Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit

21
Aug
20

The Heartbreak of RPD

Chocolate on faceIn a wholehearted endorsement of the axiom advising us that confession is good for the soul, I offer this mea culpa today:

Sometimes I suffer from RPD… Resistant Personality Disorder.

What this means is that I will sometimes resist something just for the sake of resisting it. You know, sort of like the child who sticks out his tongue and says, “You can’t make me!”

No one is better suited to bear witness to the truth of this confession than my sainted spouse. She might, for example, point out that I have a smear of chocolate icing on my chin. To which I sometimes reply, “Well, maybe I really want it there!”

Or else she will lovingly point out that the shirt I’ve chosen doesn’t really go with those shorts. Then, in return for her caring compassion she will hear, “That’s OK. I like it, so I’m wearing it.”

And yes, you are right; there is surely a very special place in heaven waiting for her.

Hearing about RPD, you would be right to ask, “Who does that kind of stuff anyway? And why do they do it? Surely everyone is interested in receiving tips on how to be a little bit better version of themselves, aren’t they?”

I will answer your good question this way: sometimes I do it just to be a playful pill. You know… to liven things up around the house a little bit.

At other times, I am probably genuinely miffed. Miffed that someone else saw something amiss with me (my clothes, my hair, my grooming, my attitude, my personality, my whatever) that I did not see myself. And so I become irritated.

In this morning’s meditation from Fr. Richard Rohr (Franciscan priest, author, and founder of the Center for Contemplation and Action in Santa Fe, NM), I was comforted to learn that I might not be alone in my propensity to resist helpful insight. Fr. Rohr wrote, “We all come to wisdom at the major price of both our innocence and our control. Few of us go there willingly; it [wisdom] must normally be thrust upon us.”

Does that sound like YOU at all?

In my own life there was probably no greater example of RPD than my resistance to God’s call to ministry. I can point to moments when I heard – with shocking clarity – a voice saying, “Come serve me” at least 25 years before I actually responded to that call.

My excuses were endless; I knew better. I had my own plan. I wasn’t ready to stop having fun yet. I needed to use my gifts and abilities to “do cool stuff.” I could do “God stuff” around the edges and on the weekends when nothing else was going on.

Thankfully, God didn’t give up. Thankfully, God finally seeped through (actually, more like BROKE through with the full force of a 2×4) my thick skull and got my attention.

Sadly, all these years later and with so much formational experience, I still catch myself occasionally resisting wisdom. Hopefully not as consistently as I once did.

The writer of Proverbs personifies wisdom as God’s co-existing, feminine partner at the very beginnings of the world and gives her these words, “And now my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise… For whoever finds me finds life.” (Proverbs 8:32, 35, NRSV).

How about you? Are you eager to hear wisdom? Do you embrace it, even when it threatens to upset your plans and send you in a new direction?

Or are you still suffering a bad case of RPD?

The cure might be closer than you think.

 

Abundant blessings;

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;

13
Aug
20

A New World? Or a New Heart?

Bob DylanThe answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…

If I had a hammer…

To everything, turn, turn, turn…

Abraham, Martin, and John…

We’ve got to get out of this place…

WAR! [UH! GRUNT!] What is it good for? (Absolutely NOTHIN’!)

In terms of musical themes, the decade of the 60s will be best remembered as the decade of the social protest song.

Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, The Byrds, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and other well-known (and lesser known) musicians of that era attempted to bend spears into plowshares in the white-hot smelter of music.

Personally, I remember feeling just a little bit subversive as I sat by the campfire in the summer of 1967 singing, “How many years must some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?” Those lyrics made me think about the poverty and unrest in our country’s inner cities.

Even though we imagined we were creating something utterly new and revolutionary back then, the idea of expressing a political point of view through music goes back centuries. In 1801, for example, Richard Allen, a former slave and a Methodist minister, published a hymnal titled, A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns. Those familiar with Methodist history will recognize Allen’s name as the founder of the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church.

According to the book, Routledge History of Social Protest in Popular Music, most of the songs in Allen’s Collection dealt with his frustration about the level of racial discrimination he experienced from white Methodists.

