Will They Know We Are Christians…

Derek Hill, member of the leadership team for the Bible Society Group of Great Britain, has an article on the “What Christians Want To Know” website entitled “Doers of The Word: 6 Tips to Living Out Your Faith”.  Hill does not imply that his six tips are the “keys to the kingdom”, but they are a good start to living out your faith.  Included among those tips were four that really stood out for me.  My comments follow each tip:

  • Pray for those in need— Throughout the day, you have contact with any number of persons.  The neighbor that calls just to talk to someone, the hasseled checkout person at the store, at work a colleague of yours that might just need a pat on the back, or, perhaps, a friend is in the hospital and needs a visit. Trust that God has placed someone on your heart and in your space that needs prayer. This is the Holy Spirit at work in you. There is always someone to pray for.
  • Be an active member of your congregation— There is always a role that you can play in your church. Be part of the Church Council, sign up for flowers, assist with community meals, join the choir, volunteer your services to the Pastor or the church Secretary.  You have God-given talents or skills, so use them for the good of the church!
  • Study scripture— Spend time in your Bible, not just reading, but thinking, praying, meditating, and journal your thoughts and prayers.  Use a commentary to assist you in your study, and, better yet, join a Bible study group and be active.
  • Be involved in outreach— On this tip, Hill says this: “You don’t need to be a missionary to a Third World country. Search out the needs in your community and work to fill them. Donate your clothes to a foundation that could give them to hurting families. Donate to food pantries. Offer to take an elderly woman/man shopping for groceries once a week. The list goes on and on. Seek out those in need and help them. There is not a better way to show the love of Christ than to relieve a burden on someone who is in need.”

Those points reminded me of a group study undertaken in our congregation, beginning in 1983!  We modeled our study after “The John Wesley Great Experiment” compiled by Sam Teague and reprinted by Discipleship Resources in 1980.  We started by reaching out to members of our congregation and others by inviting members to become part of “Wanted:10 Brave Christians for 30 days.”  We called our study “The Great Experiment” and those participating committed to practicing the following disciplines throughout the 30 days:

  • Meet each week to pray together, share experiences and support one another.
  • Dedicate 2 hours each week to God-directed projects, seeking ways to be useful within our community, church, or neighborhood.  (Self-surrender)
  • Tithe all earnings during this 30-day period.  (Self-denial)
  • Spend 30 minutes daily in prayer, journaling and meditation. (Self-control)
  • Witness for God our experiences to others through anonymous acts of kindness, intentional conversations and other forms of outreach.

At the start, we had 25 persons, 11 men and 14 women, from two different congregations answering the call to be “Brave Christians” for 30 days.  We met weekly, supported each other and practiced those disciplines throughout the month. At the end of the first 30 days, all members of the group elected to continue.  After 60 days three had withdrawn. We  continued to meet over the next eight years, gradually losing members until during the final month we were down to 8 of the original 25. We decided to bring the program to a close in favor of other opportunities that were opening within our congregation.  All who were part of the Great Experiment agreed that practicing  these disciplines had enriched their Christian walk.

Whether you follow the “Tips” or the “Disciplines” or similar commitments, the most important point is to enter into such disciplines with prayerful commitment and stick with them until the discipline(s) become second nature.  From my experience with the Great Experiment, having a supportive group encouraging and holding you accountable is valuable.  However you might undertake such work of the Spirit, at the very core is the Love of God.

As Christians, we must live out what we know to be true. Are we living in relationship with the Holy Spirit?  We should listen to and be led by that Spirit in what we say, when we say it, and how we say it.  Speak and act truth in love.

How would anyone know we are Christians? How do I show that? How are we led by the Holy Spirit is most assuredly reflected in our actions each hour of each day.  If we truly believe that we should be speaking the truth in love, shouldn’t we also be acting the truth in love, in our everyday lives? If, as Christians, we must live out what we know to be true, such living out is not limited to speech, it includes every breath we take, everything we do, no matter if we consider it small and unimportant.

The good Samaritan acted out of love, despite the possibilities of consequences. The prodigal father acted out in love toward his two sons even in the face of conflict between them. First responders act out of a sense of love and loyalty even in the face of danger. The same is true with our military, protecting us as a nation.  At the very core is the sense of love, however you might phrase that. At the very center of this acting out of love is the God-man who went to the cross and died for us out of a love so powerful and complicated and mysterious that we can only imagine. We are the recipients of that love.

