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Schweich’s Suicide another Sad Story

Tom Schweich committed suicide. He was 54 years old.

He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head at this home. Schweich had been elected to a second term as state auditor and was positioning himself for the GOP gubernnatorial nomination.

Former U.S. Senator John Danforth and now Episcopal priest performed the eulogy. He had been a friend to Schweich and his death had particular impact upon him. Danforth reflected upon the tragedy, which was related to political and personal attacks upon Schweich as he sought higher office.

Danforth questioned whether Schweich was suited for the rough and tumble nature of politics, indicating that he “was a person easily hurt and quickly offended.”

One example resonated with Danforth, as he referred to an attack ad on Schweich: “As for the radio commercial, making fun of someone’s physical appearance, calling him ‘a little bug,’ there is one word to describe it: ‘bullying.” And there is one word to describe the person behind it: ‘bully.'”

I am fully aware of the toxic nature of our politics. It is routine to hear politicians and political action committees attack opposing candidates and office holders. We’ve become so saturated by it that it’s easy to become numb to its affect. And, in this case, I can sympathize with Danforth’s assertion that temperment should be a consideration when seeking the kind of work Schweich was in. You have to have an extremely “thick skin.” Still, it doesn’t excuse hateful and harmful speech.

Why would someone commit suicide? It’s a haunting question. I don’t understand how a prominent political figure with a wife and children would take his own life. I think it has to do with the fact that none of us can truly know what is going on in a person’s life. I felt similarly when I heard about the death of Robin Williams. I also struggle with it when I hear the cries of parents when their child takes her own life.

Suicide victims, regardless of their age, must have reached a level of hopelessness from which there seemed to be no return. Christians and Non-Christians alike can experience this.

I’ve been a pastor for 20 years, and I can tell you that vitriol and hateful speech can manifest itself in any number of situations, including the church. I’m reminded of John Killinger’s work “Seven things They Don’t Teach You in Seminary.” One chapter is entitled: “There is a Meanness in Some People that is Simply Incredible.”

I am writing this to challenge us to choose our words carefully and be mindful of the devastating impact they can have on others. I also want us to be sensitive to the struggles of others and do our best to encourage them. We may not be able to “fix” their problems, but we can offer them support. And, let’s do our best to make sure our words are consistent with the witness we profess on Sundays.

Suicide isn’t a political issue. Neither is bullying. I have three children in our public school system who are being taught that bullying is wrong and that there should be “zero tolerance” for it. I fully support that. As adults, we ought to model that behavior as well. We can’t expect our children to rise to an example that we ourselves are unwilling to set

Musings on a Snowy Ash Wednesday

Kids around Springfield, MO are thrilled. This is the THIRD snow day in a row, and remarkably for the Ozarks, these are the first “snow days” that have been used this school year. I relate to the joy of not having school for a few days, but if we go too many more we might be going into June like we had to when I first moved here eight years ago. Not fun.

We’re entering the Lenten season officially today. Ash Wednesday. And, actually the whole concept of Lent is designed to promote self-sacrifice and reflect upon our mortality (“from ashes you came and to ashes you shall return”). A lot of people decide to “give up something” for Lent. If you’re having trouble choosing, then here is a good article about suggestions coming in via Twitter.

Lent isn’t supposed to be fun. This 40 day period of reflection is supposed to get us thinking in the direction of Christ’s sacrificial death for us on the cross. Forty days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter Sunday for the purpose of recognizing what Christ has done for us.

I’m grateful our church is open to this aspect of spiritual formation. We haven’t done the ashes on the forehead practice, but we are mindful about this season of the Christian year. Of course, today with school being out, we’re not doing anything church related this evening. But, it’s still Ash Wednesday but with more of a snowy feel to it. We will change the color of our Sunday bulletins, and with the first Sunday of Lent coming up, our people can expect that difference to bring attention to the season.

I’m also hoping there will be other differences to note as well. I spend a lot of time promoting different aspects of church life. This part of the year in particular, we are gearing up for a budget approval process, Nominating Committee process, and scheduling a deacon election in the near future. These are important aspects of our church’s life and essential to keeping our church active and functional. Sometimes they are not fun. However, I am also mindful of the more significant aspects of life in a community of faith and aim to keep the mood of Lent before us as much as possible. That doesn’t mean I will be gloomy but it will mean that I will lead our people to consider our dependence on Christ and our unity as the people of God.

Lent isn’t necessarily geared to be fun. No one should want to live in a “Lenten mentality” all the time. I think that’s a good clue as to the meaning of the season. Our desire should be to live in the light of Easter Sunday, and until then, we will reflect upon what life would be like without the Resurrection hope.

