Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ

14
Jan
20

Who Do You Love?

Ethnic diversity

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”       -Jesus (of Nazareth), as quoted in Luke’s gospel; chapter 6, verse 32

This might not shock you to learn but as it turns out, I am a big fan of people.

All kinds of people.

I like the big ones, the small ones, the old ones, and the young ones.

I like men. I like women. I like gender fluid people. I like people who have transitioned from one gender to another.

I like heterosexual people. I like homosexual people. I like bisexual and sexually questioning people too.

I like people who share the same race and ethnicity as me. I like people whose races and ethnicities are nothing like mine whatsoever.

I like American people, Canadian people, and Australian people. I like Italian people, Guatemalan people, Peruvian people, Congolese people, and Vietnamese people. I am sure there are people from countries other than these I would like too, once I got to know them.

As I sat back the other day and gazed upon the size and scope of the list of people I really enjoy being around, I was starting to feel pretty darned pleased with myself.

That is until Jesus came along and messed everything up.

[As usual.]

There I was, just innocently reading over his words in Luke’s gospel one morning, hoping for a little inspiration to start my day when WHAM! He hit me right between the eyes with that passage you see at the top of the page.

He had the audacity to remind me of the hidden common denominator shared by everyone on that list I just trotted out for you.

He peeked beneath my thin egalitarian veneer and noticed that everyone on that list is also a person who likes ME!

He noted that despite the outward appearance of diversity and multifacetedness of my “fave people list,” these are all folks I pretty much see eye-to-eye with. None of them, Jesus pointed out, are people who see the world from a radically different (a.k.a. “wrong”) perspective.

Jesus then bores his X-ray eyes right through me and gives that little scoffing laugh of his; “What credit is it to you if you only love the people who love YOU?” he asks. “Even the worst people on earth do that!”

Wow, Jesus. Kinda harsh.

But, as usual, I have to admit he’s right.

He makes me own up to the fact that I have a really hard time extending love or compassion to folks on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me.

He shines a big ol’ pinpoint searchlight on the bitterness I still carry around in my heart toward people who once did me wrong.

He refuses to let me hold onto my air of superiority toward people who have not enjoyed the same advantages in life I have.

He also turns a divinely deaf ear on all of my excuses about how incredibly difficult it is to get along with these people… how mad they can sometimes make me… or how frustrating they can be.

Instead, he turns, smiles, and gently says to me, “Hey… not only did I LOVE you back when you wouldn’t give me the time of day… I also DIED for you!”

And then he ever-so-sweetly delivers this coup de grace: “I’ll tell you exactly what I told Peter that day on the beach when I cooked breakfast for them after my resurrection: I told him, ‘Feed my sheep…

“ALL of them… “

“Even the Republicans.’”

06
Jan
20

Too Long Coming

Asbury flagsIt is good to see the United Methodist Church finally “grow a pair,” as they say, and take an unequivocal stand on the side of justice and inclusion.

It is just sad that it took them so long to do so.

According to news from the denominational communications folks, a document called the Protocol Of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation was agreed to and signed recently by a significant group of United Methodist bigwigs and poo-bahs.

The gist of this Protocolis that the United Methodist Church will formalize plans for a divorce when its global General Conference meets in May this year. This divorce will involve the people who oppose same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ+ leaving the United Methodist Church and forming their own denomination.

The name of that breakaway denomination has not yet been decided, although rumor has it that The Church of Narrow Mindedness and Exclusion has been officially rejected as an option.

As a person with firsthand experience of divorce, I can tell you that divorces are never good. For anyone. Even the smoothest and most amiable splits cause pain, stress, regret, and bitterness that lasts a long, long time.

Sometimes though, divorce is the only way for both parties to move forward and fully become who they are called to be. I believe this is the exact crossroads the United Methodist Church faces today.

On the one hand, I have to credit the leaders who finally arrived at the conclusion that it was time for the parties to go their separate ways. Some of the details of the split seem designed to minimize the hardship for either group that will result from this de-merger.

 

On the other hand, the length of time it took to finally arrive at this decision is inexcusable. Failing to bite the bullet and split the United Methodist Church YEARS AGO caused untold levels of suffering for untold thousands of good, faithful people. Although this metaphor is probably overstated by several degrees, I liken it to dragging out the decision to divorce in a marriage involving child and spousal abuse.