However, you intentionally live your life as a Christian, I believe that Christ is at work through you. I hear Christ say: “…For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your homes; naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison, and you visited me.” “‘When you did it to the least of these, you were doing it to me.”

Make no mistake, they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love…

For What It’s Worth.

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Thanksgiving 2016

Tuesday, November 8, 2016 the world came to an end! Christ returned and God’s wrath is being visited upon all of us! The Russians are coming!  We elected satan!  No, no, no, no!

None of those things are true, not even close! But, why am I afraid? Why do I have trouble breathing at times and why do those feelings crowd my life first thing each morning? Why do I feel like I lost a loved one? Is this what grief feels like?  Is that what I am feeling? Yes, it is a form of grief!

In June, 2016, I posted an essay on this blog entitled “A Grief Experienced” in which I said:  “Grief.  It’s just a word…until it is not just a word, when it moves from being a noun to being a verb. Until it is a huge something that fills your life, that sits squarely on your chest like an invisible weight.”  

Can you relate to that? Following the election have you felt that way, bothered by a huge, ugly something that now fills your life?  For me, at times it does feel like a heavy weight, right here on my chest. We weren’t prepared for what might happen and then it happened. What we thought would be the future, now requires a reset! A reset that for many of us feels like a bad dream.

I know what grief is. I have been there at the loss of my beloved wife and I know the feeling. Now here it is again, familiar, almost the same discomfort, some of the same sense of loss. There is one difference, however, along with those feelings comes a disquieting sense of helpless, even fear. We want to strike out, but to what, or to whom?

Thanksgiving?! What, pray tell, do we have to be thankful for?  Our world just changed.  But wait. What DO we have to be thankful for? Maybe…everything? No! Not everything! Yes, everything, the good, the bad and the ugly, we’ve had it all and we learned, and we should be thankful for all we have learned. All the ugly and bad sides of our country that we had to learn about, to witness. Some lessons are hard, hard to hear about, hard to deal with, hard for us to realize they are of our own making. We contributed to the environment that produced this end.

So, what did you learn from this? Did you learn about the plight of whole families living in poverty, just down the street, on the other side of your town, and what we must do to correct this. Did you learn that the way you worship God can bring violence, disdain, disrespect upon you, even bar you from your own country? Did you find that offensive?  Yes? Good! We must take steps to change that, too.

Did you learn that discrimination based on religion, race or gender, vividly represented, is more than unfair, it is un American, it is un Christian, it lacks humanity! And did you learn that whom you love can be illegal, shameful even sinful in some states? Is that right?  How could that be right? It isn’t right!

What about lying? Lying is an admission of weakness, and we have heard our share and we should be done with it! As we move forward, and we will, we must call out the liars and counter what they say.  We must hold our leaders responsible for EVERYTHING they say, and every promise they make.  We must do this aggressively and consistently, but with calmness and without violence.

We have seen this panoply of evil play out before our very eyes, in vivid color and uncensored and thoughtless word. Why do we stand for that? The simple answer is “we don’t”. We cannot allow all this to happen.  We must call it out, join in the fight, stand up for those who can’t stand, and be advocates for those who are helpless. That is US, you and me, using our voice, using our hands, using our resources and being there.

Anxiety and stress rob us of peace. Too often our anxiety or stresses come from fear or a sense that we have no resources to handle those matters or issues that are there before us. But we are together.  We are a nation, built on blood and the lives of patriots.  We are a nation under God. We can do this.

But, you ask, where is the thankfulness part in all of these examples?  There is a Hebrew word “Shema” that means a special kind of hearing, to really hear and then actively apply. Shema implies that we listen and do something, to heal a wound, to correct a problem, to reach out, to not tolerate evil, in its many forms. The thankful part is like that. To identify the wrong, to know what hurts my neighbor, is to know what must be corrected and then do it, and know we have a nation behind us! Better yet, to know we have God behind us. This is the lesson we must learn.

The election of 2016 may be just the catalyst we needed to pull us, force us, together as a nation. I know it seems painful, weird and so not right, but keep your faith, be smart, give this time.

I leave you with two thoughts: Intelligence is a gift, ignorance is a choice. Use our gifts! And then there is this — “Never measure God’s unlimited power by our limited expectations”!

