Saturday, December 12, 2015

When we were young.

"And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again..."

  -Foo Fighters---Everlong

We walked the streets until full dark, city lights kicking on to illuminate our steps. Walking with unhurried steps, no fears of what tomorrow holds or concern for the future. We will never grow old, so time wasted is no time at all, we have plenty of it, we have it to burn.

The days passed in a blur of emotions, moments made from long drawn out conversations, car rides and broke down couches we sat on, we dreamed. The hands we clasped, the embraces we held, the poignant moments we etched into time itself. The images still carved into stone, erected into our past, the street corners, the boulevards, the hallways, the empty alleyways, the quiet rooms, standing tall and waiting.

The minutes turned into hours and the hours turned into seasons. The seasons passed by without much notice and became our past. Then those seasons turned into fond memories. The memories turning into embellished stories we shared amongst the few who knew, the few who were there and passed the days with us, who bled the blood, who tasted the tears and laughed for joy.

Now we have new streets, and new cities. We have different seasons passing, framed in a new lens of time, seen with different eyes, aged and sharpened, hardened and sobered.

Now our hours quickly turn into minutes and our days into fleeting glances as we hold hands with different people, embrace new friends, and make new memories that quickly mix into the background of aging quietude.

The sparks burn low and our eyes shine bright, we walk the streets and in the distance we see the city limits.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Here in the dark, I cherish the moonlight
I'm in love with the way you're in love with the night
And it travels from heart to limb to pen...”

-Handwritten by The Gaslight Anthem

Mark 4:1, “And again He began to teach by the sea...”

The sea is a fascinating concept in Scripture. From it's mysterious springs in the Garden of Eden that change into a 4 headed stream, watering the entire planet to the deep sea creatures mentioned in the Old Testament, old as time itself. Or we could look at the curious mention of the sea of glass and the elimination of the sea in the book of Revelation.

Have you ever noticed how Jesus interacted with the sea in His setting? He called fisherman to be part of his posse. He crossed by boat over the sea several times in the gospels, and a lot of strange things happened over those stormy seas, he helped fishermen with their catch and he skated across the waters like running through soft grass. He slept through hurricane winds and dared his disciples to join Him in stepping into the sea in the middle of the night.

The sea is a scary place. We need the things the sea offers, water, food, refreshment, cleansing, growth, and countless other necessaries. Yet the sea is a danger. You can walk for miles and miles by foot and if you get tired you can sit down. You can swim for miles and miles if your boat falls apart but if you don't have something to cling to you have no place to sit down. You will soon be overwhelmed by the waves and drown.

I don't know that we are as scared by the sea as people were in Jesus' day. Every time, every culture has their own fears that are unique to them. What are your fears? The night is a common one, full of the unknown, where dark creatures lurk. Is it something of a completely different variety? Such as people? Some people fear interaction with others more than death itself and it is a constant source of discontent in their soul. Or illness? Maybe someone in your family has a disease that is genetic and you fear becoming just like them. Much like the fictional Dr. Reid in Criminal Minds fears becoming just like his Schizophrenic mother.

What's interesting about Jesus is that He doesn't simply chase away those fears, He doesn't even chastise those who have them for having them. We see one such example with the sea in the Gospels. In Matthew 8 when the storm is raging and Jesus is sleeping and His sleep is interrupted He sleepily calms the storm and then gripes at the disciples, “Where's your faith?”...then he questions why they were afraid in the first place.

Notice the order. He reminds them of their faith and then laments why this is such a problem in the first place. Look through the Bible, the gospels in particular and see how Jesus interacts with fear and you might learn how to attack your own fears. We all have them. We are all disciples waking Jesus up, much as a child wakes a parent in the middle of the night to come into their bed and sleep with them.

Peter understood this and addressed it head on in 1 Peter 5….”Cast all your cares/fears/anxieties on Him for He cares for you...” I once heard in a sermon that I remember to this day that the purpose of this verse is not to diminish our fears and make light of them as if we are horrible for having them but to tell us where to place them because we all have them. As the preacher said, “You can't cast them if you don't have them...”

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Enough Talk…

“Shut up when I'm talking to you...”
-Linkin Park

Matthew 5:37a, “But let your 'yes' mean 'yes' and 'no' mean 'no'...”

There's an awful lot of interpretation in everyday life for seemingly straightforward instructions. Apparently there's a lot of ambiguity left to chance with ordinary phrases used in daily conversations. I've seen this a lot otherwise I wouldn't believe it myself. Let me give several clarifying (hopefully) examples of what I mean.

You have a job and you start to work at your job on Monday morning at 8am. This is a new job let's say, for the sake of discussion, and you have someone meeting you at the front of the office building to guide your through the introductions and show you around. They start the same time as you.

One person shows up in the parking lot at 7:45am and another shows up in the parking lot at 8:00 on the dot. What's the problem? The problem for the person showing up at 8:00 is that unless you work in the parking lot you're late.

Another person makes an appointment, with the doctor, with the car mechanic or with the sweedish meatball expert, take your pick. They cancel at the last minute. Some will call with a verifiably decent excuse. Others will simply call and cancel, no excuse. Some will fail to call at all. So the appointment where that person was going to offer you a service, charge for it, and make money, is now gone. Maybe the cancellation is no big deal but maybe it is, maybe they need that money.

Last example, you catch a ride with someone and they agree to a meet up at a specific spot at a certain time. You are running late and you call and tell them. Now, whatever the reason for your lateness you have inconvenienced your ride in multiple ways. They have wasted time, in waiting for you, they have spent gas in driving to where you are meeting and now, if they wait for you, they have to spend more time and gas waiting for you and risk being late to where you are both going.

