Posts Tagged ‘faith

17
Aug
20

Questioning Church

Church and coronavirusFor most of my life, there has been very little question about church.

To be sure, different chapters have witnessed different relationships to church.

There was the “blind obedience” stage, the “I’m just here to meet cute girls” stage, the “open rebellion/rejection” stage, the “social obligation” stage, the “HEY! There really is something powerful and important going on here!” stage, and the, “paid professional cheerleader” stage.

Today, following the one-year anniversary of my retirement from the ministry, I find I am still trying to figure out what to call this current stage.

As Joan and I settled into our new lives here in Fort Collins, CO, I was all set to call it the “Active, volunteer participant” stage.

But then along came The ‘Rona. And with it the top-to-bottom questioning of everything about Life Itself, including the church part.

Our little Lutheran church here has made the best of a difficult situation. Every week we have a time-flexible worship service and a time-bound Zoom service of Holy Communion. It is a little strange (but actually, a little fun, too) to sit on our couch with cups of coffee and our dogs, singing hymns, listening to the sermon, praying the prayers, and reciting the Apostle’s Creed.

We willingly accept that these strange times call for some strange practices… at least for a while.

This time of pandemic, however, has stolen one of my favorite parts of engaging with a faith community; it has rudely moved in and snatched away the experience of physically gathering with fellow journeyers. I believe there is something sacred – and essential – about different lives and experiences coming together once a week to see each other’s faces and engage in acts of worship.

But the longer this strange new church world goes on, the more I find myself asking questions. Questions like:

  • “What IS church supposed to be about anyway?
  • “What am I – as an unpaid, unprofessional Christ-follower – supposed to be about at this stage of my life?”
  • “What is the actual connection between encountering the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and the need to gravitate to the same place at the same time every seven days?”
  • “Why does the action of ‘making disciples’ actually require the presence of a lovely, comfortable, technically-equipped building?”

And finally…

  • “Is it possible that this unsettling, disorienting time might be calling all Jesus-followers to work together to give birth to a new way of being the church?”
    • I mean let’s face it… it has been 500 years since the last Reformation (which, oddly enough, happened roughly 500 years after the PREVIOUS reformation). Do we think it is possible that God is sending a not-so-subtle message that it is time for the next Reformation?

I would love to hear YOUR thoughts on the subject.

First; how has this time of pandemic re-shaped your relationship to church?

Second, what messages might Christians be called to take from this odd time?

 

Abundant blessings;

11
Aug
20

U2Charist?

U2 picAre they? Or aren’t they?

Inquiring minds want to know: is U2 a Christian band? Or are they just a rock band that – if you look at some of their lyrics and squint really hard – you can occasionally see a Christianish theme… like one of those “Magic Eye” posters from the 90s?

This is a question with legions of fans willing to go to the mat to defend both the “YES” and the “NO” responses.

In 2014, New Yorker reporter Joshua Rothman wrote an essay in which he explored the theological roots of the legendary Irish rockers. He investigated a variety of sources and interviewed U2 band members to try and resolve the issue once and for all.

On the “YES” side of the debate, we have a book titled, Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, one of several books exploring the theological ideas in lead singer Bono’s lyrics. Rothman also points out that many churches around the world (most, oddly enough, Episcopalian) have held “U2charists”—full services at which traditional church music is replaced with songs by U2.

But what about the band members themselves? What is their story?

The nucleus of U2 met when they were still in high school, in a town just outside of Dublin. While still in high school, Bono, lead guitarist the Edge, and drummer Larry Mullen grew close to a faith community called Shalom, whose members Bono has described as living on the Dublin streets “like first-century Christians.”

Shalom was a big presence in their lives during the recording of U2’s first two albums, “Boy” and “October” (“Gloria,” the best song on “October,” has a liturgical chorus, sung in Latin). The turning point came just as the “October” tour was set to begin: the Edge announced that he wanted to leave U2, because the twin demands of piety and rock stardom could not be reconciled.

As the group grew musically (and, we can assume, spiritually), the period known as The Troubles descended on their native Northern Ireland. Protestants and Catholics took to the streets in violent, bloody clashes that ultimately left more than 3,600 people dead. Based on their first-hand experience of the horror of inter-religious warfare, it should not come as a surprise that Bono was once quoted as saying, “I love Jesus. But I can’t stand the church.”