So, what are you thankful for?  Think about it and be grateful.

For What It’s Worth.

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The Voice of God?

What does the voice of God sound like to you?  Have you ever heard it?  How do you hear it? Under what circumstances? Did the voice seem familiar? Perhaps you thought it was just your conscience giving you trouble. Had you heard it before? Can you sort out God’s voice from all the other voices that you hear?  Was it a loud voice, or was it a small voice, even a whisper?

In 1 Kings 19:1-13 is the story of Elijah fleeing for his life because he was carrying out God’s instructions.  Now he is hiding in a cave and the Lord spoke to him: “What are you doing here Elijah?” Elijah tells God that he has carried out God’s instructions, but now he wants to die, it has been too much.  God tells him: “Go out and stand before the mountain.” While Elijah is standing there, there is a terrible wind, an earthquake, and a roaring fire, but God was not in any of those.  After all had calmed  there was the sound of a gentle whisper of the voice of God.

How does God speak to you?  Be honest. Was there ever a time when your circumstances were such that you thought God was trying to tell you something? What form does God’s voice take?  Does He indeed speak to you in those circumstances of your life?  In the beauty of a moment, the smile of a child, the comfort of a friend?

In a previous essay on this Blog, I cited the Hebrew word “Shema” which means a special kind of hearing, to really hear and then actively apply. Shema implies that we listen and do something; heal a wound, correct a problem, reach out, not tolerate evil,  etc. Those times when we sense that the voice of God is telling us something, it does require shema, that special kind of hearing, listening and acting.

Many years ago, my daughter, her husband, my wife and I were in Chicago in early December, doing some shopping.  It was cold and there was snow on the streets and sidewalks.  As we walked toward where our car was parked, amid all the clammer of honking horns, Christmas carols, etc. I heard a very quiet voice telling me “help him”!  We continued to walk on, but then I heard it again “HELP HIM”, very insistent.  I realized it was the voice of my wife and her focus was on an older man, laying in the middle of the busy street, unable to rise. We helped him get to a bench on the sidewalk where he was assisted by a police officer.

Was the voice I heard just my wife, or the voice of God, or both?  Too often we are distracted by the voices and confusion all around us that we miss the voice of God. We miss His voice because of all the disappointments, discouragements, all those elements that up-end us, and disrupt our lives. Or perhaps the heat of arguments, the passion of others, the screams of politicians overwhelms that gentle whisper, that still small voice that is God speaking to us.

I recently heard a story of a farm boy who learned Morse Code and longed to be a telegraph operator. When an opening occurred in the local telegraph office, he wanted to go apply for the job.  However, his chores delayed him and he arrived an hour late for the interview.  When he walked into the office, it was filled with other applicants, each complaining about how long they had been waiting. He sat down, but very shortly he jumped up and walked into the supervisor’s office.  A little while later the supervisor emerged with his arm around the farm boy. He explained to the room full of applicants that he had been tapping out code instructions to them for the past hour.  The message was “if you can understand this, come to my office!  But because of the complaining they were doing, all had missed the message, except for the farm boy, who was hired.

The voice of God can come to us in so many different forms. Do we let all those distractions, or preconceived notions, or the influence of others cause us to miss the voice of God within ourselves? Do we miss the tapping on the glass but our complaining drowns out the message from God? Do we miss that “help him” voice in our ear?  Or perhaps, that wee small voice of our “conscience” is drowned out by the inconvenience of the “right thing to do”, or the discomfort of reaching out.  Or maybe we, too, will hear, like Elijah, that voice or God asking “What are you doing here?”  Will we have an answer?  Will you have an answer?

May God improve your shema on your walk with Him.

For What It’s Worth.

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On Your Faith Journey

When was the last time you examined the elements of your faith journey?  You know, those ups and downs, that inspirational moment when an event or a sermon, or some Bible study made a real difference.  Maybe it was a crisis in your life or the life of your family.  Perhaps the change happened in an ambulance on the way to a hospital.

Whatever that was, how did that change make a difference in your life? What followed that part of your faith journey? Did you find yourself more open to other’s needs? Did you seek to love your neighbor?  Did you ever consider that your personal faith journey is reflected in four specific events, or roads, documented in the New Testament?

