Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Book of the Month II

I mentioned previously that I'm ready Nehemiah this month.  A verse of chapter 6 keeps entering my life as a refrain.  "They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, 'Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.'  But I prayed, 'Now strengthen my hands.'"  (Nehemiah 6:9)

Nehemiah was facing opposition in trying to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after the people of Israel returned from captivity in Babylon.  Different leaders of nearby tribes floated rumors and the like to thwart his leadership 

So much around the world is scary and seems to say you won't make it.  There is a vibe that your work in the world will not succeed and the constant onslaught wears you down.  

Remember, you are called by Christ to be light to the world.  You have a mission and a purpose.  Be Christ to your neighbor, share the love of God in your actions and words.

Nehemiah was called by God for a mission.  His success reminds me that when God is involved, and God's plans cannot be thwarted because as Dr Martin Luther King eloquently stated, "the arc of the universe bends towards justice".

When feeling ground down, pray "Strengthen me God for the mission you've given me."

Go, let your light shine so that others may see your faith in action and give God praise.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Behavior Conversion

"First you make your habits, then your habits make you." Coach Suzanne Murphy, my senior year lacrosse coach in college.

The gospel text in John 4:4-42 totally changed me in 1999. Sean Burke, a TA I admired and respected at seminary, had just come out to me. I was stunned, shocked and not really sure what I said as we ended a chat after worship. What I do know, is that my homework for Biblical criticism that night was to read John 4.

God opened my eyes that day. Christ encountered a woman of a different faith background who was by Jewish law committing a sexual sin. Christ didn't respond to her with judgment or demand she change her ways. By simply meeting her, and her getting to know Christ, she went away and converted her whole village. We do not know what happens to her later, but she responded to Christ with tremendous faith.

So, the habit I needed to learn was clear. Lose the judgment, I had picked up in the military. It wasn't easy. I worked at it daily. Over time, it became a habit. Be the light of Christ in these challenging times. Welcome and accept people where they are at, and invite them to come and see the goodness of the Lord. It is Christ who melts hearts with love and mercy, not judgment and threats.

Once a week, late at night, I'll see Sean is online. We'll IM back and forth and share the joyous of ministry. He is now a New Testament professor at a college helping students see Christ in the world around them.

God is good, all the time.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Criticisms we face

One of the disheartening parts of being a pastor is hearing others "bash" Christians for being hypocrites. That we do not practice what we proclaim in the sanctuary. It's true, collectively as the body of Christ we have fallen short of the high standards Jesus set for us. Ghandi once remarked "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Bill Maher takes aim at Christians as well in this clip found on youtube.com, the language is not totally clean, HBO cable is not regulated by FCC.

It would be easy to respond with anger, or to laugh this off. I disagree with practicing my faith privately, Christ so shapes my life that is fully integrated into my thought processes.

All that said, I take some of Bill's comments as a prophetic word. It reminded me of one day in the USAF, when Capt Jewell and I debated faith issues. He asked point blank, "If you believe in forgiveness so much, why are Christians so afraid to admit when you make a mistake? Would you be better off to just say, Sorry, we got it wrong, and we'll do better next time"

Since then, I have strived to admit mistakes and failures. Daily, I examine my life and see where I too fall short and fail. Then following Christ's teachings, I repent. If what I did hurt someone, I seek them out and apologize, maybe even doing something as restitution. Next step is turning around to realign myself with God's Word. Psalm 51 humbles me

"1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge."

I think over the last 20 years, the word Christian has changed its social meaning. Many view Christian as a brand name...Christian books stores, Christian bands/music, etc. Christian is not a brand name that we wear like Izod, Champion, or LL Bean. It is a way of living in the world, trying to bring God's light of love and mercy to the dark scary places of the world. I think that's why the Mac/PC mock ad struck such a chord with me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Christian vs Christ follower

Originally, Christians were called people of the way. (Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life). To get back to that focus, maybe a name change is in order. I remember in my high school Creative Writing class, Rob wore a t-shirt that said "I'm Christian, not religious" It was a great conversation about the difference between living as a disciple and doing faith stuff by rote. How do you define Christian? Is it a way of life? Or is it an accessory you put on occasionally? How would your life be different if you woke up every morning and said, "I am a Christ follower!" Try this out for a few weeks, let me know if it makes a difference.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Scooby Snacks

Scooby Doo has been a favorite cartoon of mine for decades. There is something about blending a dog, mystery, and a riff from the Air Force Song (off we go into the wild blue yonder) that speaks to me.

