Remembering Sharon Rice

1532112_10151817534160779_1473438729_nSharon Rice was my youth leader from the time I was in Jr. High until High School and then she became my friend.

Last Saturday, she was killed in a car accident.

I can’t adequately express my gratitude for this wonderful lady, nor can I overstate her impact on my life.  I will dearly miss her, and look forward to the day I see her again.

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Pieces of His Body, Pieces of My Soul

Communion is one of those foundational elements of our faith.  It is a deep, deep sea.  I love meditating on the Body and Blood of Jesus.

The trays of torn pieces of bread and little cups of wine passed ordinarily in front of me. I took a piece of bread and a cup. The bread was jagged. The wine was red.

Communion is the body and blood of Jesus. It is the meal we partake to to remember the violent sacrifice of Jesus that cleanses our souls of sin and gives us hope.

The body, broken. The blood poured out.

The body was broken when Pilate had Jesus scourged. It was broken when nails were driven into His hands and feet. It was broken when a soldier thrust a spear into Jesus’ side. And from the broken body poured blood and water.

The violent sacrifice of Jesus.

When we remember Jesus’ sacrifice, we tear pieces of bread and pour wine.

I wonder if it still hurts. I wonder if we still tear bits of Jesus’ body with our sin. I wonder if our betrayal still tears jagged pieces of Jesus’ flesh from His bones. I wonder if it hurts.

I have raised my children with the gentle instruction in the ways of Jesus. I have taught them love and truth and kindness and obedience and and and. If you are a parent, you know where this is going. All along the way growing up, my children knew what was right, but chose to do what was not.

Every time they did, they tore pieces of my soul.

They didn’t think of me, they thought of themselves. They thought, “I want this and though I know it is not what my parents have taught me, I will have it anyway.” A piece of my heart. A piece of my soul torn from me.

It hurts like crazy every single time. The last time is as painful as the first.

And though it is painful, I still allow my children to reach up and pull another piece of my soul from my bones.

Why?

I think it is the wine talking.

I think it might be that broken body is followed by flowing blood.

I think it might be the blood that washes away my sin. These hands that tore apart the body of Jesus are washed with life very life of the one who is torn and broken. Jesus’ death is the violent demonstration of the overwhelming love of God–love profoundly manifest in the forgiveness delivered by and represented by the blood of Jesus.

God forgives over and over and over. Every piece of torn flesh is washed by poured blood. Every violent, ungrateful, egocentric sin is met by the same unrelenting grace of the One whose body is broken. The forgiveness even comes in the midst of violence and by means of the same violence. The cleansing blood comes from the broken body.

In 20 short years as a parent, my soul has been torn over and over, but every single time, those wounds provide an avenue by which love flows. Through the deep pain comes complete forgiveness.

It is the kind of crazy love only a parent understands. Love that forgives and continues through pain. However great the pain, the love endures and overcomes.

Torn pieces of bread. Poured glasses of wine. Violent, beautiful images of the ugliness of sin and the costly nature of the grace which gives me life.

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Who’s the Prodigal Now?

This was my second opportunity to preach at Village Baptist Church.  Such an honor.

Thanks to the kind folks at Village who invited and treated me kindly.  It is good to be part of a great church.

Here is the Sermon

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Doubt.

It has been far too long since I updated this blog.

My life has been going well.  I have been connected up with Village Baptist Church and have been enjoying being a part.  One of the areas of my involvement is on a sermon study group with the pastor.  It is fun to get to think theologically again.

A few weeks ago, John asked me if I would fill in for him while he was out of town.  I was thrilled.

The sermon had an autobiographical bent to it because it was the first introduction of me to the congregation.  The sermon is about doubt.

Here is the sermon.

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It’s My Parents’ Fault

When I was growing up my parents withheld important things from me that I know very well they could have provided.

I had a friend in high school whose parents gave him a older model sports car to learn to drive when he turned 14.  When he turned 16, they gave him a new sports car.  I sacked groceries and bought a 1980 Dodge Omni.  I had friends whose parents did their homework for them.  I had to skim my own books.

I had friends whose parents gave them everything.  My parents didn’t.  They made me grind out my own life.

It is my parents fault that I appreciated that stupid Dodge Omni.  It is my parents fault that I earned my pitiful 3.3 GPA in high school.  It is my parents fault that I appreciated every inch of progress I made.  It is my parents’ fault I wasn’t afraid to take on a business that had “FAIL” written all over it and made it work.  It is my parents’ fault I didn’t expect my life to be easy and I appreciate where I am.