Recently, I attended a chapel service where the subject of the homily focused on roads Christians travel in our faith journeys.  As I listened I could count four roads of significance:

  • Damascus Road — Paul’s encounter with Christ led to his conversion.
  • Jericho Road — The parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told when a lawyer asked the questions “what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ and “who is my neighbor”?
  • The Road to Calvary.
  • The Road to Emmaus.

The speaker’s homily got me thinking about the challenges that we encounter as we try to live our lives as Christians.  I thought about how these four roads illustrate specific stages in our walk, how they must converge at times, and how we adapt.

Damascus Road — This is the story of the Pharisee Saul, on his way to wreak havoc on the followers of Christ.  The story is a familiar one of Saul, as he approached Damascus, is confronted by Christ and was converted, becoming very strong in the Christian faith and where he became Paul, an apostle and minister to the Gentiles.

It truly is a dramatic story, but if we look at the heart of what happened to Saul we might catch a glimpse of ourselves.  Not the violent Saul, but the unbelieving Saul who makes the change to the believing Paul.  This “born again” change to a personal faith, a personal belief in Christ, is a transition that every Christian goes through, each one of us. Think about that.

Don’t think so?  Okay, let me give you a personal example.  I was born into a Christian home.  My father was a Congregational pastor and his faith was reflected in how our family embraced the church. I recall the Sunday School classes, starting with the “Cradle Roll” that bore my name, all the way to our high school Bible study group. Now, sometime in my growing up years my faith moved from following my parents lead to a personal relationship with Christ.  For me it was seamless.  No Damascus Road experience, no sudden transformation. Just a moment when I came to realized that my faith was mine!  It was personal, not my parents, but mine!  It is what I believed.  For me, that transition was a born again moment!

How about your faith transition.  Can you recall that point where your faith became personal, it became real, it became Your faith?

Jericho Road — Luke 10. The familiar story of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus is asked by an expert in the Mosaic Law “what should I do to inherit eternal life?”  During the conversation another question is raised: “Who is my neighbor?”  The answer is found in the parable of a man, set upon by robbers, left for dead alongside the road.  A priest and a Levite, in turn, saw the man and passed by on the other side.

Enter the Samaritan, who shows not only compassion but binds up the wounds of the man, places him on his donkey and took him to an inn where he paid the innkeeper to take care of him.  Jesus, then, asks us “which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers.”  “The one that showed him mercy.” And Jesus tells us to “go and do likewise.”

Now, the road to Damascus and the road to Jericho converge and become the Road to Calvary.  As Christians we must take both roads at the same time.  We take with us the faith that burns in our heart that we found on that road to Damascus.  And heeding Christ’s words to “go and do likewise” we tread that road that leads, not just to Jericho, but to Calvary as well. The lesson for us is that when we follow Christ we will be confronted by those times when we are taken out of our comfort zone, when our focus shifts to others, and we are called upon to reach out and “do likewise”. Where being a follower of Christ carries a risk!

Road to Emmaus — Luke 24.  The story is also a familiar one.  Following the crucifixion of Christ, two disciples are traveling to the town of Emmaus when they encounter a man later revealed to be Christ.  During their conversation, Christ reminds them of the prophets and what is said about a Messiah. Then, at table, he is revealed to be Christ when he broke the bread and blessed it, and gave it to them. Christ then vanishes from their midst, and they realize who that was, and “didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us”.

In the poem “The Hound of Heaven”, by 19th Century poet Francis Thompson, the hound is symbolic of God’s grace, ever pursuing the fleeing soul who seeks to hide itself until exhausted, he turns to Him alone and receives the Grace of God.  As we travel these four roads we arrive at our destination, a completeness in Christ. Christ, the Hound of Heaven, is waiting to be invited in.

So, where are you on these roads?  Have you accepted Christ?  Has He changed you? Are you just beginning to understand who your neighbors are and the meaning  of “go and do likewise”?  Are your eyes, once blind, now beginning to see? Or are you like so many of us who, in exhaustion, having tried everything else, now turn to God, and, to our surprise, we receive His grace.

Many years ago, riding in the back of an ambulance, my anxieties high almost to panic, not knowing what to do or how all this was going to be resolved.  In my desperation, I turned to God, the Hound of Heaven, not to bargain, but to surrender, seeking a miracle, a healing.  The healing would come later, but His grace and His presence were immediate.  May God bless you on your journey.

