Eternity

January 27, 2017

Many years ago I was visiting an older couple who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  30 years ago that was a scarce event.  I don’t mean that folks are more faithful to marriage now because they are not.  I just mean people live longer so 50 or 60 years of marriage is not at all unheard of these days.  Anyway, this was a couple in their mid to late 70’s.  He was quiet and very kind.  She was… um… not as quiet and… uh… not as kind if you know what I mean.  Maybe a little “cantankerous” would be the best description.  In the midst of our conversation, I discovered what might have been the origins of her… uh… “crankiness.”  Well okay, it’s probably not the origin but it may explain some things about her.

At one point in our chat she proclaimed, “We have been married for 50 years and have never been to a restaurant.” I think I may have said something like “Never?!”  “Never!” was the immediate response.  Naturally, I needed to hear the origins of that story.  “So… how come?” I asked.  He answered definitively, “I hate garlic and onions and you can’t eat at a restaurant without getting those ingredients.  And even if they are not in the food, the food is cooked in a pan that had garlic or onions in it at one time.”  I think it’s fair to say I was speechless.  This was not an allergy thing it was… um… something else.  Don’t get me wrong, if folks don’t want to eat out that’s entirely up to them but the reasoning in this case seemed a bit… over the top maybe?  Unreasonable?  Absurd?  Maybe even idiotic?  And yet it is not beyond us to think in these terms on occasion.

Several types of people come to mind in regard to this way of thinking, the first being “conspiracy theory” folks. I understand that periodically throughout history, organizations and governments have done secret things that they don’t want anyone to know about BUT…  We never landed on the moon!?  It was just a movie?  Do we have any idea how many people would have to be in on that conspiracy in order to keep us deceived?  Seriously?!  And not one person since 1969 has come forward to recant the moon landing or written a “tell all book.”  Not one.  And yet there are still folks who believe it never happened.

Another one I hear regularly; “You know they have a cure for cancer but the drug companies are making too much money on treatment so they don’t want to make the cure known.” That is so dumb I can’t even comment.

My favorite are the folks on Social Media who blindly pass along one falsehood after another in order to support their cause or bring attention to themselves. They don’t take one second to research their “news” they just pass it along as if it were fact.  I personally like the one about Mr. Rogers having been a sniper in Vietnam.  He wore sweaters because his arms were covered with tattoos.  Oh yeah, almost forgot… and he was a convicted child molester.  Seriously, there ARE folks who believe in and perpetuate this nonsense!  Go to http://www.snopes.com/radiotv/tv/mrrogers.asp  Why is it necessary to correct these things if there were no one passing them along? BECAUSE THERE ARE!!!!

Years ago I had a conversation with someone close to me. They wanted to share their thoughts about God.  Too often these conversations do not go well.  I remember them saying,  “Well, I believe that everyone goes to heaven.”  I asked what they based that on, i.e., what or who have you read that would lead you in that direction.  Silence… total silence.  The truth is they had not thought for one second past their own wishes.  They didn’t study, research or contemplate their eternal lives.  Well, at least any longer than it takes to come up with the self-serving notion that “everyone is saved.”

I admit that there are theologians who hold to that idea. It’s called Universalism.  And I respect (but disagree with) those who thoughtfully live their lives with that notion.  But they at least have thought it through!  They have not come to ideas about their ETERNAL LIVES based on rumor, innuendo or some form of self-satisfying, self-gratifying “schlock” theology.  Don’t you think ETERNITY is too long to risk?  Maybe we ought to have something we have considered a little longer and more seriously than, “Yep, that’s what I want to believe… God saves everybody.”  I wish that were true.  I really do.

I just want to encourage you today to think about your faith. Why do you believe the things you do?  Seriously?  We really ought to have some way of talking about what we believe other than opinions that we have formed based on… ourselves.

Consider this: 1 Peter 3:15  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

SNOW (& glory)

January 17, 2017

By the way, you can thank me any time you want… seriously. A personal “thanks” is nice.  Money is always accepted.  A card is thoughtful.  Stuffed cabbage… well the ultimate “thank you,” of course.  Any of the above or some other form of gratitude will be humbly received.  Oh, I’m sorry!  What are you thanking me for?  Well, that’s easy.  8 weeks ago, I bought a snow blower.  Yeah that’s right… a big boy, honest to goodness, manly… snow blower.  Not one of those sissy “snow displacers” with an anemic 5 horse power engine.  Nope, I got the 8 horse, electric start.  I don’t want to blow snow into my neighbor’s yard… I want to blow it into the park down the street.  Yesiree Bob… now all I need is some snow.  You get it?  See what’s going on here?  It’s the middle of January… where the heck is the snow?!

YOU’RE WELCOME!

Two weeks ago we had an inch of snow. One measly inch! I was sorely tempted… I really was.  But even in my frothing snow blowing state of mind, I could see the overkill.  I didn’t want the neighbors laughing at me either:  “Look at the minister… what a moron.”  I’m being toyed with.  The weather gods are laughing at me.