I don’t know what you’ll be “giving up” for Lent, if anything. But, I hope that for each day of Lent,  we can collectively embrace what sorrow and suffering mean and realize that there are people around us who experience this for far more than 40 days. Perhaps we can consider ways to alleviate their suffering. Perhaps too, the virtues of humility and penitence can emerge from our lives and give us a greater awareness of how much we truly have to be thankful for in this world.

MLK Weekend Musings

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions has to do with losing weight.

It’s a national obsession. Americans struggle with the embarrassment of having too much at our disposal and too little discipline to handle it.

Molly Marshall, our good friend and president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, talks about the need to reassess our values and sedentary lifestyle. The beginning of a new year offers a great time for that.

In her recent article, “Gaining Theological Heft,” Marshall recalls a conversation with a friend in the ministry who had been forced into early retirement because of chronic back pain. This man determined to include a daily exercise routine into his daily regimen. Marshall asked him to pray for her as she sought to do this. He responded in a less than sympathetic manner: “Only you can be the answer to this prayer.”

The answer wasn’t what she was looking for.

Marshall then commented on how life is about losing things and then adding things. She writes, “I am concerned that over the years, some of our tribe has been more focused on articulating what we are against than what we are for. Which is not enough.”

Baptists through the years have been good about proclaiming our positions against certain vices. On occasion, this has gained more prominence than our communicating what we are “for” as God’s people. I find this to be the conclusion of many college students who are starting out in their spiritual journey. They want to know what the church is “for” and are not greatly interested in making pronouncements and judgments.

There is a time and place for the latter, but I’ve become more convinced that effectiveness to our culture and world depends on a positive message which accentuates the Good News that Christ offers. We need to explain why it is good news, news that affects not only the spiritual needs but also the physical as well.

This Sunday is Martin Luther King weekend. It’s a time to think about our past as a nation and how far we have come in race relations, and far we have yet to go. It’s almost impossible to think about this man without his “I Have A Dream” speech. Many Americans are drawn to these words and dream, but it has not always been so.

During the 1960s, national magazines and television portrayed police dogs attacking black people in the South who had sought voting rights. Police officers were shown carrying bullwhips and beating black youth who wanted to sit at public lunch counters. The media proved to be a powerful catalyst in bringing these uncomfortable images from far away places into living rooms all across America. What the nation saw and felt changed attitudes on segregation.

We have made progress in dealing with discrimination and oppression, but there is still work to be done in this area. There are still those who struggle under the grip of poverty, homelessness, and hopelessness.

The challenge for us is to consider the impact each one of us can make to improve the lives of those around us. There is a time and a place for doing things “for us” and it seems like here lately that need has surfaced ytime and again (wait until you hear about the roof!). However, we need to be reminded that our mission exists in places and people outside the walls of the building. UHBC has a great capacity to impact our community, and has done so time and again. I want to see our church continue its involvement in our community, helping those who are poor, hungry, and in need of the compassionate message of hope that is found in Jesus Christ.

That’s my hope for a new year. It’s a prayer that only you and I can answer

Happy New Year 2015

Happy New Year! It’s getting close to the deadline, in terms of making resolutions, that is.

I haven’t been a fanatic about making a long list of resolutions that might not last beyond Valentine’s Day. But, I do think this is a great time to reflect and consider leaving some things in 2014 rather than taking them into a fresh new year. There are some attitudes, beliefs, and burdens that plague a lot of us, and today is a good time to decide that 2015 will be different. I genuinely want to “lay aside the weight and the sin that so easily entangles” and see what difference that can make. I hope others do too.

I’m a pastor by calling and choice, but more of the former than the latter though. I still believe in a divine ambition to serve the Lord through the local church, and appreciate especially so many others who toil in any number of difficult ministry fields. I join with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ who hope that this next year will be more productive than the one we’re leaving behind.

One thing about 2014: it’s been brutal. Hailey Owens.The suicide of Robin Williams, Malaysian planes crashing which killed more than 500 people (another one near Indonesia this week), and of course the racial unrest in Ferguson. Police officers executed in their vehicle and a general feeling of unrest and sadness. It’s been rough in this regard. On the bright, less serious side, the Royals made the World Series. And those low gas prices have been great. I would trade higher gas price for peace and goodwill, but unfortunately it’s not a matter of choosing one or the other.

I came across an enlightening article by Jonathan Davis; it is written by a millennial about millennials which come close to my thoughts about ministry and how I hope to approach a brand new year. In short, Davis is telling church leaders: “don’t try so hard.”  What he does do is ask churches to focus on these three themes: community, authenticity, and service. Davis addresses small churches in particular, but I think his premise is accurate for all churches regardless of size.