For What It’s Worth.

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I’m Simply Grand!

I know that the following will seem like a silly bit of prose, but beneath that silliness is something to considered.  When do we fail to take responsibility?  When does our arrogance and self-righteousness color and detract from our qualities?  When does “not my responsibility” blind us to the needs of others?  Just thinkin’.

I’m Simply Grand!

Don’t look at me I’m not to blame I didn’t rain out your silly game.  I didn’t bring the clouds so grey, and cause the thunder to pound away and dampen down your Saturday!

Don’t look at me I’m not the cause, I’m not known to have any flaws. I didn’t get grease on your white dress. I didn’t make your hair a mess. I didn’t cause that bad  grade. I didn’t cause the goof you made. And those extra pounds, I’m here to say I didn’t make you bulge that way!

Don’t look at me, I’m much too bright. My opinions are always right! I didn’t bake a cake that fell; my culinary dishes are always swell. It wasn’t me that stained the rugs. I didn’t encourage fast breeding bugs. I don’t recall raising my voice or ever making a bad choice.

Don’t look at me, why, I’m simply grand! I’m always there to lend a hand. I didn’t dig holes in the yard or put the neighbors on their guard, or cause the dogs to bark and bark, or blow a fuse when it was dark.

Don’t look at me my moods are fair, even with the burdens I must bear. I’m always cheerful, bright and gay. I’ll probably always be that way.

So don’t blame me if your world should sour. Think of me as an eternal flower. And during the course of a grouchy day, just pause and consider how I got this way. And then you will think — by golly gee, I could be perfect, just like he!

Now don’t get me wrong, I have my faults, I haven’t learned to dance the waltz, I don’t know how to fix my car or hit a golf ball very far. I haven’t yet written a book or got a cutthroat on a hook, and I have never sheared a ewe or climbed the summit of K2. So, you see, I’m just like you.  So above average!

I am sure you don’t think me a bore, but modesty prevents me from saying more.

The End

For What It’s Worth.

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From the Escott archives, Circa 1971, updated 2016.

To A Cancer Survivor

A letter to a cancer survivor from one just diagnosed with lung cancer, June, 2014.

Hope you had a great time camping with the kids.  I know they look forward to those trips and time away from the daily routine is important.  Especially after all that you have been through.

I wanted to tell you about a recent experience I had. Very early one morning, after I finished my morning readings, I was recalling the words that Dr. Smith had said to me just two days before.  He told me I had lung cancer and it was advanced and “hot” and he would need to operate soon!  My wife, Joanne, and I were shocked!  I immediately thought about the worse that could happen.  The doctor detailed what the surgery would mean and the length of recovery.  We left that consultation feeling dazed and numb.

So, as I sat there thinking about the words of Dr. Smith, I got more and more depressed.  Joanne tried to get me up and out of that funk, but, at that moment, I felt very much alone.

Then I thought about you, and all that you have been through.  How frightened you must have felt when you first heard “cancer”, “surgery” and “double mastectomy”. This is fear that you can’t really share with others.  You can describe it, but they don’t know, unless they have been down that road.  So you must have felt alone with your thoughts and fears, much of the time.

So here I am, at the beginning of that road you have traveled so courageously.  I can’t know all the ups and downs that you have endured, I just know that you endured them and here you are a survivor, an active, vibrant survivor!

That morning, as I thought about you and all that you have gone through, my depression changed into resolve!  I have to face this.  I have no other alternative.  But I have many heroes out there, who have or are travelling the same road that I must. I take strength from that!  You, my dear, are among my heroes like my own Joanne, my sister-in-law and my grandson, all of whom are survivors.

We do learn from others experiences and the bravery they show.  So, from your courage, I will take courage.  From your resolve, I will resolve. From your hard-headed following the doctor’s orders, I, too, will be hard-headed.  And, by damn, I will get beyond this!

So thank you.  We do not move through this life unobserved.  What we show in our strength is not lost on others.  Your children will indeed learn from the model you have shown them, maybe not so much now, but later.  Trust that.

My surgery is soon and my recovery will take a lot of time.  You have given me a real gift and it will be part of my recovery. Thank you.

I close with this conviction:  God is in charge of our lives, he loves each of us and the experiences we have are gifts.  That is something else you can trust.  God Bless You.

