Monday, January 29, 2018
Hope for Broken Relationships
My life is as broken as yours.
Just because I get paid to be holy or abused depending upon your pathology doesn’t mean I’m immune to an aching heart on those solitary dark nights when I puff with no escape from broken relationships.
My family feels it comes second to church; and PKs are your product.
Why do you think there are so many divorced clergy and children who are so distant from them?
I recall a session meeting about six months after being ordained.
An elder scolded me for not spending more time with my family; then another elder agreed, “That’s right, pastor, you’ve got to set an example for other members.”
That same elder said later in the meeting with a straight face, “Pastor, we’ve been hearing complaints that you haven’t been attending any of our women’s circles and our youth director says you don’t come out to help him on Sunday nights or with lock-ins and retreats and our men’s Saturday morning breakfast group says you don’t come regularly and you really should be greeting the AA groups that meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays and we really think you should lead worship in our nursing home on Sundays after church and be more visible there and be sure to turn off the lights and lock up the church at night…and…and…and…”
No wonder I was bald at 27.
While I have no doubts about my call that will expire with the last breath – I only believe in retirement for those who were never called in the first place or can’t do it anymore for emotional or physical reasons - I have regrets for many sins; especially those against my family that are more about omission than commission.
Most people don’t care; and when I talk like this, some folks will accuse me of feeling sorry for myself and scorn me for being so ungrateful for the privilege of working only one day a week.
So, you see, I’m just like you; and just like you, I have always and will always need Lord Jesus as Savior.
Jesus is my only hope for broken relationships.
Yes, it is possible to heal broken relationships in time if we come back to each other through Him.
That’s a big if; and God knows we know God knows few people who seem wanting and rarely willing to go through Him to each other for reconciliation.
That’s why things are so broken in our world, country, churches, families, schools, and all of the below.
I think of Jesus asking the fellah at Jerusalem’s Bethesda pool, “Do you want to be healed?”
The man wanted to be healed; so Jesus healed him.
Today, I can almost hear Jesus in the distance that we’ve placed between Him and us, “Do you want that relationship healed?”
“Nah,” comes the imagined response based on empirical data.
Still, God wants to heal our broken relationships.
He is the Father of Luke 15.
You know the stories.
He always wants lost sheep back in the flock.
He always wants lost coins back in the safe place.
He always wants lost children back home.
And when the Father gets them back, He says, “Rejoice with Me! My lost sheep are back! I have found the lost coin! We have to celebrate and rejoice because this son of Mine and brother of yours is back home again! He was dead to us! He is alive again to us! I thought the sheep and coins and children and parents and everyone else were lost. I have found them. I am so happy! Let’s rejoice and celebrate!”
Sheep are stupid, lose His way, and wander off into bad places.
Coins are lost.
Children of all ages lose His way and wander off into bad places.
Yet the Father always wants them back, invites them back, welcomes them back, and celebrates their return!
That’s how He treats us.
That’s how He wants us to treat each other.
But it doesn’t always happen in time.
I know because I do lots of funerals and see the pain and sorrow and unquenchable grief of broken relationships never healed in time.
I know because I live with broken relationships that have not been healed; and because I am just like you, I empathize with your pain and sorrow and unquenchable grief over broken relationships never healed in time.
Fortunately, by grace through faith in Jesus, we have forever to catch up.
That’s why, for a Christian, the worst thing that can happen in time is the best thing that can happen forever.
That’s why, as David Redding wrote, “Anyone who feels sorry for a dead Christian, as though the poor chap were missing something, is himself missing the transfiguring promotion involved.”
That’s why we say heaven begins the first nano-second after the last breath; or as Jesus referred to our never-ending story in one word: paradise.
John’s apocalypse describes heaven/paradise this way: “God will wipe away every tear…Death will exist no longer…No more grief or crying or pain or any of the painful things of time.”
In other words, Christians know eternal life after life in time is punctuated by the restoration/healing of all relationships through God.
Because heaven/paradise is the pure and perfect place of personal peace, every relationship is restored, returned, and, yes, reborn.
No wasted or squandered time in heaven/paradise.
No more wouldas or couldas or shouldas in heaven/paradise.
By grace through faith in Jesus, we have forever to catch up and make up and relish relationships lost in time but regained through Him in heaven/paradise.
That’s our hope for broken relationships.
Any relationship can be fixed in time in/through/for Jesus.
That doesn’t always happen.
They will be healed in heaven because it’s paradise.
What was lost in time lasts forever because everyone is saved in heaven/paradise.
Billy Graham often told a story to illustrate the good news in Luke 15.
He got it from a short story by Ernest Hemingway titled The Capital of the World.