All these are minor examples, they happen every day. But I see some people treat them as if it's no big deal that they have inconvenienced other people and make lame excuses for it. I see the opposite as well, some people are terribly sorry and genuinely embarrassed by making others wait for them.

How much different would life be if we kept all our obligations, no matter what? Granted that's not possible but what if we really worked to make it so. Sacrificing getting ready and looking our best, to taking time off in order to keep our appointment we forgot about. Would that make an impact on how we set about scheduling our time and keeping our commitments?

It would be interesting to see what the results would be, they might just be great...

Thursday, November 26, 2015

And then the Sunrise...

Revelation 21:5b, “...Behold, I am making all things new...”

I get up fairly early in the morning. I watch the sunrise most mornings from the comfort of my chair. I sit in the corner of the living room with the middle blinds drawn, drinking my coffee and reading the news. I peek out the window and get to see the morning begin. It's a beautiful way to start the morning.

The sunrise reminds me of a few things.

One lady has a nice house, nice car, nice husband and family but struggles with self esteem, she hates herself and daily tries to balance her blessed life with her own disparaging view of herself that invades her every thought.

Another man has a good family, good friends, no financial worries. But he hates his job and going to work every day burdens him with despair and he wants to quit but he can't as he is the sole breadwinner. Other job prospects have not worked out and he is not able to quit and do anything else.

Yet another woman has a great job, new car, great house and lots of friends. But her family is falling apart due to her sham of a marriage that few know about. She is unsure what to do about it so she does nothing and stays miserable.

When the sun rises a new day unfolds and with it, new problems, or, perhaps, old problems in a new skin. The new day reminds me that life continues with all it's difficulties and stresses. And that leads me to a greater truth…

One day, one day...all these problems, all these lies, all these piles of sorrow and rivers of tears, all these songs of loss and books of our searching for meaning and significance. All of these will be made new...not destroyed but refined. Purged. Dipped in the scalding judgment of truth.

God will, one day, paint the final sunrise and creation will sigh with contentment...and so will we.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

How to Define Church

“I'm not even supposed to be here today!”
-Dante Hicks

Some concepts are hard to define. Take the word church. When we say, “I'm going to church Sunday”, we understand that to mean we are going to a building where other people are going. We show up at this building and depending on our tradition we will sing, talk, listen, take communion, or even genuflect. Some may open a Bible when they show up, others may take notes while other people open their Bibles, some may open a lectionary. Some may read passages in their native language and others may read in Latin.

But church is not merely a building. We call various buildings “church”. And we define various gatherings as the members or “bodies” of First Baptist Church, or First Christian Church or the Methodist Church. But the building is only where the people show up, they could really designate anyplace and show up. Some traditions, after a particularly fiery service, will say, “we had church today”. Meaning that something dramatic or emotional happened during the service.

We also call the people who are of the Christian faith “the church”. In other words, the people themselves who have committed their lives to the belief and practice of the Christian faith are the church. We see this illustrated by the bulk of the New Testament. The believers in Rome, Paul says, “To all who are in Rome...called to be saints.”-1:7. In his letter to the Corinthians, 1:2, “To the church of God which is at Corinth...” and He introduces his letters to Galatians in the same way, “to the churches of Galatia...” and in Ephesians he says, “to the saints at Ephesus”.

Paul is talking to individual people when he addresses them as the church in this city or that city. The people did not meet in buildings at that time, they met in homes. So Paul is writing to people's home addresses letters to be read to all the people who come together in homes to read the Word, pray, and go out and share the news of Jesus Christ as Messiah.

For some reason, in modern times, we have made a big fuss about coming to church activities, coming to a building and meeting there and we call that church. We don't call Bible study church, even though it is, we don't call believers meeting together for lunch church. Many tend to emphasize coming to the church building for certain services as the only definition of church that is applicable.

And if you don't come? Well then we'll throw Hebrews 10:25 in your face and quote it as if it confirms the idea that we should go to church services at such and such time in such and such a building and be connected there. I'm not trying to say don't go to a church, getting involved with a group of people where you can be challenged and grow is great. But to say that this verse speaks specifically about going to 9:45 services every Sunday and nothing else is ridiculous.

So how do we define church? The church is the group of believers gathering together, it is not individualistic, you cannot say that you personally are the church and never interact with other people of the faith. Church is gathering in homes, church is chatting over the gas pumps early Saturday morning, church is the lunch break conversation, church is the group of people holding the same faith doing life together. The building has nothing to do with it. You can't contain God in a building anyway.
  Acts 17:24"The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Should we Raise Kids in Church?

That's a fine-looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We've a lot of starving faithful”

I grew up in church. I grew up in the South, and while I didn't grow up in the Deep South, most of my mom and dad's family are from that region, so I have roots that reach there. I grew up in the Bible Belt. I grew up going to a private, fundamentalist Baptist School for the entirety of my education. I grew up with a dress code and a code of manners and an air of expectation that included male patriarchy and female subservience.

I grew up riding my bike or walking everywhere in town. I grew up eating dinner at other people's houses because if you stayed long enough another place was set. There are lots of traditions I grew up with that still stick with me after many years. Playing outside for hours, drinking from a hose. Not asking too many questions.

I also grew up confused….

