group members to be drawn out and freely express feelings about various things in their lives.  On one occasion we did an exercise that began with these questions, “Is there anything you have done in your life that you have never told anyone about?  If so, would you like to share it now in the safety of this group?”  Honestly, I didn’t really think it was going to go anywhere.  I mean it was really scary and asked for people to be more vulnerable than they had ever been in their lives.  I was surprised when, slowly but surely, one story after another came pouring out of the group members.  Quite honestly many of them were sexual.  But the one that is seared into my memory was of a 19 year old who, with tears pouring down his face, told us of setting his neighbors house on fire when he was 6 by playing with matches.  Everyone in the house died.  He was never discovered and had never told a soul.  Imagine carrying THAT around in your psyche for 13 years!  All through elementary school.  All through Jr. High School.  All through High School.  What must he have felt each time he looked at the empty lot beside his house?  I know, I can’t imagine either!

We may not have things in our past like that, but I know we all have “stuff.” Some of us really need to unburden ourselves of some of these things.  It can be cathartic.  “Cathartic” is a Greek word that comes to us through Latin and it means “purging or cleansing.” In this context it means the cleansing of dreadful thoughts and memories that haunt us and cause us emotional and spiritual harm.  Did you know that the Scripture commands us to confess our sins to one another?

James 5:16

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

The second part of this verse from James is often misunderstood. It does not mean that because a person is “righteous,” God must or does listen to their prayers in a way that He does not listen to others thus the prayers become powerful and effective.  I believe it means that BECAUSE someone IS righteous they will pray in God’s WILL, thus their prayers will, by definition, be powerful and effective.  Does that make sense?

So, I have an idea… for the sake of emotional healing let’s confess our deepest darkest secrets to one another. The things we have never told anyone.  The things that we fear others will discover and cause them to lose all respect for us or worse… hate us.  Ready?  You go first….  Go ahead… I’m waiting….  EXACTLY!!!!  It requires a lot to do that and maybe the biggest need is extraordinary TRUST.  Trust given and trust received.  Truthfully, I suspect most of us are wise not to trust others with our most intimate thoughts.  Why?  Because we are fallen and sinful human beings… all of us.  Others might say “I can handle it” but it’s possible they cannot.  Being privy to the deep brokenness of those we love and care about may indeed cause some of us to lose respect that we never regain.  That doesn’t seem right does it?  And yet we are all part of the broken creation that is other than what God intended.

Please understand what I am trying to say. I AM NOT saying we shouldn’t confess to others…. Just the opposite.  I am however, saying that we should be very wise in choosing who those “others” might be.  If your confession to someone is going to cause irreparable harm, they may not be a good choice.  12 step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous require that those following the program must work toward,

“8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Notice the last few words in step 9… “except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Our confessions and our confessors need to be dealt with and chosen wisely and tenderly. And not to anyone’s detriment!

I don’t want to lose sight of what I am saying. Find someone suitable to talk to and confess your sin.  It will cleanse your soul.  If you are without sin…  well, I don’t know what to say other than, “Hey Jesus… I didn’t know you read this stuff!”

Blessings.

What defines you?

May 19, 2016

I can’t say that I am a movie aficianado.  I do like a good film on occasion, but if I am in an actual theatre more than once a year, I would be surprised.  Why go to a theatre and pay 10-15 dollars to get in along with an additional 20 dollars for a popcorn and drink when I can wait a few months and watch the very thing in the comfort of my living room (by myself without rude people talking and texting) for next to nothing?  And I can eat my own homemade popcorn which is WAY better than the buttered Styrofoam garbage they sell in movie houses!  I guess I’m just cheap.  Must be some of that Scottish DNA.  Nah… just cheap.

My taste in movies has surely changed over the years.  I have little desire to see violent movies any longer that entail senseless blood and gore.  I like very much “war movies” that are based on true events, but the sadness, intensity and brutality bothers me more than I would like to admit.  I have never liked scary movies going back to the “Chilly Billy Cardilly” days on Saturday nights when I couldn’t sleep by myself after watching a horror flick.  But the “slasher pictures”…, well I just don’t get them, nor do I understand those who do.  I’m going to risk a little by putting myself out here and saying that a well done “chick flick” isn’t beyond me…. Sleepless in Seattle, Notting Hill, Princess Bride, Far From the Madding Crowd (the 1967 version with Julie Christy –  ahhhhhhhh) and While You were Sleeping among others have all touched my heart at one time or another.

