Thursday, August 17, 2017
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
It's a time for fear, at least that's what we hear and see and breathe every day. There is always this rush to claim that the end is coming.
I remember once when I was in middle school. It was a dull, gray day outside and I was at recess with a good friend. I was a seriious child (well, mostly so) and I said to him, looking at the day, the end is near. He laughed and said: "You're nuts!" Of course, you know that he was right about that.
What's funny is that I was the religioius one; he never went to church. I had been trained in faith and love and church and worship and all the rest, and I was living more in fear than he was. What's that about?
In someone's scenario, the sky is almost always falling. Now, I don't want to downplay your pain or sorrow. I don't even want to downplay mine. There is plenty to be concerned about, plenty to mourn, plenty of suffering. There always has been.
A friend of mine commented on those movies/tv shows about vampires and the walking dead. Or, there are plenty of movies about annihilation, and coming asteroids, etc. We have this fascination with death in our culture and with crisis. You can't look at the news on TV or cell phone and not hear or read about the hourly crisis.
But, we are the religioius ones. The only crisis that we know about is the crisis of those who have given up on faith or given up on life or despaired about the world as we know it. I worry that we live too much in fear, too much with fear. We lose ourselves and the moments that we have in fear.
God knows there's plenty to be afraid about. But, what if fear is a bigger problem and will kill us way before whatever we're afraid of will.
Jesus calls Peter out of his boat to walk to him on the water. You know the story. Peter is overcome with fear. There's a storm, for God's sake. Peter sinks in the water. At the last moment, Jesus reaches out and brings him back. Jesus says: "O Ye of little faith!"
That's you and me. Faith in Jesus and the God who sent him, and the God who sends the Spirit now, is the basis on which we live. WE do not have to be so afraid. There is One who is with us in the storms who is greater than the storms.
1 John says: "The one in you is greater than the one who is in the world...". I don't know about you, but I think that we're the Christians here, the religious ones. And, the claim of faith on our lives is greater than the claim of anything else. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Right?
I believe it!
Thursday, June 29, 2017
July 4th is a special day in our country. It's the day when we celebrate being Americans and hopefully we give thanks for being among the most blessed people God ever made. Like many holidays, July 4th is a family day, of sorts. Most people get some time around the 4th and we barbecue and eat and party and enjoy our families. My wife loves fireworks, not the kind that I could do, but the professional show that many towns put on now. Spartanburg has a Red, White and Boom time. For a few minutes we gather with neighbors and strangers and family and look up to the sky at the colorful fireworks.
I always try to take my vacation time around the 4th, and our familes join us as they can. It's a time of relaxation and joy. It should be.
As Chrisitans, we don't worship government, certainly. Look what the government did to Jesus. All government is inherently oppressive, some more, some less so. Truly a democatric republic like the US is greatly different from a Communist government. I think it was Churchill who said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest. In a democracy, everyone, at least in principle, has a voice.
Of course, there's not perfect government or country, not even our own. There is much to be done in the way of learning better ways to communicate and care for each other. We Chrisitians has been taught from early on that there are two great commandments: Love God and love you neighbor. And, as Christians, we are joining with others in community to do our best to express what it means to love our neighbor.
I think it's true that as Christians we are called to care to the least among us. There are some who won't eat and will never make unless we provide a basic foundation for them. I think that every person deserves to eat, especially when the rest of us are eating so much that we have weight problems. I am coming to see that maybe health care is a part of this whole care for neighbor stuff.
I also think that we Christians might teach the world, and our country that there are better ways to treat each other, except that we Christians have been the worst at it. Often, even Christians, are mean and hurtful to those with whom we disagree. We treat other Christians as if they are stupid since we are so smart and right.
I think Jesus gives us the key to all relationships: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Not the better known statement: Do unto others before they do unto you. What if there is more to life than winning all the time? What if in the midst of all this anger and hurt and pain we Christians hold the key to it all in Christ? Treat each other as Jesus treated all. Easier said than done, I know, but essential in a divided and hateful world.
Now, I'm well aware that when you add politics and power to the mix that it gets more difficult. But, what if God is calling us even now to lead others down the right road of justice and mercy and compassion.
For a few minutes this 4th, say thanks to God. Say your thanks out loud. We have so much to be grateful for. We are so blessed so that we might be a blessing to others. I see this miracle of faith worked out every day somewhere. And, while you're praying, ask God to show you where you might dig in a little deeper into this world to be a more effective witness for Jesus Christ in all of life.
