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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

"You Don't..."

"You Don't..."

July 6, 2016


It was the summer of  1972.  I was a 14 year-old boy living on the east coast of Florida and Jim Croce released his latest big hit, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim."  Perhaps you remember the title song.  the chorus went like this,

     "You don't tug on Superman's cape,
      You don't spit into the wind,
      You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger,
      And you don't mess around with Jim."

The lyrics are set in a pool hall in New York City.  "Big Jim" Walker is the titular character - note, I did not say hero.  He's portrayed in the song as big, bad, mean and not particularly bright.  The story in song ends violently when Willie "Slim" McCoy ambushes Big Jim and slays him.  The pool hall regulars then change their advice to strangers by saying, "You don't mess around with Slim."

Croce's song makes popular street wisdom.  Of course, the song is about a bad boy and his eventual comeuppance, but it's interesting to note how the advice to not mess with Jim or Slim is reinforced, "You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger."  I imagine that most little boys learn the spitting lesson by about the age of ten.  However, the song is about a really bad guy, and the lesson emphasizes not messing around with Superman, nor the Lone Ranger.  Wait, I thought they were good guys.  Good guys are supposed to be approachable.  Like God - He's approachable!  Of course, I've strayed from talking about fictional heroes to a hero in reality.  It's important to remember that the personalities of fictional people often reflect real people.  God is a real person - the original person.  Real people have likes and dislikes.  Real people have boundaries, desires, pet peeves, aspirations, loves and hates.  God is a real person, and as our passage in Proverbs teaches - He hates.  In this case, six things people do.  Kind of like tugging on Superman's cape.  Seven things are an abomination.  I can't say that an abomination is kind of like pulling the mask off the Lone Ranger, but the thought does make you pause.

The Holy Spirit sings His own song of warning.  He uses strong language here - God hates six things, and seven are an abomination.  So, don't mess with Jim.  You definitely don't mess with Slim.  Don't spit into the wind.  Don't tug on Superman's cape.  Don't pull the mask off of the Lone Ranger.  And really, really don't do things God finds abominable.  After all, such wisdom is in Proverbs, that's the Bible.  You should pay a lot of attention to such things.  At this point it is important to note that our culture is turned upside down in this regard.  yesterday's FBI announcement is a great example.  The investigation into Hillary Clinton found gross wrongdoing in regards to sensitive emails.  Yet, they are not going to prosecute.  Surprise!  It might be safe to note that half the country is outraged.  It would also be safe to note that the other half is not.  I'm not surprised.  I'm 58 years-old.  I long ago gave up hope that investigations that "will get to the bottom of things" and that "people will pay" have managed to never achieve either ultimatum.  Some would say that this is like messing with Big Jim or Slim, or another Croce song, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.  I'm different, to me it hearkens back to what one sage once penned, "all animals are created equal, some animals are more equal than others." The truth is that there is little wisdom in the wisdom of mankind.  Values, and the application of standards is as capricious as the wind.  With that lesson in mind, let's get back to Proverbs.

 If one were to walk into a proverbial pool hall and God were there (to the Pharisees - this is not a time to split hairs) I think it is a safe bet that there is no one standing behind Him who is bigger, more fearsome or more powerful.  Got it?  Good.  Now, let's imagine you decide to go over and pick a pool room fight.  Your first weapon - haughty eyes.  Oh, you never do that?  "Consider others better than yourselves." Does that happen 100% of the time in your life?  Really?!  How do you treat others in...traffic for starters?

"A lying tongue." What's your tax return look like?  That's for starters.  You be really honest - with yourself.

"Hands that shed innocent blood."  Hmmm, what was that passage?  Oh yes, the Sermon on the Mount!  If you hate someone that is the same as murdering them.  How's that rationalization going?  What's that?  Every one who disagrees with you is Hitler, and it's okay to hate Hitler.  Hmmm.

"A heart that devises wicked plans."  Well, hating someone is a starter for this one.  Have you ever fantasized about revenge on another person?

"Feet that make haste to run to evil."  Self explanatory.  Favorite sins seem to be a given if you are human.  as a matter of fact, we use that as an excuse, "I'm only human."  But consider how quickly you may hurry to rebel against God's will and compare that to how quickly you run to do His bidding.

