17
Oct
20

TODAY

Today the mountains spoke to me…

… they told me not to worry.

Today the mountains sang to me…

… they told me all is well.

Today the mountains lectured me…

… they said they’ve seen this all before.

Today the mountains whispered…

… They said, “God is by your side.”

Today the mountains stood silently…

… inviting me to do the same.

“Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…”(Psalm 46:2, NRSV)

15
Oct
20

Where the Nutrients Are

A couple of years ago, I was driving from Point A to Point B, listening to the radio. As is usually the case, my car radio was tuned to the local National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate.

By Jeremy Nelson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70921545

The host of the show was interviewing a young musician named Josiah Wise who performs under the name, serpentwithfeet. His musical style is described as “neo-soul,” whatever that means. (As an aside, that is one of the reasons I enjoy listening to NPR so much; they put me in touch with people I might never seek out on my own.)

As Mr. Wise told his story, he talked about his upbringing in the church, and his early interest in classical music. Many of his friends told him that he had an opera-quality voice and should pursue music education at the conservatory.

The point in the interview when my ears really perked up was when Wise talked about applying to multiple conservatories and receiving rejection after rejection. 

Those rejections ultimately led him to exploring his own unique musical style and put him on the path to what has now become a very successful musical career. [In the interest of full disclosure, I have not heard Wise perform. But he has been on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, so he’s clearly no slouch.]

When asked how he felt as he was hearing “NO” after “NO” after “NO,” in response to his applications, Wise (appropriately named, as it turns out) said this, “I learned to love NO. Because NO is where the nutrients are.”

Take a minute with that. Let it percolate. Connect it with your own experience.

Think back on the times in your life when you have resolutely pointed yourself in a particular direction – full of vinegar and conviction – and then run smack-dab into a brick wall of NO!

What did you do? How did it affect you?

In my case, one of the biggest “NO’s” I ever received came in the form of the failure of the small advertising and public relations firm I had started. I never could find the sweet spot between actually DOING the business and going out and FINDING NEW business. And so, after five years, I had to face the facts and shut the doors. 

That gigantic NO then led me to God’s YES of seminary and a life in ministry.

When we dive into it, we find that the Bible is chock full of stories of God’s people encountering life-shattering NO’s: the Great Flood, the fall of the Tower of Babel, the enslavement of the Israelites, droughts, plagues of locusts, suffering, disease, pestilence, crucifixion, and death. 

And as we see in each of those stories, each of those NO’s produced a rich field of nutrients that nourished astounding New Beginnings.

A new world… a new people… a new land… a new destiny.

But I have to admit… I am not sure I have EVER heard a “NO” in my life, smiled, and thought, “YUM! More nutrients!” I still regularly catch myself wanting MY plans to succeed… wanting MY blueprint of the future to triumph.

Someday I hope to be as wise as a serpentwithfeet… finding nourishment in the NO. 

Until then, I guess I will just keep listening and learning.

Abundant blessings;

14
Oct
20

The Last Hurrah

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…” (Psalm 24:1, NRSV)

Seldom has there been a more oft-repeated, self-evident phrase than the one I am about to utter. Despite that, I press on…

“FALL IS MY FAVORITE SEASON!”

If it were not for the fact that our Fort Collins, CO sky is currently filled with smoke and ash particulates from a very nearby wildfire, Joan and I would be outside all day every day drinking in the autumnal splendor.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are just a few examples of some of God’s best handiwork:

As we were out walking with the dogs and admiring the brilliant splashes of color the other day, I wondered if there were perhaps an Abiding Truth or Profound Life Lesson lurking there among the red and gold leaves.

And lo and behold, it didn’t take long at all to find one.

Isn’t it interesting, I thought, that trees wait until the very last moment of their seasonal “lives” to put on their brightest, most brilliant displays? As we all know, in a few short weeks, all of those gorgeous leaves will be lying on our lawns, choking our grass, and demanding to be swept up and discarded.

