Our church kids got dressed up in their costumes and went out into the community. They weren’t “trick or treating” but rather doing a “trick or eat” activity. It’s something we do each year around this time to gather canned goods from our neighbors, bring them back to the church house, and then take them on to a food bank. Upon their return, the kids go upstairs for a party with hot chocolate and enough candy to put them on a sugar high right before the parents pick them up to go home.
Of course, this is the weekend of all the Halloween festivities. Our children are especially excited to out of school for the day (and Monday too) so a long weekend looks good. They will go out into our subdivision and enjoy the time together and see how the spoils of a candy outing turns out. I won’t go into the theology of Halloween or how some other Christians get freaked out about it, but suffice it to say our family focuses on the fun and seasonal components of the day.
There is another aspect of the holiday, one that our church makes mention of as well. We give thanks to Martin Luther for his courage on November 30, 1517 for nailing his 95 theses on the Castle door of the Wittenberg church. Nowadays that would be comparable to posting a Youtube video and its going viral, or sending out something on twitter which makes the top 10 trending topics. Baptists should recognize that without the Protestant Reformation, we wouldn’t have the key components of our faith: scripture alone, salvation by faith alone, by grace alone, and Christ alone.
I came across a great article by Molly Marshall entitled “We Believe in the Communion of the Saints.” She talked about the significance of this time of year from a liturgical perspective, and how important it was to remember those who have gone before us to their heavenly reward. We need to remember, she says, our connection with those not only on this side of death but also those “treasured in memory and hope.” I especially appreciated her using the prayer of Cyprian: “We must not weep for our brothers and sisters whom the call of the Lord has withdrawn from this world, since we know that they are not lost, but have gone on ahead of us; they have left us like travelers, navigators, in order to lead the way. . . “
As a pastor of several congregations, I’ve been fortunate to have known some wonderful people who have blessed me immensely. Some of these have gone on to be with the Lord, and I’ve often used this passage and their funerals; “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116.15). These men and women have been an encouragement to the church family and have generally mellowed as they got older. They died “old and full of years.” They have been missed.
On this Sunday, however, I am also thinking of those who haven’t been the most positive persons. Several persons in the churches I’ve served have been bitter and downright mean, and have gone on to receive their reward. To be honest, I wasn’t too disappointed to see them go. I recall one older gentleman (probably should leave the ‘gentle’ off) who never smiled and seemed to have a permanent scowl on his face. He never had anything good to say and I generally tried to avoid being in his presence. One time in particular when he was being cantankerous, he told me “God put me here to be a thorn in your side.” I’ve never seen scriptural evidence to support his approach, but can attest he caused me a lot of frustration. It was usually located farther down on the anatomical chart, however.
There was this other man who got upset when the church decided to change its name. The neighborhood around the church had changed and people no longer attended the church from the neighborhood. The church decided on changing its name from a directional title to more of a regional one. As the church discussed this change, there were those who opposed it on personal and sentimental grounds. However, this man said, “If you change the name, I’m leaving the church.” Well, that’s what happened. The church moved on, pretty much kept the same membership but with a different name on the sign in front of the building. But, this man never returned. This was especially sad to me, because he wife continued to come by herself and sit in her usual spot, but without him. As her health declined, she came on to worship but her bitter and stubborn husband did not come to help her.
i know these two stories aren’t necessarily unique to pastors, but it is worth mentioning that there are miserable people in church and they can make it their calling to bring misery to others around them.
Sometimes I wonder about how these people relate to the Lord. I know they were members of the church and as such the larger body of Christ. They weren’t especially pleasant to be around. However, I have learned through the years that it is possible to learn something from folks like this. I don’t think their attitudes were particularly helpful to the body of Christ though. These two men, and others like them, have gone on to their heavenly home even though things could have a lot different and better while they were walking the earth.
