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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Maybe There Was a Reason

I was going through some of the sermons from when I was at Singing Hills….Maybe there was a reason I was fired.

This sermon was, from my reconstruction of the timeline, just before they approached my replacement to replace me.

I know I got a fair amount of pushback from this sermon.  Though mostly because I said the word, “Stupid.”  Which, by the way is a perfectly fine word to use to describe stupid stuff.  ;)

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and if you would prefer to download it….

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Homosexuality in the Kingdom of God

So, apparently there is some controversy with Rob Bell.  Color me surprised.  He is accused of loving homosexuals.

So do I.

  • Does that mean I approve of all their behavior?  No.
  • Does it mean I think homosexuality is good?  No
  • Does it mean I think homosexuals sometimes love God?  Yes.

I am challenged by the people I know in the church who are trumpeting the rebellious sanctioning of homosexual “marriages.”  I am angry at the ones I know in the church who say there is no place for homosexuals.

I don’t know entirely where I stand.

I have homosexual friends.  I want them to love Jesus.

I have heterosexual friends.  I want them to love Jesus

I have homosexual friends who are in immoral relationships.

I have heterosexual friends who are in immoral relationships.

Where do I stand?  What do I say?  Who do I deem Christian?

I am not sure what the right answers are.  I know this, however, I do have a question to answer.  The question is posed to Jesus in response to a command.  The answer must flow out of my soul.

Jesus’ command is simple, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The question slash answer  is this, “Who is my neighbor?”

The answer is this, “These people around me.”  Some of those people are homosexuals,

Do I know the answer to the question, “Where do homosexuals fit into the kingdom?”  No.  I don’t know how “homosexuals” end up.  What I know is this, “God loves us.”

Where are homosexuals in the kingdom of God?  I think right next to the thieves, liars and ungrateful people.  People like me.

I don’t know how God deals with homosexuals in particular, what I do know is how God deals with people–among which are homosexuals.  He loves them.  That is the final word.

Whatever I think.  However I believe.  The final word is this, “Love.”  God loves them just like He loves me.

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The Noise of Community

This is the first Sunday of Lent. My pastor’s sermon was about making things quiet so we can listen.

Silence. We don’t get much of it in our lives. We used to live in the country and occasionally, when the snow piled up outside, the power would go out. The sudden silence could wake you from a dead sleep. We don’t hear it often.

Intentional silence allows us to focus. It helps us listen for the still, small voice of God. It helps us center our soul.

That works for me. It is so odd in this noisy world, that it awakes my sleeping soul.

But there is also a noise that wakes my soul. It is the noise of community.

Community is something Christians talk a lot about. Community is actually something humans talk a lot about. We talk about it in bars and around dinner tables and in our living rooms and in our churches. Though we talk about it, our souls remain asleep.

This morning at church, I was struck by a little girl–about 10 or 12–who stood to voice a prayer request. Through choked back tears, she asked for prayer for her parents who were having problems. She wanted to say more. She couldn’t. She handed the microphone back to the pastor and we moved on.

Our souls slept.

We think, “This is community.” We say, “This is community.” But it is not, for no one is awakened by it. It is not community. Instead, it is a cry for community.

That little girl was saying–probably without even knowing it–”My world is crumbling around me, someone show me there is still a place where I belong. Show me a place where people love each other and live in covenant. Show me a place where I can find community with other people and with God.”

But we were silent. We just continued to sleep.

God has shown me real kindness by allowing me to be awakened to the noise of community several times.

The noise of community sounds like the voices of friends sharing life together. Experiencing life in communion. The voices laugh and cry. The voices pray and shout. The voices encourage and chastise. The noise of community is the sound of people whispering to one another, “You are not alone.”

Every time I hear that noise, it awakens my soul and I hear the still, small voice of God. I hear it in the midst of the noise of community.

God, in the silence and in the noise, whisper to me, “You are not alone.” And God, please send the noise of community to that little girl. May she know she is not alone.

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Grace…for Me?

A couple years ago I preached a sermon for my kids’ school chapel.  I preached the parable of the Prodigal Son.  It was a sermon in which I tried to get the hearers to marvel at God’s grace towards them.rembrandt139

At the end of the sermon, the principal came up to wrap things up and his words were surprise that this kind of sermon would be preached to high schoolers at a Christian school.  I was a little embarrassed and thought, “Maybe I preached the wrong sermon.”

This Christmas, I am in awe of Emmanuel.  In awe of a God who would come among us in such a vulnerable way.  Thinking about it literally brings me to tears.

I have known of the incarnation all of my life.  I have been a committed follower of Jesus for decades.  I have taught it, preached it, prayed it, and lived it.  But I can still be brought to tears when I ponder Emmanuel.

What would make us too mature to hear a message about God’s love for us and His desire that we come to Him?  What would make us think a Gospel message is the wrong message?

I wonder if it is because the Gospel is for the unbelievers?

I wonder if it is because the Gospel is simply for conversion?  Not just for unbelievers to hear, but specifically for the purpose of conversion.  Like a sales pitch where you put the screws to someone to shell out the cash.

I wonder if it is because it makes us uncomfortable with our sin?  When we preach a message of grace to a group of committed Christian people, it is like we are acknowledging we are still sinners.   That we are still sinners is the very public secret the church believes is private.

To think we, who are followers of Jesus, are still, at heart, prodigals is not a popular thing to say.  At least if such a sermon were preached at a church, one could imagine it is preached for the visitor in the second row.  Preach it in a room full of people who have all publicly given their allegiance to God and suddenly everyone wonders if the sermon is preached with them in mind.

I am ashamed to admit I spend much too much time in the far country with booze, whores, and slopping pigs.  I am ashamed that, having been adopted by God, I have boldly asked for my inheritance now.  I read the Prodigal and my heart leaps.  There may even be hope for me.

It is me, a son, who has left the presence of God.  It is me, a son, who is hoping against all hope God is still waiting for me to return.  It is me, a son, who is finally realizing (again) I would rather be a servant in the household of my Father than out here slopping pigs.

I have preached that sermon several times (it is a favorite of my family and they request it when there is opportunity) and at the end, I talk about the banquet the Father is throwing for the prodigal who comes home.

I always choke up at that point, because I realize there is a banner over the head table, and it says, “Welcome Home,” and, it is for me.

It is for me.

Grace is for me.

I hope I continue to hear stories of God’s grace for 1000 years.  I need to hear them.

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