Like the hymn we pray: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. So be it!
Happy birthday, America!
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Easter Day around here was magnificent; it always is. The music is phenomenal. The love, the grace are wonderful. The release of butterflies beautiful. And, it's one big, great, celebration. What's not to like? Then, it's over. Well, not exactly.
Often we treat Easter the way we treat Christmas. At Christmas, we start celebrating Christmas at Thannksgiving. But, the church gives us Advent to prepare us for the celebration. And, we think it's over on Christmas day, but it goes for 12 days until Epiphany, when the Wise men/Magi visit Jesus with gifts. In the same way, Lent prepares us for Easter, and then Easter comes with beauty. But, Easter Season lasts for 50 days. We call it the Great Fifty Days of Easter.
This is the time when Jesus appeared to the disciples and others, over 500 people before he ascended into heaven. So, the scriptures of the church guide us in working out what it means for us to be Easter people, and an Easter Church. To be Easter people is not just to celebrate on one day, but it is to live every day as an expression of our faith in the Risen Christ. If Jesus is alive, then our lives show it.
It's always interested me that the church gives us in the lectionary John 20: 19ff for the first Sunday after Easter. It's that great story in John in which the disciples are meeting together on the evening of Easter. The women have told the disciples that Jesus is alive, but they aren't sure. Thomas voices what they all must have been feeling. He says: "I will not believe unless I see for myself, unless I put my hands in his wounds."
Few of us get the results that Thomas gof. The next week, the disciples are together again and Jesus comes, through locked doors. Jesus most always comes through locked doors. He offers himself to the group, but especially Thomas. Thomas is overwhelmedby the presence of the Risen Christ, so much so that we don't know if he actually touched Jesus' wounds or not.
He falls down and says: "It's really you; my Lord and my God." Jesus then breathes on them and says: "Receive the Holy Spirit." Recelve the Spirit as my constant presence with you form now on.
She came to me after a worship service one day and said: "Do you ever have doubts?" I answered: "Yes." And, it started a conversation about the meaning of doubt and faith. How they can be partners and not enemies...
I mean: if you doubt, you're thinking and working it through and taking it seriously enough to struggle with it. It's too important to gloss over or ignore. It's life. We see; we believe. We trust sometimes when we don't or can't see. We move forward in faith even when we aren't sure.
I'm glad that Thomas is there for us. We all doubt, even after the big day. But, as we doubt, the Risen Christ comes to us too and breathes the Spirit for us.
Ask yourself: As Easter people, what does that look like as we live our lives?
Monday, March 13, 2017
Lent started on Ash Wednesday, March 1. It was a dark blustery night. Lightning and thunder and rain were our gifts for the evening. I laughingly said that I had ordered that setting for Ash Wednesday; however, you have to admit that Lightning and thunder and rain were appropriate for the beginning of Lent.
On Ash Wednesday, we talk about the two these of the season and of that night: our sin and our mortality. Talk about those two things will most assuredly bring a crowd. But, where else are you going to hear the truth except in church. Here in church, we are invited and are free to confess our sin before God and in each other's presence. Our common sin is the same. As Lucy said to Charlie Brown when she discovered that the earth revolved around the sun, "Huh! I thought the world revolved around me!"
As one of my teachers used to say, sin means that we strut around here as if we own the place. We treat the world and creation as if we owned it. We treat each other as if we were the owners of all that is good and noble and everyone else is ignorant and less good than we. The hymn says it so well: "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love!". Prone to wander about all over the place; prone to wander after other gods and other ways. Prone to leave the God I love.
I grieves God that we so readily turn from him and away from his gifts. Salvation is when we trust God in Jesus Christ to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all wrongness. At Lent, we confess our sin, we ask forgivesness and we turn around and move back to God. You wouldn't thing that we would forget so easily who God is, would you? But we forget before the next Sunday.
Lent starts with the stark realization that we are sinners. And, we die. This life as we know it comes to an end. Time runs out on all our projects and all our dreams. Sure, we know Easter's coming, but how poor we are if we don't at some point acknowledge that our life is but a "span". It is all a gift and then it goes so fast that we hardly know it. Regrets? Sure, but why waste time on that? Receive each day, each moment, as if it were your last, because one day, it will be. Death has come for many of our loved ones sooner than we wanted. Certainly, it has come sooner than we expected. Sometimes death tears at us with tragedy. Death strips our pretense and our smugness away. In it's wake, we come to God in our vulnerability. All salvation is in God; all salvation comes from Jesus.