On this weekend I will be remembering these two men, along with many others, who helped me grow and deepen in my faith. They helped me develop patience and perseverance in the face of difficulty, and appreciate the life I have now and the one yet to come. We don’t always know the history or reason behind the behavior of those around, but we can ask the Lord to help us appreciate them for who they are and how they help us deepen in our own faith.
Social media is having a field day, and rightfully so.
Annise Parker, mayor of Houston, TX has decided to pressure a handful of pastors who are vocal in their disagreement of a new ordinance which adds sexual orientation to the list of protections against discrimination. Here is an article about it. However, Parker cites this article on her twitter feed to offset the negative publicity directed at her over the last several weeks.
This is a big deal, so much so that a Houston pastor penned an open letter to the mayor to voice his disagreement with her policies and the decision to subpoena five pastors, their sermons and other materials relating to their opposition to HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). After the media firestorm, it appears that the mayor and her administration recognize that things could have been handled in a different (better) way and are trying to temper the opposition. Parker appears to portray herself as a victim in this matter rather than taking responsibility for creating this backlash. I’ve attached a few of those news stories on my twitter feed (apparently a lot of other folks have too).
The problem I have with Parker is not her support of HERO, but her treatment of those who are in opposition to HERO. I realize the world of politics can be a brutal place. However, pastors cannot be subpoenaed for speaking out and against those in authority, especially if they are speaking out on something that in their mind is a biblical or moral issue. Incidentally, I would feel the same way if these pastors were in support of HERO and the mayor wanted to subpoena them for that reason as well.
I’m grateful that America is place of religious freedom. I have a low tolerance for folks who say American Christians are being persecuted when there are Christians in Syria who fear for their life from ISIS simply because of their faith in Christ. There is, however, a culture clash taking place in our country and it’s happening on the political and religious playing fields. When these two paths intersect, it can create a real mess.
Churches should not endorse political candidates. But, churches can speak out on moral or ethical concerns as they seem prudent and appropriate. This shouldn’t result in governmental interference or oversight. There are undoubtedly other details which will surface related to this news story, but the principle at stake is one of a free church in a free state. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “the church must be reminded that it is not the master nor the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”
I’ve tried to really be mindful of the variety of opinions and political views of those in my congregation, and I encourage them to vote without telling them how to vote (I am not sure they would listen anyway). And, I do not always share the opinions or viewpoints of fellow pastors in what they say to their own churches. However, I would support these pastors in their right to interpret the Bible and present their findings to their people. I operate with a high view of the pulpit in this way. I also approach the matter with a high view of the pew, and trust people to determine for themselves the validity of what they are hearing, especially as it relates to matters of politics. If you don’t like what you hearing, or if you think the preacher isn’t being truthful in his/her interpretation, then there are many other houses of worship to check out.
Citizenship is a privilege in this country, but it’s not easy. Tolerance and respect should be mutually applicable. C. Weldon Gaddy’s open letter to the mayor is a good read, especially from someone who is supportive of her policies but not her recent actions. Gaddy writes, “My understanding is that the sermons that reportedly were subpoenaed take a very different perspective than mine. However, I will work as hard to defend the freedom of speech from the pulpit for those with whom I disagree, as I will to defend the rights of the LGBT community. As long as a sermon is not inciting violence, the government has no business getting involved in the content of ministers’ sermons.”
If you want to hear a sermon, attend a house of worship on Sunday or go to a church’s website. Many of them have sermons online or in manuscript form. They are freely given and freely received.
“I’m church shopping.”
I have gotten this response a time or two whenever I talk to guests after the worship service. It’s a response that is unique in American churches, primarily influenced by our consumer mindset. I understand the rationale behind the phrase, but the application is regrettable.
In “Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians”, the authors offer this critique of the American church: “A consumer church does not require enough from its members. People look for a place to go to meet their needs, rather than a base to be sent to serve their community. We consider what we got out of the church service, and we go home feeling well-fed or not. Thus, church turns into a mall for consuming religious goods and services, rather than an equipping station to send us out into our world.”
I wish I could argue with that assessment.