The longer it takes to decide to split, the more injury keeps being inflicted on the aggrieved parties. Sometimes trying to “stay together for the sake of the children” does more harm than good.

So today, I am really not sure how I feel about this news.

I am now officially retired from United Methodist ministry, so I am not faced with leading a congregation through the morass of discernment in the coming months. I am praying for my pastor pals who are still in the trenches and striving to hear all voices, including God’s, in this challenging time.

As a cradle United Methodist though, I am mostly embarrassed by the church’s foot-dragging and failure to lead. I am not sure it is any longer possible for UMs to march under the banner of “Social Justice Advocates” in any credible way.

So… I guess congratulations to the United Methodist Church for finally taking a stand and doing the right, no matter how painful, thing.

But shame on you for taking 20 years too long to do it.

03
Jan
20

Back to the Grind

fireworksAll I can say today is a loud, “Whew!”

Another Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year/Hannaukah/Kwaanza/Festivus season has come and gone and has successfully wrung me out like a wet dishrag.

And just to make things extra merry and bright, this year Joan and I decided to add “uprooting and moving to a different city and state” to our list of holiday festivities. Based on our experience, I can safely offer you this hard-won advice: DON’T DO IT!

I am reluctant to do so, but I will go ahead and admit it; for all of the stress and strain at this time of year, it is also kind of fun. True, there is a lot of work involved in “making spirits bright,” even with our family’s low-key approach.

Even so, there is something attractive to me about the event-centered life: you know, the one that involves regular cycles of visualizing, planning, preparing, anticipating, implementing, cleaning up, and then starting all over again.

But now, here I sit, gazing out the window… with all the holiday commotion behind and not much merrymaking ahead on the horizon.

Today is just a regular old routine Friday in early January… with regular old daily routine stuff to do.

Isn’t it glorious?

As much a fan as I am of Special Events, Holidays, Mass Celebrations (such as Independence Day, etc.), and other such hi-jinks, I also realize they can easily distract us from a simple, but important truth about life: the truth that reminds us that most of the time, life happens in the “in-between times.”

You know what I mean. I am talking about those times when we aren’t popping champagne corks or lighting the fuses of firecrackers, or ripping some beautifully-wrapped paper from a lovely gift.

Life happens when we are sweeping the kitchen floor.

Life happens when we are paying the bills.

Life happens when we are chopping onions for Taco Tuesday.

Life happens when we are shaving, or bathing, or dressing, or doing the laundry, or mowing the lawn, or feeding the dogs, or taking out the garbage.

Life happens on the plains and in the valleys… not just on the mountain tops.

That is an essential part of the message of the Christmas season we just came through. The Eternal Word did not decide to become flesh in a palace surrounded by attendants, gold lampstands, and chariots.

Incarnation happened instead in a dull, uninspiring, routine place to a couple of dull, uninspiring, routine people… as if to tell us all, “See! The miraculous has a home in the mundane! Do not overlook anything or anyone in life. EVERYTHING is pregnant with possibility! Every moment can be a holy moment! The wonder of life is not confined to the moments of special celebration! Wake up and smell the roses, people! It is all right there at your fingertips!”

… or words to that effect.

The challenge for me this year – as it is every year – will be to actually practice what I preach and to recognize the daily blessings that rain down upon me.

Excuse me while I put on another pot of coffee and just soak in the moment…

25
Dec
19

Christmas Blessings to YOU!

Christmas blessings

19
Dec
19

More Than Meets the Eye

Optimus PrimeThe word “transformation” continues to be popular in the vocabulary of most Christians today.

This seems to be especially true when it comes to the mission statements of Christian churches… Transforming hearts and minds with the love of Christ,” “Seeking to live as agents of transformation in a broken and hurting world,” “Transforming the world with Christ’s love,” are just a few of the examples I’ve seen.

Heck, if the name weren’t already copyrighted, I suspect many Christians today would vote to adopt the name TRANSFORMERS as a more accurate description of their mission and ministry.

Don’t get me wrong… I really like the word transformation. I have probably used and over-used it more times than I care to admit.