"A false witness who breathes out lies."  Why is it that in considering sin, rebelling against God's precepts only in regards to the worst example?  For example, this clause allows a person to breathe a sigh of relief because "I have never knowingly testified falsely against another."  However, is not a "prayer" circle more of a gossip circle, and does not gossip oftentimes include the spreading of false rumors about another?  The sin generally starts with, "Did you hear?"  And ends with, "Well, people are saying."  Some "saints" treat gossip as an attribute and act as though they are the head of the gossip ministry within the church.  If we remembered that this is the last of the six things God hates.

"And one who sows discord among brothers."  Why does this seventh clause make the other six abominations?  Perhaps because the one who causes distension and seeks to divide almost always uses the other six to accomplish the seventh.  Thom Rainey states in his blog that often these individuals do not recognize this in themselves.  Still, you don't tug on Superman's cape.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Change

Change

June 28, 2016


As we face change.  By "we" I refer to both you and me.  Maybe you wonder what sort of change I might be talking about.  Well, right now there is a lot of change.  For me, we look to once again crossing the country and joining a new ministry.  There is lots of change there, and uncertainties as well.  For the congrgation we leave, there is lots of change.  a minister to whom they have grown accustomed.  There is also plenty of uncertainty,

"Who will we get next?"

"What if we can't find anyone?"

"There is danger facing us when you leave!"

"What if?"

For the congregation we journey to,

"He looks good now, but will he fit here?"

"What if I don't like him?"

"What if?"

Oh, I nearly forgot about you.  Yes, I'm referring to you, those who are not part of the groups i have mentioned thus far.  you are facing some sort of change.  If not now then sometime in the near future you will face change.  Uncertainties abound in life.  We all ask at some point, "What if?"

I think we also, all too often, put ourselves through agony worrying about the effects of change for little or no reason.  We need a reminder of thelesson taught when Jesus scolded in His sermon on the Mount by asking, "Why do you worry?" Sometimes we worry for no other reason than we don't like the lack of control change often brings.

Sometimes, we just get too big for our britches.  I find this somewhat understandable, not condoned, but understandable.  After all, we are created in the image of God, so it would seem undeeerstandable that we would demonstrate some of His traits.  But, we need to remind ourselves that exerecising those traits is often like a child imitating a parent.  Cute, if it's like a little girl attempting to put on Mom's clothes and makeup.  Tragic, if it's like a little boy grabbing Dad's unsecured handgun.  All too often we take on God-sized projects when the uncertainty of change has comeupon us.  With our limited wisdom, coupled with our predeliction for corrupting what we try to control, this is a recipe for disaster.

Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders is a great lesson.  Talk about change!  Talk about uncertainties!  Talk about facing danger!  This scene in the 20th chapter of Acts has it all.  I am struck by Paul's calm, awed by the wisdom he shares, and humbled by the lesson.  Think about hisattitude, and compare it to your own;

"But I do not account my life of any value..."

I wonder how things would change, in God's favor, if we truly lived this as truth?  If we lived as if we were important, everyone else is more important, and god is the most important than I'm fairly confident things would tip farther in God's favor.

"...nor as precious to myself,"

Fear is a powerful thing.  If Paul had feared for himself on this journey that would eventually take him before Caesar, the rest of the New Testament story would be quite different.  The human tendency is to think of self as very precious.  The teaching and example of Christ and His disciples turns that concept upside down.

"if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus,"

Just do the job.  Just run the race.  Just the part carved out for you - by Christ, by the way.  If you are the running back, don't try to be the quarterback.  If you are the receptionist, don't try to be company president.  Just do the job set out for you by Christ the King.  By the way,that means you don't try and do His job either.  That's a bit of what I referred to earlier, created in His image, being molded in his image, we have a tendency to adopt His passion for fixing things.  He's the fixer, we're the cog in his machine.  Try and do His job, and it looks more like the little boy with his Daddy's gun - tragic consequences.  Just do the job set out for you.

"...to testify to the gospelof the grace of God."

Funny how God uses the K.I.S.S. principle with us - Keep It Simple Stupid.  The Gospel is what it is all about.  the fix for everything has already been set in place - by the Fixer Himself.  The fix is nothing else we think important.  a new world is being ushered in - in God's time.  The Kingdom is already set up, all others will pass away - in God's time.  The morality is atrocious now,will apparently get worse before it gets better.  Perfect behavior will one day come, not by laws, but by love.

Just do the job.  Love people, think about yourself less, love God the most.  Testify to the Gospel.  Be God's cog, He takes care of the rest.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hello, Goodbye

Hello, Goodbye

June 26, 2016


This week has been an emotional roller coaster.  We started the week saying yes to a new congregation and ministry.  We ended the week bystarting to say goodbye to another.  Now we begin the long process in ministry of moving from one to the other.