Their song, Sunday, Bloody Sunday speaks directly to the heart of that historic conflict.

Some of their songs – Yahweh, With or Without You, Carry Each Other, Where the Streets Have No Name – seem to point their lyrical force directly to the heart of the Christian gospel message. Others – while melodically rich – seem to be nothing more than sappy boy/girl love songs or social protests.

Perhaps a better question – meaning a better question than: Are U2 Christians, or aren’t they?” – might be this one: If you are indeed a person of faith, why force the world to GUESS about it? I mean, why not just come right out and SAY?

I can’t answer that question for Bono, the Edge, et. Al., but I certainly can answer it for myself. During those times when I am trying to present a brave front to my fellow believers, my answer would be something like, “I am often not overt about my faith because I want to let my life speak for itself. For me, it is more important that faith be CAUGHT instead of TAUGHT.”

During the other times – the times when I am opening up and being honest with myself and with you – my answer is, “I don’t come right out and announce my faith because I fear being ostracized by non-believers, or nominal Christians. I just want to be thought of as, ‘one of the guys.’”

Kind of pitiful, isn’t it? I mean, considering everything that Jesus sacrificed for ME.

Joshua was right when he said, “… choose this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15, NRSV).

We all have to make that choice.

But we also have to decide to fearlessly and unabashedly DECLARE that choice to those around us. As Jesus himself said, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33. NRSV).

Something to think about…

 

Abundant blessings;

09
Jul
20

Puzzle People

Jigsaw puzzleAs you can see from the photo immediately to the right, Joan and I have almost completed this 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. All that remains are fitting the last pieces of the pale blue sky together.

This puzzle was very much a quarantine-inspired undertaking.

“Good job!” You might be tempted to say. “Way to go!”

You would, however, immediately withdraw your lavish words of praise when I confess to you it has taken us nearly 90 days to get to this point.

We began the project with great enthusiasm, dumping the box out onto our dining room table, grouping all of the similarly colored pieces together, bringing over snacks and drinks, taking turns studying, fussing, fiddling, and painstakingly fitting pieces together.

After a couple of sessions each, the wind of motivation suddenly left our sails. The puzzle just sat there for days… fragmented… silently judging us.

About a month ago, as we both sat staring dejectedly at the scattered pile of pieces, Joan and I looked at one another and said, “I guess we’re just not puzzle people.”

Puzzle people (and God bless you if you are one) must possess great powers of concentration. They must be infinitely patient. They must be able to visualize patterns and connections in their mind’s eye. They must have a finely-honed appreciation for solitude… or else possess the ability to work well with others.

Puzzle people are able to play the long game and do not set their sights on immediate gratification.

As I sat down and began listing out all of these traits, I found myself muttering, “How awesome would it be to be a Puzzle Person. Too bad I’m not wired that way at all.”

But then I stopped and looked again. I noticed that in spite of these serious impairments in my God-given proclivities, I was less than 30 pieces away from finishing this puzzle. The bliss of hearing that soft “CLICK” as I drop the final piece into place is just hours away.

“Is that amazing or what?” I whispered. “How did that happen?”

And then I remembered that sometimes God sneaks up behind us and surprises us with a totally unexpected result in a situation we thought we had completely figured out.

(Hang on here… I am not claiming divine intervention was at work in our puzzle progress. I am beginning to piece together a spiritual analogy of sorts. Hang in with me for a minute…)

Throughout the pages of scripture, we find countless examples of God deputizing people who believed they were hopelessly ill-equipped to do necessary deed. There are scenes of denial and protest and, “Sorry God, you’ve got the wrong guy/gal. Go pick someone else.” Following by that hopelessly inadequate person suddenly stepping up and delivering the goods.

There is Moses, for example.

And Gideon.

And Deborah.

And Ruth.

And Esther.

And David (later, KING David).

And Ezekiel.

And Peter.

And Saul (later, Paul)

And on and on, ad infinitum.

I don’t believe these stories are meant to teach us that sometimes God swoops in and supernaturally imbues hapless schlubs with magical new powers. Although I am sure that does happen sometimes.