I think that may be the key to the reason the Word-Faith (name it and claim it) kind of theology doesn’t work.  If God is some kind of cosmic doting parent who passes out all of the good things in life to his children, we never become anything more than shells of men and women whose lives are as inspiring as another rich kid with a shiny car.

If having real faith means we get to avoid all of the difficulties of life and skate through with a brand new sports car, then I must not have real faith. It doesn’t fit with my reality or the reality I see in the lives of godly people around me.  I see them fighting cancer, dealing with menacing financial issues, struggling with their marriages, drinking too much, and the list goes on and on.  The people I see hold most tightly to a if-you-just-believe-god-will-give-you-a-sports-car theology are also the ones whose faith crumbles around their feet when trials do come.

Real faith emerges strong through the fire of testing.  Strong faith comes the same way a strong marriage comes–by working through the difficult stuff.  Appreciating the goodness of God is much sweeter when you have fought your way through the really bitter parts of life.

Maybe it is God’s fault that the dawn looks brighter when we have labored through the night.  Maybe it is the moments when we cry out to God, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that makes “He is risen,” resonate in our souls.

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What Is and What Will Be

I have been humbled by the response to my last post.  You, my readers, are far too kind. I feel I owe it to you to you to let you know a bit more.

I have always been a pragmatist.  I like to deal with things that really matter.  The past–all of the crap at Singing Hills–matters only as much as it impacts today and tomorrow.  It cannot change the future simply by being, but it does so by its shaping of me.

So I am here now.  I can lament where I have been and what was, but it doesn’t really help where we are.  I am still in the midst of those nasty stages of grief of all I have lost, and occasionally something reminds me of where I have been and it plucks a sad note on my soul.  But most of the time, I am well into Acceptance.

What was is past.

What is matters.  I am working at a knife shop doing something I love.  I am working with great people, interacting with people and generally being a good member of society.  Secretly I work to be salt and light to the people around me.  Salt to Ben who runs the bike shop.  Light to the nice lady who runs the book store.  Salt to the customers who come in and share their lives.  Light to my kids who come to work.

What is is a ministry of being the person God called me to be and laboring at the task at hand.  I can do that.  I enjoy doing that.

What will be is unknown to me.  I can’t worry too much about it.  I trust God will have a place for me to serve–in a knife store, in a pulpit, in a distant land–on a boat, with a goat, with green eggs and ham.  Whatever He has for me, I trust is good.

I will wait for what will be to unfold out of what is.  I will give my heart to today.

It is good.

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Closing Doors

I have known since I was a boy that God was calling me into the pastoral ministry.  I pursued it with everything in me.  There have been some rough patches along the way, but somehow I managed to stay on track.

A little over a year ago, Singing Hills Christian Church fired me (Oh, I mean let me resign).  They sought me out, hired me, moved me, made a miserably difficult ministry and then unceremoniously and for completely non-reasons fired me.

All of that happened while we were dealing with a brain tumor in Wendy.

So we have kids that were uprooted and moved, then confronted with a horrible and very scary health issue, then their father is fired from the church, and now we don’t know what to do in regard to my calling.

I can’t, I won’t pick my kids back up and move them–they have been through enough.  I want them to be able to go through school without being uprooted again.  I don’t want my kids moving into adulthood resenting the church and God.  So we have to stay here in Oregon for another 4 years.

I thought I had figured a way to connect up with a ministry in the United Methodist Church.  They were going to transfer my ordination and get things rolling with me being a pastor for them.  Long story short, it didn’t work out because of some procedural stuff.  So they wanted me to join one of their churches and work through the whole process.  No problem.

No problem because we were attending a great UMC church in Hillsboro.  I loved the pastor and his preaching.  The problem came when we realized how long things were going to take and neither Wendy nor the girls were connecting with the church well.  Again, we were off to the wilderness.

Again, I don’t want my kids to hate church.  I don’t want to run this race and lose the ones most valuable to me.

This weekend I notified the higher ups in the UMC that we were not at a UMC church any more.  That closes the door to the UMC pastorate.  Rightfully so.

But I don’t know what to do now.  I don’t have a church (either to preach in or even to attend), my kids are slipping out of the routine of worship and they don’t have the same “natural” draw to the church, Wendy and I are disconnected from the church.

God, what is going on?  All the doors are closed.  I know you called me.  I have faithfully followed that calling.  But the doors are closed.  I am afraid they may be forever closed.

God, are you there?

I suppose this is what it feels like to be lost.

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Inspire me.

An admittedly tardy and short thought, but a thought none the less.