Just in time for the icy cold “death” of winter to descend.

And yet, through the intricate genius of our Creator, the last hurrah of these trees’ lives is their best. Their closing act is when they pull out all the stops… bursting forth with beauty… showering blessings on all those who chance into their orbit.

Is it possible that this just might be a lesson for we humans who happen to be enjoying the autumn of our earthly lives? Might we also be designed to make our last act our best act?

Just something to ponder…

Abundant blessings;

12
Oct
20

Pointing It Out

Sometimes, I really appreciate it.

Like, for instance, when we are out dining with friends and Joan sees a big blob of spaghetti sauce on my chin and then signals me – using that secret sign language couples develop over time – to reach up and wipe it off. 

At other times… OK, I’ll own it; MOST other times… I am much less enthusiastic about having my flaws pointed out by someone else. 

I would much prefer to go through life clinging to the belief that I am possessed of an unerring ability to reflect and correct, all by myself. 

I mean, what the heck! I’m a WRITER, for crying out loud! I spend a lot of time trotting out a sentence, stepping back and eyeing it dispassionately, finding all of its flaws, errors in syntax, grammar, and construction, and then fixing it! 

Why shouldn’t I be perfectly capable of doing the same thing with all of the other parts of my life? I mean, why do I need Joan – or ANYONE, for that matter – to point my defects out to me? I’ll find them and fix them myself, thank you very much!

Wouldn’t we all prefer to believe that we have the same kind of internal GPS system our cell phones are equipped with? You know, the one that sees a traffic jam up ahead, plots a new course, and then calmly, confidently tells us, “Rerouting!”

Sadly, that is not the nature of the world we live in. All of us – even the super-attuned ones among us – need the loving correction of a pair of eyes that belong to someone else. 

Even when… maybe especially when… that correction stings a little. 

A wise Chinese philosopher once said, “Do not correct a fool or he will hate you. Correct a wise man and he will appreciate you.” 

Or, as our hero, Jesus the Christ, once famously said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32, NRSV). 

Of course, our willingness to receive correction has a lot to do with the manner in which it is offered. Oddly enough, I did not immediately say, “Thank you!” to the guy who blew his horn at me and helpfully suggested I should, “LEARN HOW TO DRIVE, MORON!!”

But our response to correction probably has a lot more to do with our willingness to receive it. Do we fear correction? Do we see it as a condemnation or rejection? Or do we see it as a compassionate act, motivated by another person’s desire to guide us toward excellence?

I will be the first to admit that this is still very much a growing edge for me. Too often I receive correction today – at the age of 68 – not very much differently than I received it at the age of 8.

Fortunately, though, I regularly give Joan and others around me, plenty of opportunity to help me work on correcting this personal blind spot. And thankfully, they do.

So, I guess I will close by asking you this: What do you think? How did I do? What should I change or correct about this post?

Go ahead… I can take it.

Abundant blessings;

07
Oct
20

DONE!

The voice of my sweet wife: “Are you finished in there yet, honey?”

ME: “Almost!”

Sweet wife: “OK. Just let me know. We need to leave in five minutes!”

ME (as we walk into whatever-occasion-it-was, 10 minutes after the festivities began): “Sorry we’re late. I had to finish.” 

I have a thing about finishing. Call it a personality quirk. Call it an endearing quality. Or you can choose to call it what my sweet wife Joan calls it: downright annoying.

I’ll admit; if I start a task, I like to finish it. “Half done is undone,” as my dad used to say. I love to see a long “To Do” list in front of me accruing check mark after check mark beside each item.

This completion drive of mine is probably why I keep shoveling food into my face long after I am comfortably full. I’m all, “Hey… if there is still food on the plate, it isn’t FINISHED, is it!”

That quality is probably one reason I like to blog so much. It is a project that I can start… and then finish. 

On the surface, this sounds like a wonderfully positive quality, doesn’t it? I mean, who doesn’t like a “finisher”?