What if the point of these stories is more to show us how God intervenes and opens our eyes to abilities we already have, yet which we have somehow submerged under layers of doubt and despair?

What if it is the case that each of those “unlikely biblical heroes” (and each of us, too) already had those remarkable faculties FROM DAY ONE and just needed a godly “nudge” to believe in and USE them?

Imagine that!

 

Gee… maybe I AM a puzzle person after all!

18
Jun
20

Order out of Chaos

Extension cordsLook at this.

Isn’t it amazing?

My organizational genius of a wife took our laundry basket full of a mishmash of all sizes and styles of extension cords and – armed with only her labelmaker and a few plastic containers – turned it into this miracle of peace and harmony.

Ahhhh! Satisfaction.

So inspired was I by her de-cluttering, systematizing prowess that I immediately turned my attention to the task of taming the long-ignored Garage Beast!

Mission accomplished!

Satisfaction AGAIN!

In spite of the fact that I occasionally seem to be content to wallow around in an untidy environment, there remains something deeply satisfying about bringing order out of chaos.

It seems almost as if this ordering drive might be hard-wired into our humanness, doesn’t it?

Some theologians, in fact,  have argued that the Genesis creation story begins, not with God creating SOMETHING out of NOTHING, but rather with God creating ORDER out of CHAOS. Indeed, we read in Genesis 1:2, “… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Gen. 1:2, NRSV).

But I wonder… if it is true that the impulse to ORDER our world is an essential, defining quality of the human experience… can we ever go overboard with this impulse? In other words, can there be such a thing as TOO MUCH order… and not enough CHAOS?

Lately we have certainly seen a whole lot of chaos in the streets of our major cities. Violent protests have erupted in the wake of murders by armed police officers. Chaos erupts. Order is imposed. MORE chaos erupts. And even more order is imposed.

But then sometimes… somehow… something new gets born out of that chaos. Ask anyone who has ever been present at the moment a brand-new baby is delivered into the world; it is a moment with more chaos and mess and disorder happening all at once than you will likely EVER see anywhere else!

And lest we forget…

  • From the chaos of 40 years of wandering in the desert, the new people Israel was born.
  • From the chaos of the American Revolution, this country was born.
  • From the chaos of riots and unrest in the early 60s, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born.

There is no doubt that this moment is calling forth the need for something new to be born in the way our governments go about the work of ensuring public safety. The day when we need heavily armed, militarily trained phalanxes of police officers to keep the peace is gone… if indeed it ever existed in the first place.

Yes, we need order. Yes, we need peace. But not at the price of our freedom. And not if it means whole segments of our population end up living in daily fear of the very institutions appointed to ensure their safety.

You see, God has been trying to teach us this lesson from Day One… first through Abraham, then Moses, through the judges, the prophets, the kings, and through his only begotten Son, Jesus. God desperately wants us to understand that the only sure path to both peace and freedom is by following the Big Two…  1.) Loving God, and 2.) Loving Neighbor.

Loving our neighbors… WHO they are, AS they are… can be a little chaotic at times. Because let’s face it, some of them are just not that lovable.

But it is also an essential part of the people we are each made to be.

 

Abundant blessings;

30
Apr
20

It Certainly is Puzzling

“… because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV

During this time of pandemic, jigsaw puzzles have caught FIRE!

Not literally, of course. What I mean is, sales of jigsaw puzzles have absolutely skyrocketed in popularity as people search for healthy activities while socially isolated at home.

So Joan and I thought, “Why not?”

Granted, we have not really been big “puzzle people” in the past, but it seemed like a good, harmless, fun family bonding activity and a welcome respite from endlessly cleaning our counters.

Here is a picture of 10 days of our progress on a relatively simple 500-piece puzzle: Partial puzzle

I am proud to report that I am responsible for at least four of those blue edge pieces on the top and three or four of the yellow connections there in the middle while Joan has done the rest.

Sad, isn’t it?

I don’t know… I sit down there now and then with every intention of making some genuine progress. I squint and strain and test out one connection after another. Sometimes my efforts are rewarded with the satisfying “CLICK” of a fit, but most of the time it is just an exercise in futility.