What I want to do this upcoming year is to reaffirm the importance of these aspects of ministry and find ways to implement them into our church. I don’t know what that’s going to mean in terms of attendance, giving, and other marks of church growth. But, I have come to believe that it has a lot to do with the Kingdom of God and that’s where I want to be in 2015.

Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6.33). I memorized this verse decades ago. I hope and pray the the Holy Spirit breathes new meaning into this passage so that might take root in my life and in the lives of others around me.

The Christmas Surprise

I don’t play golf. That probably makes me an oddity when it comes to pastors. But, I can nevertheless appreciate the frustration of hitting a ball that is just sitting still into places that have no resemblance to where you intended it to go. One of the key rules of golf is hitting the ball where it lies, unless of course you like to use the proverbial “foot wedge” when you don’t like where the ball landed.

I heard a story about a golf course in India that has a rather unique problem–monkey infestation. Golfers hit the ball and monkeys periodically come onto the course, pick up the ball, and throw it to just about anywhere–the rough, sandtrap, even on the green! As you can imagine, this created a lot of angst among the golfers and the trustees of the course tried to correct the situation. They even constructed barriers to keep the monkeys away, but not only did this not work, but it seemed to motivate the monkeys to bring more of their friends with them. After a lot of time, energy, and money was invested to no avail, the golf course proprietors decided to add a new rule. It is probably the one course in the world with this rule: “wherever the monkey throws the ball, play it there.”

This story reminds of Joseph, Mary’s husband. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for him to have heard that his future wife was pregnant. And to realize that this baby was not his child must have devastating and the worst of all surprises. Fortunately, the beautiful nativity story has a good ending, thanks to the work of the busy angel of the Lord who told him to go ahead and take Mary as his wife.

The words of angel must have been a great surprise (and relief) to him: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.20-21 NIV). Equally astonishing under those circumstances is that Joseph got up from sleep and did what the angel had instructed. There isn’t much commentary or embellishment to his actions, only a focus on his obedience.

I’ve dealt with many people who have had the monkey move the ball on them this past year. There is a young man I am thinking of who has a wonderful wife and little boy who has been diagnosed with cancer. He had his life planned out it seemed, but now the ball has been moved on him and he’s having to play it from another spot. I admire his courage and determination to do that very thing. In a very real sense, he doesn’t know what the future holds for him. He’s only trying to live one day at a time, doing his best to trust the Lord in his situation.

Christmas is all about surprises, and my hope is that we will all remain open to them. I also pray that they will all be “good” surprises because those seem to easier to handle. Still, there are those other kinds of surprises which stop us in our tracks and shock us to the point of not knowing what to do or say. I have experienced this kind of sensation before also, and am drawn to the Christmas narrative and Joseph’s reaction to his shocking news. Interestingly, there aren’t any recorded words from Joseph. We do see his obedience, however, and a recognition that even though the “ball was moved”, he would “play it where it rested.” He did so when having faith didn’t make sense when compared with the facts of the situation.

The Holy Spirit is a key player in the birth narrative, and He remains and active part in our narrative today as well. May the Lord give us courage to trust him during the times when the ball gets moved, and that we would realize the the Holy Spirit has a bigger purpose for us than what our next shot or decision might be.

Ircel Harrison’s “For Such a Time as This”: A Review

Like many pastors, I have done my share of reading books on leadership and being “on the missional journey.” There are a several choices and definitions about what this subject means and how it relates to the local church. So, I must admit I approached this latest effort from my friend Dr. ircel Harrison with modest anticipation. This has more to do with a poor mindset on my part rather than the contents of what I knew would be a fine work.

Harrison employs the title is “For Such a Time as This: Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry.” He acknowledges that there are already many books on the subject. But, he indicates that there is a great need to redeem the “traditional” church for ministry in the 21st century. In order for this be be effective, the congregation and leadership need to be in sync about what is important and how to go about “doing church.” Rather than detail the particular chapters of this book, I will do my best to point out the “takeaways” that I found to be most valuable and informative.

One of the most important takeaways from Harrison’s effort is his affirmation of the “traditional” church. It seems like many of the leadership conferences I attend only provide me with an opportunity to be discouraged. Those who are presenting the information preside over congregations that are new starts and do not have the organizational structure that exists in many traditional (dare I say ‘institutional’) churches. It is difficult and arguably a poor use of time to undo much of the organizational underpinnings of the traditional church. However, Harrison believes that these kinds of congregations (which comprise a large percentage of our churches) can be re-energized with a fresh vision and awareness that ministry is about people rather than merely maintaining the institution. He also provides help for pastors and other church leaders who find themselves in these kinds of churches, but want to move them forward in engaging their culture with the gospel. I found Harrison’s appreciation for the traditional church refreshing and on point with the reality of an aging church in a changing world.