Recently, however, I have discovered the “shadow side” (as my Jungian friends call it) of this characteristic…

… and that is, the inability to walk away.

Sometimes I have trouble going to sleep at night, even when I am physically bone tired. It is probably because I lie in bed making mental lists of all of the tasks l didn’t finish that day. 

Not to get too psychological about it, but I am reasonably sure the little “remember to clean your plate” voice inside my head has a lot to do with why I have struggled so much with retirement so far. Anyone who has been a pastor will tell you the same thing: the job is never done. There are always more sermons to be preached. There are always more hands to be held. There is always more spiritual growing to do. There are always more hearts to be softened. There are always more souls to be energized.

And yes… there are ALWAYS more meetings to attend. There is never a clean “breaking point” at which to just turn and walk away… although I know a lot of people who have done exactly that.

There is something to be said for sticking with a job and seeing it faithfully through to completion. But there is also something to be said – maybe even something more important –for being able to be at peace with laying a task down, turning your back, and walking serenely away. 

As he hung on the cross in agony, Jesus was able to muster one last timeless phrase. He said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30, NRSV) Some scholars contend that in addition to his mortal life, Jesus was also referring to the earthly mission he came to fulfill. The door to forgiveness and eternal life was now open. Nothing further was called for.

“Father God, the job you sent me to do is DONE. I’m ready to come home.” And even though we can look around today, more than twenty centuries later, and see millions of people who refuse his gift, Jesus knew that he had finished the work he came to do.

Perhaps there is a difference between the concepts of FINISHED and COMPLETED. Is it possible to say that my assigned role is finished, and yet still say that the overall task is not yet completed? As in, “Joe the electrician FINISHED all the wiring, but the house is not yet COMPLETED”?

Maybe.

Perhaps the lesson I am meant to learn here is that outcomes do not ultimately depend on me (or you). 

We are each given our tasks. We carry them out faithfully and to the best of our ability…

… and then we walk away, trusting that, as Paul wrote to the Philippians one day, “… the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, NRSV). 

Gosh, I sure hope so!

Abundant blessings;

(OK. Now I’m finished).

06
Oct
20

“Well, I declare!”

It is one thing to know who you are.

Today, after 60 plus years of trial and error and experimentation, I feel as if I am finally getting a handle on my own identity.

However, it is quite another thing entirely to DECLARE that identity to the world. 

And in today’s media-saturated world, none of us is lacking in opportunity for making multiple, unfettered personal DECLARATIONS.

If I choose, for example, I can declare my identity through my bumper stickers, yard signs, T-shirts, and the flags I fly. I can tell you all about me through my Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter feeds. 

I can let my clothes and hair tell my story. 

I suppose if I had the money, I could hire the Goodyear blimp to fly around town displaying a message that told you all about me.

But why? What is behind this DECLARE-A-PALOOZA we are so caught up in these days?

  • Maybe it is something we are trying to sell… something, for example, like an image of ourselves that we hope is true, but that we know really isn’t.
  • Maybe we’re searching for solidarity… hoping that our declaration will serve as a signal beacon to others who are similarly wired… inviting them to come and stand with us.
  • Or maybe we declare because we feel a little shaky about our identity. Maybe we hope our proud declaration will infuse a little reinforcing steel in our spines. 

I suppose any of those rationales are possible. 

Whatever the case, let me now – with confidence – make this declaration to you: YOU (Yes, you!) are a beloved child of God… the Eternal One… the Creator of the Universe… the Unsynonymous… the Alpha and Omega.

The words of 1 John 1:3 make a very similar declaration: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…”

I remind you of that aspect of your identity because I regularly need to be reminded of that myself. For too many of my waking hours I am making and listening to all kinds of other, conflicting declarations about who I really am.

But there is really only one declaration that really matters:

YOU ARE A BELOVED CHILD OF GOD.”

