Covenant

[The following is re-posted from my professional blog at www.hudsonumc.org/pastor]

Six and a half years ago I went before friends, family and God to make a sacred commitment.  That commitment was to my new wife that I would care for her and remain with her even when it was really hard.  She, amazingly, made the same commitment to me!  As I held her and thought about this commitment I was not just starry-eyed and excited (there was that, too), but I also had a feeling of anxiety.  I felt a little overwhelmed. Forever is a long time, you see.

That commitment means that even when I am angry.  Even when she has really messed up, I am not going to just give up (and vice-versa).  It means that we will work really hard to endure, even though we are both bound to break promises or make mistakes throughout our relationship.  It means that we keep going even when the ‘going gets tough.’  I think you get the idea.

On January first my church will renew our vows to God and remember our baptism during a Wesley covenant service.  It is not just the words we say to God, but recognizing that God claims us and remains committed to a relationship with us…even when we break our commitments.

So, if God commits to us even when we mess up or break our promises…why should we bother recommitting to God?

Well, it’s like a sound marriage.  The other person may forgive you for messing up, but if the marriage is going to be positive and life-giving: both people have to work hard at the relationship.

We can know that God is seeking after us.  We can know that God loves us and commits to us.  Yet, it will not be a sound relationship if we do not also commit to God, seek after God and love God in return.  Imagine a one-sided marriage, would that be pleasant for either person?

As we begin this new year, I encourage each person to think about their God who loves them and think about ways to be more faithful and committed to that God.  Not because God’s love depends upon it, but because, like a marriage, sharing that commitment will enrich your life and enrich your relationship with God.

The Eastern Gate

Meet Gene Larson!


Gene Larson is a lay person and the Chairperson of the Worship Committee at First United Methodist Church in Normal, IL.  I have found him to be a very capable in engaging both theology and Bible.  He graduated from Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS) and found his way to the Bloomington-Normal area where we worked for State Farm.  My first meeting of Gene was with his dogs.  He is a dog lover and is as dedicated to his canines as they are to him!

Today I welcome Gene to my blog and invite you to read his perspective on Resurrection and New Life.

One of my re-discovered musical groups is the Statler Brothers.  I have always enjoyed country music, at least the form it took 30 and more years ago.  As country music changed, I moved away from it and lost touch with some of the great artists that contributed much to  my enjoyment of it.  The quartet that I enjoyed most had its roots in gospel music and throughout their long career always included some of it in their concerts and shows.  Recently, I was searching iTunes for some new music and ran across a gospel compilation of the Statlers.  One of the songs included was entirely new to me—“The Eastern Gate.”  


This song is referring to a gate on the eastern side of the wall around the old city of Jerusalem.  It is the gate that is closest to the Mount of Olives and it quite likely the one most frequented by Jesus on his comings and goings to the city.  It is almost certainly the gate He used on Maundy Thursday to visit the mountain garden to pray after the Last Supper.  It is very likely the one through which the captured Savior was returned to face the ultimate persecution, prosecution, and execution.  


If you are not familiar with the gospel song, its message conveyed in several verses and repeated chorus is that Jesus will meet us “Just inside the Eastern Gate over there.”  It is an up-tempo piece, at least in the Statler’s rendition of it.  Other gospel artists tend to be less so.  Once you hear it, if Southern Gospel music is to your liking, it is a tune and lyric that is hard to put out of your mind.  As I’ve listened to it numerous times over the last few months, I’ve come to understand what its message might hold for me and, perhaps, for you. .  

The Eastern Gate is a song that at first blush seems to dwell, as much of the related music also does, on our individual deaths and the condition of our souls at the time.  Perhaps one of the reasons the genre’s following is limited is because so much of the music seems to dwell on this singular and personal topic.  The songs we like to sing are more uplifting than the rather somber idea that ultimately we will die and whether or not we will meet the test of the Judge who sits inside the gate.  


The insight for me into this song and others is that it is not just about the end of our human lives, but about the process we go through as we live each day of our lives.  In twelve-step parlance, life that is lived in fear of tomorrow or haunted by the past is far less likely to make it successfully through this day, today.  So my contention is that The Eastern Gate is not one to be avoided or circumvented as we go through life.  Rather it is a place, a process that will lead us to answers about ourselves that will be important to understanding what we need to do to wear the mantle of a disciple.  


