November 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Life is like a rainbow.
Or is it more like the thundercloud?
Dark and ominous
to my soul
We’re birthed in pain
And in Pain we must return
the jagged little pieces
to their Master.
For we are more than the sum of our parts.
Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.
And I believe it.
At least that’s what I say.
Life is like a rainbow
or is it more like
shrapnel in this war
not knowing what against?
Even in this election-time.
But then One
Like a Son of God
-or was it Son of Man?-
Soldiered on, but differently.
His life, like shrapnel,
tearing through the Human Heart.
this beast and burden of selfish regret.
After all, they say,
Love conquers all.
But do they know what they’re saying?
Love conquers all.
But it has to start
Can it be
November 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
Sermon thoughts on 2 Timothy 3:14-17
We’re two days away from a presidential election that many people are saying is the single most pivotal event in American history…possibly even in global history.
We’ve been told, time and time again, that our very way of life hangs in the balance as this particular election draws near.
The rhetoric doesn’t just suggest that this race is bigger than politics.
It screams that you and I are on the hook.
That we are responsible for the health and well-being of our nation.
And it goes on to scream
-even more loudly-
that choosing sides is the only option we have to control the outcome.
One Guy is Good
And the other is Bad.
Not just Bad…
But rather, Evil.
And so, the campaigns scream and yell and holler and thump their chests.
They tend not to tell us how good their guy is.
They rather tend to tell us how evil the other guy is.
And we might almost start to believe them.
We might almost start to believe
that we’re on the hook for the health and the well-being of this nation.
We might start to believe
that the measure of a church is how willing the leadership is to choose a side.
We might want to be told which choice is good, and Christian, and Proper.
And which choice is bad, or evil, or Pagan.
And if you’ve been coming here on Sundays,
and if you’ve been looking for those kinds of statements from this church,
then hopefully you’ve noticed that we haven’t endorsed anyone.
We haven’t passed out voting guides.
We haven’t talked about “Taking Back America”.
We haven’t posted anybody’s political agenda on the bulletin boards.
Indeed, the most we’ve done is plan a communion service.
Along with close to 800 other churches
in all 50 States
representing more than 25 denominations.
Not because we’re interested in baptizing the political process
or the outcome of this election.
But rather, because we in the church are more than a vote.
We are the body of Christ.
And this election is literally making the body turn against itself.
It’s literally making us sick.
Do you want to hear from the pulpit, which side is Pagan, and which side is Christian?
I’ll tell you.
The State is Pagan.
The church is Christian.
The only Christian nation in the world…is the church.
It’s been like that since the time of Jesus.
And if you want to know what the Christian response should be to the Pagan government
-even when the Pagan government wants your vote-
Then you should look to the cross.
Or you could look to the Roman Jail
Where Paul was writing this letter,
Saying “All Scripture points back to Christ.”
Proclaim the message
Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable
Convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
The Christian way is the way of suffering for your enemies,
and loving them even as they drive the nails through your hands.
Even as they imprison you.
I’m not saying don’t vote.
I’m saying don’t –ever- call it “the” Christian vote.
Rome will always be Rome. Don’t expect otherwise.
But as for you…
Continue in what you have learned, knowing from whom you have learned it.
November 3, 2012 § 4 Comments
In my last post, I talked about a man who walked into the church office with a packet of agenda tucked under his arm.
It’s not a common occurrence, but it does happen often enough that I’ve come to expect these visits, especially when there’s an election underfoot.
I talked about how he came in the office, looked me in the eye and said “Are you the Pastor?”.
I talked about how I’ve come to hate that question, but I didn’t really say why.
I’ve seen other blogs that do an occasional ‘top ten’ list or something similar. So here’s my own “Top Five Reasons I’ve Come To Hate The Question” (or at least how I’d like to answer it).
“Are you the Pastor?”
5. “Nope, our congregation just takes turns sitting here in the church office because it’s so relaxing.”
4. “Did the sign on the door give it away?”
3. “Yes I am, but so is she (point to Christine, who also pastors with me).
2. “Why’s it matter?”
1. “I have a feeling if you would have seen Christine first, your question would have been “Is the Pastor in?”…am I right?”
I know they’re snarky come-backs, and I know people don’t mean anything by asking the question.
But there is something I genuinely don’t like about being ‘set apart’ in the way many people want to set me apart as a pastor.
Usually, when someone asks that question, it’s attached to a whole way of ‘being Christian’ that doesn’t fit me, or Christine, or (thankfully sometimes, not so thankfully other times) our Church.
From telemarketers to emails we receive, to the people who come with agenda tucked under their arm…”Are you the Pastor” is a way of making sure they’ve got the right power broker.