Now wouldn’t THAT make a great T-shirt!

Abundant blessings;

05
Oct
20

One Coin… Two Sides

So, have you ever seen this translation of the Bible? It’s the one that starts with the words, “In the beginning, God got political.”

No. Of course you haven’t seen that translation. I just now concocted that verse.

But I did so to make a point. The point is that whenever two or more people try to figure out the best way to do life together, politics enters the picture. 

Person A’s priorities and interests bump into Person B’s priorities and interests. What happens when those priorities and interests don’t mesh smoothly? Decisions have to be made about how to mesh those non-meshing interests.

And when that happens, BOOM! Politics enters the picture. 

I mean, God could have chosen to keep the universe sweet, simple, unspoiled, and void. But God didn’t. God decided to make a world. And God followed that up by making people. And that’s where this whole political mess began.

Some people of faith argue that faith is all about developing a personal relationship with God. And yet, from cover to cover, the Bible tells an intensely political story. In the Old Testament, God’s chosen people – the Israelites – continuously tried to follow God’s leading as they asked themselves, “How do we structure the society as a whole so that it reflects faithfulness to God?” Their story is a saga of ebb and flow… success and failure… faithfulness and infidelity in that project.

The Old Testament book of Amos offers a heavy dose of declaring God’s will for justice for the poor and marginalized and liberation for those living in bondage. 

And when God saw that the appointed “shepherds” (read “religious leaders”) of Israel were failing to attend to the interests of those on the margins of society, God issued this scathing rebuke through the prophet Ezekiel,“I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” (Ezekiel 34:15-16, NRSV).

Yikes!

Then we jump to the New Testament and see that one of Jesus’ favorite themes is “the kingdom of God,” or its companion phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” In fact, in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) we see him employing one of these phrases on 84 separate occasions. And as Warren Carter, my New Testament seminary professor famously said, “REMEMBER! If it’s repeated, it’s IMPORTANT!”

Keep in mind… at the time of Jesus’ life and ministry, he and all of Israel were subjects of the Roman Empire. In other words, they were part of the Kingdom of Rome. For someone to stand up and publicly declare allegiance to “the kingdom of God,” was seen as a daring, if not downright seditious, political statement. It was the same as saying, “I am NOT part of Rome’s kingdom.”

One of Jesus’ main actions was healing broken, forgotten, marginalized people. Parables like the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son all serve to illustrate his preferential leaning toward the outcasts of the world. 

Some call it mercy. Some call it justice-seeking. Some call it both.

Later in the New Testament, we hear another example of a similar kind of open political rebellion. The apostle Paul regularly declares that “Jesus is Lord.” (Acts 10:36, Acts 11:20, Acts 20:21, Romans 1:4, Romans 5:21, etc., etc.). When he said this in the context of his time, his audience also heard him declaring, “Caesar is NOTLord.” 

Based on much reading and prayerful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that faith is inescapably political. They are two sides of the one coin… the coin known as, “Humans living together in God’s creation.”

For those still wondering WHICH is the most faithful political horse to back during the upcoming election free-for-all, may I recommend this guidance from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, 12th chapter? That is where we read:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:14-19, NRSV).

Abundant blessings;

03
Oct
20

A Tangled History

Yesterday I wrote about the way politics and faith seem to live on polar opposite ends of the known universe. (a post which you can read in its entirety here.)

As we check the historical record, however, it seems they have not always been such oppositional bedfellows.

In the earliest pages of Hebrew literature, we see that guidance about how to live life was actually a pretty simple process; God spoke. People listened… or didn’t. Consequences followed. God spoke again, and the process repeated itself.

Among ancient civilizations, Israel was not alone in claiming some kind of divine authority as a guidestar. However, Israel was unique in clinging to the notion that Yahweh sought an on-going relationship with all the world’s inhabitants… beginning with them.

