Wednesday, September 25, 2013

By Our Love

This Sunday's sermon topic is "Love".  Oddly, I'm having a really hard time with it.  It's such a broad topic.  The text is this:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." - John 13:34-35

It seems so simple. Jesus just got done washing the disciple's nasty feet. He cleaned them up nice and shiny and then said - that's how you love each other.  And when you do that, people will know me.

Oh my, how we have messed this one up.  It's such a simple formula.  Love. Serve. That's it.  And all will know that we are Christians.

Notice what Jesus didn't say:

"Condemn people to hell"


"Use fear tactics to get people to accept me..."


"Judge the way other people live"


Sad.  Just sad.  I wonder what Jesus thinks of all of this......


And so we begin again.  We come to the cross and we ask God to fill us with love.  We wash people's feet - not so they can be all squeaky clean - but so we can show them that God is one who chooses to dwell in the dirt with them.  

And they'll know we are Christians.....by our love.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Stuff

I like stuff.  If I had to choose what to do on my day off, I would probably go shopping for awhile.  I would buy a cute new outfit or something to hang on the wall in my house full of stuff.  I'm conflicted about my love of stuff - because Jesus told a rich young man to sell everything and give it to the poor.  That's what that guy needed to do so he could enjoy eternal life.  That makes me think.  A lot.

But I like the stuff of God, too.  When I take time to enjoy the "God Stuff" of this world, I'm pretty sure I like it more than the other stuff.  

I like the trees because they remind me that it's ok to change.  In fact, changing is actually more beautiful than staying the same.  And if part of the tree dies - well - it comes back the next year - stronger, and fuller and even more beautiful.

I like the lakes and oceans because they make me feel like I can jump right into God and be engulfed by love.  I can dive in and the part of me that feels heavy and unrelenting suddenly becomes buoyant.  That makes me think of grace.

I like the mountains the most of all.  The mountains overwhelm me with the sturdiness of God.  Even though the grass withers and the flowers fade - I can count on God to be that rock, that mountain, that shelter and hiding place that I need just to make it through the day.  

Yep - I like stuff.  And God must love me a lot to let me enjoy the stuff that He made even though I'm drawn to all sorts of stuff that I surely don't need.  I guess the beauty of God's stuff is a reminder that no matter how the clutter of life surrounds me - God's love is always more beautiful, more magnificent, more peaceful and steadfast than any of that other stuff.

Thanks, God.  I like the stuff you made!

Monday, February 11, 2013

This month, I am linking to another blog by Nada Bolz-Weber.  I love her no nonsense suggestions for things we can all do to make Lent more Holy.  Blessed Lent to all of you!

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber/2012/02/house-for-all-sinners-and-saints-40-ideas-for-keeping-a-holy-lent/


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Look for the Light


These past few days I have been all over the map with my emotions.  I see pictures of sweet little seven-year-olds and I weep and cry and ache for their parents.  I tuck my sweet little seven-year-old in for bed and I weep and ache with gratitude – but also with a sense of guilt as I feel the empty arms of mothers and fathers just a few states away.  That I still get to hold her and feel her breath slow as she settles into dreamland seems unfair. 

I read news stories and get downright angry that these killer’s faces and names become iconic figures to the American people whilst some will-be terrorist fantasizes about his name in lights and his face emblazoned in the minds of millions. 

I feel fearful as I kiss my children goodbye and send them off to school on that big yellow bus.

I feel anxious for teachers all over the country who will be comforting their children and looking over their shoulder in what should be just another day enjoying the freedom to learn.

I feel empty when I think about the fact that thousands of children die in the streets of our cities every year – from hunger, from violence, from abuse, from neglect. And it takes THIS for us to stand at attention.

I feel immobilized as I think about the billion-piece puzzle that needs to be disassembled and put back together with leadership that is calm and steady, confident and faithful – yet also passionate about securing a safe future for our children who will always be our most precious earthly treasure.

-       Some say the problem is gun control
-       Some say the problem is access to mental health care
-       Some say the problem is the isolation that our independent society fosters in people who are already predisposed to reclusiveness

I say “Yes” to all of those. And I say “No” to all of those.  There is no ONE problem.  To try to clear the fog until the picture is clear simply will not happen.  It will never make sense.  There are no easy answers.  There are no overnight solutions.  What this will take is each and every one of us admitting that we are broken – that we need each other – and that we all need God. 