And then I remember that the hedges really need to be trimmed and ZIP! I’m out of there!

I am sure glad that God doesn’t do the same with me.

Because even though I am the product of God’s supernaturally creative power, I’m sure I am a regular puzzle to him. If I listen really closely, I can hear God say things like, “Why did you do THAT, Russell?” or, “Come on, pal… you should be able to figure that out for yourself,” or, “DUDE! What do you need? A big flashing neon sign in the sky??”

And yet, unlike me with that jigsaw puzzle, God doesn’t throw up his hands in frustration saying, “What’s the use? This is just never going to come together.” Instead God hangs in there… patiently working with the material on hand… confident that there will ultimately be a connection.

The key – whether working with jigsaw puzzles or people – is faith.

And in case the meaning of that word “puzzles” you, check out this definition offered by the writer of the book of Hebrews, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV).

FAITH is what keeps me searching through the pile of funny looking pieces to find just the ONE that fits next to this one.

Faith can see the unseen. It persists in spite of discouragement and frustration, knowing that everything we need is there somewhere, even if we can’t see it.

Don’t be fooled: faith is not a passive acceptance of the status quo. It is the invisible energy that fuels our ability to continue slogging through a difficult passage.

This time – the time of global pandemic when no one really has a good picture of the future and when everyone is frustrated with the lack of progress – is the kind of time that is TAILOR-MADE for faith…

… and jigsaw puzzles.

 

Abundant blessings!

23
Apr
20

Helicopter Prayers

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”         – Psalm 28:7, NRSV

Medevac helicopterShe was tiny. So tiny the bed covers seemed to swallow her.

There were so many wires and tubes and machines protruding from her it was difficult to find the person in the forest of medical technology.

She had been here a little over a week. Her cancer – originally diagnosed five years ago – had returned with a vengeance. Emergency surgery had recently been performed to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor from her abdomen. No one – including her family – was painting an optimistic picture.

Rose was dying. And she knew it.

My friend Bill was Rose’s pastor. When he walked into Rose’s hospital room, he was prepared for the worst. During his six years serving this congregation, Bill had come to know Rose as a woman of deep faith and high energy. Her special mission was taking communion to the – as she called them – “old folks” who could not make it to the worship service to receive the Sacrament directly.

Rose, incidentally, was 82.

Rose’s eyes were closed as Bill pulled a chair up to the side of her bed. He didn’t want to disturb her and so thought he might just say a brief, silent prayer, leave his business card on the bedside table and tiptoe out the door.

As soon as he sat down, Rose’s eyes opened. She turned her head to the right and said cheerily, “Well good morning, Pastor!” Then quickly asked, “It is morning, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Yes, it is morning, Rose,” Bill said. “I am so sorry I woke you up. I know you probably need your rest.”

“Oh nonsense,” she said with a weak, dismissive wave of her bandaged and intubated hand. “There will be plenty of time for resting after I’m gone. Actually, you caught me in the middle of my new ministry.”

“Oh?” Bill said, not even trying to conceal the tone of surprise in his voice. “Tell me about that.”

Rose replied, “Well, if you look out those windows there on the other side of the room, you will see that my room looks out directly onto the hospital’s helipad. Can you see it?”

“Yes,” Bill replied. “I see it.”

“Well, every time the helicopter takes off from there, I say a prayer for the pilot and each of the medical people on board. I pray that they will reach their destination safely. And then when the helicopter comes back, I say a prayer for the person they are taking into the hospital and for all the staff who will be taking care of them.”

Rose paused a moment and then added, “They just took off a minute ago and so I was in the middle of my prayer when you walked in.”

By every outward measure, Rose’s situation was hopeless. The progression of her illness was beyond the reach of the best that medical science could offer. Only a miracle (never to be dismissed!) could save Rose at this point.

And yet, in the midst of it all, Rose’s spirit prevailed. Hope did not die. Rose’s hope came from a deep trust that God would always provide for her… even if that provision was not designed to be in the form of physical healing.

Like each of us who are dealing with this virus, I have an entire set of hopes related to my own health and safety and the health and safety of the people I love. But when I think of Rose and the hope that sustained her, I am comforted to remember that the deepest, most lasting hope comes from putting my whole trust in God… no matter what set of circumstances I might be facing.