Here’s a quick summary.
A father and son’s relationship was broken. The son ran away and the father tried to find him. In a last attempt to find him, the father placed an ad in a Madrid newspaper: “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana. Noon Tuesday. All is forgiven. Papa.”
800 Pacos showed up on Tuesday.
I have good news from God.
All broken relationships can be healed in time if we approach each other through Him.
Grace, mercy, and forgiveness heal all broken relationships.
Unfortunately, as God knows we know God knows, there’s not enough grace, mercy, and forgiveness in our world, country, churches, families, schools, and all of the below to heal broken relationships.
Yet, despite the bad news of what we’ve done with His good news to heal broken relationships in time, His good news is not limited to here and now.
Our souls that came from Him return to Him by grace through faith in Jesus; and when that happens, heaven/paradise commences and never ceases.
That’s what those stories in Luke 15 are all about.
They summarize the gospel.
Father always wants, invites, welcomes, and celebrates our return; and insists there is no room in heaven/paradise for any more broken relationships.
Everyone and everything is healed in heaven/paradise.
What we forfeit in time doesn’t have to last forever.
That’s the assurance of knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Of course, if we’re breathing, we can taste what lasts forever in time by wanting, inviting, welcoming, and celebrating Him in all of our relationships.
We don’t have to wait forever to be healed.
All we have to do is pay attention to His advertising and show up.
Blessings and Love!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Sex, Cellulars, and Funerals
“Whatever you want others to do for you,
do also the same for them.”
I am a sexist.
I got it from God.
Check it/Him out: “He created them male and female.”
Not uni or trans or…
Distinctly different yet complementary.
Or as I’ve often thought, “My wife is a much better mother than I can ever be and I am a much better father than she can ever be.”
The Bible is indisputably categorical on gender value equality.
The Bible – not to mention common sense because the Bible is always more apocalyptic on God’s prescriptions for existential and eternal harmony – is indisputably categorical on gender function diversity.
Again, to illustrate, my wife is a much better mother than I can ever be and I am a much better father than she can ever be; recognizing people who can’t see that are akin to those who claim elephants are mice with glandular problems.
Only an incredibly and lamentably dense, deluded, or drunk on something person cannot see the obvious emotional and physical distinctives; affirming a general intellectual and spiritual parity.
Men do not require Playboy or marriage counseling to see/experience the differences; and women do not require NOW, Ashley Judd, Madonna, Oprah or marriage counseling to see/experience the differences.
Parenthetically, at this point, I expect the myopic to mention exceptions to the preceding.
I agree with exceptions to the rules; which is why I am a 99.99% pro-lifer and reluctantly appeal to rarely used Fletcherian situation ethics as rationalization.
Exceptions to the rules are called exceptions to the rules because they occur so infrequently that they are called exceptions to the rules; which means nations, churches, families, and all of the below are prudent when they follow the rules while admitting there are exceptions to the rules.
Getting back to my sexism.
I still believe it’s the manly thing to open car doors for women, allow women to order first in restaurants, seat women before men, insure their comfort before mine, let women be first in line, and hold to a ladies before gentlemen ethic.
It’s like common courtesies.
I still believe it’s right to take off your hat while eating in a restaurant, say please and thank you, don’t rip on/off a waiter or waitress for a bad meal that they didn’t prepare and don’t punish them with a terrible tip, and don’t belch, fart, or pick your noise in front of people.
While some suggest there are exceptions to those rules with the allowance that some people are just too ignorant to know any better because someone didn’t keep their baptismal promises, the basic rule for harmonious living comes from God who should know what works best for us because He made us: “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them.”
Cellular harassment comes to mind.
It’s ignorant at best and selfish as usual when people don’t power ‘em off during a funeral, wedding, graduation, or the like.
At a recent funeral in our church, cellulars went off several times from people sitting in the front row; and while I sensed some shame by their nervous giggles – and they were even older than me – it happened a few more times and interrupted music, prayers, testimonies, Bible lessons, homily, commendations, committals, and all the rest.
Really, I don’t want to hear somebody’s ringtone of “Goodbye, Earl!” or “This is the End” or “Sweet Home Alabama” or even the Stones during a funeral and who needs “Send in the Clowns” or “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” or “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About” during weddings.
Frankly, I’ve had it.
I’m tired of the disrespect to the dearly departed and their families and the bride and groom and their families not to mention God who deserves lest we forget demands reverence with a rule for loving others that is akin to loving Him in a Matthew 25 kinda way: “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them.”
So I’m going to ask the officers of our family of faith to encourage me to announce all funerals, weddings, and liturgies are “unplugged” services.