Let’s be honest, we are less likely to look closely at what we’re doing with our lives if the only ones we’re trying to please is ourselves.  If however, the person we will meet “…in the morning, over there,” is a wise counselor and friend who can help us understand what the better part might be for us to pursue.  When Jesus said to Martha, “Don’t worry about Mary, she has chosen the better part,” He was telling her that life is more than being a perfect hostess, the best cook, the one with the cleanest house.  He was telling her that choosing to love and care for another is more important than the clothes on our back or the possessions we take so much pride in accumulating.  

The process of self-examination is not easy and most likely is not something we can pull off by ourselves.  We need the independent and yet compassionate advice of someone who cares for us and wants us to succeed even more than we to do.  That presence in our lives is interested not in our stuff but our souls.  That helper, guide, and friend is looking out for us for our sake not for what they can get out of it.  We, on the other hand, tend to look out for “…numero uno” and that is where the problems start.  

When the Ottoman Turks controlled Jerusalem they sealed the gate to prevent the return of the Messiah.  Jewish tradition has it that the Messiah will return to the city and restore the temple via the Eastern Gate.  How like the Turks we are.  We seal off the advice and counsel of those who have our best interests at heart by refusing to look at our lives from any other perspective than our own and by worrying constantly about avoiding the inevitable.  There is nothing we can do about the inevitable.  What will happen will happen and it is up to us to prepare the way as best we can.   That may sound quite final and even judgmental, but I think it is the basis of faith.  Living life for the best result today is what will do the most for us in preparing for any eventuality.  My, our, ultimate salvation is by the grace of God, not the by the works of our hands, feet or money.  The result of life is not what we attain or accumulate.  It is what kind of memories we leave with those whose lives we have touched.

As long as there are free people anywhere on this planet or in this universe, names like Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, King, Jr. and others will never be forgotten.  The memories of what they did and how they sacrificed to make the world a better place for others is the basis for immortality that cannot be refuted.  Even a person who has no religious bent at all can name for you the persons in their past that has given them strength to get up each day and go on to achieve whatever they could to make the day worth living.  It is without doubt the Way on which we can build a legacy that will carry us into whatever form immortality may take for us.  To be sure, there are others whose presence in this world will also be remembered, because forgetting the atrocities they perpetrated is to allow them to fall into places from which those lessons from the past cannot be resurrected.  

Let’s go inside “The Eastern Gate” and see what the words of this song might say to each of us.  

“I will meet you in the morning.  Just inside the Eastern Gate.
 Then be ready, faithful pilgrim,
 Lest with you it be too late.
Refrain: I will meet you, I will meet you, Just inside the Eastern Gate over there.
 I will meet you, I will meet you, I will meet you in the morning over there.
If you hasten off to glory,
Linger near the Eastern Gate,
 For I’m coming in the morning;
So you’ll not have long to wait. [Refrain]
Keep your lamps all trimmed and burning;
For the Bridegroom watch and wait.
 He’ll be with us at the meeting.  Just inside the Eastern Gate. [Refrain}
O the joys of that glad meeting
 With the saints who for us wait!
 What a blessèd, happy meeting
Just inside the Eastern Gate! [Refrain]”
These verses lead us from where we would take ourselves to where our God, our Higher Power wants us to be.  The urgency of not putting off our faith journey is where we start.  The reality of the uncertainty of this life is underscored and the request is for us to not linger, but for our helper and guide to be just inside the gate when we get there.  The allusion to a parable of Jesus concerning the preparations of the wedding party for the main participants is reinforced.  And, finally, the joy of our welcome to the immortality of our friends and family who shaped, led, admonished, and cheered us to victory over the world.  A world that would just as soon have torn us to bits and scattered our remains so as to put whatever good we possessed in a place where our lives could be of no use to anyone else.

That is not what the God I put my trust in is going to do with my life.  He waits for me to come to Him for that advice and counsel that will turn me from who I am to who I can be.  And, the people who will benefit from the change wrought by God in me are those people who I fed, clothed, visited, healed, and loved in the same way I have been treated by the power that has sustained and will never forsake me.  Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it. He has no need to condemn anyone, we are perfectly capable of doing that to ourselves.  

The Eastern Gate beckons and calls to each of us to pass through and converse with the love that will never let us go.  