I want to recommend a movie to you today.  It’s not new at all.  As a matter of fact it was released in 2004 and starred Adam Sandler.  It’s called Spanglish.  You might be inclined to say that Adam Sandler movies are moronic and sophomoric and for the most part you would be right.  But Spanglish is VERY different from his other films.  First and foremost it’s a serious movie about serious subjects.  I don’t really want to give it away if you have not seen it, but suffice it to say, it has to do with values and how we choose them.  In particular one of the main characters discusses “what defines her.”  That’s really my question for you today.  “What defines you?”

Do you know what I mean by that?  I’m not even sure myself how to explain what that entails, since it seems so broad and hard to get grasp.  But when people think of you and who you are…  If you were to list the top 5 most important things to you…  If you were to recall the most significant accomplishments in your life…  If you were to list those things that make you unique…  And somehow mashed all those answers together, who would you be?  Because I suspect much of what defines you would be in the amalgam of those answers.

Maybe it’s family.  Maybe its educational accomplishments.  Maybe it’s professional endeavors.  Maybe its success in hobbies.  I don’t know, but I do know that we are all defined in some way or other.

Depending on who’s counting, there are anywhere from 12-14 New Testament letters written by the Apostle Paul.  The two in dispute are Hebrews (few believe he is the author) and Ephesians.  In the letter to the Philippians, Paul, in one of the most inspirational sections of scripture found in the Bible, indicates what “defines” him.

Philippians 3:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

The short of what he says is this:  Whatever things I have accomplished in my life are nothing compared to knowing Jesus.  They are actually worse than nothing.  They are garbage.  I WANT TO KNOW CHRIST.  I want to know his resurrection, I even want to participate in his suffering.  Whatever it takes I WANT TO KNOW CHRIST.

I had a professor in seminary many years ago who said this, “I believe we would know of Paul even if he had never become a Christian and never written a letter that ended up in the Bible.” The implication being that Paul was so brilliant that he would have been on a par with other great men of history regardless of what he chose to do.  This is the man who said, “What I have done in the past is garbage compared to knowing Jesus Christ.”

Friends, I don’t know what defines you.  Honestly I’m not even sure what defines me.  But I suspect for all Christian people we need to find ourselves developing a faith that WANTS TO KNOW CHRIST beyond all else.  We should desire that people might say about us after we are gone, “You know there are many things I could say about ___________, but one thing stands above all others THEY WANTED TO KNOW JESUS CHRIST!”

Not sure about you but I feel humbled and inadequate when I read the words of Paul.

Blessings.

How Yinz Doin? And other stuff

May 9, 2016

Okay, so a grammar question.  Ellen tells me that “yinz” is plural.  And she is the English Literature major from a prestigious college while my ejumication background is less stellar so she ought to know. (And by the way if you’re not from the Pittsburgh area you may have NO IDEA what I’m talking about.)  So if “yinz” IS indeed plural… well… what’s the singular form of that word?  I have not slept for the past two nights contemplating this earth shattering dilemma.  Any help yinz can provide would be most appreciated.

Well, enough of the really important stuff… on to more mundane things.

I, like most pastors, do this thing we call “premarital counseling.”  Most of us have a system we have developed over the years that incorporates some sort of inventory or questionnaire, biblical principles and basic information regarding marriage.  Honestly, I doubt the value of it, but we feel compelled to do it anyway.  Last I heard there were studies done that indicate we are, for the most part, wasting our time, but we march on.

Since most of the weddings I perform involve young people in their 20’s and on occasion in their 30’s, they all suffer from the same condition, i.e., “naiveté,” or “we know it all-ness.”  I should add that this condition does not just apply to engaged couples.  Sadly however since too many young folks today are already “playing house” before their wedding they think they know what marriage is like….  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ad infinitum…. whoa… almost swallowed my tongue.