Another takeaway related to Harrison’s emphasis on the church discovering “who it is” rather than “what it does.” In other words, the church should function from a concept of “being” rather than “doing.” Harrison is optimistic that the local (traditional) church can be an effective influence in a post-modern world. Harrison says, “I believe that the adoption and practice of a missional ecclesiology can have a greater impact on Christian witness than the ‘emerging’ or ‘emergent’ church movement” (33). He appreciates the lessons that can be learning from the emergent movement as it has helped the church understand a changing social and theological constructs. However, Harrison maintains it is also imperative for the church to re-discover “who we are and what we are about” (33). Rather than jettison our theological and biblical pedigree, the church needs to embrace the truth that it not only has a mission, but is the mission of God in the world. Harrison rightly points out this powerful truth.

A third takeaway is that Harrison draws from several authors in the field of leadership and church life to provide support and clarity for his views. The bibliographical material alone will make For Such a Time as This worth reading. I was familiar wita few of these individuals already, but Harrison uses them to provide organizational structure for his chapters. Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, Reggie McNeal, and Curtiss Paul DeYoung are among those in the church leadership field whom Harrison references. By doing so, Harrison directs the reader to do additional research and seek out those whom have been writing on this subject for some time. Drucker and Collins are not “church” authors necessarily, but their insights have use for the local church. Harrison does well to incorporate them into his presentation.

Harrison’s perspective on leadership provided another helpful takeaway. He believes that leadership must have spiritual and relationship components in order to be relevant (66). There are several applications to this axiom, but the primary one is that a team of leaders may be very talented yet ineffective because they are not “on the same page.” I believe this to be at the heart of where many churches go astray. Some congregations have ample leadership in place but cannot agree on one direction to pursue. Harrison brings in the concept of “alignment” as essential for churches to on mission for God. It is possible to have multiple agendas on a church staff or among lay leadership, and attempting to satisfy these individual desires is an exercise in futility and frustration. Harrison offers a solution to this problem. He states that effective teams must have “mutual commitment to specific values and principles. Team members must have a core around which they can grow, encourage one another, and serve their church and organization” (82). The answer to the problem of “being on the same page” is to have only page to be for the pastor and church leadership.

The last takeaway relates Harrison’s providing questions at the end of each chapter. These questions provide a format for further reflection and are ideal for small groups and church leadership. Harrison raises the important questions for those who serve and love the local (traditional) church. There are those, like myself, who want to be authentic with the people within the church while being effective in reaching those who are not connected to the body of Christ. These questions allow readers to do some introspection and evaluation of their approaches to life, leadership, and ministry within the church.

I highly recommend this work, if for no other reason than Harrison’s appreciation and affection for the traditional church. He affirms those who serve in this context while challenging pastors and laypeople to recognize the tremendous opportunity that exists for sharing the gospel. I think that there is a great deal of similarity between the 21st century church and the 1st century church. Harrison reminds us of that this is the only context we have to live in, and it’s vital that churches “start where we are” in order to make a difference for Christ.

The Illness of Ingratitude

I’ve been a pastor for over 20 years now. The profession definitely has its share of highs and lows in terms of ministry successes, failures, disappointments, and challenges. Many of these experiences relate to dealing with people of a variety of social, economic, and educational backgrounds who bring their own biases and beliefs into the community of faith, known as the church. With so much diversity, there are opportunities for spiritual growth. However, there are also opportunities for people to get selfish and lose sight of the greater good which is building the Kingdom of God.

I don’t have much data to back this point up, but more of a general feeling that I’ve had as it relates to life and ministry. There are real problems facing our congregations and church members. My pastor friends can testify to that. But, what I wanted to point out heading into the Thanksgiving weekend is that there is a tendency for us Christians to bring our problems to Jesus, but not our praise to Jesus.

The story of the leper in Luke 17 comes to mind. He had two strikes against him: he was a Samaritan and he was a leper. Why the other nine Jewish lepers let him hang around is an interesting point all to its own. Apparently, their shared demise and disgrace was greater than the prejudice that would have ordinarily existed toward to the single Samaritan man. Those of you familiar with the story will recall that Jesus healed the ten lepers while he was on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. However, the only one who came back to give thanks and praise to God was the Samaritan. Jesus asked, “where are the other nine? were not ten cleansed? Has no returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus told this man to rise and go because his faith had made him whole. I think this was not only physical healing but also spiritual healing.