I went to church at a small southern baptist church, it's still there if you want to visit. I'm sure the people are still just as friendly and the atmosphere still welcoming. If it's anything like I remember it will be quiet, reverent and laid back but a touch of class here and there. Like a party where everyone dresses up in nice shirts but wears jeans too, comfort with a touch of respectability.

I also went to a small, Pentecostal church, and specifically one which emphasized a doctrine which is not recognized by Orthodox, mainstream Christianity as within the bounds of accepted doctrine. They embrace Modalism, or more properly called Sabellianism. It was developed by a third century theologian named Sabellius. The idea, in miniature, is that God is not a trinity but one and that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different “modes” of expression.

These 2 churches could not have been more different (for all the heresy of the Pentecostal church I might add that they were mostly extremely nice people).  As I grew up with all the things previously mentioned I also grew up confused and terrified by these two radically different and in many ways, oppositional, views on God and salvation and in how we should live our lives.

This has, to say the absolute least, left me with a healthy skepticism of churches that emphasize or prey on people's emotions. It has left me somewhat stone-hearted against too much emotionalism in church services and suspicious of those who revel in such a thing.

So how are we to conduct ourselves as parents, grandparents, caregivers, when it comes to children and the church? During my childrens lives they have experienced churches of a similar theology, all of the same denomination with minor differences. We have visited various churches but mostly only attended 4 churches that I can think of, on a consistent basis in the last 11 years. Some have been good experiences that we still cherish and some have been a dark place where we would never go back even if we were paid.

This makes me this good for our children? Is it good to go from church to church? Granted I went to two very different churches but there was consistency you can say that for sure. With the rare exception I attended those churches until I was 18 years old and even on rare occasion when I came back to town for the next year or two. So for almost 2 decades I had some sense of familiarity, some sense of belonging because I grew up there, those churches were as much a part of my hometown and childhood as the local people, the local restaurants, the streets and the familiar hangouts we all flocked to on the weekends.

My children have had very little of that. Is that ok? Is this a good way to grow up in church? Will this leave them more confounded than comforted? And what do you do if you can't find a church at all? I mean there's plenty of churches but there's not many GOOD churches. Many churches are social clubs, others are simply landmarks and staples of the community that people attend to worship their hometown memories and complain about the state of affairs of it all. Other churches were once great but due to corruption, sin or other issues are simply a shell where the Holy Spirit no longer lives. He's already written that the property is condemned but nobody pays it any attention.

No church is perfect because the moment you step in the door you guarantee that it won't be but where do we draw the line between consistency and contentment? And what do we draw that line with? 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Jesus for the Depressive...

Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don't have a choice but I still choose you
-The Civil Wars: Poison & Wine

Many people in America (other parts of the world too but I live here) suffer from depression in some shape or form. I'm not a doctor but I do work in the Mental Health field so I see a lot of things but you don't have to be in that field to see, experience and live many different dark dreams of depression.

Maybe you have experienced it for a short time while grieving the death of a loved one. Maybe you have an aunt, a mother or brother who lives with depression. Maybe you know someone who has sought the ultimate relief from depression and committed suicide. Or maybe, just maybe, you experience it yourself.

Jesus is for the depressive.

I'm not entirely sure but I would wager a guess and say that people suffered from depression during the days Jesus walked the earth. Maybe during Jesus' healing ministry days when he healed the blind, the crippled, the feverishly ill and the demon possessed, maybe he also healed the depressed? Those who cried themselves to sleep, those who never find happiness at parties, with food, with fellowship, with friendship? Those who think of dying so much they never know what it's like to live?

There are those that push memorizing and reading Scripture as a help for depression and I am certainly for that and think it is helpful. But I think we overlook something very simple at times.

Maybe John 5:39-40 will help, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”

It is not in the Scriptures that we have help, it is in the author Himself, the Word of Life, the Word made flesh. It is not in much reading of the Bible that we come to help, not necessarily, it is in calling out to the one who writes these words on our hearts that we are soothed and stilled in our soul.

We would do well to pray the simple prayer of the man who didn't know what to say to Jesus when asking for help in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” It says that he cried out the prayer to Jesus with tears. So, let the depressive cry out with tears to Jesus for help.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Why I Wouldn't Vote for Ben Carson

The problem is, many of the people in need of saving are in churches, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do.” 
-Barbara Brown Taylor

I think the conservative element, especially among Evangelicals, are much too enamored with Dr. Ben Carson. While I am most certainly pro-life and hold other conservative values which would, no doubt, line up with many of Carson's positions I have a few things “against him” so to speak.

Carson got into trouble recently speaking about gun control and applying it to the Holocaust, stating, in a nutshell, if the Jews had more guns and had not been under oppressive gun laws implemented by the Hitler regime they could have fought back more effectively. So the Holocaust would have been less likely if there were more guns?

This not only sounds absolutely stupid and slightly crazy to me but many others. Even the ADL, “Anti-Defamation League” has spoken out against this view. Let's be clear, this is all hypothetical that we're speaking of but Carson is no historian and he's treading on a dangerous hypothetical scenario that not only makes him look ignorant but also a little crazy.

I'm not anti-gun, far from it, but giving everybody more guns is not the answer we need now and it's not the answer that was needed years ago. Dr. Carson thinks that by explaining, in hypothetical “what I would do” scenarios he is expanding on what his policy would be but he isn't. He's painting himself into a corner with words which he won't be able to get out of, and we have another example besides the Holocaust quip.