We made the very emotional announcement to the congregation here at First Christian Church.  It did not help that they had planned a birthday celebration for me for after service.  There were tears, kind words and prayer.  Some were shocked, a couple were not surprised.  

We had the elders and wives over for dinner last night to break the news to them - it was hard, much harder than I thought.  We said goodbye to another congregation eleven years ago.  One would think it gets easier.  It does not, and I don't think I would much like myself if it did become easier.  Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders comes to mind:

"And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship." 
-- Acts 20:36-38

It will be several weeks before we leave.  There will be more opportunities for saying goodbye.  I'm going to miss a lot of people.  For some reason I'm thinking about the kids at LJHS and Fergus High.  I'm really going to miss them.  But for right now...

Hello Crossville, Goodbye Lewistown

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Appalled

Appalled

June 20, 2016


I was preaching in a Tennessee congregation while traveling from Raliegh to Nashville on Sunday, June 12, 2016.  One of the congregants shared about the Orlando shooting that morning.  Having eschewed television news last year, and long had the practice of avoiding anything beyond the study of Scripture on Sunday mornings, the announcement was a surprise to me.  Perhaps the greatest surprise was that I was not shocked by the news.  I guess it is possible that the acts of terrorism, even on domestic soil, have become too common.

It did not take long for practically everyone to opine, for the attention hounds to stand in front of a camera, seek having a microphone thrust in their face, or for those embracing the electronic age - to resort to social media.  Ironically, just as I am doing now.  However, I did want to be different.  I wanted to wait until the dust had cleared somewhat.  Too often what is reported by the news outlets is little different from the gossip shared in the downtown bookstore or coffee shop - a basis in fact, but the final product is mor lie than truth.  As usual,this time was no different than the countless times before, practically everyone did not fail to disappoint in being a disappointment.  The tragedy became the opportunity for soapboxes to be mounted, for pet causes to be trumpeted, for pet peeves to be attacked, for arms to be raised and the fist shaker to announce that if they were in control - things would be different.  We should ban peoples, ban guns, ban manufacturers, control, control, control....  I am a student of history, and as a pastor/counselor, a student of the human psyche.  i find naught evidence that we can prevent such things.  For millennia, mankind has been very creative in the destruction of others.  I doubt any number of restrictions will prevent the root cause of such events - hatred.  For that is the predilection of the human heart, to hate those different from us.

In our society hatred has been raised to an art form.  Omar Mateen, but then he is pretty much hated as well.  Christians are hated, but then, so are Muslims.  Guns and gun owners are hated, but then so are those who try to limit, or prevent that right in others.  Watch the new show BrainDead and they do a very good job of making fun of the fact that the Democratic Party hates the Republican Party, but then the Republican Party hates the Democratic Party.  ISIS (ISIL/IS) manages to hate everyone, but then Westboro Baptist Church manages to do the same.  I have been careful to construct the last several lines because they who know better than everyone else, are careful to measure words, because they hate those who are not politically correct.  I could go on and on with examples.  why?  Because mankind is pretty well practiced in hatred.  The real issue at hand is what happened in Orlando that horrible Sunday.

Though I was not shocked about the nature of the tragedy, I was appalled.  The violence was appalling.  The loss of life was appalling.  The hatred was appalling.  The response by nearly everyone else was appalling.  That includes you, Mr. President.  For those reading, if this offends you, then I should add that the Presidential candidates - all - were appalling as well.  I wonder at how my Savior would have responded.  The man who did not stop the violence around Him - though He has the power to cease all violence, and who surrendered to violence upon His own body would have handled things much differently I suppose.  Someone recently pointed out that He told His disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword at the Last Supper.  Yes, but a few minutes later, when asked if the two swords they had were enough, He responded yes.  yet later, when Peter cut off the ear of Malchus in the Garden, Jesus admonished that those who live by the sword would die by the sword.  He then healed Malchus' ear.  I imagine Jesus' behavior would be the same in Orlando.  Swords and guns are not the issue, hatred is the problem.  Has been...will be, that is, until He returns.  Jesus responded to hatred with love.  One of the many, many ways He demonstrated love was to apprehend their stories and to touch them where they were in life.  The woman at the well is one example, Zaccheus another, and the woman caught in adultery yet another.  so, my supposition is that Jesus would have healed, maybe raised someone back to life, but definitely He would have intersected with some life stories among those in Orlando.  If He responded to Zaccheus in the way He did, I wonder what He would say to the family member of one who died in the nightclub Pulse on a violent Sunday?  Perhaps the family member's last words to their deceased son or daughter had been said in anger and had cast them from the family.  I wonder how the parent, sibling or friend would feel?  I wonder how Jesus would respond?  Might He tell a parable?  Why does the Prodigal Son come to mind?  What about those who survived?  What about those who condemn?  Why does the scene of the woman caught in adultery come to mind?  I wonder who would be asked what Jesus asked of her accusers?  What about His admonition to the woman dragged naked before Him?  Who of us needs the same admonition?  How many tears have been shed over Orlando?  How many tears are still to be shed...not just for Orlando, but until the End of Days?