Abundant blessings;

21
Apr
20

Someone to believe

“Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.”
Isaiah 43:4, NRSV

George MarshallIf you know the name George Catlett Marshall, you know him as the general who led the U.S. Army through World War II, or as the man who served as the U.S. Secretary of State, or as the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, in honor his plan to rebuild Europe following the devastation of that war.

You may not, however, know him as a poor student whose academic ineptitude was a source of great shame to his father and older brother. As Marshall wrote in his autobiography, “The truth is, I was not even a poor student. I was simply not a student, and my academic record was a sad affair.”[1]

Marshall had his sights set on following in his older brother’s footsteps and attending VMI – the prestigious Virginia Military Academy. But his heart was broken one day when he overheard his brother Stuart talking to their mother. He was begging her not to let George go to VMI. Marshall wrote his brother did not want him to attend VMI because, “… he thought I would disgrace the family name.”[2]

So how does that happen? How does anyone make the journey from hopeless academic underachiever to Nobel Prize winning diplomat in the course of a single lifetime?

Marshall wrote that one of the things that proved to be the key in turning his life around was the extreme nature of his brother’s negative attitude. It drove him not only to prove his brother wrong, but also to OUTDO his brother’s performance at VMI.

Some of us are wired similarly. We hear aspersions being cast on our ability or character and we respond with a defiant, “I’ll show YOU!” surging on to greatness. Others among us might hear those attacks and cave in, whimpering, “You know, they’re right. I really am a schmuck.”

But Marshall had something else going for him. Although his father was disappointed and embarrassed by George, his mother, “… rejoiced in him, offering unconditional love and support.”[3] She even sold the last of her family’s property – including a lot she had hoped to eventually build a house on – to raise the necessary money for Marshall to attend college.

How about you? Do you have someone like that in your corner? Someone willing to tell you how much they love and believe in you? Someone who will go to extreme lengths to show you just how much you mean to them, even when you continue to fall short and miss the mark?

Before you hasten to say “NO,” go back and re-read the Bible verse at the top of the page. These words were originally spoken by the prophet Isaiah and were intended to convey the heart of God. They were addressed to the Israelites living in Babylonian exile to help them understand – even though their future appeared bleak and hopeless – that their Creator considered them precious and valuable.

George Marshall’s mother gave up a valuable piece of real estate to ensure her son’s future. In this passage, God says he will give up NATIONS for you.

We are in the middle of a time that has become incredibly difficult for many people. You may know people who have lost jobs because of this virus. You may know people who have become sick or even some who have died. As the days of isolation stretch into weeks and months, it is hard to see any light on the horizon.

Even on the bright days a cloud seems to have parked itself permanently overhead.

Today, however, we should all stop and take a moment to remember this unchangeable fact; we each have a very powerful SOMEONE in our corner who believes in us. We have someone who will go to outrageous lengths to give us a future with hope.

That SOMEONE loves you more than you will ever know.

 

Abundant blessings;

[1] The Road to Character, by David Brooks. Random House, New York. 2015. Page 106

2 Ibid, p. 107

01
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 1

One man counseling anotherOver the course of my 20 years in professional ministry, I like to think I have offered some measure of comfort to people who have come to me seeking counsel in the midst of deep, personal crises.

But I know for an undeniable fact that my performance as a counselor has sometimes stunk up the joint, too.

I am thinking specifically of the time Troy came to see me.

As his story poured out, I tried to remember if I had met Troy (not his real name) before. But since I was one of a multitude of associate pastors at a megachurch in the Midwest, I really couldn’t place him beyond a passing familiarity.

On the surface – where most of us prefer to dwell most of the time – Troy fit in quite well with the general congregational profile: he was white… upper-middle class… well educated… successful… family oriented.

He was not the kind of guy you would expect to be sitting across from, watching as a cascading wave of life crises threatened to pound him into little pieces and wash him away.

For starters, Troy had been laid off from his job. It was a good, high-paying job with an engineering company where he had worked for 15 years. A change in ownership led to a change in senior staff and a thorough re-shuffling of personnel. Troy was one of the unfortunate casualties.