The two essential elements of a song – melody and meaning – are a potent combination. A series of musical notes, skillfully combined, has the power to reach deep into our subterranean human chambers. When paired with words that convey a timely, haunting, moving, or unsettling message, a great song can’t help but create an almost transcendent spiritual moment for the listener.

But even if we concede that songs have the ability to produce a soul-stirring, spiritual experience, is that the same thing as hearing The Gospel?

We remember that the word gospel comes from the Old English godspel, roughly translated as “good news.” We also recall that when Christians today talk about the Good News (capital “G”, capital “N”), we are most likely talking about the good news that Jesus – in his resurrection from the dead following a painful and humiliating death – forever broke the power of sin and death over humanity and freed all of us from those ancient curses.

Good News indeed! Hallelujah!

But that message is probably a qualitatively different message than the one you hear when you hear Pete Seeger sing, Michael Row the Boat Ashore.

Based on interviews I have heard, I know that the goal of the gifted individuals who write social protest songs is CHANGE. They seek to stir the hearts and move the arms and legs of their audience. They want to convey a message so irresistible that you and I won’t be able to help ourselves… we will drop what we are doing and get to work, actively building a New Social Order based on justice for all, equality, and compassion.

Their aim is a New World.

The aim of the Gospel, by contrast, is a New Heart, and then through it, a New World.

Today, we look around and see AT LEAST as much need for a new world as those protestors saw in the 1960s. Racism, poverty, runaway greed, random violence, environmental crises, political distrust, addiction, and sexual depravity seem to be at all-time highs.

But the question we need to wrestle with today is: Which comes first…

… the new heart?

… or the new world?

 

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;

05
Aug
20

The Heart of the Matter

Don_HenleyAfter experiencing a somewhat fraught relationship with it for too many years, I finally can say with confidence that I LOVE the Bible.

Whether I am diving into accounts of the trials of God’s people, being seared by the white-hot words of the prophets, humbled by the teachings of Jesus, or alternately challenged, inspired, and puzzled by the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Bible rarely fails to slice through my layers of resistance and pierce my very soul.

It is like the river that is new every time I step into it. And also like the river, I find that it nourishes and sustains me.

I believe God – working through the Holy Spirit – is the invisible author of its words.

But you know what else? Over the years, I have discovered that God is quite a talented multi-media artist. By that I mean God demonstrates a remarkable ability to speak to me (and you, too!) through a limitless number of channels. When I read these words in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge,” (Psalm 19:1-2, NRSV) I hear it saying that God can – and does – speak through any medium God chooses to.

One of which, sometimes, is rock music.

That assertion might sound like heresy to some, but please hear me out…

A couple of days ago, on yet another in an endless string of trips to the grocery store, I turned on the car radio. Don Henley’s song Heart of the Matter was playing. I really like that tune, but for some reason I was uniquely attentive to the song’s words that day. As I listened, I heard Henley sing, “I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it’s about… FORGIVENESS.”

BAM! There it is! So, tell me… how is that sentiment any different from the words of Matthew 18:21-22 – “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy times seven.”

Of course, if you listen further in the song, you find out Henley is talking about forgiveness in the realm of a very particular personal relationship, but let’s not be nit-picky.

The point I am trying to make is this; for those with ears to hear it, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all around us. It is not restricted to the pages of the text we recognize as holy canon. It is the ocean we swim in as we live our daily lives.

The problem – as usual – comes not in the hearing of God’s word, but in the doing. How many people have read Matthew 18:21-22 and yet still continued to struggle with forgiving even the TINIEST insult? [I’ll go first… ME, for one.]

Henley’s album, The End of Innocence, on which Heart of the Matter appears, won a Grammy award in 1989, was a six times platinum album (meaning it had sales of more than six million copies), and has received countless plays on the radio since it first appeared. Yet despite the countless number of people who have heard Don Henley musically declare, “Dude… the heart of the matter is FORGIVENESS,” how many have taken that message to heart and actually LIVED it?

I will go ahead and confess I have fallen woefully short on that score.