There is a solution for Orlando.  There has been one for 2,000 years. The solution is a man, but not just any man.  He did not come to change behavior, but to transform the heart.  Change the heart and behavior changes.





Monday, June 6, 2016

Character

Character

June 6, 2016


I've stopped watching television coverage of the elections - too painful.  Our local paper and what is gleaned from news apps on my phone and computer have sufficed.  Still, it's painful.  A father defending his son for what some - apparently Dad is one - would say is a minor indiscretion.  Others object, saying what he has done is particularly egregious.  Parents on trial in the court of public opinion for lax supervision; yet others for making an emotional, rather than logical decision in discipline.

It's the finger pointing which makes it all painful.  Politicians hurling vicious accusations against one another.  By the way, is a lie still a lie when despite proof otherwise, one still believes the charge against another to be true?  I wonder if this is the real casualty in a relativistic society.  Have we reached the point that we destroy each other because we have abused truth to the point not that there is, or is not, absolute truth, but no one has the capacity to trust anyone else to tell the truth? 

So, the measure of a man, or a woman, suffers.  Character has little meaning.  It is no wonder we wallow in the cesspool of shifting values.  Mankind has come full circle from the ancients whose gods were all too human.  Today, our heroes have soiled capes.  

So, Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector appears to be an indictment not against a small segment of society, the Pharisees, but against most of mankind.  I doubt that few are so deluded as to believe they are absolutely righteous.  I warn you, they are out there though.  Know them by their arrogance.  No, the mark of the Pharisee today is subtle.  We are more likely to think, "I'm not always right, but I'm more right than you."  The other casualty in a relativistic society?  Each of us feels fully qualified to define the standard of right.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that all of us are like the tax collector in the nature of our sins.  We need to be more like the tax collector in a far more important aspect - humility.  I wonder what would happen if there were more people with the attitude of the tax collector?   

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

See Me


See Me!

May 25, 2016

A friend was sharing about his and another friend's depression recently. Both men had long struggled with depression. Through the years they had a daily conversations, and as they moved apart, it was most often by phone.  In the conversation in question, our common friend said, "I don't have a friend in the world."  The irony was that he had thousands of friends - including the friend on the phone.  At that moment he just could not see anything, except the enormity of the issue before him.

Such is the nature of depression.  It makes the seeing blind - to hope.  It is a wind so fierce, it whisks away words of hope and encouragement from perfectly functioning ears.  Reason is nearly gone, if not gone completely.  The onslaught of depression is merciless.  The ravages to mind and spirit are further complicated by an assault on the body.  Vitality is gone.  Lethargy sets in.  Work, play and worship is affected.  Eating patterns change.  Some eat more, others eat less.  Sleep patterns are disturbed.  Listlessness, lethargy and loss sets in.  Intimacy is no more.  Isolation sets in.  Incapacity becomes the norm.  When this state endures for longer than two weeks, the subject is likely clinically depressed.  In other words - friends and loved ones should be alerted that a state of emergency is in place.

The cry of the depressed is, "See me!" In our culture this is all too often a silent cry.

It is further complicated by the way we respond to those around us who are struggling.  Our social norms have created in us a set of rules by which intervention is perceived as intrusive, "Well, I don't know him well enough to say anything."  We are programmed for a distorted sense of politeness rather than encouraging boldness in order to save another.  We have also fallen under the spell of professionalism.  In other words, you can only do something if you are trained in that particular area of knowledge.  we also have a distorted sense of social obligations.  After the fact - after a tragedy, the cry is, "Somebody ought to do something about this!"