Because there’s a way of doing church where the Pastor is like the CEO…where what the Pastor says, goes. Period.
And there’s all kinds of history wrapped up in that way of doing church. There’s all kinds of history connected to race, gender, economic status, and even marriage related to this title of “Pastor” in many Christian circles.
I will try to respect that, but I’ll try just as hard to respectfully disagree with much of it.
Because I don’t fit there.
That’s why I am where I am.
That’s why WE are where WE are…a husband and a wife who share this calling and this job, who are pretty sure neither one of us would want to do it without the other.
That’s why I hate the question…because I know there are assumptions behind it that make it hard to answer Truthfully.
I know that had you seen my wife, the other pastor who works here, those assumptions would work against her, against both of us.
Yes…I am A pastor here.
Now, Which one of us would you like to talk to about your agenda?
November 1, 2012 § 10 Comments
I don’t like who this election is pushing me to become.
I don’t like the phone calls I’ve been getting.
I don’t like the mailings I’ve received.
I don’t like the unrequested DVDs I’ve received in the mail.
I don’t like the voter guides “they” wanted me to pass out in my congregation.
I don’t like the fear mongering or the name-calling.
But most of all,
What I like even less than all of that, is who it’s making me become.
What I mean is, earlier today I sent a guy packing from our church office.
We have a door chime that lets us know when someone walks in the front door. I heard his footsteps in the hall outside, and as I turned to see who it might be, my heart sunk and my stomach rose at the same time.
Not that I knew him. But sometimes you just know, intuitively, exactly what to expect.
He walked in, asking if I was the pastor (a question I’ve come to hate for reasons I’ll leave for a different post). He carried himself differently than the people who ask for help. He was dressed professionally, it was the end of the workday, and his question to me combined to tell the story I didn’t want to be true.
See, in churches, we don’t get too many salespeople. Neither do we get Jehovah’s witnesses or Mormon missionaries.
We tend to get Christians with agenda to push.
I glanced down at the packet of material he had with him…and something inside of me finally snapped.
I’m just so tired of being told how to steer this flock.
I’m tired of being thought of as an extension of one party, just because of my position as pastor.
I’m tired of feeling used.
I’m tired of the hype.
I’m tired of the coercion.
I’m tired of the same old conversation that pretends like the current election is the most pivotal moment in global history since…since…the last one, I guess.
I’m tired of the demonizing and the billions spent on self-promotion while so many go without so much in our world.
So I snapped.
And to clarify, me snapping…is like most people speaking their mind.
I gave him the chance to tell me who he was and who he was with, and then I basically sent him packing.
He asked me if I had received the voter guides his organization had sent to us.
I told him yes, we had.
And then I went on to tell him that we recycled them, that we weren’t passing any political literature out in church, and that we’re not taking a partisan side in the current election cycle.
He handed me his packet and then he left.
I don’t think he even said goodbye.
And now I’m all worked up.
I’m sure I spoke nicely. I’m sure I wasn’t as rude as I remember myself being.
But still, that’s not me.
There’s no reason I shouldn’t have invited him to have a cup of coffee with me. After all, that’s one reason we have a pot ‘on’ most of the time. “Tell me what this is all about,” I should have said over a steaming mug while I put him at ease in our church library.
Then maybe…just maybe…we could have had a conversation about politics, faith, and the intersection of the two.
Just maybe both of us could have had our minds opened to ways of thinking we hadn’t considered before.
But instead I sent him packing.
Instead of both our minds being opened and a conversation beginning…I’m pretty sure both of us are more entrenched in our ways of thinking now than we were before we met.
I saw him through my office window on his way out.
He wasn’t smiling.
See, entrenchment is pretty much the only thing elections are good for. That’s exactly why we all get so much negative crap from so many sources.
Because if and when a campaign can strike a chord within you…when they can push your buttons enough that you eventually snap…that’s exactly when you’ve played right into their hands.
Just like I did.
Because when you get to a certain point, you begin to react instead of respond.
And reactions are what get people elected.
Can you imagine how the election cycle would look differently if thoughtful, measured, and careful response was a prerequisite for voting?
Can you imagine how differently campaigning would be done if the candidates appealed to reason rather than reaction?
Let me put it another way.
After this interaction, I heard somebody come inside the church again. All kinds of people come and go from our building all week long. It’s seldom a reason for fear.
But after my interaction with this guy, the thought crossed my mind “uh-oh…what if he came back with a gun, or a bat, or just wanted to teach me a lesson?”
(thankfully it was just the chair of our church council)…but such are the times we live in.