Now truth be told, I have never, ever used a snow blower. Well okay, that’s not entirely accurate… I used one that someone gave me for the whole 5 minutes that it ran before it turned into junk.  I have never experienced the glory of being the monarch of my own clean, snow barren driveway…  Well, at least without being drenched in sweat and heaving for breath.  I can only imagine the overwhelming emotion that will accompany exposed black top and the mountains of cold white stuff that I personally throw out of place.  Ha… I will be THE MAN!  The king of my domain.  I’m pretty sure my expectations are not over blown.  Get it?  “Over blown.”  Get it?  I kill myself!

So what does this have to do with religious stuff anyway?  Hmmmm… Where was I going with this!?  Oh yeah, I remember – Glory!  You can see the obvious connection right?

The word “glory” in various forms is used close to 400 times in the Bible. In the Old Testament, it comes from a word that literally means “heavy, weighty”, or as we might say “worthiness.”  In other words, when used to describe God or Jesus (the primary subjects in the Bible), it means “one of significance or ‘worth’.”  A few verses to consider:

Exodus 15:11 Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?

 Exodus 24:17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.

Exodus 40:35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

Psalm 3:3  But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

Psalm 24:7-8 Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.

Psalm 66:2 Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious.

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

 Luke 9:26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

 Acts 7:55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Experiencing the Glory of God is not necessarily… um… desirable. If you remember when Moses was on the mountain, God told him to hide as His Glory passed by lest he die.  Ultimately Moses was blinded by God’s Glory.  Glory can be a fierce thing.  And yet it is THE thing we ultimately long for.  We live… or shall I say die… to see the Glory of God; the worthiness of the King of Kings; the Holiness of the One who did not consider equality with God something to be held onto but allowed Himself to be a man and ultimately to die for me… (Philippians 2)… that Glorious One!

You may have some pretty difficult things to deal with today or this week, or maybe not. Can I ask that sometime in the midst of your life in the not too distant future you might… contemplate, meditate on and consider what it means that “your God is Glorious.”  Because if your God is not “glorious” then he, she, or it is hardly worth the time.

Blessings.

150 Years

January 11, 2017

In 2017 Mt Vernon Community church, the church I have served for over 20 years, will celebrate its 150th anniversary.  Specifically, the church was founded on Jan 27th 1867 but we are taking the whole year to celebrate.  I know that compared to some churches we are young pups but for others… well they can only hope to reach this milestone.  Congratulations to all of you who have had a part to play in the history of this wonderful place.

Now that being said, I was trying to get 150 in my head. I began to wonder if there is anything in my house that is 150 years old.  Outside of a few pairs of my underwear and some socks nothing comes to mind.  150 rolls off of the tongue easily enough but it’s a significant chunk of history.  Again, not by carbon dating standards, but by life standards.  The world has seen over 100 million deaths through war since the founding of this church.  That is unprecedented in human history.  We have gone from an agricultural society, where small farms consumed the landscape, to factories and then to high tech.  Imagine if someone from 1867 were to appear in our country today!  They would be shocked beyond description.  Someone was asked if they could go back to the 1950’s (only 60 years ago), what would they tell people about 2017?  The answer, “I would tell them that in 2017, you can carry all of the world’s knowledge in your pocket or purse.  They are called ‘cell phones’.”

Displayed in a case in the hallway of Mt Vernon church are the original communion plates, cup and the first baptismal font. I look at them on occasion and just say, “WOW!”  The people who chose those, bought those, and used those items had no idea that 150 years later they would still be a part of the church.

My mother had a great uncle who lived to the age of 103. He died sometime in the 1930’s.  I remember her telling me as a kid that he used to brag about the fact that he VOTED for Abraham Lincoln.  No, not “was alive during” but actually “VOTED FOR!” My mother knew someone who VOTED for Lincoln?!  How amazing is that?

We are far from 1867 and yet not as far as we might suppose. I’m not sure, but sometime in the not too distant future the last person born in the 19th century will pass.  That means there are still folks alive who are from that era!  Think of what they have seen develop!  Flight, automobiles, radio, television, indescribable wars, nuclear weapons and their use, space travel, the internet, etc.  I suspect no other generation in human history has seen the “progress” they have.

There is a down side to all of this. In 1867 there was a deep yearning for The Church.  Outside of a very small number of “super churches,” the thirst for Christian faith is on the decline in our country.  Some see revival on the horizon…  I seriously doubt that but God is surely capable, if He so chooses.  It seems however that God has “moved” most of His troops to Korea, Southern Africa, South America and, of all places, China.  (Some speculate that there are more Christians in China than any country in the world.  Doesn’t hurt to have 1.4 billion people.)  I will not be around to see it of course, but I seriously doubt that any churches founded in 2017 in the United States will be around to celebrate in 2167.