Amen.
Reboot

What does it mean to start over?  When it comes to a cake, you have to trash the whole burnt mess and start with all new ingredients.  Luckily starting fresh in life doesn’t have to be so violent (or messy), but it can be.  Sometimes we have to lose our lives in order to start over.  Jesus said something about that in the Bible, in fact….

For me, starting over wasn’t an obvious thing.  I didn’t even realize it was happening nor did I have that intent.  Yet, over the last few weeks I’ve come to realize that I look at certain things differently.  My worldview has shifted ever-so slightly.

I notice it in things as simple as my sleep schedule.  Over the last few months I’ve been going to bed earlier and getting my day started sooner.  Is it because I look forward to what tomorrow holds?

I notice it in my attentiveness to my wife.  I don’t know if she notices, but I’m a little more aware of what is happening for her, although a new church appointment has kept me from investing more time in my marriage.

I notice it in my outlook on issues and, even, moments of “crisis” around me.  I think the experiences of a brain tumor, two neuro-surgeries, and a near-death experience in my hospital bed have changed my world in ways I didn’t even realize…  somehow for the better.

I don’t think you will notice the changes I have experienced.  I don’t think it is in overt ways, necessarily, but it happened all the same.  As a pastor, I look around at the world and wonder…is that what faith does?  When we begin to see that there is hope and love in this world, does it change us?  I think so.  We don’t always notice the change right away, but when we see the world through the lens of possibility instead of impossibility…when we see that this world is more filled with love than hate…when we recognize that God can give us hope for a brighter tomorrow…I think it changes our world and us a little at a time.

Well, enough rambling for now!

Ephesians 1:3-14 A Call to Love in Troubled Times

 

   
 As I sit at my desk, writing this blog entry; I look out the window to see beautiful clear blue skies and shriveled near dead brown grass. What a shame. The need for rain is at the forefront of most people’s minds with whom I speak. I spoke with a couple people this week who recalled the depression, others with whom I spoke recalled the drought of 1988. This is certainly a troubling summer. The anxiety which this drought is causing is only exaggerated by the uncertainty of the times in which we live. 
Normally in such times, many people have turned to God and their elders; but here we may find ourselves struggling as well. Church membership and attendance is down. At the most recent General Conference it was reported that the average United Methodist is 58 years old. Churches no longer filled with children in Sunday School are filled instead with memories and worry. As we face this fact, we are forced to recognize that the church of yesteryear is no more. We are called by God and add campaigns to “ReThink Church”….but where do we begin?

As a nation, we are grieving as we watch members of what was dubbed by Tom Brokaw “the Greatest Generation” die. These are people who remember the Great Depression, lived through World War II and worked to rebuild the nation into the country that it is today. They have guided us and our parents (or are perhaps our parents). As much as we grieve them individually as they pass, we grieve something else as well: an idea. This generation represents a link to a distant past, a different time. They stand in the American consciousness like a mighty oak: a symbol of strength, wisdom and endurance. When members who were a part of this generation in my church die, I often witness others shaking their heads, asking “What will become of us when this generation is gone”. It is the end of an era.

With all this uncertainty it is no wonder that tensions, in the church and in the nation are high. We are faced with mounting problems. Old solutions aren’t working. So we lash out like a scared and hurt animal- because that is what we are. As we look to the fall and the coming election, I confess I am filled with dread. Yes, I worry deeply about what the results of the election will be when votes are tallied, but I worry as well about the cost of the election- not the financial cost (which will be unimaginably huge) but the psychological and spiritual cost of the fighting which has already begun. 

This Sunday, many churches which follow the Revised Common Lectionary will begin a study of Ephesians. As I reviewed and studied “Ephesians”, I was struck by the ways this ancient text sympathizes with and speaks to our troubled times. This letter, which most likely circulated amongst a number of churches was written after the fall of the temple in 70 AD. The destruction of the temple forced many religious communities to re-think the ways they practiced their faith, and who held religious authority. They were plunged into confusion and uncertainty. Compounding the struggle with a changing religious life was the death of a generation. At the time that this letter was written and circulated, Paul had most likely been executed. The other apostles, those followers of Jesus who walked, talked and learned with him; and who subsequently founded many of the first churches were dying. Faced with new questions and problems, the early church struggled to know where to turn. All too often they chose to turn against one another. 