Woah - wait a minute.  Did you say we need GOD?  Don’t talk to me about your GOD.  Where was GOD when those 26 souls perished in a flash of violence?  Where was GOD when those parents couldn’t kiss their babies goodnight? 

It is a legitimate question.  I understand where it comes from.  I would be lying if I told you I had never asked the question myself.  Even Jesus – hanging from the cross – screamed out – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Here is what I know to be true.  God did not protect even His own Son from the violence of this world.  In fact, God intentionally sent Jesus into the darkness so that we would know that even in our darkest hour; especially in our darkest hour – GOD IS WITH US.  God has wept these same tears of agony.  And God weeps with us today.

All over scripture – and especially in the Psalms, people cry out to God with a sense of abandonment.  It is natural to feel God-forsaken in times like these.  The thing is - God did not promise that our lives would be void of pain or that our world would be free from tragedy and violence.  In fact, He says quite the opposite.  In John Chapter 16, Jesus says – “In this world YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE.  But take heart.  I have overcome the world.”  You see – God’s promise to us is not that things have been made all right already.  If that were the case, we would not have choices in this life.  God’s promise to us is that ONE day, when God’s Kingdom of Love has come on earth as it is in heaven -  the lion will lie down with the lamb…we will all live in love together. 

Jesus came to earth, wrapped in skin, crying human tears – so that we would know that GOD IS WITH US in all things.  And he came to show us that there IS another way to live.  For those who follow Jesus, that WAY is to turn the other cheek; to look at the world through eyes of love; to care for the orphan and the widow; to weep with those who weep; to speak healing words into the pain; to believe that God is LOVE – and anything other than LOVE is simply not of God.


This is what I choose to believe and what I know to be true.  That as those terrified children took their last breath; it was God who was holding them. God did not choose this.  God did not will this.  There is no “heavenly purpose” for this tragedy to have taken place.  God doesn’t need more angels in heaven and those who were killed were not “taken” from us by God.  They were taken by the evil actions of one man who made a choice.  One man who, himself, was in the unfathomable terror of his darkest hour.  God did not take them – but God receives them into the fullness of love and light and peace. Those children know no more pain, no more sorrow, no more suffering.  Only pure and complete love.

I know it is hard to believe right now.  And God knows that too.  But if we turn our backs on God in the midst of tragedy – then we have surrendered to evil.  The one thing that evil desires most is to separate us from God.  Our faith tells us that even in the midst of deep darkness – there is a light.  It might only look like a flicker right now – but the darkness cannot overcome it.

So I encourage each and every one of you to look for the light.  Look for the places where people are helping.  Look for the tender hearts that are weeping out of love and compassion.  Look for the ones who are entering into the pain of the other – offering hugs, meals, prayers, hope. Look for the ones who are bringing light.  And be a light-bringer yourself.  When you are feeling God-forsaken – show someone else the light of Christ through a hug, a listening ear, a warm meal, a place to rest.  That is where love is found.  And that is where God is found.

The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness HAS NOT, WILL NOT, CANNOT overcome it.  (John 1:5)







Thursday, October 25, 2012

I'm NOT going there.

NEWSFLASH:  We are living in a politically charged environment.  As a Pastor, I am often asked where I stand on political issues.  My answer?  I'm NOT going there.  Many of my colleagues in ministry would disagree with this approach.  They would encourage me to stand for SOMETHING. (And most of them would prefer that I stand for what they stand for).  And I would guess that some of my congregation members would like me to stand on one side or the other.  It is said that if you don't stand for SOMETHING, then you don't stand for ANYTHING.

Well - here's the thing - I stand for Jesus.  And I stand with Jesus.  

I know people who would argue this with me as well.  Jesus, they would say, was political.  He entered into the politics of his time and he stirred things up.

This is true.  Still not going there.  It is my job to represent Jesus - not to be Jesus.  He entered into a specific political environment, at a specific time for a specific purpose.  How would he handle THIS political environment?  I don't think any of us want to hear the real answer to that question.  

I'm pretty sure Jesus would do what he normally did when he encountered people.  He would gently point out that there is another way.  It's not your way.  It's not my way.  It's God's Way.

So I stand with Jesus.  I pray for God's will to be done.  I do my best to love all people.  Sometimes that is easier said than done.  But Jesus would have it no other way.  He loved Zaccheus - and he loved the Woman at the Well.  He loved Nicodemus - and he loved the criminal on the cross.  He loves Romney - and He loves Obama.  And for some strange reason that I haven't figured out yet - he loves me.  And He loves YOU.  