But sometimes I worry that this powerful, important word might become one of those good things that are used so casually and reflexively that they lose their sizzle and ultimately turn into tasteless lumps of verbal Wonder Bread. You know… just like that car commercial you really liked the first time you saw it on TV; and you kept liking right up until the moment they showed it for the 563rdtime.

Recently I got a new, helpful way to understand the power of the word transformation. It was when my niece sent me a picture of her new baby son and just gushed and cooed about what a heavenly little bundle of joy he is.

Sure, you say… that’s just what new moms do. No newsflash here.

But you only say that because you don’t know my niece. You don’t know the sleepless nights my sister spent during said niece’s adolescence wondering where she was or what would ever become of her. You don’t know about each gray hair on my sister’s head that has my niece’s name printed on it. You have no idea the level of stress and turmoil my niece has caused my sister throughout the years.

Actually, I probably don’t really know either.

And so you really can’t appreciate what an unbelievable miracle it is for me to step back and look at this picture of my niece, cradling her precious baby son in her arms, making giant mooneyes at him, and calling him the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.

THAT, my friend, is transformation.

It made me remember a similar transformation I experienced when my first child was born. And my second, for that matter.

Outwardly nothing has changed… besides the addition of a brand new life into your world, of course.

What I mean is, I continued to be the same, lazy, self-centered, awkward, charming, clumsy, sinful human I was before the Blessed Event. None of those essential qualities magically went away.

And yet, somehow EVERYTHING was different!

I was now a DAD! I was now responsible 24/7 for the shaping of an entire HUMAN BEING! And – wonder of wonders – this human being was so small and helpless, it was utterly dependent on me and his mother for absolutely one hundred percent of his needs.

There was suddenly no margin for error… no days off… no second chances to shape the kind of person he would grow up to be.

Nothing was different, but EVERYTHING was changed. In the moment I first beheld my newborn child, I was utterly TRANSFORMED.

And when you stop a minute and think about it, what more perfect way could God have found to inaugurate the transformation of our planet than through a similar event… the birth of a baby.

I learned a whole lot about myself that day… as I am certain every new parent does.

But the two lessons that still stick with me here 43 years later are, 1.) Transformation is real and is possible for every person alive, and 2.) Transformation only ever happens from the inside out.

May our world experience abundant transformation, beginning today!

16
Dec
19

Christmas Difference

Christmas PlaceChristmas 2019 is going to be very different for me from most Christmases in my recent memory.

For one thing, Joan and I will celebrate this Christmas in a whole different part of the country. That is because on November 21 we moved from Overland Park, Kansas to Fort Collins, Colorado… as fortune would have it, just two days before the skies opened and dropped fifteen and one-half inches of snow on Fort Collins, Colorado.

Timing is indeed everything.

Christmas in a new town with new neighbors and new community traditions will probably bring an engaging hybrid of emotions of disorientation and intrigue. I am sure there is a lot of similarity in the way Coloradans and Kansans celebrate the Yuletide, but you never know…

This is also going to be our first Christmas in the past 10 years we have not been part of the Christmas Place experience. For the uninitiated, Christmas Place is the name our former neighborhood adopts between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. It is the time when all 22 homes on those two perpendicular cul-de-sacs try to outdo one another in sheer electrical voltage drawdown. If you ever saw the movie, Christmas with the Cranks, you know exactly the scene I am describing.

If I sound a little jaded and grinchy about the whole thing, it is probably because I am… a little bit. Putting the lights and displays up in November and taking them back down again in January (or whenever) is a gigantic pain in the butt. On the other hand, the delight our efforts bring to the wider community never fails to dissolve that pain completely away. Tour buses from nearby senior citizen homes and lines of cars stream through Christmas Place every evening just to “OOOO!!” and “AHHHH!!” our handiwork.

This year, however, will be a very different scene at ChezBrown. Our new Fort Collins home will have, A.) a giant wreath hung on the front of the garage, and B.) our large nativity scene in the yard.

That’s it!! (Please don’t tell the folks back in Kansas!)

But the thing that might be the most different about Christmas 2019 will be that for the first time in a really long time, I will not be leading Advent and Christmas Eve worship services anywhere! I will instead be there sitting there in a pew, holding my lovely bride’s hand, participating in a service that someone else has designed and is fretting over the details of.