Our church has a pedigree for missions. We have given generously of our financial support, and we put feet to our faith in making a difference for Christ in our community. Yes, there is always more to do, but we have endeavored to be engaged in our world. We will continue to do this.
However, we need to reminded that the church is not a mall where we consume religious goods and services. My hope and prayer that we can maintain our “sentness” by seeking ways to exercise our faith. Each one of us has the privilege to share his or her faith and invite persons to be part of our church family.
It’s a good time to be part of UHBC. We continue to receive guests in our worship services. Some of these folks may be “church shoppers” or even “church hoppers.” I hope that our people will not be one of them, because we need to show that church life is more than showing up for an hour on Sunday morning. You have heard me say that we “gather on Sundays, and then scatter throughout the week.”
The words of William Carey still apply today: “Attempt great things for God; Expect great things from God.”
Three people stood viewing the Grand Canyon: an artist, a pastor, and a cowboy. As they stood at the edge of the abyss,
each one responded as he was overcome with emotion.
The artist exclaimed: “Oh, what a beautiful scene to paint!
The pastor echoed that sentiment: ” Oh, what a wonderful example of God’s handiwork!”
Then the cowboy responded: ” Oh, what a terrible place to lose a cow!”
Life is about perspective and attitude. We all bring with us a multitude of experiences, joys, challenges, and disappointments. We can’t always control what happens to us. But, we can choose how to respond to what happens to us.
I’ve enjoyed the journey through Psalm 23 this month. It has been good to reflect upon David’s metaphors in describing how he felt about the Lord. He drew upon the most personal language he could to do this. David had been a shepherd, and his core identity remained secure in that distinction.
No matter what happens, it’s good remember who we are, and Whose we are along the way. The Lord has been good to each one us, and despite (and because of) the valleys along the way, we can more ably appreciate the life we have now.
Linda Bollenbach is a chaplain at Mercy Hospital, and she spoke to us last Wednesday night on the subject of “Advanced Directives.” She culminated a month long Wednesday night emphasis on “Before Winter Comes: Planning a Good Death.” Once again we were reminded of how difficult the subject of death is to talk about. Linda did a great job telling us about Living Wills and Power of Attorney, and telling us to do all that we can now to make our wishes known as it related to how we wanted to die. She asked one question, however, that has stayed with me this week. It was simply this: “How do you want to be remembered?”
I had to go by the middle school to pick up my daughter Lucy. She stayed after school for her debate club meeting. Upon meeting her teacher for the first time, she told me that “I’m teaching them how to argue.” For a moment, it made me wonder about the wisdom of putting Lucy in there. But, I know that really is what debate club is about and so we’ll see what becomes of that.
Anyway, on the way to the debate class, I noticed numerous papers in the hallway on the wall where students were displaying their work. One of the assignments read “Describe your life in 30 words or less.” I realize this reflective assignment is being completed by 6th graders, but it get me to wondering how I might answer a question like that too.
I think Psalm 23 is a way of understanding David’s life “in 30 words or less.” I didn’t go back and count the exact number, but the ebb and flow of the metaphors in this chapter is a wonderful way to understand who David was and how he viewed his life. His core identity was that of a shepherd, and he drew upon the most personal language he knew to talk about his closeness with the Lord.
David closed this beautiful psalm with an affirmation that he “would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He wasn’t giving a fully developed eschatological statement, but rather a statement of hope and optimism that his future was secure with his Lord. As a “sheep”, David wanted to live the remainder of his days in the full view of the wonderful shepherd who had been with him his entire life. In short, David was home.
No matter what “season of life” you might be in, only you can give an answer for that provoking question. Never underestimate the value and impact you have on others around you. We are God’s people, a community of faith connected through a common faith in Jesus Christ. Each one of us is important. Let’s endeavor to focus our perspective on the beauty and blessings around us.
Remember, life is a gift and time is so precious.
This last Sunday I started a sermon series on Psalm 23. I will be taking four Sundays to cover this very familiar passage of Scripture. It’s always a challenge to present something new to people who have heard so much about these verses.