Shortly after receiving his walking papers, Troy’s wife decided to leave him. In reality, she decided to finally stop trying to hide the affair she had been having with another man for a couple of years now and move in with him.

She was, Troy told me through his tears, the love of his life.

Then, just this past week his youngest daughter came home from school in absolute agony, vowing never to return to that horrible place ever again. It seems she had been singled out by a group of mean girls at her junior high for an epic ration of bullying and ostracism.

And to top it all off (“What?? You’re kidding me! There’s MORE? Troy… my brother… I am not sure I can even keep track of, let alone respond pastorally and effectively, to everything that’s going down in your life right now. I’m about to hit overload on the CARE-O-METER!”), Troy had just received word back from his dermatologist that the mole on his back that they biopsied last week was – in fact – melanoma. Steps needed to be taken right away to begin treating it to prevent its spread.

Troy was still covered by his company’s health insurance under the COBRA law (thank God!), but this new twist was going to throw a serious wrench into his job-hunting campaign for a while.

As he concluded his litany of lament, Troy just lowered his head, shook it slowly back and forth and said, “Pastor, I just don’t know what to do or where to turn. I can’t sleep at night and I just feel like I am at the end of my rope. That’s why I came to see you.”

Most of the time, when counseling with a congregant, I begin the session with prayer. In the prayer I ask God to guide both of us by the Holy Spirit and to help us see possibilities that might not be apparent to either of us. Troy had walked through the door 20 minutes ago and immediately began spilling his guts… unaware of my pastoral prayer protocol.

We may not have begun the session with prayer, but man alive, I was sure praying now!

I was shell-shocked. I was numb. And quite honestly, I had no earthly idea how to respond to Troy. At that point I had not been at this pastoring thing too terribly long and had never heard this kind of outpouring of woe from any single person. This was like a week’s worth of crises all wrapped in one nasty ball. Fortunately, I fought back the urge to stop him and say, “Hold on, Troy… one issue per customer per visit, please.”

But life had not afforded Troy that kind of orderliness. It was all hitting him at once.

And so, as he looked up from his folded and shaking hands, it was clear Troy expected something from me. He was a smart enough guy not to expect that I would pull out a magic wand, wave it and say, “Shazzam! All better now!”

But still… something was needed. A thread. A glimmer of light. A narrow ledge his aching fingers might cling to.

As my calm-appearing gaze met his, the wheels of my brain were whirling feverishly. The cylinders tumbled, the locks clicked, the chute opened… but nothing came out.

“Help me, Jesus,” I desperately prayed, “Because honestly… I got nuttin’!”

 

… TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW!

27
Mar
20

The Invisible Enemy

invisible-man-2020-poster“The Invisible Enemy” is a popular way of describing the foe we are battling during this current pandemic.

It’s true. The virus that causes the deadly COVID-19 disease cannot be seen by the naked eye. It travels, unseen, from person to person via door handles, bannisters, faucet handles, sneezes and coughs, handshakes, nose pickings, and plain old walking down the street and minding your own business.

The virus can weasel its microscopic way into your system during an otherwise innocent trip to Home Depot…

… and you wouldn’t even know it for another 14 days.

To my highly un-medically trained brain, the idea of fighting an invisible enemy seems humanly impossible. It reminds me of the trailers I’ve seen for the current version of the movie, The Invisible Man. (Ironic that this movie is appearing at this particular moment in history, isn’t it?)

The stupid thing can hit you from over HERE, and then when you turn and swing your fist in that direction, it slyly ducks and runs over THERE, emitting an evil chuckle.

How in the world do even the smartest, most technically savvy experts do battle with an enemy like THAT?

But then, just as I was about to throw my hands into the air and wail, “WOE IS ME! ALL IS LOST!” I stopped and remembered something. I remembered that we ALL have experience battling invisible enemies.

That’s right. You. Me. Uncle Steve. Your next door neighbor. Your favorite barista. The president. The neighborhood handyman.

ALL of us have waged war – at one time or another – with an enemy we could not see.

Some of us, for example, have battled SELF DOUBT. It lurked there, invisibly plotting our downfall, until the moment came when we had a chance to stand up and make a difference. And then it jumped out of the shadows and ATTACKED… mocking us for daring to think we might have measured up to the moment.