When asked about a recent school shooting Dr. Carson suggested that if he were in that same scenario he would have “rushed the shooter” banking on the fact that the shooter can't shoot all of us, they can only shoot one person at a time. In other words he would fight back. How patently absurd, how callous this is to the victims. It almost shames them, implying that maybe they would be alive if they had just acted differently. He doesn't come right out and say that but that's what is implied.

Who really knows what they would do in any given situation? You can say, “I would do this...” all day long but you really have no idea how you will react when something terrifying happens, when adrenaline kicks in and something tragic is in full swing you don't always pick some noble or brilliant course of action. Many times, I would wager, when people are faced with life or death, they simply try and cling to life as much as possible and don't make bold, saucy moves. This isn't the movies and true heroes are hard to come by in that regard.

So who would I vote for? Strike up a conversation with me and I might tell you...and I won't even give you a hypothetical...

Monday, September 14, 2015

Jesus is Fire...

Matthew 3:11, NRSV, I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

It's fun to find the opposites of things, some are obvious, far and near which we all learned from Grover on Sesame Street. Friends and enemies, of course we could claim the middle ground is the confusing “frenemy”. Some are more difficult, what is the opposite of fluff? What's the opposite of cantaloupes?

A pair of dynamic of opposites is presented here in Matthew 3, water and fire. Water cools, quenches, floods, engulfs, sustains and nourishes. Fire burns, consumes, destroys, refines, and eliminates all the impurities for the purity that is inside to show through.

John is presented as the water, Jesus as the fire. This is an interesting comparison, John is baptizing with water but he says that one is coming that will baptize with fire. But if you look through the gospels you will see that Jesus never baptized….so what is the meaning here?

I suppose it depends on what we mean by baptism doesn't it? Some people will say baptism comes from the Greek meaning “to immerse”. Others will say it means to “pour over” and others will show support for both. I will be honest here, if Greek scholars are still in debate over this, and they know Greek, I doubt I will settle it since I don't know it at all.

I think we can say this though, baptism seems to be an important event. John is particular about who he baptizes, even turning people away, see vs. 7-8 of this chapter. Jesus is baptized and it is a watershed moment, when he begins His public ministry and He doesn't have just anyone perform it, he has John do the honors. Jesus commands believers to baptize as one of the ongoing rites of the church.

If John is water we can compare him to water in this way, water is perishable, it dries up, you can have a flood but it will dissipate at some point. The flood waters that come, have a source and when that source dies down, the waters begin to slowly subside, they do not build in intensity. Once the source is cut off, you have no more raging storm to battle just the aftermath.

If Jesus is fire then you have a very different comparison. Fire burns until it runs out of oxygen or fuel to burn. Fire jumps and spreads and grows bigger, even if you dig trenches and wet the fuel, fire is utterly destructive, destroying everything in it's path. There is no clean up after a fire, there is only destruction and building something new.

But what does come after fire is new growth. The fire puts nutrients into the soil which allow for the first buds of new trees, plants and flowers to slowly make their way though. Out of the destruction, out of the utter death of everything, comes new life.

That's where the Holy Spirit comes in and that's why Jesus is bringing Him because there is no growth without the Holy Spirit, there is no awakening the soil, there is no speaking to the dead, “grow, live, breathe!” without the breath of God.

And just like man was first made out of dirt, we are made out of ashes and breathed into by God...that, my friends, is why Jesus is fire.  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Forgive Me Not

Love is not a victory march. It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah...”
-Leonard Cohen

Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

A very poignant lesson on forgiveness lurks in Matthew 11. If you are familiar with the Bible at all you are probably familiar with all the verses we love to quote on forgiveness, but maybe this one isn't quoted in that context as much. Maybe you've heard this in the context of the maxim, “Let go and let God”, which is not a thing, by the way. It's empty talk that Christians use when they don't actually have anything meaningful to say or can't think of anything to say. There's certainly nothing Biblical about it.

So let's peruse the passage shall we? The beginning of chapter Jesus and His disciples split and Jesus is spending some time on his own. John's disciples encounter him and bring some questions from John, that would be John the Baptist. He has his doubts, he's maybe discouraged or unsure, a smidgen on the hesitant side.

Instead of answering them directly, Jesus points them to actions He has done and things that are happening throughout the community, “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed”-vs. 4-6.
Jesus is effectively telling the disciples and John, and all the other listeners around him, look at what I've done but also and possibly more importantly, “go and talk to the lepers who are no longer lepers, the blind who now see, the lame who now walk the same roads we do”. Jesus is inviting them to investigate the testimony of others that have encountered him and decide for themselves. He doesn't give them a direct answer of “yes”.

I'll spare you a detailed exegesis of the rest of the chapter but suffice to say vs. 7-24 are full of strong words from Jesus. He praises John but basically affirms John's suffering and doesn't dismiss it, He then points to all the evidence that has been given to the people He has been talking to and pronounces judgments on them if they do not accept his words as truth.

The last section in this chapter dovetails off all this and brings it to a conclusion. The song lyric from Panic at the Disco seems to fit the sentiment nicely, “All you sinners stand up, sing hallelujah”. The last few verses are a wonderful breath of fresh air compared to the previous verses. So why does Jesus say these things? He doesn't say them to affirm that our troubles will be light when we follow him, this is no, “follow Jesus and never be sad or depressed” card. What Jesus seems to be reinforcing is that his message frees the heart and that freedom will spill over into your actions. We still have struggles, we will still have aches and pains, long nights and difficult days. But Jesus speaks to the matter of the most importance, the burden of the heart and the afflictions that pile up on it, that burden of the soul that can only be lifted by Jesus. But you know what's interesting about this passage? Jesus talked about the things He had done, pointing to Him, they took direct intervention and action. May we do the same in our community so people can see what a forgiven theology looks like in action.