Invoking that kind of fear is what elections are good for. They turn members of the same Body against each other.
They focus on reaction, not response.
So as we inch closer to November 6…may we all remember that our identity, our hope, and our salvation are found only in Jesus, whose response to the political chest-thumping of his own day can be found in the cross he bore…for me, for you, for Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and even their outspoken supporters and opponents.
God save us. Every one.
October 31, 2012 § Leave a comment
I remember when
broken hearts were enough
to carry us through
life throws our way
back when it was enough
to simply weep
Who in the beginning
His broken heart
to carry us
through these storms
through churning nights
and sleepless days
But there’s more to it now
are no longer
So we bind up
the hearts that break
and in so doing
bind the hands
that feed us
in the name of our religion
And God wept
October 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
Oct 14, 2012 Be here now Numbers 22:21-33, Ephesians 4:29-30
This morning is the first sermon I’m doing in a three part series we’re calling “Grow Where You’re Planted”.
It’s rooted in a desire to challenge the ongoing temptations many of us feel to spread ourselves too thinly across the many commitments we make that demand our time and attention.
Technology allows us easily, cheaply, and instantly transcend time and space in ways that were once impossible for the human race…and now they’re considered routine ways of relating to the world.
For example, the car is a piece of technology that we pretty much take for granted today.
Do you remember your first car?
Mine was a white 1984 Ford Tempo. I bought it from my cousin for $600 in 1994.
It lost its muffler soon after I got it, it was rusted through in various places, the radio didn’t work, and I remember one particular adventure where I drove it home from school with no brakes (I went real slow on back-roads and used the emergency brake when I needed to slow down or stop)!
But for all it’s shortcomings, my first car fundamentally changed the way I lived my life.
I no longer had to live by the same rules of time or space…I could drive the 7 miles to my job, or the five miles to school, within minutes, with no effort, and very little cost.
Those assumptions…that I can travel as far as I want to, quickly, cheaply, and easily…those are assumptions I still have.
I could drive home to Iowa this afternoon if I wanted to.
But that doesn’t mean I should.
Because if I’m driving to Iowa, or if I’m in Iowa…it means I’m not here.
No matter how much technology we acquire…we can still only be in one place at one time.
Be. Here. Now.
A car is a good example to use, because obviously if I’m talking about driving a car, I’m talking about physical presence. You can’t physically be in two places at the same time.
But the same is true of things like emotional, mental, or spiritual ‘presence’.
Where are you this morning?
Be. Here. Now.
This morning we’re looking at the story of Balaam.
It’s a story that might be familiar to many of us for one of two reasons.
Either, like me, you heard it as a child in Sunday school, complete with the flannelgraph figures of the angel and the donkey and Balaam and it was just so odd that it stuck in your head…or like Christine, you learned it in the form of a children’s song, and thus had it stick in your head as children’s songs tend to do. (And unless Sara is planning to have us sing the song as a congregation, I’m sure Christine would sing it for you after the service if you asked real nice!)
What I’m trying to say is, this story about Balaam and his talking donkey…for many of us, it’s hard to take seriously.
We might recognize that there’s some good stuff in it…but for the most part we might think it’s remedial, odd, or even irrelevant.
We don’t use donkeys to get around anymore, and talking animals belong in a C.S. Lewis book; not in our holy scriptures.
Besides that, it’s a pretty violent story. The angel of God is poised to kill Balaam for nothing more than obeying God! (In verse 20, God tells Balaam to go, and in verse 33, we learn that the angel would have killed him if it wasn’t for the donkey!)
That doesn’t quite square with what we believe about obedience, does it?
But what’s always bothered me the most, ever since I was little, was the issue of animal rights.
Three times Balaam beats this poor donkey, and even goes so far as to threaten it’s life!
And yet we treat the whole episode as a children’s story.
We’ve done ourselves no favors by relegating Balaam and his donkey to the flannelgraph, or teaching our kids to follow his example.
What I remember from my childhood was that Balaam was the hero.
And certainly, when we read the passage that we’ve read this morning, you can come away with that understanding. He listens to God, he’s obedient even when it gets dangerous, and he’s God’s instrument to bless the people instead of cursing them.
But there’s another side to Balaam that we don’t teach the kids.
You can find a hint of it in Numbers chapter 31:16, just a little ways after the passage we’re looking at.
In that chapter, we read that Israel goes to war against Midian, they kill five kings of Midian, and they also kill Balaam.
Then we find out why. The officers of the army bring back all the women of Midian, and Moses says “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. “
And what happened at Peor was that the Israelite men were having relations with the Midianite women, and bowing down to their gods as part of it.