Others of us have contended with ghosts from our PAST… events and people long dead, yet somehow invisibly alive in our imaginations. We think we successfully turned our backs on them and buried them… until that triggering event that caused them to jump out from behind that open door and remind us of something dark and forgettable.

There is also the invisible enemy of ADDICTION… in whatever form that might take. Addictions are those insidious, unseen compulsions that are even harder to spot than a coronavirus yet twice as deadly. Addictions can lull us into complacency, making us believe we have defeated them by the sheer power of our iron wills… only to see them re-emerge, crowbar in hand, from the cellar, even more dangerous than before.

It may not make them any easier to fight, but it is somehow good to be reminded that invisible enemies are nothing new… to any of us. The one we are up against now will require a whole new set of weapons and a kind of calm determination that we might not quite believe we have access to.

But no matter if it is the deadly COVID-19, or the invisible enemies of self-doubt, our pasts, addiction, or anything else you can name, it is good to know who fights with us and FOR us.

Jesus single-handedly took on the most insidious invisible enemy in history and made it cry, “UNCLE!” With unparalleled love, and grace, and his unique, vibrant connection with God he destroyed humanity’s estrangement from God (a.k.a., SIN), once and for all.

It is a victory we can all celebrate. It is a victory that should encourage all of us in the current battle.

As he said, just before the scene of the final fight on Calvary: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NRSV).

AMEN! And Praise God!

09
Mar
20

“Let me OFF!”

Merry go roundWell, it’s that time of year again.

It is the time of year when the antennae of clergyfolk in the United Methodist Church are exquisitely attuned to every minor shift in the wind, every minute rise or fall in barometric pressure, every nuance of conversation.

Yes, this time on the calendar – from late January to mid-April(ish) or so – is APPOINTMENT-SETTING TIME! That means it is the time of year when it is possible for any United Methodist pastor to answer a phone call and hear the words, “Hello (insert name here). This is your District Superintendent calling. I have an opportunity I would like to discuss with you. Is now a good time to talk?”

Even though I am now retired and blessedly aloof from that whole business, I still feel sympathy pangs for my brothers and sisters of the cloth when this time of year rolls around. I am still haunted by vivid memories of tensing up every time the phone rang and a certain suspicious area code showed up on Caller ID.

For pastors in the United Methodist Church, this is at least a three-month exercise of walking on – no, LIVING on – eggshells.

At the root of the anxiety that attends appointment-setting time is the very real fact that almost no one likes change. Not even pastors. We humans seem to be willing to do anything in our power to maintain the status quo… even when the status quo is patently unacceptable.

And when the pace of change in the world around us accelerates, our desire to hold onto something solid and unchanging zooms up proportionately.

It may be that I am more aware of this since I am well into my dotage, but everywhere I look today, I see change:

  • The technology of living (telephones, TVs, appliances, automobiles, banks, grocery stores, etc.) is changing.
  • The climate is changing.
  • The country’s (and the world’s) demographic contours are changing.
  • Social customs are changing.
  • The political, religious, cultural, and moral landscapes are all changing… with some changing more rapidly than others.
  • My own health and the health of those close to me is changing… and mostly not for the better.
  • Heck, even the rules of my favorite games – baseball and football – are changing.

In that kind of a topsy-turvy world, I can easily identify with the urge to slow down the merry-go-round or jump off of it completely. And yet, there is a HUGE difference between being annoyed by the pace of change (which is most of us… with the exception of babies with dirty diapers) and actively working to hold back its tide. The effort to stop or roll back the changing face of society is the urge that lies at the core of all of the world’s regressive movements.

But as much as I grouse and whine about change… as much as I dredge up stories of “the good old days,” I have to stop and remember… this is not my ride.

It is not mine to control. It is not mine to resist. It is not mine to counter-program or attempt to sabotage.

“This…” in the words of the ancient psalmist, “… is the day the Lord has made.”

This is not some warped, funhouse-mirror parody version of the day the Lord meant to make. This is EXACTLY the day the Lord has made.

On purpose.

In that case then, we should follow the rest of the psalmist’s advice that says: “… let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24, NRSV).

AMEN.




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