I thought about why forgiveness is so hard in our culture, because there's two affects or emotions that people fear the most, and it's shame and grief...I thought faith would say, 'I'll take away the pain and discomfort'. But what it ended up saying was, 'I'll sit with you in it'. -Brene Brown

Sunday, August 30, 2015

I'm Not Who You Think I Am

-Empire Records, the movie.

John 14:9, “Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?'...”

This is a small verse sandwiched in the middle of a rather lengthy discussion between Jesus and His disciples where He is giving encouragement and discusses upcoming changes but does so in hidden terms. His disciples, not catching on to the hidden terminology, are asking questions and so there is some back and forth.

Two particular statements are rather startling, Jesus is leaving and He is offering encouragement about what He will be doing so that they all understand that there's a plan behind all this.

“I go to prepare a place...”-vs. 2-3 and “in my Father's house are many dwelling places”, so Jesus is going to go back into the carpentry business that He learned (but with better tools) and maybe Joseph, his adopted dad, will help him out since he taught him the trade. Jesus is going to build some new apartment complexes and spiral staircases and other cool things in “His Father's house”. So He's going to be busy for awhile.

Thomas is confused, however, about all this talk and asks Jesus specifically where He is going, so they can continue to follow Him, Thomas is not ready for any transitions, changes or anything different. He wants things to stay the same and He is unsure what all this means…

The first startling statement is Jesus' response, which is both confusing and reassuring, here's the conversation from vs. 5 summarized…

vs. 5, Thomas: “Lord, we don't know where you are going, how can we know the way?”
vs. 6, Jesus: “Thomas, I am the Way”…

What a brilliant yet enigmatic response.

Jesus has given him the answer and he has given us the answer...when we get lost, when we have difficult questions with no easy answers. When quoting a Bible verse doesn't help, when our medicine cabinet has no options for us and we can't afford or understand yoga we can be sure that Jesus' answer is still true….I am the way.

But even more true than this is Jesus' rebuke to Thomas because it is a rebuke to us as well, it is the second startling statement:

“Have I been with you all this time...and you still do not know me?”

You can insert that response into a lot of complaints you have, concerns, issues, hot button issues that are sensitive and difficult to answer...insert this statement and drive on from there.

But that's not an answer you might say...ah...but it is and often times, complex questions, difficult issues, cannot be answered with a yes or no, a quote or a simple step by step procedure. It is often a nuanced, purposefully vague, answer that will make you think….how does this fit? That's the answer you are looking for.

John 14:31b, “...Rise, let us be on our way”  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Wine Speaks

“The conscious water saw its creator and blushed”---Richard Cranshaw

When we read the story of Jesus' first miracle we find him at a party. In John 2 there is a wedding party, Jesus and his friends and his mother are invited. During the party the wine runs out, and Jesus performs his first miracle by turning water into wine.

The amount of water turned into wine was large and many, many gallons of wine, good wine, were made by Jesus. There were, evidently, a lot of people at this wedding or Jesus wanted to go above and beyond in his demonstration and the result was an overkill of wine.

What I find interesting is that during this whole story the only dialogue that involves Jesus is his response to his mother and his command to the servants. He is seemingly unwilling to get involved in the matter initially and then he dives in full force by producing a massive amount of wine and having the servants take it to the master of the banquet.

Why is there no dialogue? There is certainly dialogue in other miracles. Jesus, in other miracles, commands faith, chastises people's lack of faith and blesses people because of their faith. But this story, this initial miracle has 2 components, seemingly at odds, Jesus initially not willing to involve himself and then involving himself in a powerful way that people noticed at once.

What was the conversation like after the wedding? Did people ask where the wine came from? Did people ask to take some home with them because it was so good? This is vintage wine from heaven, after all, there's none stored in any cellars today waiting for a special occasion to uncork.

Perhaps there was little dialogue because there was no need for words. Jesus' actions said everything there was to say. First there was no wine, now there was plenty. You can draw a lot out of that as far as principles go but maybe primarily we need to know that God is a god of plenty, God is a god of new wine and God is a god who acts.

May we be acting as God would act and remember that people are more inclined to open up in conversation when we are out in the community giving new wine to drink.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

gods and cats

No, I think I'll just go down and have some pudding and wait for it all to turn up.... It always does in the end.”

-Luna Lovegood

And why shouldn’t I feel sorry for a great city like Nineveh with its 120,000 people in utter spiritual darkness and all its cattle?”-Jonah 4:11

At the end of Jonah 4 we find this interesting snippet that concludes the book in a rather strange way. Jonah is angry that God saved Nineveh, Jonah never liked the Ninevites, he considered them a bunch of jerks who were better off dead.

Then while he's pouting and considering early retirement as a prophet (which is a tough gig), he finds a shade tree, small slender little thing out here in a hot, dry region and it lends him some relief from the heat.

But his shade is soon decimated by a hungry leaf eating worm and the shade plant dies. He is scorched by the sun and angry even more than he was in the first place.

He's angry, the text tells us, because he desperately wants something to happen to the city. He is secretly hoping that God will relent from his mercy and kill the city or rain down some sort of punishment. So he goes to get front row seats.

At the end of the story we don't really hear if anything happens to the city, we assume that it doesn't. But we hear God argue his case to Jonah, which seems odd but that's exactly what He does. He talks about how important it was to save the city of so many people and then he mentions one more thing.