So, on Ash Wednesday, we ran by the altar, and got marked on the forehead with a cross in ashes to remind us all this. In this sober way, we started Lent together. And, we are invited to give more, to worship more, to love more, to get ready for what's coming.
The church has long tried to teach us that you can't get to Easter without going through and by the cross, through Lent. Jesus will be crucified and die for your sins. See it. Experience it anew. And wait to see what God will do. We're half way through or so. Look around to see what God is calling you to do right here, right now! It's all a gift.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Epiphany is not one of the words that we use daily. Consider: you're at coffee with a friend and you're feeling thoughtful and you say: "By the way, I had an epiphany the other day." OK, we don't say that word: epiphany, but we might say it like this. "Something came to me the other day." Not just I had a thought.
Surely, we get new thoughts all the time. If you're like me, and who isn't? You will every once in awhile think something that you need to know or do. Sometimes you're busy doing something else and a word will come to you. Or, you're praying, and when you listen for a few minutes, an idea comes to you. Now, Epiphany is all that and more.
Epiphany means "revelation". It means that when we are in relationship with God in Jesus we are a part of this ongoing process of kingdom living. We are living the "God With Us" life and sometimes something just "comes to us". Someone says that you know it's from God if you can't do it all by yourself without God. If it's something that is too big for you, or seemingly impossible, then it's God speaking.
But, it may be something as simple as the need to forgive someone you've been holding something against for a time. But, Epiphany means that it's a gift of God. It just comes to you. Not out of the blue, but from God, from the power of the Holy Spirit. It just comes to you.
While writing sermons or writing blogs, or working in and out of hospitals and homes and worship, I am always looking for an Epiphany. I am always looking, expecting, that God is speaking to me, appearing to me, wanting to talk to me. And, If I listen, and pray, and live my life for Christ, then it will come to me.
That is sometimes the advice that I give someone who is struggling with something. They don't know what to do about someone or something. They ask me. I might help them explore the issue or the need and then I'll say something like: Well, if you're praying, and keeping your commitment to Christ with worship, and study. If you're regularly studying scripture and you're listening, it will come to you.
Samuel was sent to live with old Eli in the Temple (1 SAMUEL). And, in the middle of the night, a voice came to him: Samuel. And, Samuel got up from the bed and sent to Eli and said: "What do you want?" Eli said: "It wasn't me. Go back to bed." This happened three times, and finally, Eli said: "Samuel, if this happens again, it this voice comes to you, then say 'speak, Lord, your servant is listening.'" Samuel heard the voice again; it came to him. And, God spoke.
I don't know if this means anything to you, but my hunch is that the chances are good that there is some reason that you are listening to God. Keep listening. Be open for the light to appear and for a voice or an idea or a revelation to come to you.
John says: "Look, there he is! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." It's an epiphany. During this season after Epiphany, keep you're eyes open. Look and you may just see; listen and you may just hear; pray and you may just have an Epiphany. Our God is a living God.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
I seem to be having a time keeping my appointment with this blog. If you're a regular reader, please forgive me. No excuses. So, for now, I'm back and what a great time to come back to this task.
If there's anything that makes me want to write and reflect, it's Advent/Christimas. It still bothers me that we want to rush to quickly to the Christmas Season. I'm sure that a lot of the cultural stuff is about commerce. Why else would we start playing Christimas music on the radio and TV right after Halloween? When I was a boy, we would wait at least until after Thanksgiving. At Thanksgiving the Macy's parade was held in New York and at the end of the parade was jolly, old, St. Nick. Here we go; Christmas was near.
But, now, without fail, as soon as Halloween is over, the culture just sort of skips over Thanksgiving and goes right to Christmas. I was taught, in the dark ages, that we should teach our people to wait on Christmas, to take advantage of Advent as a time to pray and repent and reflect on the meaning of it all. For instance, don't sing any Christmas carols until Christmas Eve. Then, sing them for the 12 days of Christmas, up to Epiphany. That's what they taught me. And, still I try not to have us sing any Christmas music for a couple of Sundays, though some of you will come to me and say: "Why can't we sing the Christmas carols?" And, of course, the appropriate response is: it isn't Christmas yet. It's like trying to hold back a team of wild horses.