In the early stages of that relationship, there was no intermediary. God spoke directly to Adam and Eve… directly to Noah… directly to Abraham… and to Isaac and others. 

As the people became more numerous, we came the time of the Judges. These were not judges in the sense of today’s legal system. They were actually the first intermediaries God used to communicate God’s eternal words of guidance. (One of the earliest, and most respected judges of that time was a woman named Deborah. You can find her story in the Bible in the book of Judges, chapters 4 and 5). But the basic idea was the same… God spoke to the judges… the judges passed God’s words along to the people… the people either complied or didn’t. Consequences followed, and the cycle repeated itself.

But it wasn’t until the early Israelites stopped and looked around them that the real trouble started. When they looked to the north, south, and east, they saw the nations on every side were ruled by mighty kings from splendid palaces. They sat down on the floor – very much in the manner of a stubborn child – and said, “If they can have kings, so can WE!”

God tried to talk them out of it, warning of the lurking dangers, to no avail. Israel held its breath until it turned blue and passed out. And so, God threw up God’s hands in frustration, relented and said, “Fine. Suit yourself. Have all the kings you want. You’ll be sorry!” Or words to that effect. (1 Samuel 8:19-22, NRSV). 

And thus began history’s long, painful saga of the numerous attempts to answer the question, “Who will lead this nation?”

Some of those attempts have leaned on the leadership skillsets of extraordinarily talented people… and then on their somewhat less-talented offspring. Others have attempted to re-establish the idea that God is really in charge, working through a humanly engineered theocracy (from the Greek theokratia meaning “rule of God”). Most of the time we saw that those were theocracies in name only. People were still calling all the shots, merely invoking God’s imprimatur as they did.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Age of Enlightenment ushered in the consensus that it was a dangerous, unseemly thing to mingle the realms of the ethereal and the ephemeral. And as that consensus grew and took root, great thinkers of the day (such as Sir Francis Bacon), believed they had finally severed any of the dodgy connections that remained between faith and politics. 

But just like the south’s legendary kudzu plant, those connections simply would not die. We see remnants of them today in evangelical Christian groups like the Religious Right, Liberty University, and organizations such as Ed McAteer’s Religious Roundtable, Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, Tim LaHaye’s Council for National Policy, and many others.

Those connections also thrive at the other end of the ideological spectrum. The so-called progressive Christians have been known to mix a strong dose of political agenda in with their theology as well. As a result, some of their churches tend to look more like social service agencies than places of worship. 

The examples of excess we see on both the right and left leave us all wondering: is there even such a thing as a BALANCED, or MODERATE mixture of faith and politics? Or are these two things that should simply be forever separated… 

… like matches and gasoline?

Hmmm… where might we look for an answer to that question?

Hey! What are the chances that maybe the Bible has something to say on the topic?

Tune in next time.

Abundant blessings;

01
Oct
20

The Intersection

Sometimes they seem to go together like…

Concept of where Religion and Politics intersect.

… anchovies and marshmallows, or

… toddlers and Harleys, or

… armadillos and highways, or

… two other things that really, really don’t go together at all.

And no, I am not talking about Joe Biden and Donald Trump. I am talking about faith and politics

I mean, just look at these two! Politics is so very… OF this world. It happens right in the middle of the sloppy “sausage-making” of all the laws and policies that govern our lives together. 

In the often-unseemly world of politics, heads roll, dreams die, spirits wilt. Fortunes (and reputations) are made or lost… certainly altered… forever by the single stroke of a pen. It is an arena rife with name-calling, cheating, character assassination, graft and fraud.

YUCK!

Faith, conversely, purports to offer each of us a platform from which to take a higher, loftier perhaps, more principled relationship to the world around us. It invites us, in the words of Saint Paul, to, “… look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen…” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV) as the way to secure our footing. 

Like I said… armadillos and anchovies.

But are these two realms really so incompatible after all?