He mentions the animals. Hence the odd phrase, “and many cattle as well”. Some translations simply say, “animals” instead of “cattle” So God is not only set on saving the city of people, he is also invested in saving the animals! Why does he mention the animals last of all? Why does this mention of animals close out this short book?

I am sure that there are many answers and no answers. That is to say, there are probably many good guesses and no solid answers, maybe there doesn't need to be. But in my thinking if you look earlier in the story we find something interesting, God punished Jonah with animal, “a big fish”-1:17 which swallowed him, and it also provided him transportation-2:10. There was an animal involved in changing Jonah's mind, and why shouldn't the animals in the city God was aiming to save also be redeemed along with the people?

It's a small connection but it is there if you look. Sometimes when you feel small, when you feel nobody knows how discouraged, lonely and frustrated you are, remember the animals at the end of Jonah and how God saved them too.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

“Arguing with Angels” ---thoughts on Luke 1:5-66

You must choose wisely...”-Grail Knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Some people are good at winning arguments. Some people argue so much that you let them win because you tire of hearing them go on and on.

But arguing with angels is different. We have a passage here with 2 people. One old priest and one young girl.

The old priest is mentioned first and he is married, his name is Zechariah and his wife is Elizabeth. The text tells us that he is well past the age of having children and so is his wife. It does not give us their specific ages. But with his reaction to the angel we can safely assume he is advanced in age to the degree that it would be a ridiculous notion to father a child and a silly announcement to declare his wife a new mother.

It tells us that this couple was a good couple, they weren't corrupting the priesthood, they had a solid bloodline, good relatives. They simply had no children, which was not a small thing in those times, it was viewed as a sign that God was displeased with you, this is especially troubling for a priest. But Zechariah had apparently not ceased to pray for a child, regardless of their age, we see that in the passage, because vs. 13 tells us, “your prayer has been heard”.

Zechariah is at work, offering prayers to God on behalf of the people, maybe making some more prayers of his own and he is interrupted with an answer, via messenger. The angel Gabriel. Zechariah asks what appears to be a legitimate question, “How can I be sure?”. He isn't discounting the idea entirely but he would like a sign of some sort. Sure an angel just appeared to give him a direct message from God but Zechariah wants some other surety to be convinced. This is not the first time people have argued with God in some form or fashion. Gideon, Moses, Peter, the list is long but those 3 are good examples. Some wanted some proof, some wanted some extra help, others wanted a different plan because the current plan didn't seem very good.

So poor Zechariah is struck mute. That's the punishment. His punishment, we are told, is because, “you did not believe my words”, meaning the words of God sent to him, via angelic messenger. But I am unsure that Zechariah had zero faith in this matter as we already stated he had been praying for a child, that's why the angel came. But when he asked for more confirmation, more assurance, more clarity, since this was an odd time for them to have children, he is punished.

Mary has a similar encounter in this same chapter. She is “troubled by the angelic visitor” and when she is given this news that she will have a child, is equally perplexed as to how this could happen. Just as Elizabeth and Zechariah were shocked because of their age Mary is shocked because she is a virgin. There are a few things it takes to make a baby and Mary knows what they are so she is confused as to what this means. She even asks the question after the angel has told her God will give her a baby! So let's not pretend that Mary isn't asking the exact same question as Zechariah because she is, look at vs. 34, “How will this be?” This seems to be the same sort of thing Zechariah says when he asks, “How can I be sure?”

Before you jump off and say that Mary's heart was more believing than Zechariah's let's not forget that the beginning of the passage has already established that Zechariah is a priest and a good one at that, it explicitly let's us know that this man is a godly man. This has nothing to do with his heart.

Both of these characters ask how they will have children when they should not be having children. Mary knows and worships God and so she should know that all things are possible with God. Zechariah knows the same thing.

The answer to the question, why was Zechariah punished and Mary not is not answered by the passage.
The only hint we are given is perhaps in vs. 62 when he writes the child's name on a tablet, and in obedience he names the boy John. It seems his obedience to the commands given in his angelic visitation confirmed his faith.

Perhaps Mary's response in vs. 38 is her obedience confirming her faith in the God who can do all things.

What is clear from this passage is that arguing with angels can lead to more information, as in Mary's case, or with an irritated angel, as in Zechariah's case.

Perhaps we can take away from this encounter the prayer of the man who brought his sick son to Jesus and his response to Jesus' question of belief is found in Mark 9:24, “I believe, help my unbelief!”

Saturday, July 18, 2015


From an interview with Dr. Gardner C. Taylor:
... And I’ve said it often, that I love the Lord, but I’m also a little scared of him.
Q. Aren’t you supposed to be?
You better be.1

I Corinthians 14:20b, “In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.