Today, I invite us to listen with new, eager ears to the world around us. Be ready to be ambushed by the words of Jesus emanating from strange and unexpected places.

Take them to heart.

But even more importantly, LIVE them out!

 

Abundant blessings;

22
Jun
20

Is This Such A Good Idea?

Growing-Flower-in-ConcreteThere is a basic premise behind this post you should be aware of before proceeding further. The premise is: GOD EXISTS.

Of course, you may continue reading even if you disagree with my basic premise. You just might not enjoy it as much as others.

The question I want to raise here might sound blasphemous to people of faith, but it is one that has troubled me for a long time. So, I figured, what the heck… the blog space might be a good place to chew it over.

That question is: WAS GOD CRAZY? IS GOD CRAZY?

In asking this absurd question, I am not worried about a lightning bolt shooting down from heaven, leaving behind a pile of charred cinders where I once sat. This question comes from the same place as the fable of the seven blind men standing around the elephant, feeling different parts of the beast and saying, “No… THIS is what an elephant is!”

My question comes from a place of a hopelessly flawed and incomplete understanding of something that is infinitely larger and infinitely more complex than my pea-sized brain can grasp.

Actually I am betting that God is more amused than angered by my question.

But here is where my question comes from: with the availability of the infinite power, knowledge, and authority befitting a being named GOD, why did said God choose to leave so much raw agency in OUR shaky hands?

Honestly, sometimes God’s choice to give human beings the gift of free will feels a little like a parent choosing to give a three-year-old a handgun, the keys to a car, and a can of gasoline and then saying, “Good luck with all of that!”

And as you and I and a host of bad actors all around us continue to soil and char and trash our world and its inhabitants, it boggles my mind to try and figure out why God chooses to keep extending our, “… dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”(Gen. 1:28, NRSV).

Is that really turning out to be such a great idea?

To help guide us on our stumbling, faltering way, of course, God has blessed us with a ROAD MAP.  It is all spelled out exquisitely in that sixty-six-book collection known as The Bible.

I mean, yes, God INSPIRED the words of the Bible (as it says there in 2 Timothy 3:167), but here again, God left the TRANSCRIPTION of God’s word in the hands of flawed, fallible human beings.

God then took this silliness a step further and deputized some of these same stumbling, blind, three-year-olds (people like ME, for example) to speak on behalf of The Almighty and lead others into something resembling faithful obedience.

Hence my original question: “Is God crazy?”

On one hand, it all seems like a system exquisitely designed for failure. That is, until one tiny bud of green life pushes its way up through the blanket of ash and begins craning its neck toward the sun… reminding anyone who cares to listen that, “… where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” (Romans 5:20, NRSV).

It might not always seem true, but it always has been, always is, and always will be true; Grace overcomes sin. Light overcomes darkness. Love overcomes hate.

So maybe this IS the way it is supposed to work after all.

 

Abundant blessings;

02
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 2

One man counseling another(In yesterday’s installment, I recounted one of my most abysmal performances as a pastoral counselor. Troy, a congregant, had come to see me with an incredible mountain of problems including job loss, cancer, his wife’s infidelity, and parenting challenges, all raining down on him at once.

When we left our story, the pastor was wringing his hands in despair, searching and praying for the right word for Troy’s situation…)

Not wanting too many more silent seconds to pass between us, I gave Troy my most sincere, pastoral look, reached out and confidently placed my hand on his left shoulder and said – with an air of authority that was manufactured out of thin air – “Troy… the thing to remember at times like this is just what it says in the Bible: ‘This too shall pass.’”

And then, to add an extra measure of sincerity to the drivel I had just dispensed, I clapped him on the shoulder and nodded.

The reaction I fully expected to receive (and probably should have received) from Troy was something like, “What? Are you seriously kidding me? ‘This too shall pass??’ I could have pulled a random fortune cookie out of a jar and gotten something better than that drivel!”

But, to his everlasting credit, Troy just nodded, thanked me for my time, and stood up to leave.

After that it took me several minutes to compose myself. I was stunned at the level of absolute ineptitude I had displayed in my conversation with Troy. I honestly pondered the possibility of searching for a new line of work… on the spot. Clearly that “call to ministry” I thought I had heard was a wrong number.