P.S.  My surgery and recovery was successful, thanks for the many, many prayers.

For What It’s Worth

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The Haircut and Other Memories

Recently I re-published an essay about my mother that I had written some two years before.  I had as hard time getting started with that essay because of my relationship with her was difficult on occasion, but then resistance faded away and there was my essay, my tribute to my mother.

On the other hand, my relationship with Dad was different.  Tucked away are many  memories of the two of us.  The time he built a sand box in the backyard and those times he would sit there with me playing cars, and roads, etc.  We would walk to the nearby hallow, and follow the trail down to the stream below. I was aware that people looked up to him and I know I was proud to be with him.

I suppose nearly every boy in our culture had the experience of getting their first haircut.  On the day of my first haircut, dad asked if I wanted to take a walk with him, which was always a treat.  As we walked down Lawson Avenue he told me that it was time for my haircut.  I was not sure what that meant, but if dad was there with me it was okay.  At Park Street we turned right and walked another block to the next intersection, and there it was: the barber shop.

What is amazing to me is how vivid my memory of that event is.  The barber placing a board across the arms of the chair.  Dad lifting me up.  The feeling of being almost as tall as my dad!  The barber was very kind and talked to me throughout my haircut.  The scissors were a little scary, but I was brave…and then it was over!  Oh, the feel of my hair on the top of my head…that was different.

The walk home was filled with me telling dad all about it, as if he had not been there all the time.  When we got home my mother was happy with my haircut, but my sisters thought it was too short!  All in all, it was a big plus for me.

The week they tore up Lawson Avenue, removing all the bricks and stacking them right there in front of our house, while the neighborhood gang of kids watched from the safety of our front porch. The back porch with its great view of our yard, all the way to the paved alley, a rarity, was the scene of many croquet games, hide and seek, and dramas, mostly good, but some not so much.  In my imagination that back porch sailed the seven seas with adventures, when those sisters of mine weren’t using it to play house with their dolls.

I also have clear memory of one Saturday morning when all the kids gathered in our backyard.  There in the yard were two or three large boxes.  Kids with imagination can manufacture stories and games, and those boxes served to do just that.  We  had so much fun!  And then it all changed!  Dad arrived with the news that we were “going on vacation”, whatever that meant.  I was so disappointed!  I wanted to stay and play, it had been great fun!

But “vacation”  proved amazing.  A cabin on Lake Erie! And that Lake, well, my eyes could barely take it all in.  I learned that driftwood toys are fun and wading far, far out into the Lake until I became frightened and was rescued by my sister, that is a memory that has stayed with me.  I don’t remember too many other things about that week, but I know it was the beginning of my love for the Great Lakes.

I had one special friend, George.  We were drawn to one another because we were both small and we were “the picked-on-ones” in the neighborhood.  Behind George’s house was a wonderful place, hidden by bushes and he and I would meet there and conspire, plotting all sorts of dire punishments that would be meted out to those bullies.  The minds of two little boys can come up with some pretty awful, and super painful consequences. We would get even!

There were those long summer days, out in the country, at our “Victory Garden”, the visits to that spring, the marvel at black snakes and their shed skins, the short hikes and the lessons about poison ivy and growing vegetables, and capturing fireflies at night. And always dad, there protecting, and teaching by example.

We all have those stories of growing up.  The cuts and bruises, the unfounded fears to overcome, the meaning of love lived and shared, the dreaded visits to the dentist, the chores that had to be done, and learning what responsibility means.  And new experiences of going to school for the first time, the first dog (Spuffer?) to train and take care of, and the lawn to be mowed and the bed to be made, and the hands to be washed before eating, and the words you cannot say, and the difference between truth and lie, and apples eaten right off tree and strawberries right off the vine, and stars at night, and stories and prayers at bed time.

Little memories, big memories, wonderful glimpses of life seen through the eyes of a small boy, growing up.

For What Its Worth.

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Is It Me? Is It You?

For more than ten years my church has struggled, mostly trying to catch up to and match those halcyon years of the past that we seem to hold out as the “golden age”, a time when everything seemed to be going right.  It is hard to realize that those specific years, and those specific elements are not coming back. What we can’t seem to get through our thick skulls is that those wonderful and creative years occurred because of US, the members of my congregation!