     Christians, in varied ways, have their weaknesses. Some of it may have to do with a particular temptation that some struggle to work against, while at other times it may be part of their personality that they struggle to bring into balance. A lot of weaknesses have to do with a particular culture, this is not across the board but it is pervasive. Whether it be staunchly held views on how to conduct worship or beliefs about the place of government, the culture you are in plays a large influence, with some exception. Being raised in the south in the United States and going to church has a decidedly different feel than going to church in Northern California in the US. And before anyone says, “we don't let the culture affect the church, it's the other way around”, I disagree. Yes we don't conform to certain ideas the culture is propagating but to say that the church, as a whole, has not been influenced by the culture it is involved in, is foolish. This is not an entirely bad thing when it comes to outreach, communication, styles of worship and promotion.
     There are many other influences we could look at but that's a good start. One of the weaknesses, failings, shortcomings, sins, however you wish to define it, in weak passive terms, or aggressive, bold terms. One of the weaknesses I've been seeing a lot of lately is the weakness of ignorance. And it's not really even ignorance in the truest term, it's more along the lines of stupidity. People profess Christ with words and look to others to do their thinking for them. The difference between the two terms is simple: ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge, you don't know better, you simply don't know, while being stupid is when you are mentally dull, not sharp, slow witted. The implication being that if you sharpened the mind up a bit you would be mentally sharp and have your wits quickened and made ready and available.
     Everyone should be readers. I don't buy the excuse that some people aren't readers. There are so many ways you can digest information in this time we live there's just no excuse not to sharpen your mind with some depth of study. Books on CD, books on the internet, books on the computer, books in the car, books on our iPod and other electronic devices. You don't have to just read anymore, you can get someone with a cool accent to pronounce those words for you and get some good out of that wordy manuscript. Donald S. Whitney says in his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life...”I've always found it to be true that growing Christians are reading Christians.”2
     It's a dangerous thing to be an ignorant Christian or, heaven forbid, a stupid one. One way I'm seeing this played out in real world terms is in the form of people posting news stories that are blatantly false. Of course, there are many fake news sites out there and it is definitely hard to keep up with all the hoaxes and falsified news stories, I mean there's a whole site dedicated to telling people which stories are hoaxes, called Snopes. But a lot of searching out the truth before spouting off an opinion goes a long way. Sometimes it's best to keep quiet on certain issues as well instead of speaking up and revealing yourself as a hateful person who hasn't really thought out the issues. Posting a link to an article or a news story doesn't make you clever, it usually only reemphasizes a point of view you wish to be aligned iwth and gives no credence to any sort of thought process on the actual issue. It's like quoting a Bible verse out of context, you can quote the Bible to prove almost anything but the Bible is not really made to prove your theological, social, political or moral points. You miss the point of the Bible if that's what your using Scripture for, primarily.
     Proverbs 17:27a says, “A truly wise person uses few words...”. That's a good thought, I think it applies in a host of situations and is not only limited to verbal communication.
Ed Stetzer commented on this posting phenomena and stated that a lot of Christians are misguided and merely “ignorant” and gently chastised them which I think is good and right. But C.S. Lewis is not as nice when he gets to the heart of the issue in his seminal work, Mere Christianity, he says:
The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

     That, my friends, is a stinging indictment. We should not be so easily persuaded something is true, we should be readers, thinkers, and not take things at face value. Dig, and consider whether things are true. But, as Levar Burton from the phenomenal show, Reading Rainbow always says, “But you don't have to take my word for it...”

1 Accessed July 18th, 2015. Interview with Gardner Taylor.

2Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. Donald S. Whitney. p. 221.

Friday, June 26, 2015

a gay old time...

 “What has been will be again,what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say,'Look! This is something new'? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”
-Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

So the Supreme Court has made it's decision in the United States regarding gay marriage and the decision is a barely passing (5-4 in favor) affirmation. Gay marriage is now legal, everywhere in the US. So we will have endless news stories to come, endless controversies about what this person said, about people's views concerning this and that. Get ready for the deluge.

This has been a controversial subject for many years. Of course, it hasn't been that big of a controversy across the entire world. In Canada, for instance, gay marriage has now been legal for a decade. The Netherlands allowed civil marriage of same sex couples as early as 2001. Denmark allowed registered partnerships for same sex couples all the way back in 1989, not the same thing as marriage but certainly progressive for the end of the 80's.

If you follow history far enough back you will see that kingdoms in various time periods engaged in same gender relationships long before the SCOTUS decided it was ok, by a slim margin. The United States is a relatively young nation with very few notches on her belt. But she sure likes to go around puffing out her cheeks as if she is the talk of the town, just hit the game winning run, and just impressed all the top dogs doesn't she? This debate has been around for many years.

Ancient Greece had homosexual relationships, so did ancient Rome. Some of the Roman emperors were in same gender relationships. The same is also true of women in ancient China during the Ming Dynasty. There is also some evidence of this existing among Native Americans. Now not all these examples were marriages, some were commitments, relationships of varying degrees, some were legally binding and some were not, but the idea is that this has been around for quite some time.

The idea is not new, you can put a “legal” or “illegal” status on it but the concept behind it is certainly not new. We keep taking ideas and concepts, controversial or no, and making them new when they are not.

Do me a favor, whatever your take on the ruling, on the concept of same sex marriage, approach it with respect and with grace for whomever you discuss it with, that's the right way to enter a conversation about any subject. Take it down a few notches. And as far as the SCOTUS? They don't really run my fantasy league so I'm not too worried about whether or not I agree with their rulings.   

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

a little poetry action for ya'


pushed into a field of breath
inhaled sharply towards a dividing measure of arrogant speech,
swept across hearts and placed into pale steps of ethos

Grab those handfuls of unweighted expectation,
full of vibrant liner notes
choruses and choruses of moments
caught in actuality.

Reaming off progress in successive handfuls.
And stout conclaves of fury compress themselves
in meek similitude
of engraved hearts
shaped as ivory banners,
over you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Jeremiah 8:11, “They dressed the wound of my people as though it were not serious, 'Peace, peace', they say, when there is no peace.”