For the rest of this post – and maybe lapping over into one or two additional posts – I would like to try and answer three basic questions: first, IS THERE a relationship between faith and politics? Second, SHOULD THERE BE a relationship between them (whether there is one or not), and finally, what should that relationship LOOK LIKE… assuming there is and should be a relationship.

During my time serving as the pastor of several different local churches, I regularly heard members of the congregation say something like, “Faith and politics don’t mix.” Sometimes the comment was much more pointed than that. It was more like, “Pastor… I’d sure appreciate it if you’d just keep your politics out of it and just focus on preaching the WORD OF GOD!”

And in a very real sense, I had to agree with them. It would be utterly misguided for anyone who calls him or herself a follower of Jesus Christ (especially a pastor!) to promote the idea that the REAL savior of humankind is a card-carrying Republican or Democrat. 

Our hope – as Jesus reminds us – should only be built on the solid rock of God’s eternal promises. (Matthew 7:24-27). 

And yet, there is this central, unmistakable fact that none of us can avoid; faith and politics both have to do with LIVING OUR LIVES. 

These strange bedfellows both concern themselves with how you and I THINK… how we TREAT one another… how we MAKE DECISIONS… and how we set our PRIORITIES.  

They both claim they are based on a set of VALUES. They both claim that a system of MORALITY lies at the center of their work.

And it should not come as any great surprise when I tell you that even the most deeply spirit-centered, faith-based people I have met also have some pretty strongly held political views, too. 

We may not like it. It might feel “icky” at times. But whether we like it or not, faith and politics DO have a connection to one another. It is a connection we can trace just about as far back as time itself.

Moses and Pharaoh, anyone? 

A much more intriguing question to ask might be, “What kind of relationship should faith and politics have?”

But maybe we will leave just that one for another time.

Abundant blessings;

26
Sep
20

Editing Myself

[**WARNING** This post has been edited!!!]

Just yesterday, the moment I’ve been waiting for all these years FINALLY HAPPENED! I was SO excited!

See, this guy – out of the clear, blue sky – zinged me with an unnecessarily harsh comment. But this time, instead of leaving me perplexed and speechless the way these things usually do, I had the PERFECT comeback!

The only problem was, my “perfect comeback” didn’t cross my mind until five hours after the original zinger. And, of course, by then it was too late. 

Has anything like that ever happened to you? 

That is probably the reason I find myself so drawn to the written word. When I write, I don’t have to be sharp… witty… spontaneous… or nimble with my communication. I can sit, stew, ponder, and carefully choose my words before releasing them. 

And then, if that first combination of letters and syllables doesn’t quite fit, I can go back, cross them out, and choose different words to take their place. 

Come to think of it, that “editability” factor may be part of the reason for the popularity of social media. (Although, I have yet to see much evidence of editing in most of the Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram posts I am privy to].

Too often, left to my own devices (and the demands of the moment), my words are anything but polished gems. They spill out, roughhewn, onto the ears of innocent bystanders… sometimes illuminating, sometimes irritating, sometimes amusing, sometimes utterly baffling.

In this I suspect I am not alone.

Which is why I find it so important to remember God’s profound understanding of our weaknesses and shortcomings. God knows that when I snap at Joan or a neighbor, or say, “expecially” instead of “especially,” it is because I am a flawed and sinful being.

God remembers who I am and God forgives me.

But maybe more important than remembering God’s abiding forgiveness of US is the task of remembering Paul’s advice to the church folks at Colossae: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive…”(Colossians 3:12-13, NRSV). 

The state of our separation from God and what theologian Paul Tillich called the “Ground of Our Being” is profound and irreparable… except through our humble confession and the grace of Jesus Christ.

My personal hope is that I will remember both God’s rich forgiveness of ME and Paul’s guidance to forgive OTHERS. And if that happens, maybe my words will come from a different place than that blemished, mercurial emotion-pot inside me. 

And if THAT happens, maybe it will cut down my “editing” task just a bit in the future.

Abundant blessings;




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