Of course, I will vote in this election.  But as I do so, I will keep praying for another way.  God's Way.  

Thy will be done, O God - on earth as it is in heaven.


Friday, September 14, 2012

It's not about you!

As a pastor, there are a number of recurring questions that people ask me.  I'm not going to lay them all out here - I'll save some for other blog posts in case I run out of things to say some day.  (How likely is that?)

If I were to make a list of the top ten questions I get asked - in the top five would have to be this one that seems to be heavy on people's hearts these days:


"If Jesus is the only way to the Father, then what happens to all of those people from other religions?  I just can't believe that God would create all of those people and then tell them He doesn't love them because they don't believe the right way!"


THAT, my friends, is a difficult question to answer - and one I have struggled with over and over throughout my life.  Like all big questions, I believe the answers evolve for each of us in different ways over a lifetime of reflection.  I'm going to weigh in on this question.  Keep in mind, I am a pastor.  It is my job to have a clear and well-thought-out understanding of theology and scripture - but I am by no means a scholar in either area.  Please feel free to challenge my thoughts or weigh in with your own thoughts.  But let's keep it civil.  Some of you will think my theology is too careless, and some will think it is too rigid.  Wherever you come down, please do so with respect and love for one another.  


First, I will say this - I believe that Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE and the only way to the Father. (John 14:6)  I also believe that God sent Jesus to us - all wrapped up in the skin of a baby - skin that would one day be broken because of sin - to show us just how wide and long and high and deep God's love is.  (Ephesians 3:18)  AND YET - I, too, have a hard time believing that God - who loves us THAT much could ever abandon us simply because we don't believe the right way.    


So I have been asking that same question for as long as my mind could form questions.  And I watch my daughters struggle with this question as they form deep friendships with people from other faith traditions. 


When I was in seminary, I read a book in a class that talked about this very question.  I don't remember what the book was called - heck, I don't even remember the name of the class.  But I do remember the concept that stuck with me.  It read something like this:  "If we truly believe that Jesus is God, and that God is all-powerful and all-knowing - then wouldn't we believe that this all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving Jesus could work through other faiths?  If we believe that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life and that God created and loves us all - then who are we to put boundaries on the way in which Jesus can penetrate the human heart?"


I let this idea percolate in my brain for several years - could it really be that God is THAT deep, high, wide and long? 


Then  - a couple of years ago, I read the book "The Shack".  As controversial as this book became in some circles, I know many people whose hearts have been opened to Jesus for the first time through its pages.  In the book, the main character is talking to Jesus - and he asks this question - "Are you saying that all paths lead to you?"  And Jesus responds - "No, I'm saying that I will walk down any path to get to YOU."  Do you see the very important distinction here?  It's not about YOU.  It's about GOD.  


I think both of these books were saying the same thing!  One through theology and one through story.  "IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU".  It's not about what you believe or how well you can articulate it.  It's not your job to condemn people to hell or to give them a ticket to eternity.  


It is GOD who walks the path to US - just as He walked the road to Calvary and the Cross.  It is GOD who chooses US.  To think that we could CHOOSE the one who created us in the first place puts the emphasis on human action - and that will always be flawed.


This doesn't make me exempt from responsibility.  In fact, it makes me even more responsible.  My job now isn't to tell people how it is.  My job isn't to make eternal assignments or to scare people to heaven.  That would be easy.  In fact, I think that age-old tactic of evangelism is a cop out.  


The way we share Jesus with the world is not by tongue-lashing and hell-threatening.  The way we share Jesus is by people-loving and door-opening;  It's by grace-giving and freedom-sharing.  The way we share Jesus is reflected in how we live the love of God every day in our lives - opening our hearts, pouring out our very lives so that all people will know just how much they are loved by God.

"For God so loved THE WORLD"

Now Go!  Share God's love in radical and life-changing ways.  And don't be surprised if someone asks you where that love comes from.  The answer?  Jesus!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Where is Jesus?

For this month's blog, I am giving the gift of a blog from an author / pastor I have found to be fascinating.  I particularly appreciate the way he articulates our cultural dilemma of people on all sides of all issues 'claiming' Jesus as their own.  You can read his blog here.  Have a blessed end of summer!