There have been a slew of interesting news stories lately. The most recent one to capture my attention is the debate over the Confederate flag. I discussed this briefly with a co-worker just today. The extra attention is due to the recent shootings at a predominantly black church (is that even a thing? I know it is, but does that sound right? No...but anyway enough of that) by Dylan Roof. Apparently this kid had strong racist ties and had pictures, images and even a manifesto of sorts, all associated with racism. There are pictures of him with guns, on old slave plantations and yes, a Confederate flag.

South Carolina has a Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds. The governor of South Carolina has come out quite vocally in support of removing the flag and the big wigs are going to debate whether or not they should take it down. They recently voted on whether or not they should debate it, they haven't actually done anything yet. And while the vote to debate it was won by a large margin it was not unanimous.

A couple of things to consider in the aftermath of the Confederate flag issue. Let's go through a couple shall we?

It's quite easy to take a stand on something when you are already gainsaid a particular response isn't it? Why wasn't this idea to remove the Confederate flag brought up earlier? Oh...that's right the killing of black people didn't make the news so we did nothing about this particular flag. Why not? Does it really take the death of these good people to do something? If you feel this is the right thing to do why would it take something this catastrophic to push you to do it? Does that not say something larger about you rather than the event, the flag, and the debate around it?

What does actually taking down the flag accomplish? It's a flag. Yes I understand it is a divisive symbol but it is merely that. It is a symbol. Symbols can be powerful things. But does this symbol make anyone less hateful or racist? Does it make anyone more committed to their heritage and close to their family and homefire traditions? Don't get me wrong, removing symbols can have powerful affects but I think it's a small thing to put so much hope in if we think this will help in any meaningful way. I am not saying we shouldn't take it down or we should, I am saying this is a limited, tone deaf response to the suffering of the families in South Carolina and outcries nationwide. It's political and superficial.

Politics and taking stands on issues like these don't solve the bigger issues. My stand on whether or not we should take down the flag won't fix anything. The politics in play on whether the flag stays or goes will accomplish nothing. Going out into your community and becoming a part of the ever colorful tapestry of hope and healing will help more than 10,000 flags of peace waving at a parade to celebrate peace.

Monday, June 22, 2015


Tullian Tchividjian is big news this week. In case you are unfamiliar he is the grandson of world renown evangelist Billy Graham. He is also well known in Evangelical circles as the pastor of a thriving megachurch, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida. The founder of the church, D. James Kennedy was pastor from the founding in 1960 until his death in 2007. Dr. Kennedy was well known for his involvement in politics and he leaned quite heavily to the right.
Tullian Tchividjian has stayed away from politics during his short tenure at Coral Ridge but has been a rising start in the Evangelical publishing world. He has put out multiple books that have proved very popular, published multiple articles on well known Christian blogs, conducted radio interviews and been a popular conference speaker.  And he recently confessed to cheating on his wife and thus disqualifying himself from being a minister so he resigned.  
But this little post is not about Tullian, and in case your wondering, and I know you are, it's pronounced “cha-vi-jin”. This post is about the idea of faithfulness. Have you, have you ever really, ever really ever been faithful to anything, anyone, any idea, or any concept of any kind for any length of time?
Think about it before you answer. And let's preclude what your being faithful to right now, at this moment. Let's dredge the lake and take a look see.
Relationships? Oh you're married? Ever have a boyfriend/girlfriend? So you've never been faithful to that relationship have you? Let's not jump to conclusions and say it's bad or good. Is it a reality? Sit with that for a moment.
What about….oh let's pick a big one, what about your faith? Have you always been faithful to it? Is it important that you are? Has your faith ever become lost or unfruitful? Have you ever cheated your faith by considering the idea of abandoning it?
I suppose one might say that relationships and faith are not static things but are nuanced and subject to change, like the ebb and flow of a river. Increasing at times to a roar and rush of rapid tides and at other times barely a trickle over some mossy rocks. But then we must ask ourselves how closely are we measuring this thing called faithfulness and how much leeway are we giving?
I don't think there is any doubt that we frown on a man, never mind a pastor, cheating on his wife (or the fact that she reportedly cheated on him initially). We decry the lack of faithfulness. But perhaps we should pull the log out before we examine the speck. Perhaps we should take a peek through our own list of dreams and responsibilities and see if we have done them their due service.

“Everything is going to be ok”
How do you know?
“I don't but it just helps sometimes to say it.” –--Jermaine Clement, People, Places, Things.

Friday, June 19, 2015

thoughts on being sick

  When you're sick it's as if the world moves in slow motion. There is no past, there is no future, there is only the present, moving at a staggeringly slow pace. Every hour seems to last forever, ever minute in suffering, ever how minute, seems endless.

When you feel normal things move along at a regular clip, breakfast, off to work, busy with responsibilities and the stuff of life. Then you get home and settle in for an evening routine. A regular day filled with routines that we settle into and can appreciate and enjoy.

When you are sick your entire routine is interrupted. The normal becomes broken up into pieces of irregular patterns of minutes, dragging by in an endless abyss of fog and loneliness. Loneliness in thinking, “will this ever end”. And with most incidents of illness it does indeed end, and health comes back full throttle and we forget the sickness ever happened.

But in the midst of feeling bad we feel as if eternity has set up camp in our body and waits, laughing at our misery as we dance the slow dance of puny bodies wearing thin in a world full of sickness and disease only to be ultimately consummated by death.

 Illness leaving the body is a wonderful thing, like sweet tangerines being crushed in the palm of your hands and the juices running away. The scent of wellness is fresh and sweet but it can never come soon enough.