Fred Craddock talked about the failure for the people of God to realize their blessings and to give proper appreciation for them. He said, “It is often the stranger in church who sings heartily the hymns we have long left to the choir, who expresses gratitude for the blessings we had not noticed, who listens attentively to the sermons we think we’ve already heard, who gets excited about our old Bible, and who becomes actively involved in acts of service to which we send small donations. . . must it always be so?”

Many problems are seen, but there are some that are unseen. One of the most damaging is the illness of ingratitude. Ingratitude is bad because not only because of what it creates in the person who has it, but also because it is contagious and can affect the attitudes of others. I have seen this take place first hand and it is not a pretty sight, but without a spirtual solution there is very little to be done about it.

Revisiting the story of healed leper, I’ve come to realize that that praise and gratitude are the real cure for the illness of ingratitude. The reason for this is that it takes the focus off of “self” and on to “God” who is the one who provides for us in the first place. I get the fact that there are people who are really hurting right now and question whether or not God cares about them in the first place. But, I also struggle because there are those who are blessed with plenty and yet do not recognize what they have are gifts and blessings. I regret to say that sometimes I find myself in their company.

The leper came back to be thankful and praise God for his healing, but I also believe he came back because he wanted something else. He wanted Jesus. Pure and simple. And, at the end of the day, that’s enough reason for each one of us to be grateful.

As I told our people last Sunday, I believe there is room by the leper at the feet of Jesus. I also believe there is a little bit of the leper in each one of us. At one time we were “afar off” but through forgiveness and the work of Jesus we are “close” to him and to one another.

Things are going to happen that cause us frustration and sadness. We all go through times of happiness and sorrow. What I hope this holiday season is to discover what contentment means and how much we have to be thankful for as individuals and as the people of God. A grateful people becomes a loving people. And vice versa.

If you feel like you’re coming down with a case of ingratitude, be sure to head it off before it gets out of hand. This time of year in particular folks are inclined to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Take time to praise and find yourself at the feet of Jesus.

Happy Thanksgiving and may this truly be the beginning of a meaningful Advent season.

Our Wearisome Habit of Worrying

We are good at worrying about things. When faced with a difficulty and we don’t know what to do, the tendency is to say, “Well, I guess I have something to worry about it!”

Do a Google search on the subject and you’ll come across a seemingly infinite number of articles on stress and anxiety. One is entitled “Stress Rates in America” and it records several kinds of anxiety that are caused by the workplace, obesity, and even people in our lives.

Our culture has come up with some solutions in the form on songs. Bobby McFerrin sang “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” More recently, Pharrell Williams (wearer of the large Arby’s looking hat) sings “Happy” with the lyrics: “Sing along if you feel like a room without a roof. . .”

Yes, we need a cure for anxiety since we are so good at afflicting ourselves with the sickness.

One interesting aspect to this dilemma is that it’s also possible to not only worry about things, but also people. I know this by personal experience and also by hearing some of you tell me things like “I’m worried about my daughter’s health” or “I’m worried about my granddaughter finding out what to do with her life” or “I’m worried about my parents and their ability to care for themselves.”

This malaise of anxiety is certainly not new, and it is highly contagious and spread easily and quickly by those of us who are prone to have an attachment to things (and people). Sometimes I wonder if we’ve been conditioned to feel guilty if we don’t have something to worry about.

Many of us suffer from “1st world problems” when we run out of gas in the car, or an appliance breaks down, or the DVR stops working for some reason and our children aren’t around to fix it. Things like that can create anxiety, but it’s not the same thing as wondering where our next meal will come from, not having clothes to wear, or having a place to live.

Jesus cautioned against worry. His solution? “More than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well” (Matthew 6.33 CEV).

Yes, we certainly ought to love and pray for one another. Actually, that is a large portion of the remedy for worrying over our friends and family members. Let’s love and pray for our friends and family members. Let’s also give thanks and appreciate the belongings that we have while we’re alive.

However, there’s one other component to liberate us from the chokehold of worry and fear. It involves trust in a heavenly Father who loves us and knows what our needs are before we ask of him.

Whatever it might be that’s creating distress or anxiety in your life, take time to turn that over to the Lord. I know it’s “easier said than done” but it’s also a good opportunity to ask ourselves why that is so.

Once we learn to seek the “Kingdom of God” and keep seeking after it, then we won’t have as much time to build our own kingdom.

For all the Saints (not just some of them)

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.

Houston, We Have (Another) Problem

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.


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