Confronted with all of the frustrations of their day, the author of Ephesians opens with magnificent praise for the God of heaven and earth. We, the readers are assured that we have a God who is not removed from our problems but who instead is at work for us. Before the beginning of time, God made a plan. That plan is not broken economies, destroyed temples, failed crops or oppression. The writer explains, “This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:3-14 Common English Bible). This is a plan rooted in love and advanced through grace. God has set aside an inheritance for us. 
Inheritance is given based on who a person is not what they do, we are given this inheritance not because we have always made good choices but because we are a part of God’s creation, because we are God’s children and because we are loved. God has planned this inheritance, saving it and setting it aside for each one of us. Though it is given to us it is not ours, for it was first God’s. We, as God’s benefactors have a choice: we can squander that inheritance or we can use it to honor God by participating in God’s plan. 

The writer explains that God’s design for creation is not something simply of another, heavenly realm. God’s has plans this world, this earth. God plans to see this world reconciled with one another and with God. Because of this, as we approach this election we are called to care for all God’s people and all of the issues that effect them. We are invited to labor in love and make wise decisions based not in malice but in the love God has for each of us. I know that as we near the election, my blood will at times boil. I will be filled with indignation and anger. But as hard as it may be somedays, I am not the only inheritor of God’s love and grace. I am not the only person that God blessed, chose and adopted. Indeed all of us, rich or poor, republican or democrat, of every race, gender, sexual orientation and nationality have been blessed, chosen and adopted by God. So let us then go forth endeavoring to treat one another through our words and  actions with the respect due to a child of God.

 
Resurrection & New Life:  Every Moment Counts! (Video)

Scripture:  Luke 22:63-65, 23:32-38

If this was the only moment that defined Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t have any hope, but his life was not defined only by his lowest moments, but also by the high moments of his birth, life, ministry and, later, resurrection!  Christ shows us that we can look forward to new life, even in our most traumatic moments!!!

Title Image found at:  http://www.wolfiewolfgang.com/2010/11/cartwheeling-back-to-health-and.html

Resurrection & New Life:  Betrayed
image found at:  http://mikefriesen05.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/dealing-with-lifes-great-wounds-betrayal/

Scripture:  John 13:21-32

In the scripture today Jesus is said to know that one of his disciples will betray him.  I want you to take a moment to consider this.  How many of us would ever knowingly keep someone who will betray us in our group?  I mean, if I know someone is talking behind my back or acting jealously (etc.) you had better believe that I will stop confiding in them.  If I know that a friend does not have my best interest at heart, you’d better believe that I no longer consider them friend.  My interests have to be important to my friends, right?  My needs have to be a concern for a true friend.

Christ does not define life or friendship as you or I do.  As Jesus approached the cross, he began to make it very clear that Life is far more than what we can see or experience.  In those last days of life, Christ showed us that there is more to experience than this lone world.  When Judas is invited to continue at the meal, in fact, invited to ‘do what he must do’ but quickly…Judas is shown that he is still cared for.  Jesus remained committed to Judas even when Judas was clearly not committed to Jesus.

There will be many times when we will betray our God.  It is part of being human, by the way.  Our God will be hurt and saddened by the decisions that we make and the things that we choose to do, yet God does not send us away from the table.  Jesus not only continues to eat with Judas, he actually dips bread and feeds Judas.  Jesus feeds the one who will betray him!?  I want to suggest that this is what happens for us at communion.  Communion is the act when we come forward in church and feed upon bread and juice as a sign of being fed by Christ….when it comes to that act, we are much like Judas.  We are imperfect human beings, yet God sees beyond us and our limitations.  We will mess up and betray God, yet God will still love us, feed us, commune with us.

During Holy Week consider what it means for us to still be at God’s table after all of these millennia.  What does it mean that Christ still communes with us?  What does it mean that Christ offers body and blood for us to partake in?  What does it mean that God does this knowing that we will commit betrayals?

Christ invites all of us, even though we will mess up, to walk with Him to the cross.  Christ invites all of us to journey the Easter  experience and to know his love.  Will you journey with Christ this Easter?  Are you prepared to be loved in a new way this Easter?

Showing Love

FIRST:  Isn’t it funny how our minds and bodies will just take over and give us what we need -even if we don’t know what it is at the time??? The last few days I’ve been videoing and blogging to share with you all about my new medicine patterns and sleeplessness.  That’s old news, of course.  I realized something, though, this morning.  Like so many other 2 ams this week I found myself stirring.  I wobbled  to the bathroom and then went in search of my laptop.  (By the way: it is really hard to stay upright when you are missing part of your brain AND are on heavy narcotics, not going to lie about that.)