A friend of mine was discussing the importance of apologetics (defending the *right* faith).  She was concerned mostly about setting everyone straight about some pressing issue.  She said, “If we don’t stand on doctrine, what is it that makes us different?  And don’t say, “Love” because that is not enough.”

Not enough?  Really?

When God wanted to call His people back to Him, it was not by thumping Law more.  It was through Jesus, Love incarnate.

Doctrine, I get.  I understand it is important to know what you believe.  But I am not inspired by doctrine.  I am not driven by doctrine.  I am not called to come and die for doctrine.  I need Love.

I need something bigger than my rule book.  I need something bigger than the Mosaic Law.  I need something bigger than the law of tradition.  I need something bigger than my own rigid laws.

I need Love.

I need something calling me to be more than I am.  I need something inspiring me to care.  I need something to lure me forward into a Kingdom I don’t understand from the crumbling one I do.

I need Love.  Love is a God who set the tablets of law aside for a cross of sacrifice.

Love is something I can long for and pursue with my soul.

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Betrayed by a Friend

I have been contemplating the lyrics of a song by Michael Card regarding the betrayal of Jesus.

Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
Only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain.

Those words have echoed in my ears since I was a teenage boy.  They haunted me, actually.  I have spent hours and hours mulling over Judas’ horrible act.

Jesus let Judas into His circle of friends.  Intentionally, Jesus called Judas to follow Him. He called Judas just like He called each of the other disciples.  They broke bread together.  They told jokes.  They stood up against the powerful together.  They walked.  They taught the way of God together.  They sang.  They cast out demons together.  They were friends.  Real friends.

We can speculate Judas was different from the rest.  We imagine we would have seen him.  Maybe he was aloof.  Maybe he didn’t pull his weight.  We speculate that way because we want Judas to be easily differentiated from the others.  He was not.  Judas sat at the table with Jesus–he dipped his hand in the same bowl as Jesus.  They were friends.

When Judas betrayed Jesus, he did so with a kiss.  A sign of respect.  The greeting of a friend.  But that kiss was not as it might have appeared.  Judas actually used the sweet greeting of a friend to betray Him into the hands of the soldiers.

Somewhere along the path of discipleship, Judas realized his relationship with Jesus was valuable.  It was a commodity he could trade to get something more valuable.  Power.  Favor.  Money.

He traded human life for money to spend, favor to call upon, for power to wield.  Power over the people of God–maybe even power over God, himself.  He would never have said it that way.  Betrayers don’t.

They somehow twist their betrayal to be a virtue.  They will do this damnable thing, but, someday people will understand.  They will strike down this shepherd and claim the sheep as their own–the sheep will thank them.

It didn’t work out that way for Judas.  There was just too much guilt.  Perhaps, at some point, Judas realized his friendship with Jesus was more valuable than everything he traded it for.  Maybe that is why, in the end, Judas did not even enjoy the fruits of his betrayal.

Perhaps, when we see betrayers betray and then go on to enjoy the spoil of their betrayal, we should go a little easier on Judas.  He wasn’t as bad as some.  At least he realized the gravity of betrayal.

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Dissolve Marriage

The nation’s highest court is hearing a couple cases involving marriage/homosexual marriage.  I have seen a lot of people posting for “Marriage Equality.”  Some are posting red equal symbols in support of homosexual marriage and then there are a plethora of symbols against.

I listened to the arguments.  In my opinion, the arguments for homosexual marriage has clearly won the day.  The arguments against were just weak at best and bizarre at worst.  I know how the courts should rule.

Dissolve marriage.

Let the government create whatever kind of civil unions, domestic partnerships, or whatever they want for the purpose of tax classes, federal benefits, etc.  They could (and should) include homosexual unions.  (For all my friends who flip out…hang on)  Homosexuality, whatever you think of it, is a fact of our world.  However much we may wish it otherwise, it is the way things are.  To ignore what is, stomp our feet and refuse to acknowledge the families that have formed is nothing short of cruel.  Beyond morality, it is a matter of compassion.  People, regardless of any other factor, are still people and they deserve to be treated as ones in whom rests the image of God.

Let’s dissolve all forms of civil marriage.

Let every church and every religious organization take the responsibility to teach their people about the holy covenant called, “Marriage.”  Let some churches explain to the homosexual couples who want to follow Jesus they are not welcome there.  Let other churches welcome them.  Let bodies of faith live out their faith and celebrate their religious covenants as they see fit.

It seems to me this would solve the whole issue–both secular and sacred.

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