Seriously, I identify with Scooby Doo. Almost daily, I encounter situations where I want to be brave and courageous, but instead I feel anxious, afraid, too scared to try. Then I remember, the Scooby Snacks of faith, the sacraments that connect me to the divine. Yup, the water, and the bread and the wine, all remind me God made a promise to me. Remembering God is with me fills me with courage to "do" what needs to be done.

Philip Melanchthon was afraid to enter a debate one day, and begged Luther to take his place. Melanchthon whined about not knowing the faith well enough to promote the reformers views appropriately. Luther retorted, "Sin boldly and believe more boldly still."

In other words, sometimes we step out in faith to do the right thing and later discover it wasn't perfect. Then we trust in God's mercy and forgiveness found in the Christ to continue living. If I err, I confess (apologize) and return to the Lord.

Remember, God came down, so we can reach out to others. Share the good news of Christ and rejoice.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dicipleship NASCAR style

Explaining discipleship in the 21st Century is easy. Back in 2004, I realized that to be a pastor in the community I lived in meant learning about NASCAR and cheering for a racer. I always go for the underdog, and selected a driver who was in his second year and finished 5th in the previous year's rookie of the year because I was a 2nd year pastor, and my lacrosse jersey # in college was 5.

A quick search of the internet lead me to his home page; and there I encountered his followers. People who had known him from high school, a home town boy made good. I was hooked and wanted to know more. So I started reading everything I could locate on the 'net, posting obscure articles about this man so others could know what was being said.

Others in their following of Scott Riggs, write original pieces to encourage fans and the driver alike, check out http://scottriggsfans.yuku.com/topic/910/t/Twas-The-Night-Before-Daytona.html.

My following the events of NASCAR is like my following of Christ. It is a daily thing, daily devotion of time to read scripture and see what God is doing in the world. The old stories of rescue are still happening in the world around us.

As a group of people, as a community of believers in Christ, we are called to encourage one another. Think of it as drafting. Working together makes things easier because there is less resistance and we can go further then we dreamed was possible.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Prayers after Shooting in Northern Illinois University

Not again, God, not again.

When will we learn, learn a new way to resolve disputes and conflict. What is this fascination on taking things out on others to restore honor...to be remembered for acts that hurt and horrify. I don't understand. I don't know how to stop this insanity...and so I turn to you in shame and humility and beg you to act for you are my rock and fortress in these times.

Be with all the victims of the shooting, the families and the community. Heal the wounds, the physical injuries, the mental trauma and the spiritual doubt that has come upon the people. Swirl in the open spaces of those who mourn so that they feel whole.

Use us to build a living temple, one which brings you on honor and glory through our living in peace and harmony with all of creation. Amen

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rediscovering an old book

I am tossing down a gauntlet, challenging people to read a book of the Bible a month. While reading Philemon (all 24 verses of it) won't take long. Genesis might take a few hours.

Why do it? To get reconnected to the power source of our life, God almighty, our Creator and Redeemer, who makes us holy.

I'm reading Nehemiah right now. Chapter 1 always blows me away, it starts with prayer and confession. It starts with the author humbling himself before God, and begging God to act. This is what I need in Lent; to drop to my knees admit my failures and short comings before God and beg God to act.
  • admit my failure to follow through on ideas
  • my failure to keep Christ the center of everything in my life because I've allowed the distractions to pull life out of shape
  • my failure to serve the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength

in my confession comes an answer in the silence that follows...dear child of God, long ago, my son went to the cross for you. He paid the fine for your sins, and I still raised him from the dead. Do you think I would treat you differently? He made you holy and righteous, with a clean heart. Move on, do justice, love mercy, and continue to walk humbly with me, your God.