I’m going to ask their permission to announce something like this a few minutes before things get going: “This service is an ‘unplugged’ service at the request of the family and with respect to God who has called us to this sacred moment. So out of respect for God and the family, please pull out your cellulars and power them off. Of course, if you need yours on because you don’t want to miss the rapture or something, it’s probably not going to happen for you anyway!”
As I always told my homiletics students, “Use a little humor to stick in the knife of truth before twisting it.”
I got the “unplugged” idea from Bethany and John back in 2016 when I presided at their wedding in Buffalo. They had signs on the way to seating that announced the nuptial as an “unplugged” service and then asked me to make that announcement about ten minutes before the prelude. Thankfully, everyone seemed relieved about the announcement and no one complained; though I sensed panic from those whose celluars are cyberspaced-out opioids or something.
Of course, we wouldn’t have to mention any of this if we followed the rule more than enabling exceptions: “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them.”
Blessings and Love!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
So How’s That New Year’s Resolution Doing?
Lots of folks have already given up on resolutions for the new year for obvious reasons.
Goals set were rarely met; and if we stop setting goals, we don’t have to worry about meeting ‘em.
I think of the fellah who kept setting a goal that he never met and deadpanned, “I’ve resolved to quit smoking; and I know I can do it because I’ve quit a thousand times.”
Then there’s the realistic person who confessed, “I’m making a new year’s resolution to stop smoking. I decided this would be the only one that I could ever be sure to keep since I don’t smoke.”
Mark Twain had a whimsical way of understanding this annual frustration: “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”
So how’s your new year’s resolution doing?
How long has it been?
If you’re like me and wanted to lose an inch or ten off the waistline, it’s been tough.
I mean, really, how are we supposed to drop pounds with all of those cookies around?
Yet, candidly, my guess is it wouldn’t matter if we changed the day for making resolutions from January 1 to August 1.
It’s tough to improve.
Of course, lots of resolutions are selfish: “I’m going to lose weight…use less credit and more cash…stay away from…”
You know what I mean; and there’s nothing wrong with that because, as the psalmist and apostle noted, our bodies housing our souls are wonderfully made and worthy of our best stewardship.
Taking care of our bodies honors God.
I remember Paul Roberts, the proverbial father of the Confessing Church Movement in our denomination, chastising me about getting into better shape because pastors who are not in better shape are bad role models for people.
Yet, while I can see his point and agree with David and Paul on taking care of the temples of our souls, it’s still kinda selfish in that we should want to take care of ourselves if we have respect for ourselves not to mention even if we should mention how it’s the Godly thing to do.
Or something like that.
While I may be wrong, I know God wants us to be good stewards of our bodies yet believe He’s more concerned about our relationship with Him as reflected in our relationships with others.
I think of how He said, “Love each other just as much as I have loved you…As you love others, you’re loving Me…Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself…”
Knowing the soul lasts longer than the body – like, uh, forever by grace through faith in Jesus – it makes sense to take care of the body and spend even more time and effort in taking care of the soul.
Have we resolved for our souls to be increasingly right with God?
Again, I’m not putting down those resolutions to getting our bodies in shape. I’m only saying it makes sense to spend more time and effort on our souls that outlive our bodies.
Yes, let’s lose some pounds and watch our wallets and stay away from bad people and substances; yet let’s also or moreover or more than less or more than before pray and labor and try to be more Christian with Christlike qualities such as mercy, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation radiating/reflecting/revealing our love for Him; or as Paul wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Too often, too many people who say they’re Christians like you and me haven’t been resolved obviously to radiate/reflect/reveal those basic character traits of Christianity; prompting Mark Twain to lament, “The church is always trying to get other people to reform. It might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little by way of example.”
We’re not gonna change the world for the better if we don’t change for the better first.
Resolving to change ourselves for the better comes before resolving to change the world for the better; for when we change for the better, so does our part of the world.
Apart from saying everybody needs Jesus as personal Lord and Savior by grace through faith to experience confident living in the assurance of eternal life, I would never presume to say how I’m praying and laboring and trying and resolving to improve my relationship with Him that always improves my relationships with others works for everybody, it never hurts to share what works for us because it may work for others like us.
Let me put it another way.
How’s your new year’s resolution doing?
Not that I’m doing that much better than anybody else; but, truly, I am doing a little better because I’ve been resolving the same thing for the past decade or so; and while I’m just scratching the surface of my relationship with Jesus by resolving over and over and over again to get closer to Him, I am scratching and getting closer to Him.
I’ve got a long way to go; but I’m going.
My decade-old now resolution is two Bible verses.
First, Galatians 2:20: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Jesus living in/through me.”