I recall many conversations with my father about his time in WW2.  There were several occasions when his ship was under attack by Japanese airplanes and on at least one occasion they were hit by a kamikaze plane. Debris was strewn about the ship and at least one (maybe more) of his shipmates were killed and numerous others injured.  I asked him on several occasions what he was feeling when under attack and in particular was he afraid?  He said that he was so busy doing his job that he was not aware of “fear.”  He did say however that he felt “fear” after battles were over; contemplating what had happened and what could have happened.  Imagine for a moment me saying, “Yeah, I hear you.  I can identify.”  SERIOUSLY?!  How naïve and arrogant would that have been?  It is well documented… I was in the Navy for 4 years.  I spent 10 minutes on a ship.  (Yeah, you read that right… 10 MINUTES.)  I was not in a war or anyplace near a war.  There is no possible way I can understand, feel, experience, know, appreciate or have any clue what my father and those like him went through.  Nor would I claim to.

Now if you are reading carefully you might… just might… think I am comparing marriage to war.  Um… nope.  I am saying however, that marriage is SO IMPORTANT AND COMPLICATED that to think you have any idea of the fullness of what is about to happen is just silly and as said before “naïve.”  Imagine for a moment going on an around-the-world trip for the first time.  You would likely pack what you think you will need.  You might try to prepare for unforeseen eventualities.  You might even take a practice trip from Pittsburgh to Cleveland thinking that it will help prepare you for going to dreadful places.  You know what?  You will not know, nor will you be prepared for all circumstances.  Period!  The short of it is this:  Until you are there and immersed… you can’t “get it.”  I remember my first varsity wrestling match.  My coach knew I was nervous and he said to me, “Are you ready?”  I looked at him and said, “As ready as I will ever be.”  He quickly corrected me:  “No, you will be more ready every time.”

Let me very sensitively say something which might sound like a contradiction to what I just mentioned.  Imagine again your trip around the world.  Your plane leaves Pittsburgh with great fanfare and anticipation.  You get half way across the country and you have to bail out as the plane develops problems.  It goes down in flames.  You go back to Pittsburgh to plan again.  Are you more prepared the next time?  To some degree.  You might know about the problems that caused the first crash, but you still have no idea what lies beyond half way across the country.  I speak of those who sadly have experienced failed marriages, but think the second or third time around will be better or different because of their previous experience.  Need I say more about this sadness?

Young people… go into marriage with excitement for sure.  But also approach it with some degree of fear and trembling because what you are about to do falls into the realm of the unknown for you.   Sadly, I am asking people to act and behave “older and more maturely” than most of them are.  I WAS THE SAME WAY!  I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!  Only through the grace of God and an amazing woman am I still married.

Are you aware that Jesus’ first recorded miracle occurred at a wedding?  The incident is recorded in John 2.

Jesus Changes Water Into Wine

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

There are many things that can and have been said about this text.  Certainly the words  “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” are intriguing along with, “5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”  Much has been written and speculated on about those two verses.

But I also like the notion that Jesus’ “coming out party” was at a wedding.  It was not at the temple or in a synagogue.  And it wasn’t on a hillside or in a boat speaking to the crowds on the shore.  It was at a wedding.  What do you make of that?  I like to think it has something to say about marriages and how they are important/critical in our culture and in our lives.  Think about it… Jesus performs a miracle to ensure the success of the day.

If you know someone who is soon to be married… tell them you love them, will support them and hopefully you are happy for them.  But warn them!  They are entering uncharted waters.  Work hard, be ready for the unexpected.  There are blissful times… and rocky roads ahead.

Hyperbole

This is Ellen here.  I tried to post this twice last week.  Once the font came out all wrong (read HUGE) & I didn’t have time to fix it.  The second time it went out into hyperspace somewhere & it’s apparently still there.   Maybe this time….?