Well, there is my wife asleep in the bed and I don’t want to wake her (such a light sleeper compared to me), so I head to the kitchen.

Here it is almost 3 am and I suddenly realize that I’m at home.  I don’t mean that I feel at home or that my in-laws have just made me feel falsely welcome.  Nope!  I mean, I feel at home enought that I started my morning routine.  I went to the pantry and poured some Cinnamon Toast Crunch  (Yes, I’m aware of what a diet-poor decision that is.  I don’t care, btw, at 4 or 5am.  If it isn’t light out, the sugar and calories won’t count.

I’ve really been blessed to be staying in a place where such hospitality is shown.  It is great to be in a place where my in-laws tell me how they feel about my attitude, life, or behavior so that I can be the best person possible.

Tonight was one of those moments.  Earlier tonight I showed my mother-in-law, June, this new project I’ve bee doing.  She said, “Oh, gee, Scott, I see how you’re trying to make people feel appreciated, but this  could make people feel bad.  What about those people who have meant to send a card and forgot or couldn’t.

As I’ve scanned these cards into the computer, I’ve let those words tumble around my head.  She may be right, yet there are some other thoughts tumbling around my head, lately.  Over the past few months have been preaching and teaching about how we need to truly show our love.  I’ve said it over-and-over:  We need to write a card, make a phone call, and we need to visit one another.  If we are to be a community of Christ we need to be disciplined in showing our love to those around us.

I guess I could shove all these cards into an old shoe box as a selfish reminder one-day of some nice things that people once said to me…but I think the calling of pastor is higher than that.  I’ve been asking people to reach out in relationship and develop deeper connections with one-another, God and the world.  I want to lift up the thoughtful gestures that have been shared with me as an example.

These aren’t just names on a paper.  This isn’t just a list of prayers in a bulletin.  It’s not just a signature on a nice picture.  Nope.  These are thoughts and love, poured out for others.  Whether it is a time of “Sharing the Love of Christ” on Sunday morning during worship; whether it is a phone call to a loved one on Saturday afternoon; whether it is stopping in for lunch at Evenglow or delivering meals-on-wheels…  Whatever ministries fill our week, let them be visible signs of how much we care for others.  We can’t just look at someone’s nametag and think that we know them.  We must look more closely at them and find deeper connections with them.  Tonight I show you just a few of the many expressions of love that I have received over the past few weeks.  (These are just a few from this week while I’ve been in St Louis, I’m not sure I’ll ever get them all up)  This isn’t meant as an exercise in vanity or a way to show off.  And I hope that no one feels bad if their card isn’t yet visible on this virtual card wall.  This is meant as a way to remind us that small expressions of love really do matter in this world.  Small expressions of love are what keep us going, smiling, and loving.

Take a look at some of the nice notes I’ve received.  Then—-  don’t send me yet another.  Turn around, grab a piece of blank paper, and start writing a note to someone in your life who might just need a kind word.

Lastly, I ask a favor.  I have tried to “redact” any personal or confidential notes that might embarrass or bother anyone.  If I have inadvertently left something in, or if you wish your note to be removed, please let me know ASAP and I’ll take it down!!!  The last thing I wish to do is cause trouble or discomfort for you!!!

The Day We All Love to Hate (or Hate to Love?)
Carrie looking stunning as she prepared for our wedding on Aug 28, 2010

Carrie had a great time last Saturday, wedding dress shopping with her sister. So much so, that when she got back to her parent’s house…she decided to play dress up, herself. She got in her wedding dress -veil and all. Wow. I teased her, but she looked just as beautiful as the day I married her. Maybe more beautiful, actually. She gets all stressed out about some grey hair and worries about her weight, but she is being completely silly, I think most of you will agree. She is beautiful. It’s not just on the outside. It isn’t just something based on looks. My wife and I have agreed to spend our lives together. Those bachelor themed shows that make fun of marriage as “death” or getting “hitched” or “the old ball and chain” just don’t get it. Each day I spend with my wife reminds me of why I married her. We have our fights and difficult moments, but overall we have grown in our love for one another.