Fast-forward six months. I have not heard from Troy or heard about him. I had maybe seen him at church one time in passing since our meeting. And I may or may not have pretended to drop something on the floor when he passed… just to avoid making eye contact.

And then one night it happened… there was an event at church for parents and their children. I was on duty to greet folks as they came in and help them find their way around. And here came Troy… with his two children in tow.

“OK,” I said to myself. “Nothing to do but to step up, look him in the eye and face the music. It might even be that he has wiped any memory of my face and name from his mind… if I’m lucky.”

So, I bucked up… walked up to Troy… stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there, Troy. It’s been a while since we talked. How are things with you anyway?” I tried not to telegraph the fact that I was positioning myself to deflect a punch from his right hand I was reaching out to shake it.

“Pastor Brown!” he said… in a loud, overly enthusiastic voice. (Drat! He recognized me!) And then he went on, “Hey, do you remember that time last fall when we met in your office? You know, when I was in such a messed-up situation and I came to see you?”

“Yeah… sure,” I said… playing along. “I’ve been wondering how things are going for you now. That sure was a bad time for you, wasn’t it?”

He said, “Boy, it sure was. Hey… do you remember the advice you gave me? When you told me ‘this too shall pass’?”

I was getting ready to defend myself, explaining I had been engaged in a spiritual fast the day we met and was clearly delirious from hunger when he interrupted me, grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously saying,“Man, I can’t thank you enough. That was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at that moment. It helped me take a step back from the funk I was in and just take a breath.

“And you know what? Things are really getting better. I got a new job, so we changed schools and got my daughter away from those bullies… my wife married her boyfriend and I am getting good treatments for my melanoma.”

“But I just really wanted to thank you for helping me get through that. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

And so, we shook hands, I thanked Troy for his kind words, and we went our separate ways.

At the time I offered it, “This too shall pass,” was a trite, unthinking response that was thoroughly unresponsive to the depth of Troy’s dilemma. I have since checked and found it is also advice that can be found nowhere in the Bible.

What I saw though in that six-month reunion was the power of the Holy Spirit to take the very worst of my efforts and transform it into something powerful and healing.

Right now, “This too shall pass” feels like a trite, almost cruel platitude in the midst of the current pandemic. Sure, it will pass, but who knows when it will pass? Who knows how many lives will be lost in the process? Who knows the long-lasting damage that will be done to our economy by this extended shut-down?

“This too shall pass” is not particularly biblical or earth-shaking as advice goes. But it is true. There WILL be a day in the future when sports resume, when there are stories on the news besides the daily COVID-19 death toll, when kids are back in school, when concerts happen again, and when folks – maybe more than before the pandemic – gather again in church.

No, “This too shall pass” may not be particularly profound.

But somehow my anxious heart – like Troy’s – finds great peace and comfort in knowing it is true.

 

Praise God!

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!

17
Mar
20

Before and After

Mustang restorationIt was over 20 years ago, but it was a period that still holds the title of “Absolute Worst Time of My Life.”

It was the time when my marriage of 23 years crashed and burned… one hundred percent due to my own immaturity and misanthropy.

It was the time when my struggling advertising and public relations business foundered and then finally ground to a halt.

It was the time when I seemed to be competing with myself to see if the next bad choice could somehow be worse than the last one.

It was the time when I succeeded in not only alienating my then wife, but also both of my sons.

It was a time when I was unable to see any hope or a way out and did not see how it was possible to sink any lower in terms of energy, self-esteem, or faith.

It was the time when I let go any shred of pretense of self-sufficiency, dropped to my knees in anguish, and cried out to God in utter despair.

It was also the time – I now see in retrospect – that my rebirth and redemption began in earnest.

The Bible tells us again and again that God has the desire and the power to redeem… anyone and any situation. Psalm 130:7 says, “O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

114 other verses spread across the Old and New Testaments repeat the same theme.