Most of us associate this passage with death and funerals. As a matter of fact, just today I went to a funeral service and picked up a worship pamphlet with a picture of the deceased on the cover. On the inside was recorded Psalm 23. These are words are comfort during a painful and sad situations.
I am not sure exactly what David was going through when he penned these words, but some scholars suggest he was running for his life. His son Absalom had conspired to take over the throne and David abandoned his position for the time being. The other thought I have is that Psalm 23 follows Psalm 22 (of course), but that the previous psalm begins with the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a question that many of us have asked at one time or the other, and demonstrates the range of emotion David experienced during extreme difficulty.
We don’t have a lot of sheep around here, or people wanting to a shepherd for that matter. I did come across an interesting explanation from Phillip Keller. He grew up in East Africa where they do have sheep, and penned a book entitled “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm.” Keller offers a number of observations, including the realization that sheep require much more attention than any other livestock. They can’t take care of themselves. They are nearsighted and very stubborn, and have no homing instincts. Dogs and cats can find their way home, but if a sheep gets lost, “it’s a gone sheep.”
I found that last thought particularly helpful. Sheep can’t find their way home. This reminded me of Isaiah 53 and the reminder that “all we like sheep have gone astray, each one of us to his own way.” There are a lot of lost people wandering around out in the world, and the good news is that the Good Shepherd knows each one and is searching for them. However, each person must respond to the voice of the Good Shepherd and determine to follow after Him (John 10).
In his book, “I Shall Not Want” Robert Ketchum tells a story about a little girl in a Sunday School class. The teacher asked the class if anyone knew the 23rd psalm. The little girl insisted that she did, and while the teacher was skeptical, told the girl to stand up and recite the familiar words. The little girl stood up, went before the class, and bowed. She then said, “The Lord is my shepherd. That’s all I need.” She then bowed once again and sat down.
I’ve been a pastor for 20 years and here at University Heights for seven of them. One thing I am learning by being around “the sheep” is that many of us are stressed and worried by a number of things. If the Lord is our (my) shepherd, then we (I) have the assurance that we (I) won’t be in lack. I can have the confidence of not lacking even though I might not be liking what going on. The English translation for Psalm 23.1 has nine words, the Hebrew only four. These are succinct and direct in their focus. The natural conclusion to the Lord being my shepherd is simply this: “I shall not want.” That means there is nothing I will lack or go without if it is important to the Shepherd for me to have. it also means I need to rely upon the Shepherd and trust Him to know what is best for me.
Psalm 23. It’s not just for funerals. “The Lord is my shepherd. That’s all I need.”
I played baseball for a high school that had mostly black students. The sophomore class, of which I was in at the time, had a majority of the white students. I was part of a class of students that was bused to different schools in the Monroe, LA area to assist with integration.
Baseball was about the only sport I could play with any degree of competency, and I thought about playing for Neville High School, even though I didn’t attend there at the time. It was understood that players in their 10th grade year could play for NHS if they chose to do so, because that is where most of the sophomores went at the end of the year. I remember being aware that Neville had seven seniors and two juniors in their lineup, and didn’t think I had too much of a chance to get any playing time. So, I decided to do something which was very unusual for a white athlete to do: I played for Carroll High School.
It was a unique and sometimes difficult experience, being a white player on that team. I remember the baseball coach at Carroll informing me that I would be the “white Jackie Robinson” and to consider what that might mean. I remember being introduced at the school assembly and the murmurs from the students, and the principal asking them to support this team and its players. I really wasn’t thinking of making such a social or political statement as a 16 year old. I just wanted to play baseball. Still, the social and racial overtones in that public school district became evident to me through the season.
I remember traveling to Grambling High School, and while arriving on the bus, seeing students and other players pointing at me. It was like they had never seen a white person on their campus before. Maybe that was the case. But, I never felt threatened by being there. I just had to overcome the unusual sense of being different and having some spectators staring at me and bringing it to my attention. It was more difficult playing our district schedule, against other high schools with people who knew me. They wondered what I was doing and some openly criticized me for it. They used a few select adjectives and monikers during the games too.