So, why is it that every year we get earlier in our celebration of Christmas? Commercialism? Yes, no doubt, we want our merchants, and therefore, everyone, to benefit from the huge buying and selling of this season. I save for another day any comment about over-commercialization and all that. For now, I acknowledge that we are into that part of it- at least some.
But, I think there's more to it than that. I think there's something about Christmas that makes us want to make it hurry up and get here. What if the world, as we know it, is often so bad and we think of Christmas as so good and happy, that we can't wait for it to get here. Sure, there are some people who are sad, and for good reason. But, on the whole, Christmas brings out the best in people, the best in us. The grouchiest among us find some reason to give and share and be happy, if for only a moment.
There's just something about a young mother and a baby born out there in the middle of nowhere, angels singing, shepherds worshipping, Magi bringing gifts. There where the stench of the world is greatest is that beautiful baby, Son of God.
See, we do need Advent to remind us that deep within and without us is this deep desire and yearning for joy and happiness. And the only joy and happiness that we know that is truly a gift is wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David...Glory to God in the highest and earth...
Joy to the world! Joy Indeed!
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
I started to write this column several times but shyed away from it. I am always reticent to share my own feelings too much. It's not about me, I tell myself. However, as a pastor in the church, what I think and feel does matter. So here goes...
Several years ago, I was sitting at the Pastor's Convocation at Duke. For many years, I went every year. Regretfully, I have not been back in a while. This particular year the speaker at this gathering was a guy named Rob Bell. Some of you may have heard of him. He was at one time the pastor of a huge church, and he travelled around the country to speak like a rock star. Over the years, he gathered quite a following of young people.
Duke usually likes to be on the cutting edge of change, particularly in the church. So, here was Rob Bell to talk to us about church and the world as he saw it. I have to admit that he is a very good speaker, relying of course on powerpoint and pictures on a screen to speak to us.
The thing that still sticks with me is the first thing he said. He said: "What must it be like to be a pastor in a church that is dying, fading away." This was a while ago, but I still feel the impact of that question. I especially feel the weight of it. I know it's not just about me, but I feel guilty that our church, the United Methodist Church is in this position. And, whether they will admit it or not, the whole Christian Church in the western world is in trouble. Sure, there are some successes out there; new Messiahs arise by the dozens. Mega Church is heralded as the wave of the future, though many prognosticators say that even the large Mega Churches are on the wane, as they draw off members from other more traditional churches. But, on the whole, the western church is in trouble. Some even go so far as to say that Christianity is in trouble.
The fastest growing churches are located in Africa, and now China is beginning to grow some in Christian faith. But, in America, we are praying and searching for ways to listen to where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Even Christians, who are among the most faithful members of the church do not attend worship or study or anything as much as they used to.
In a recent meeting at my church, we went around the circle bemoaning the fact that church attendance is down everywhere. Some said: "When I was a child here, this place was full of people." Well, yes, that was fifty years ago. All churches were filled with people. After some more whining and complaining, I said: "Wait a minute! Go around this room. None of you go to church like you used to." They all had to agree. Talk to any Christian in the Western world and they will tell you that everyone who studies these things says that Christian faith is in trouble- not growing.
So, the question that we ask mostly is: what can we do about it? For much of the church, the blame is laid on the the clergy. We aren't doing things like we used to do them; or, we aren't working hard enough.
And yet, if you asked the average pastor about their work load, you would find that they are usually exhausted and afraid to take a day off. A friend of mine, a pastor in another denomination, went on vacation and came back to find that he had been voted out as pastor. Thankfully, that's not a worry for United Methodists, not usually. Still the stress of working with people alone is enough to break anyone over time. Add to that worries about money and facilities and programs and all the rest and you got the picture.
Now, I would be the first to say that I love what I do. I am doing it still because Jesus came along the shore and said: "Follow me". I went and I've never been sorry. So, I refuse to despair over the mission of Jesus Christ and his church. It's his church after all.
I will over the next few weeks address some of the issues that some see that the modern church faces as we move forward in our faith.
I hope that you will read these articles and join in prayer around the issues raised.
My Church's Website
I hope these pastoral ponderings will generate something in you that is hopeful.
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