It was this same group that willingly served on committees, that participated with energy in “each one reach one” projects, that visited the sick and the homebound, that brainstormed fresh new ideas through Future Ministries, that warmly welcomed the visitor, that were instrumental in the forming of the Lutheran Cursillo movement in the state of Indiana, that aspired to become the mission center for our County, that aspired to be the “heart of town” and we did not view worshiping on Sunday as our only “obligation” as a Christian, each one of us saw a missional purpose throughout the week.

But, we have waited.  For however many years it has been.  We wait for a pastor who will work magic and lead us.  We wait for the inspiration to hit us.  We wait for something miraculous to happen.  We wait, and the years have gone by and our congregation has simply gotten older.

Does that sound a lot like your congregation?  If so, then I have some questions for you…and for me.

I call to mind the prayer of Sir Francis Drake: “Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity.  Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery; where in losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little (or too small), when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.”

Or, I could quote the Righteous Brothers:  Have we “Lost that lovin’ feeling”?  Have we individually lost that thirst for the waters of life?  When did we cease to dream of tomorrow or eternity?  When did we lose that sense of being bold, of taking uncertain steps, not being sure where that next rock or foothold will be?

I have no real answer to the above questions, I just have more questions.

Who will visit the sick and the homebound?  Is it me?  Is it you?

Who will step up and be part of working groups within the congregation?  Is it me?  Is it you?

Who will take the lead in warmly welcoming the visitor, the stranger?  Is it me?  Is it you?

Who will reach out to those members, friends of ours, who seem to be absent from participating in the work of the church?  Is it you?  Is it me?

Who will reach out to members of the community who have no church affiliation?  Is it you?  Is it me?

Remember that tall order that Jesus gave us: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples…” John 13:34-35  How do we love others as He has loved us?

This is how Greg Finke has put it in his book Joining Jesus on His Mission: “Remember you are joining Jesus on His mission.  He is already at work, doing the heavy lifting.  You are not going out for Him, you are going out with Him…Jesus divides up the work that needs to be done:  Jesus does the incredibly complex work that requires the Son of God…(while) we do the incredibly simple work that requires a little child…all we really have to do is enjoy people, and seek, recognize and respond to what Jesus is already doing in the lives of the people we are enjoying.”

Back to those questions.  The answer to each is YES!  Yes, it is you!  Yes, it is me!  Yes, it is us!  Each one of us.  We are charged to love others as Christ has loved us.  So, the answer is YES, but we are not alone.  Jesus has been working in our church and community, in your church and community, in each one of us all these many years.  We are called, not to do it on our own, but to join Jesus on His mission within our churches, our communities.  We are called to be His partners, “His disciples.”

Sometime in the near future each one of us will be called to do our part, to step up, to be just a bit bolder than we have been. That call might come from a pastor, a friend, or possibly a voice in your mind that says “do your part, take a chance, sail on uncertain, even wild waters”.  Take a leap of…what do you call it?  Oh, yes, FAITH. A leap of faith where we know with certainty that Christ will be with us all the way, and then some.

How about you?  How about me?

For What It’s Worth.

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Deception

I can hardly wait for the polls to come out!  Are we gaining on “them”?  Are they gaining on “us”?  Last time we gained a whole point, now we are only 17 points behind.  Is that a trend?  I can hardly wait for the polls to be announced!  Silly?

Have you read Ann Herbert’s short essay about “The Snake”?  She spins a tale about God creating not one man and one woman, but God creating a whole bunch of humans and putting them in the Garden of Eden.  He instructed them to play and have fun.  And they did.  They ran and frolicked.  Climbed trees and rolled down hills.  They waded in the streams and played hide and seek in the forests.  They had fun until they were exhausted and went to sleep.  In the morning the fun started all over again and the humans were happy and carefree. This was Paradise.

Then one day Snake entered Paradise.  Snake interrupted the humans having so much fun.  Snake told them they weren’t really having fun because they were not keeping score.  So Snake explained all the rules of keeping score so that some of the frolicking and other activities had to be dropped because there was no way to keep score, and fun changed.  It changed a lot, and all the laughter and giggling we had before turned into yelling and meanness. Snake told us that is what having fun means and we should trust Snake. Some of us believed Snake.