Loving one another is not something that happens when we “fall.”  And it isn’t so magical that it takes away all our troubles.  Do I hear an “Amen?”  No, love is something we have to work on and something that has to be maintained and grown.  One way we do that is on special occasions and with our words (feelings).


As we approach Valentine’s Day it is an opportunity to simply share with our loved ones why they matter to us.  For some of us it may be difficult to say the words because circumstances, other relationships, family trouble or time has gotten in the way.  For others of us, we find ourselves in a new relationships where sweet words come easily, perhaps too easily. Valentine’s Day should not just be a day of mushy clichés, but thoughtful words of care from the heart.


This year I have much to be thankful for.  I have a wife, parents, sister and in-laws who have surrounded me with love and care.  I can’t ever repay them for what they have done.  They wouldn’t necessarily want me to…but I can tell them what it meant to me.  I can remind my wife of my love for her and show her that I’m not finished working on that life / love with her.  Who do you have in your life that you need to show some appreciation for?  Who do you have in your life who you might work to grow and strengthen your relationship?


Valentine’s Day is a good place to begin.  It’s not just a day of romance, it’s a day for growing in love with the family and friends around us!

Weighing In.

Some of you know that Carrie and I joined Weight Watchers last November.  A lot of people seemed confused about it.  They asked why I would need to diet…well, I was overweight!  Yup, my poor eating habits and lack of exercising were slowly but surely catching up to me in a big way and I wanted to make a change.  Okay, I should be honest: my wife wanted to make a change for herself and she insisted that I do the program with her.  Either way, it was the best decision of my life.  With diet and exercise I have hit the middle of my “healthy weight” range, my doctors are happy, and I feel great.  This isn’t just an issue of vanity.  My growing body and bad cholesterol numbers were a symptom of a mistreated body.

This didn’t happen suddenly.  I gained the weight slowly, over time, and when something (like weight change) happens slowly we don’t realize how bad it is getting.  The other thing with being overweight is that we live in America and it is mirrored by many people around us.  In fact, we were less-overweight than many of the people around us.  When we are surrounded by a problem, like obesity, it is easy to feel a false sense of security.  It is easy to feel as though this is “the norm” and so it is okay.

I say all of this, not as a guilt trip.  Lord knows I, of all people, can’t fault anyone for craving pie and over-eating.  I have done plenty of that!  No, I bring this up because my recent experience with weight loss helped me to realize that I had ignored a problem (my weight) because it was all around me (in Wisconsin, at seminary, and now in Pontiac) and it happened slowly over time (I used to be a skinny high school kid, you know).  Eating the way I ate and saying that I was ‘too busy’ to exercise was normative and, yet, I should have been appalled.  I bring this story to you, because it seems to be me that our weight and health are not the only problems that are like this for us.

I think about first about poverty.  It isn’t an easy issue to tackle and lack-of-money, like being overweight, is a symptom of so many underlying causes.  It is ever-present and seems to be an overwhelming issue to tackle.

I think about racism in early America.  People looked at slaves, and, later, freed black people, and because the oppression had grown steadily and because it was so prevalent, it seemed like it was and should be the normal order of things.

I think about civil rights that began to find footing during the middle part of this past century.  Of course, it broke forth suddenly in the sixties, but since then we have struggled as a nation with our racism.  What we fail to see, far too often, is that the racism exists still today, in fact, especially today: Because racism is passed from generation to generation, it is often less overt, and because it is deeply cultural, it is easy to pretend it doesn’t exist anymore when we really should be horrified by it.

I think about genocides that have occurred in places like Rwanda.  It seemed so distant and Americans tended, at the time, to ignore the horrendous crimes against humanity that were being perpetrated because it was so far away, it was happening to “other” people, and, when it was finally shown in the media, it was made “tv-friendly.”  We should have been appalled, but somehow we have an idea that for people in other countries “these things happen.”  It seems normative when we should be disgusted…and appalled!!!

How is it that we allow problems like this to be “normal?”   How is it that we allow ourselves to become used to obesity, racism, poverty, or murder?  How is it that we so often set aside what we know is the right thing to do, and instead, do the comfortable thing.  Why do we allow ourselves to become comfortable with destructive behaviors when we should. instead, be appalled?  Why is it that we would ignore a problem when we should begin re-educating ourselves and our community?