I’ve thought about the people of Ferguson, as everyone else has, and have a deep sadness at what is being portrayed. There is the terrible loss of an 18 year old’s life, and the expectation and hope of his having made a positive contribution to his community and world. I understand he was enrolled to attend college. I also think about the police officer whose life has also been forever changed, and wondering what the grand jury will do as they review the evidence. The world is watching to see how this unfolds.
There has been so much written and said about Ferguson, and no doubt there will be more. I did not realize that 50 of the 53 police officers on its force were white. That will have to change. Still, my initial thought is that I hope and pray that the rush to judgment can be avoided. I hope and pray that threats of violence and actual violence can be avoided, and that in fact justice can be blind in this case. I hope and pray that the facts and situation can be considered for not only the Brown family, but also for this police officer. I hope and pray that leaders who are close to the situation will rise up and call for peace and justice for everyone concerned.
Many people have already made up their mind about this case. This is disturbing to me. It also bothers me to see the incredible police presence at the protests, and the escalation of rhetoric from those who aren’t witnesses of what actually happened. If you want to hear some of that, you can go to YouTube. And I don’t think all the violence at those protests are coming from residents of Ferguson.
I’ve come across a few balanced editorials about Ferguson, and think this is one of the better ones I have read. It comes from a minister of a CBF congregation in the St.Louis area. This tragedy is going to take a while to sort out. No matter what happens, that young man won’t get his life back. But, how things are settled and the process may have a profound impact on the future of Ferguson and our nation.
I don’t pretend for a moment that playing baseball and being close to black players and coaches for that year makes me an expert on race relations. But, it did put me in a position to listen and learn from a different perspective. It has helped me to understand a little bit about the anxiety and fear that come from stereotypes and a lack of communication. It also informed me that friendships can be made regardless of a person’s color or economic background. We didn’t win many games that year, but I still have good memories of that season. I think playing together as a team made us winners of another more important type.
A few words of a prayer by St. Francis come to mind: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I am not naive enough to think that simply asking for peace and justice will be enough, but that is a good starting point. In times like these, we need to use as many (wise) words as possible.
I never knew him.
But I felt like I knew him. Just a little bit anyway.
The death and apparent suicide of Robin Williams has shocked and rocked the entertainment industry, and millions of fans around the world. It is hard to believe that the 63 year old comedian and actor is gone. It is a loss that impacts many, many people, even if they never knew him personally.
The news tonight took a little bit out of me, mainly because of how Williams presented himself to the world. Williams was public about his bouts with depression, and apparently was no longer able to deal with it and took his own life.
All of us know about how talented he was. I remember “Mork and Mindy” as a spin off of the “Happy Days” show decades ago. I was talking to a college student today about the magnitude of Williams’ death and about this show, and she acted like she had never heard about Williams. But, as I went through what I could recall about his acting contributions, I think I got her on board with some of his more recent efforts. I hope she’ll go back and do a bit of research on the broader scope of his work.
There will many people who will write tributes to Williams. There’s no way to really know what he was like unless you knew him, but I wanted to offer a few thoughts about this tragic loss of life.
First of all, people who are outwardly happy can be dealing with their own demons on the inside. It’s hard to imagine a man who brought laughter to millions could struggle so much with depression. He was wealthy, successful, well-liked, and had the admiration off many people. It wasn’t enough.
Second, despite his own struggles, he was able to bring a smile to the people around him, and we need more people like that. There’s an adage “there’s always someone else who has more problems that you.” We need to remember that.
I was reading a post on facebook by someone who was complaining about how they were unhappy about their children not getting their preferences met at school, and then I remember a family whose grandson was killed in an accident and won’t be starting kindergarten this Fall. We need to be a little more grateful about what we have when we start to complain. Maybe it would help us not to gripe so much. We should especially be mindful not to voice our “problems” in the presence of those who have endured more significant and life-changing losses. There’s no comparison.