How about we learn to do what our ancestors did as a matter of course?  Present generations are 10 times more likely to suffer from depression than those who lived in 1945.  It is impossible for such a dramatic change to take place in the gene pool in that short of a time.  We have lost, or substituted skills our predecessors used as a matter of course.  Community for one.  Oh, there are those who would argue that community exists today and point to examples of ranches, or farms wiped out, then restored by the benevolence of neighbors.  That is compassion, but community, by it's very nature, means we belong to each other as brothers, sisters - family.  When the going gets tough, family talks through the tough times.  This is the lost skill which has become a priceless commodity.  We need to re-instill the art of communication.  It could be said that when we see another struggling, we are more likely to Google resources for depression, text another smiley face icon to brighten their day, and if talk does occur, it is likely to yet someone else, "Did you hear?"

Talk, the right sort of talk, could make some dramatic changes.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Words

Words

May 11, 2016


At a conference I'm attending this week three college students are highlighted who are entered into the NextGen Preacher Search.  They each must present a five minute sermon.  We heard the first one last night.  The focus on a short, effective sermon reminded me of the story of Edward Everett.  In his day, Everett was famous for his oratory skills.  The son of a pastor, and himself a pastor, Everett turned to politics and public speaking.  After delivering a 13,607 word speech, he passed a note to the man who followed him with a 272 word speech.  Everett wrote, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."  Everett's was to be the address of the day, but the ten-line jewel crafted by by Abraham Lincoln has, to this day, been known as the Gettysburg Address.

Martin Luther King 's famous speech, "I Have a Dream" is also a testament to brevity and beauty.  It is but 1,667 words in length.   A popular story these days, is that Ernest Hemingway once penned a six word story on a dare, or bet.  The authenticity of the story has been questioned, but research has shown that the short story itself may be based in fact.  It is simple and evocative.  It goes, "For sale, baby shoes, never worn."  Just six words, yet so much more.

I contend that there exists a far greater masterpiece, shorter than the examples listed thus far.  Just two words tell the story and earn it the distinction of shortest verse in the English Bible, "Jesus wept."  I pause after reading or recalling the story and ask the question, "Why?"  I have never been satisfied that the question is answered by no other than Jesus' love and compassion for Lazarus, Mary and Martha.  After all, just moments after Jesus weeps, he will raise Lazarus from the dead.  I can only imagine, but if I had possessed the power and foreknowledge of Jesus, I would probably have been giddy to quickly turn their sorrow and mourning into joy. My search has taken me elsewhere.

The years of questioning have settled on the best answer for me.  There are several other suppositions I have discounted for one reason or another.  Brevity forces me to share my conclusion thus far.  I believe Jesus wept as only God in flesh can weep when the strengths of divine love and knowledge come face to face with the frailty that is humanity.  I believe Jesus wept for the broken humanity before his eyes.  He wept for the lack of und e stranding of death, and how sin brought it to humanity.  He wept for our fear of it, our powerlessness against it, for the futility of hope for humanity because his own death and resurrection were 30 days in the future.  He wept for our weeping, our brokenness, our abject poverty of spirit, our despair, loss, pain and blindness.  I think too, he wept some for Lazarus.  He was a friend and believer.  I believe his lot was no different than the thief on the cross.  Lazarus was already destined for a better place.  I believe he wept for Lazarus because Jesus was going to bring him back to this cesspool we call humanity.  Furthermore, Jesus was going to do this to his friend for no other reason than that fools might gain faith.

So, Jesus wept as only God can weep because he saw humanity in its present form.  He wept as only God can weep because he saw the long millennia of misery.  He wept as only God can weep because he saw the future.

I wonder if he does not weep even now.

Mankind still claims blindly in the cesspool of sin and the hopelessness it inevitably continues to produce.  Yes, he has provided a solution.  Yes, there is the church to carry on his mission.  Yes, we face the future portrayed in Revelation when God will be our God, we will be his people and in which he will wipe away every tear, for there will be no more pain, sorrow nor death.

I wonder if he does not weep even now.

He also could see to the future when letters would be dictated to seven churches.  He could look to the future and still find churches to whom the letters would still make application.  Vibrant, strong, loving churches yes.  But does he weep for the love lost congregations?  Does he weep for the lukewarm, the dead, the fighting congregations and people of the church?

I wonder, does he not even now weep for his bride?  Is she not always to be full of love, Grace and perpetually bringing new children into his family?  I wonder if he does not now weep for the church's sad, six word story, "For sale, baby shoes, never worn."