And I know I will be smiling the whole time.

My heart really goes out to those clergy families who experience the entire Advent and Christmas season as a non-stop flurry of activities, deadlines, obligations, projects, and expectations. It is the usual stress of the holy season times three for these folks.

That is why, knowing that stress and turmoil as intimately as I do, I am really looking forward to experiencing Christmas from the peanut gallery, as it were. This will be a time to see whether I am actually capable of slowing down, breathing deeply, opening my eyes, and soaking in the spirit of the moment instead of feeling the need to frenetically stage-manage a hundred different projects, all building to a climactic crescendo at 12:01 a.m. Christmas morning.

But with all that will be different about Christmas 2019 at our house, I am sure many other things will be exactly the same… foremost among those the time of celebrating God’s greatest gift to the world.

So how about you? What kind of Christmas will Christmas 2019 be for you? Will it be a time of change?… a time of cherished tradition?… a time of epic busyness?… or maybe a time of deep sadness and grief?

And maybe more importantly, how will we each make it a time to recommit our hearts to giving and receiving God’s gift of unconditional, sacrificial love?

11
Dec
19

Great Expectations

Most interesting man in the worldA friend and I were recently talking about our kids… as parents are wont to do.

On this occasion, my friend was telling me about an experience his middle son had with a guidance counselor at the local high school he attended.

My friend said, “Josh is incredibly passionate about history. He has talked to Susan and me regularly about wanting to get a Ph.D. and teach at the collegiate level.”

But then, as my friend told me, Josh met with the high school guidance counselor. The counselor knew of Josh’s academic record and heard him talk about his dream of teaching history to college students.

The counselor’s guidance to Josh, however, was to aim lower, go for a Master’s degree, and teach history at a deserving high school somewhere.

“There is a lot less competition for those jobs,” the counselor told Josh. “And besides, there is a real need for high school teachers who are passionate about the subject they are teaching.”

Needless to say, when Josh went home and told his parents about his meeting with the guidance counselor, they were furious. Their anger did not stem from any unspoken bias against high school teachers. It came – as my friend told me – from the idea that a person in a position of trust and authority would use that position to dampen rather than fan the flames of ambition in their son.

“In essence, this guy was telling Josh to lower his sights and check his expectations before he is even out of high school!” Adding, “I am really not OK with that.”

His story kind of riled me up, too. But then it led me to some pondering about the whole topic of expectations and how they affect our lives.

To be human is to have expectations. We begin each new day with some kind of expectation about what will happen, who we might meet, what sort of weather we will encounter, and what type of experiences await us.

As our endeavors enlarge, so do our expectations. Then, as we move forward into the world, reality sets in and we adjust our expectations accordingly.

And if you are a person of a certain age, you have no doubt discovered something about the fluid and tricky nature of expectations. Crank them up too high and you just might smash your boat on the rocky shore of disappointment. Set them too low and you risk losing the joy that comes from looking forward to a new experience or undertaking.

My personal proclivity is to err on the side of high expectations. Every trip Joan and I take is going to be fantastically epic. Every new place where we choose to go out and eat is a Michelin four-diamond restaurant waiting to be discovered. Every new acquaintance I make is going to be “the most interesting man (or woman) in the world,” (with apologies to the Dos Equis beer folks).

Yes, my actual experiences sometimes do fall short of my grand expectations. But those occasional disappointments don’t seem to alter my expectation-making mechanism one little bit.

The Christian calendar tells us we are smack dab in the middle of the Advent season, here on December 11, 2019. Advent is traditionally thought of as a time of expectation. The first-century Israelites had been hanging on the words of the prophet Isaiah – for at least 800 years – which assured them that, “… the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2, NRSV).

They knew these words were about them. THEY were the darkness-walkers the prophet was talking about. They lived in a continual state of expectation that one day soon the promised light would indeed shine on their lives. And yet year after year, the darkness persisted.

What are your expectations this season?

… for the world… for your community… for your family… for yourself?

How do you hold fast to hope-filled expectations in the face of disappointing realities?

Where does your hope come from?

This season, what would it be like for each of us to expect love, justice, mercy, and peace to prevail in the world… and then work to make it happen?

Blessings,




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