April 26, 2016

Okay, I know what hyperbole is… purposeful, strategic and obvious exaggeration.  Sadly, it’s sometimes used in an offensive, insensitive and obnoxious way.  “An example,” you ask?  How about 3.  One of my pet peeves is when National Football League players reference “going to war” before a “game.”  Get it?  “War” on one hand and “game” on the other.  WAR IS NOT A GAME!!  Any idea who was the last player to die in an NFL game?  Well thanks to Google…  “Charles Frederick ‘Chuck’ Hughes (March 2, 1943 – October 24, 1971) was an American football player, a wide receiver in the National Football League from 1967 to 1971. He is, to date, the only NFL player to die on the field during a game.”  Notice the word “ONLY.”  The NFL really doesn’t sound much like a war to me.  Sounds more like a football game.  And I think the reference to “war” by “players” (not soldiers) disrespects those who died in REAL war.  Get over yourselves NFL players.

Or what about politicians when they use the phrase, “the American people want…”  What I want is to scream!  What American people are you talking about?  Because I know for a fact that you are not talking about ALL American people!  And I suspect on too many occasions you are not even talking about “most” American people.  You might be talking about your constituents… maybe.  Stop using hyperbole when it is intended to confuse instead of instruct.

What about this example…  and actually this is the inspiration behind this rumination.  Maybe you know and maybe you don’t know about the “tragedy” surrounding the Live with Kelly and Michael show which airs on morning television Monday-Friday.  If you don’t know you ARE NOT going to believe this.  Seriously!  The network decided to transfer Michael to another show full time beginning in September and they didn’t tell Kelly about it until shortly before it was announced.  That is so devastating that I fail for words.  But thankfully Kelly found the words for me.  Her comment after everyone kissed and made up was, “Our long national nightmare is over.”  The “long nightmare” being referred to was 3 days when she refused to show up for work because she was in a snit.  Honestly I know little of this lady but “long national nightmare?!?!”  Was this hyperbole?  Sadly I suspect not.  And even if it was… it was poorly conceived.  “Long national nightmare,” my foot.

Racism in our country… that’s a national nightmare.  Financial disparity in our country… that’s a national nightmare.  People wasting their lives and having their dignity stolen by government assistance (of course there are people who need it… don’t go there with me.)… that’s a national nightmare.  Several totally inept people running for president… that’s a national nightmare.  Hatred between those on the “left” and those on the “right”… that’s a national nightmare.  Mass shootings every week… that’s a national nightmare.  Lack of adequate jobs… that’s a national nightmare.  Healthcare… no matter where you fall on this issue… that’s a national nightmare.  The demise of the Church in our country… that’s a national nightmare.  The lack of education of our youth… that’s a national nightmare.  What to do with illegal aliens… that’s a national nightmare.  Gender confusion… that is becoming a national nightmare.  College students who know nothing of sacrifice and all they want is what THEY want… that’s a national nightmare.  The demise of traditional families… that’s a national nightmare.  60 million babies aborted… that’s a national nightmare.  Every time you turn the news on there IS a national nightmare.  Need I go on?

Kelly, I don’t know you.  I’m sure you were upset. But I do know that every morning on your way to work you pass hundreds of homeless people on the streets of New York City… that is a national nightmare!  Your snit over a television show and the influence you bring to bear is simply immature and self-centered.  I hope you come to that realization and apologize for your hyperbole… if in fact it was one.

By the way… in case you were wondering… hyperbole is used in scripture on numerous occasions.

John 4:39  39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”  Seriously no one really thinks Jesus stood there and gave an accounting of every moment of her life do they?  I suspect she meant he “knew the pertinent details of her life and maybe things he seemingly could not have known.”

Or what about Mark 1? The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Is there anyone who thinks the entire city of Jerusalem was emptied so that they could “all” go see John?  Don’t you think it really is intended to mean “many, many people of Jerusalem?”

Maybe one more John the Baptist reference:  John 3:26  They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”  Once again… “everyone???”  I seriously doubt it.  Does this mean that the Bible isn’t accurate?  Of course not.  Bible writers used literary devices just like we do.  But it’s essential that we recognize them!

Hyperbole in and of itself is not bad or evil… but it can be when used irresponsibly.

Honestly… I hate when people do that… I think I might want to kill them.

You get it right?

Blessings.

Being with people

May 3, 2016

Often things we do in life that we call our “professions” have two extremes; those tasks that we like and those tasks that we can do without. Occasionally those two things are the same. For example in ministry, the thing I like the most is being with people. And the thing I like the least? Yeah you got it… being with people. I hope I don’t need to explain that.