My weight crept up on me.  I ignored the signs of unhealthiness and, even after a stern talk from my doctor, I ignored the problem.  It wasn’t until I had a supportive wife who pushed me and who insisted that I learn and grow (shrink, actually 🙂 that I began to be appalled by the things I had been eating.  If I eat too much grease, now, I feel sick to my stomach- and when I see people standing in lines at walmart with carts filled to the brim with junk food I recoil, even though that was recently me.  Why?  Because I looked at the problem through a new lens, I allowed myself to “get outside” of where I had recently stood and I began to look at myself with a more objective eye.  I began to realize that whether I was “used to it” or not, it was wrong and bad and hurtful:  Hurtful to myself and hurtful to others.

We have become desensitized to any number of troubles in this world.  We have chosen to think of them as normal or usual when we should be appalled.  This is where church is ultimately important.  We are a community and, just as my wife pressed me until I joined Weight-Watchers, good church people must press one another to look at injustice and oppression in this world, learn to “feel” the problem, educate one another and the community, and find a way to act out and improve the situation.

Most importantly, we must not act in judgement or hate, but in love and grace because that is the kind of God we follow.  We have a God who is ready to accept us and work with us no matter how fat we get, how complacent we become, or even how uncaring.  Our God doesn’t, from what I read of the Bible, dwell upon our short-comings, but our God encourages us to grow in love, joy, forgiveness, mercy, and peace.  My wife exemplified that as she encouraged me towards loving and respecting my body.  She regularly helps me grow in acting for justice and showing mercy when she introduces me to any number of concerns in this world (even though I am sometimes reluctant to listen when it makes me uncomfortable or challenges my old ways of thinking), and she shows me love and forgiveness any number of times a day when I act like an idiot with her.

We don’t have to be spouses to play this role for one another.  I pray that all of us will take a moment to look at ourselves and the people around us with new eyes.  I pray that we will surround one another in community and find do-able steps so that we can act out in faith to re-order this world and grow the people and communities around us so that we will leave this world healthier, happier and more faithful!

blessings and peace,
Scott

The Power of Prayer

Tonight we were watching the movie Stranger Than Fiction.  There is a part of the movie where the narrator says, about Harold Crick, “Harold’s life was filled with moments both significant and mundane, but to Harold, those moments remained entirely indistinguishable, until this moment….”  Significant moments are like that, aren’t they.  Things like surgeries, weddings and births are moments we expect and plan for, yet the extraordinary can’t be planned for.

My wife and I planned our wedding down to the smallest details, yet when I looked into my new bride’s eyes the moment caught me off-guard and filled me with a joy I could not have expected.  I imagine that it is much the same with an expectant parent who has planned the route to the hospital and has a bag packed, but the first moment of holding your child is a moment that knocks you off your feet and makes grown men cry.

An extraordinary moment occurred for me yesterday.  It was in the midst of the mundane and unexpected.  I stopped by the church to finish up a few things.  I had walked in and out of the office at least twice never paying any attention to an innocuous piece of paper on the counter.  Finally my bag was packed, my work was done and I was on my way out the office.  I had walked well-past that piece of paper with names upon it and I would never have seen it, except by chance.

Cheryl, our administrative assistant, called out after me, “Oh, Scott, wait.  I still need [someone]’s phone number.”  I turned and pulled out my cell phone giving her the number and just happened to glance down.  There on the counter top was a piece of paper with names all over it.  At the top it had my name and said “Prayer Vigil.”  Had I been thinking of it or had I been watching the list grow I might not have given it a second thought, but in an unsuspecting moment I was thrown off my feet.  I stared at it and needed a moment before I spoke in disbelief, “This is for me.”  For a moment I thought I might cry as I found myself overwhelmed by this outpouring of love and support.

What prayer will do cannot be known.  It is mysterious that way.  Yet, I know that prayer has very real power.  Yesterday prayer filled me with peace, hope and joy.  Prayer brings communities together and, I believe, helps us to see where God is leading us- when we take time to listen and watch.  And, most importantly, prayer draws us closer to God and helps us make sense of what God is doing in this world.

My sincere hope is that we would not just pray when we see something big headed our way (something we can plan for), but that we would find time for God in the mundane moments of life.  That we wouldn’t just pray in advance of a surgery or impending trouble, but that we would pray in a way that makes us more familiar with God and opens us up to those extraordinary moments when God will knock us over with peace, love and joy.