We have so much to be thankful for. And there are many people who could be encouraged by our cheerfulness. There are people who “fill our buckets” and those who empty them. We have a finite amount of energy in those buckets, and I know I more drawn to those who fill mine than those who constantly drain it. From time to time we get sad, but we can all work on our attitude. Williams seemed to be someone who filled a lot of emotional buckets.
Third, depression is for real. It’s hard to understand how this affects the mind and a person’s thinking. Sometimes we can more readily grasp the reality of someone who is struggling outwardly having this condition. It’s much more difficult to fathom a wealthy person dealing with this problem. And, if you have someone who struggles in this way, then you can relate to the pain of what the Williams family is going through.
Finally, life can seem incredibly short and we need to enjoy the time we have. I’ve often quoted John Claypool’s statement that “Life is a gift.” We aren’t guaranteed a certain number of days in this life, so that ought to make the most of the time we have.
So, take time to tell someone how much you care about them and what they mean to you. Do it today, there’s only so much time that we have to use.
Yesterday was Father’s Day. It is one of those worship services that affects people in different ways. We choose to acknowledge the emphasis by lighting candles to represent those men who have been our dads as well as those men who aren’t biological dads, but have influence over us through their witness and example. The story of the Prodigal son was shared and I reminded the people that, like the younger son, we have to come to ourselves before we can come home to the Father.
Part of the worship service involved having our children talk about their recent camp experience. We usually invite the children down to the steps for a children’s message, but this time the ones who went to Windermere Retreat Center for those few days last week were the ones talking. Each one shared about the Bible stories, games, and events of the week. However, one of our precious girls talked about the significance of being an American and how much we have to be thankful for. She talked about the hunger offering that was received for the people of Guatemala, and that there are many people there who do not have anything to eat. She talked about how we have cars and houses, and that the people in this impoverished area had to dig around in garbage dumps for food, and use refuge to build meager houses to live in.
There weren’t many dry eyes in the house, and without intending to do so, Elle gave a remarkable testimony of how much we have to be thankful for and that our mission should be to help those in need.
I am waking up this morning to a number of challenges relating to work and life in general, but after spending time in prayer this morning and recalling her gentle words, realize that I have too much to be grateful for to worry about things I can’t control. What I can control, are my actions and leadership in remaining outward focused and keeping in touch with the hurts and needs of others.
The younger son in the Story of the Prodigal Son, or as it is more accurately depicted “The Story of the Loving Father” reminds us that God continues to love us no matter what we have done. We don’t have to remain surrounded by pigs in the distant country. Also, that quite often it is only when we run out of our means that we recognize our need for God. While the younger son was in that place, he hired himself out to work with the pigs, and he was so hungry that he “would have been glad to eat what the pigs were eating, but no one gave him a thing” (Luke 15.16 CEV).
No one gave him a thing.
Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you.” And this was offered in response to the generous offering of a woman who broke open a very expensive jar of perfume to poor on Jesus’ feet. He indicated this action of affection was anointing his body for burial. Those around him didn’t understand what that was about.
There is a time for extravagance. There are times when we must invest in our facilities and house of worship. It’s not often something we want to do, but it is necessary to maintain a strong base of operations when it comes to reaching people for Christ and expanding the Kingdom of God. At the same time, however, we must keep our eyes focused on what is happening around us and remain engaged with the hurting and hopelessness around us too.
This young child, in her sweet voice, reminded us that we have a lot to thankful for and that there are many people in this world who have far less that we do. With that perspective, our “1st world problems” pale in comparison to those who are wondering where their next meal is coming from today.
She also gave a wonderful lesson on the tremendous capacity of children to learn and care about others. Let us continue giving voice to our children, while at the same time providing the kind of atmosphere where they can grow and have opportunities to share from their own experiences. We might be surprised at what they teach us.