Should this be troubling? To some degree, I suppose… but it’s all part of human history and a part of the Church’s past.  There are ebbs and flows.  Down times and up times.  Times of prosperity and times of struggle.  It seems to be the way God designed the system.  Or the effects of sin on the system.  You pick.

There is an odd but interesting book in the Old Testament called Ecclesiastes. You may not have read it.  And quite honestly it’s so odd that it’s hard to recommend for folks because it feels like a total downer.  A particular word appears in this book over and over again along with a specific sentiment.  The word is “meaningless,” i.e., everything is “meaningless.”  The “sentiment” is that “nothing new exists under the sun.”  There are essentially 11 chapters of “meaninglessness” to life and reminders that nothing ever changes.  And then “the conclusion of the matter” found at the end of chapter 12.

13 Now all has been heard;

here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments

for this is the duty of all mankind.

14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,

including every hidden thing,

whether it is good or evil.

No matter the number of years that go by. No matter the circumstances of our lives.  No matter the status of The Church.  No matter the depths of despair we might encounter.  No matter the frustrations with the World.  No matter how many years our local church has survived or will survive.  No matter our health.  No matter our dreams or dashed dreams.  “This is the conclusion of the matter”:

Fear God and keep his commandments,     

for this is the duty of all mankind.

It’s hard to hear that in our self-serving world. Fear God, my friends… all the years of your life.

Congratulations Mt Vernon Community Church!!!!

God of crisis

January 5, 2017

I saw a recent Facebook listing entitled “Four signs of high intelligence.” The first one was, “A messy, disorganized desk.” I have come to the inevitable conclusion that I must be brilliant! I can’t tell you how much comfort this has brought me along with a certain sense of self worth and… well… superiority. So to all you “neat-nicks” out there… enjoy the limited intellectual fruit of your labor.

Wow… now that I got that off of my chest…  J

I don’t know how many funerals I have done over the years… too many to be quite honest. If I never have to do another one, I’ll be okay with that.  That being said, I have learned many things about the death and dying process and the business associated with it.  One thing that might overshadow all others is this;  making important decisions in the midst of a crisis is not the best way to operate.  Funerals are by nature a crisis and last minute thing most of the time, but the planning of them doesn’t have to be.  This is not a commercial for funeral homes, but those people that make prearrangements take a great deal of burden away from their families.  I can’t tell you how many… sorry but… “dumb decisions”… I have seen families make because they are flying by the seat of their pants while in a crises and with no experience.

Occasionally I will get asked something like this: “Grandma wanted us to (fill in the blank) as part of her funeral but none of us feel comfortable with that.  What do you think we should do?”  Generally I say something like this, “The funeral is for the living not for the dead.  You need to do what is best for your family.  However… if you cannot deal with the guilt of not doing what Grandma wanted… then you probably need to do what she requested.”

Well, this rumination is really about making decisions in the midst of crisis. I suspect most of us would agree that it is not a wise practice, if at all avoidable.  So, why do we do that when it comes to our views of God?  For too many, it seems they keep God in their hip pocket until something really great happens and they give Him the credit, or something dreadful happens and they blame Him.  So they come out of those occasions with a God who either really loves His creation and blesses them… or they come out of those instances with the perception that God is awful and doesn’t in fact care about those whom Christians claim He loves.  Why do we do that?!

Can I suggest that we come to some understanding of who God is NOW so that we are prepared for blessings and “curses?”  Christian author Phillip Yancey says “develop your faith in the good times so that it can carry you through the hard times.”  A harsh way of saying that is, “Don’t come crying to me about God when something bad happens, if you have not done the hard work of coming to understand God NOW.”  I’m not saying that there will not be faith challenges in the midst of crisis.  I am only saying that you will be better prepared to deal with them if you have some framework for understanding and knowing God.

Imagine for a moment the worst set of circumstances that you can think of in your life… (I know I don’t like to think of these things either)… diagnosis of terminal cancer, the death of a spouse, the death of a child or grandchild… Now imagine your thoughts of God in the midst of those things.  Seriously.  Where are you?  Is God an aloof, uncaring tyrant?  Or even in those things is God the sovereign (all controlling) God of the universe who does or allows things to happen for His own purposes and still needs to be worshipped?

I know these are immensely difficult things to consider. I mean, thinking of the unthinkable is not where our brains want to go.  But I implore you to consider your theology of God NOW and not wait for a crisis.  Years ago I knew a man who was Mr. Church Guy.  He was raised in the church.  He was a pillar of the church.  He was respected in the faith community where he worshipped.  BUT in his later years he developed an eye problem that caused blindness and took away his independence.  At the same time his wife grew ill.  I remember sitting in his living room and him saying to me in an angry tone, “’Trust and Obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.’  That used to be my favorite hymn… but I don’t believe that any more.”

I don’t know how I will behave in the midst of personal crisis. I can only hope that God continues to be my God no matter what.  Where are you?

Blessings to you in the journey.