Polls.  Defining groups of people.  Maligning groups of people.  What can we say to get them on our side so that we have bigger numbers.  Oh, and fear.  Let’s use fear. Fearful people are easily lead, so let’s use that. Doesn’t matter what we say, we’ll just make up stuff that they want to hear.  No one will remember and soon it will be too late!  Just do it.  Results is what we want.

Is Ann Herbert’s essay just a fable?  Have we evolved into a people who just want to keep score, and draw no line on what we use to get there?  Bishop N. T. Wright in his excellent commentary on Revelation draws a direct parallel between today’s social and political scene and ancient Biblical times where Babylon was the great satan and prostitution was used to lure others.  If that sounds harsh, this is what Bishop Wright goes on to say:

“Here, says the great Empire (Babylon), is luxury beyond your wildest dreams.  Here all your fantasies can be fulfilled.  You don’t have to work hard (to be rich like me and I will do it for you)…all you have to do is come to me and I’ll share them with you.  Oh, yes, of course, there’s a price…And the rulers of the world, petty contractors, and (the unthinking multitudes) queue up eagerly, not knowing that they are all going into the dark.  By the time the folly is exposed for what it is, it is too late.  Once you take the golden cup (filled to the brim with corruption) offered by Babylon, you have to drink it.” (Reference revelation 17:1-8)

Bishop Wright asks “Where are we in this picture?”   I wonder, where indeed?  And prostitution, what is that about?  In the symbolic sense, are we selling ourselves on the altar of obsession with our labels of Republican or Democrat?  Are we blinded by the shiny objects and promises we hear constantly through the airways?  The good Bishop reminds us “that the best and most successful lies are those that are so like the truth that it only takes a little blink to be deceived.”

What has happened to our morals?  Our ethics?  Our sense of right and wrong?  Or more basic, what happened to our ability to think?  What prevents leaders to identify and condemn unthinking, morally repugnant acts, disrespect and slander, yet they support the source of such infantile, biased and unchecked vile streams of consciousness? Is the prize so dear that we are willing to sacrifice our morality and ethics, not to mention our children and their future? Are we willing to teach our children by our actions and our own words that morality, ethics and honesty are on a sliding scale, always benefiting who ????

Who are we?  What have we become? Indeed, where are we in this picture?  Each one of us is responsible, of course. We turn blind eyes, and deaf ears to the wrongs before us.  We’d rather not get “involved” and yet we cannot help but be involved.  Soon we will shape the future as we stand before the ballot box.  What do you want to hand off to your children?

May God save us.

For What Its Worth

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Apolitical Fantasy

For those of us who have binged on the speeches and talking heads of the Republican Convention, my sympathies go out to all of us.  Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was a little outrage, maybe it was a carryover from my study of Revelation, but last night, at some point in the final session, waiting for DJT to accept the nomination, I had this fantasy.  My apologies in advance should I offend anyone.

Here Goes — At the end of his speech, Donald J Trump does not accept the nomination! The Republican Party is thrown into chaos.  The Democrat Party thinks its a trick! The Quicken Loans Arena is wrecked by shocked delegates.  Even the police are stunned.  The previously fireproof Cuyahoga River bursts into flames.  Satan suddenly appears and volunteers to be the Republican candidate, and is nominated by acclamation by the child-like puppy dogs following the leadership of Reince Priebus. The skies open up and we see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse coming to vote.  Suddenly, the image of a man all clothed in bright light appears and we are blinded by the light and revved up like a deuce (?).  Then, coming out of the blinding light is another figure, a sinful woman, all in white, approaching to save us all.  Hallelujah!

Thousands upon thousands begin to flock to Cleveland so that it slowly settles into Lake Erie to be cleansed, and the lake becomes the place of baptisms for the whole world.  Pilgrims flock to the site, and happy hour is redefined in terms of margaritas, bloody marys and sourdough bread with cheese dip.  The woman in white is redeemed of her sins, which are forgiven.  The multitude shouts hallelujah.  The Four Horsemen fall on their faces and give homage to the new order.  And the world is at peace.  Amen.  But, wait, a shout goes up:  On To Philadelphia!  Oh, my!

Dear reader, I hope that your imagination and your sense of humor are intact.  My intention now is to binge-watch the Democrat Convention, and who knows what fantasy, provoked by all that hot air, might emerge.  Time will tell.  Watch this space.

For What It’s Worth.

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