What I want to focus on are some of the positive inspirational moments of “being with people.” In particular, I would like to mention a few occasions when I have been deeply touched and inspired. I mention these because it is my hope that these examples might inspire you to recall a few of your own memories. And in that light… you might be lifted up this day.

If I could talk to seminary students preparing to go into the pastorate I would want to tell them many things, but maybe nothing more than this. When you have the privilege to minister to folks with terminal illnesses… THEY WILL INSPIRE YOU and they will teach you about dying. For those who are not in a field where you are caring for terminal folks, you might not know that there is great anxiety for most of us as we face that task. I mean what are we supposed to say to folks who are dying? Or what do we say to the family of terminal patients? Particularly if that patient is a young person?! Seriously… what do we say?

I don’t know if this is correct but my answer to the previous question is, very little. Oh, for sure we need to answer direct questions, but mostly folks want a listening ear or a quiet presence. And the things they will say will stay with you forever. Simple things like, “I am ready.” Or, “I am prepared to meet my Lord.” Or, “I can’t wait to see my loved ones.” I had an 87 year old man say to me, “I want to see my mom and dad again.” Even now it causes me to tear up.

Truthfully in 32 years of “professional pastoral ministry” I have only had one person who was angry about dying. Surprisingly she was a 90 year old woman who was irate and wanted to know, “What did I do to deserve this?!?!” I tried the old “remain silent and allow her to vent” routine but she insisted on an answer. “What did I do to God to cause Him to do this to me?!” she said several times. What would you say if you were in that situation? Honestly? Probably very little that would help or bring comfort.
Obviously, the above examples relate to folks who lived long lives. Do I need to even say anything about the dreadful, broken heartedness of parents who lose children? There are no words. There is not enough “silent time” with them. There are not a sufficient number of loving relatives and friends to alleviate the sleepless, comfortless, seemingly unending pain these folks go through. And yet even for them, a time usually comes when they are able to live again and be thankful for the opportunity to have known their child for moments or for having carried their child for months. And they often look forward to a time in glory when they might see them again.
I don’t know how people with no hope live!

Well, enough of that. How about a really happy story?

I don’t know how many weddings I have done over the years… surely over 100 and maybe 150-200. One year I had 10 another year I had 0. I have known pastors who regularly do over 30 weddings a year… I have no idea how. Most folks don’t factor in that there are hours of pre marital counseling with each wedding along with a rehearsal, rehearsal dinner, wedding day and reception. It is a lot of time. Not complaining… just saying.
I want to reference one wedding in particular. It must have been 10 years ago… maybe longer. Picture for a moment the scene where the bride and her father are about to walk down the aisle. The groom and the wedding party are already in place in the front of the sanctuary and all eyes are turned toward the center-back of the room. The minister (yours truly) is the only person in the room that has a full view of everything. The bride’s grandfather was sitting on the outer aisle to my far right, even with the second pew. The point being, no one was looking his way, no one could see him but me. He was in a wheel chair too weak to walk. If you have been to any weddings (and who hasn’t) you know that as the bride begins her slow walk down the aisle everyone stands. I caught out of the corner of my eye her grandfather by himself straining with every fiber of his being to rise. It must have taken him 10-12 shaky, gut wrenching, exhausting moments to finally get his body upright. I have no idea what was going through his mind but I like to think it was something like, “There is no way my granddaughter is walking to the front of this church without me paying tribute to her by standing.” No one but me saw him rise and no one knows the great honor he paid her that day. When she finally got to the front of the sanctuary, I had tears in my eyes. I suspect she thought I was emotional because a wedding was going on. Of course that wasn’t it at all.

I wonder if you have any thoughts of people in your life who have inspired you? Goodness, I hope so! I really hope so. With that in mind… are you able to contact those folks? If so, give them a call today… or send an email… or a letter… or a text… or a smoke signal. Tell them what they have meant to you and how they have inspired you. It will bless them beyond words… and it will bless you as well.

Lord, thank you for bringing people into our lives who care for us, who disciple us, and who inspire us. Bless today my friend, relative, co worker _____________________. Let them know they are loved and appreciated by me. Amen.