In other words, even though God would not let Balaam openly curse His people, Balaam figured out a way to do it.
Tradition holds that Balaam snuck away after blessing the people, and explained to these kings that the women in their country could seduce the people of Israel away from their God.
That’s exactly what happened at Peor.
And that’s why the rest of the Bible holds a pretty negative view of Balaam.
(Deut 23:4-5, 2 Peter 2:15ff, Revelation 2:14)
So the first lesson I’d like you to take this morning is this.
Beware the hero-complex.
I don’t know what it is about us as people…but I know that we love to take these stories (especially the biblical stories) in all their complexity, ambiguity, and mystery…and we love to boil them down until they turn into a story about a hero and a villain.
We love to take stories and turn them into “good versus evil”, or “us versus them”.
And that’s what I’m calling the hero complex. Beware of it, especially when you approach the Bible and issues of faith…because the truth of any story is more complex than we wish it was.
Now, there are a couple of things about Balaam that are worth mentioning.
He’s known as a prophet, or a “seer” and yet He’s not an Israelite.
He speaks the words of God, he seems to have a special relationship with the God of Israel…and yet he’s not part of the chosen people.
Yet he is well-known for this gift that he has, to the point that the king of Moab sends for him to curse his enemies, which in this case happens to be Israel.
In the words of Balak the king of Moab, “I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed.”
Now, here’s what we can take from this. (there are two things actually)
If Balaam’s words had the power to bless and curse…this guy who was not part of God’s people, this guy who was somehow devious enough to sneak around God’s back to lead Israel astray, if his words were as powerful as the Bible says they were…then how much more power must our words carry; as beloved children adopted by the One. True. God, whose spirit dwells within us?
This goes above and beyond simply being respectful of other’s opinions or communicating yourself clearly.
This is the power to bless and to curse!
Our words have power.
Our words bless or curse the people who hear them…so take speaking seriously!!
When you open your mouth, there is much on the line, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks…may the Holy Spirit of God be known through our use of language.
The other lesson that goes along with that is this: God is not bound to our notions of who ‘gets it’ and who ‘doesn’t’.
He chose the people of Israel to be his holy people, his set-apart people…they’re like his ‘test plot’ for the kingdom of God.
But this story suggests he also chose Balaam to work with; a foreigner is given access and power to pronounce the blessings and curses of the One True God.
This isn’t the only place where God reveals Himself to foreigners.
The book of Ruth demonstrates the same thing, that foreigners are welcome at God’s table.
Jesus meeting the woman at the well opens up that invitation even more…that foreigners are welcome toenter the kingdom of God.
God works where he will, with whom He will, in ways we will not often understand.
I’ve said a lot about Balaam so far…but not about his adventure on the donkey.
I’ve painted a portrait of a man who had an incredible gift; he spoke the very words of God even though he was not part of the chosen people…yet he had more sinister motives than we sometimes give him credit for.
But there’s more to it than that.
Balaam isn’t a role model, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from him.
He uses a donkey to go with the messengers that Balak sends.
And how does he treat that donkey?
He treats it poorly.
He beats it. He tries to force it’s course…not just once, but three times.
That, to me, speaks volumes about the condition of Balaam’s heart.
He was so interested in where he was going, that the slightest deviation from his course caused him to fly off in a fit of rage and abuse the creature that was taking him there.
Never trust someone who abuses a beast of burden.
Actually, never trust anyone who abuses anything. It’s a sign they’re headed towards an angry God.
But that’s not the main message I wanted to share this morning.
Balaam wasn’t present to the donkey, and he wasn’t present to God…because he wasn’t present to himself. He was so focused on where he was going, that he abused his means of getting there.
Be Here Now.
The way we live our lives today, it’s like we think we can do it all, say it all, and relate to everyone.
Because we are not God.
And our attempts to spread ourselves out using all available means…all it really does is dilute our souls until they are weak and ineffective, apt to lash out when instead we need to listen and practice the art of presence.
Be here now.
And in the words of Paul, Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs (their needs…not your needs), that it may benefit those who listen.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
For you were bought with a price, adopted as children of God in heaven whose kingdom knows no boundaries and whose reign extends to the gates of hell.
Our words carry the power of God, and if that doesn’t humble you, light your fire, and leave you half-scared to exercise the amazing ability to speak…then I don’t know what to tell you.
Maybe the best advice is just not to speak if you have nothing to say.
For there is no better way to practice being present…than in silence.
October 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
The truth of the matter is, my momentary stint of facebook rebellion has less to do with time or satisfaction than it has to do with…(drumroll please)…(wait for it…wait for it…) meaning.