And yes, I believe this truth because I grant God’s Word supreme authority in my life. As we trace through the narrative of God’s activity in the world, we come across the theme of redemption over and over and over again… from the redemption of Noah and his family from the flood, to the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt, to the redemption of the zealot Saul following the death of Jesus, and many others.

Heck, you might even start to believe that communicating the theme of REDEMPTION was one of the main reasons the Bible was written in the first place!

But I also believe in God’s power to redeem because I have experienced it! God redeemed my miserable husk of a life and used it for (I hope) something higher and better than chasing the next sensual gratification.

From my first-hand experience, I have learned that redemption doesn’t mean, “The bad chapter never happened.” Instead, it is God’s assurance that when we lean completely on God, abandoning our own claims to wisdom and nimble adaptability, God gazes on us with loving eyes and says, “I will take this wreckage and create something beautiful and life-giving from it.”

Sort of like the guy who pulled the old, burned-out Mustang off the scrap heap and restored it to better-than-mint condition.

I do not know where the current situation with the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 is going to lead us. Our country seems to be taking dramatic steps to keep us from gathering in large crowds and spreading the disease at exponential rates. I mean, you know things are bad when major league sports franchises close down indefinitely.

Hopefully, these measures will keep us from overtaxing our healthcare systems, leading to tough decisions about who receives care, and who doesn’t.

As hopeful as I am though, I still fear things might get a lot worse before they show signs of getting better.

But wherever we end up three months… six months… or a year from now, I know one thing with absolute certainty. I know that God will continue to be in the redemption business.

I also know that God will – when we put our full trust in him – take the wreckage that is left behind and make something beautiful out of it.

Always has.

Always will.

11
Oct
19

Celebrating Women in Ministry

Female pastorFrom watching the TODAY Show this morning, I learned that today – October 11 – is the International Day of the Girl. Seems like something I should have known already.

I hope you won’t take offense at being called girls, but to celebrate this day, I want to give a big shout-out to female pastors.

I have had the privilege of knowing some phenomenal women who have answered the call to ordained ministry and who have served Christ faithfully, tirelessly, and creatively… all while enduring challenges we male clergy types have never even imagined experiencing.

  • I, for example, have never had a congregant come through the hand-shake line and compliment me on my hairstyle, utterly ignoring every word of my painstakingly prepared message.
  • I have also never heard the comment – overtly or covertly – that “men just don’t belong in the pulpit.” (And yes, that is still being said in 2019 in reference to female clergy).
  • No one has ever told me that they couldn’t focus on my message because I was “too pretty.”
  • My denomination has not systematically overlooked my leadership abilities when appointment-setting time rolls around.
  • I have never been called “overly emotional” (even though I really am an overly emotional guy).
  • Concerns have never been expressed about how I will balance my parenting responsibilities with my ministry.
  • I have never been “accidentally” groped while serving Holy Communion. (And just to be crystal clear; the quotes there around the word “accidentally” mean there was nothing accidental at all about the groping. And yes, that happened just a year ago to a female clergy friend).
  • And the list goes on and on, ad nauseum

It was only fifty years ago that the Methodist Church (pre-merger) began ordaining women. The largest protestant denomination in the world (the Southern Baptist Conference) still cites 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”)for its outlandish refusal to permit women to have any position of power in the Southern Baptist Church.

[So just a question for you here, SBC: are you also “all in” with Paul’s instructions on how to treat our slaves? Or on the covering of heads? Or the Levitical ordnances against mixing fibers in our clothing? Just curious…]

Even though I would love to believe that the CHURCH would be the last place we would find injustice, intolerance, and bigotry, it is just not the case.

Even here.

Even now.

So, blessings and much love on this International Day to you Shelly, Gayla, Maria, Kara, Nancy, Barb, Nanette, Libby, Melinda, Trudy, Sylvia, Sharon, Amy, Dee, Anne, Karen, Stephanie, Ally, Shayla, Esther, Joyce, Ashlee, Jada, Lisa, Rebecca, Nadia, and to every woman who nevertheless persists in following God’s call on your life.

We need you now more than ever.

And to the rest of us, let’s do everything we can to support and encourage these women as they lead us in following Christ.




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