I think of it/Him more like this: “As I get closer to Jesus, He dominates more and more and more of my head, heart, and gut. The more intimate that I become with Him, the more He incarnates in what I say and do and even how I appear. The more I invite Him into my head, heart, and gut, the more of His goodness pushes out the badness in me. In short, it is no longer I who live, but it is Jesus living in me.”
I have resolved to make more and more and more room for Jesus in my head, heart, and gut so that I can love Him better by loving others better by loving more and more and more like Him.
Second, Galatians 5:22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, fidelity, humility, and self-control.”
The miracle of being increasingly intimate with Jesus is we will enflesh those qualities because they are the supernatural enfleshments of intimacy with Jesus.
Those Christlike characteristics prove intimacy with Jesus; for, again, the closer we get to Jesus, the more that He fills our heads and hearts and guts and the more His goodness will push our badness out of us so that we can say increasingly, “It is not longer I who live, but it is Jesus living in/through me.”
Two of my favorite authors get it/Him and understand how this resolution works.
Tony Evans: “Let me make this bold statement to every local church. The fuller of the Spirit you are, the fewer ‘programs’ you need. Because no program on earth can match the filling from heaven. Counseling would be cut short if more people who are being counseled were instead being filled.”
Rhonda Hughey: “If we aren’t longing for Jesus, our ministry activities will be routine and hollow. There is certainly no shortage of ideas, plans, methods, books, teachings, programs, and activities in the church. What we are suffering from is a drought of desperation for God! Desperation is the underlying fuel that ignites our hearts for unity, prayer, worship, and repentance.”
So how’s that new year’s resolution doing?
If it’s going well, I praise the Lord with you!
If not, why not join me for another year or two or decade or however long it takes to become much, much, much better?
One more word.
It’s already been several weeks since January 1.
Do it now!
I think of Theophane the Monk: “I had just one desire – to give myself completely to God…An old monk asked me, ‘What is it you want?’
I said, ‘I just want to give myself to God.’ I expected him to be gentle…but he shouted at me, ‘Now!’ I was stunned. He shouted again, ‘Now! Now! Now!’”
Now is the time to resolve greater intimacy with Jesus.
It’s the most important resolution of all.
It lasts forever; and it takes care of all those other resolutions along the way.
Blessings and Love!
Thursday, January 11, 2018
As I’ve been saying/writing/salting for a dozen years or so, trees fall and forests vanish for the very few who actually read church annual reports.
Annual reports, especially by clergy and other politicians, usually fall into four categories with a nod to my redundancy:
- See how great we are!
- Send lawyers, guns, and money in a Warren Zevon kinda way!
- Everything’s horrible because of you/me/us/them!
- Though we’re getting better and not as bad as most in the neighborhood and we’d rather the toothy guy in Texas who says nothing eloquently to anesthetize us to Jesus by the book than the guy who’s still hangin’ in with us because he loves us to death, we’ve got to be careful of people looking for a champion, paramour, errand boy for wandering desires, BFF, or someone who will agree with the last person that he’s talked to like a bad sentence ending in a preposition, our next Pastor Search Committee will say everything’s gonna be really great until we start treating the next one like we did the last one!
Got this thing about salt, light, and leaven; and will keep on keepin’ on with what I believe to be His salt, light, and leaven until proven otherwise by Jesus, Holy Scripture, and common sense.
That’s authentically true love.
Posing love is telling people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear according to Jesus by the book; or as Frederick Buechner wrote, “The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a riverboat gambler. The stakes have never been higher…A prophet’s quarrel with the world is deep-down a lover’s quarrel. If they didn’t love the world, they probably wouldn’t bother to tell it that it’s going to hell. They’d just let it go.”
Though exponentially more sinfully inclined than Paul not to mention Jesus because He, unlike us or anyone else, is pure and perfect in every way, I’m kinda like them when it comes to the past and annual reports (viz., Matthew 5:25-34; 9:15-17; Philippians 3:10-14).
Simply, while thanking God for last year(s) and the privilege to build upon the best of the past for a more faith-filled future, we look forward to new opportunities than back at our, uh, behinds.
So here are few inspirations/indigestions – You decide! – about what’s ahead:
We must model Someone better! That means following
His pattern in Jesus and prescriptions in the Bible with
grace, mercy, forgiveness, and agape to restore
relationships in an increasingly segregating, discriminating,
demeaning, and degrading world, country, and wherever
two or three are not always gathered in His name.
Longing for the way things never were or maybe were but are
no more is unfaithful yet seductively delusional. With no
apologies to dispensationalists, the “church age” is over.
Churches will never be what they were in America. Finances
are shrinking with millennials, Gen Xers, and most Baby
Boomers seeing “Church” as discretionary not obligatory.
In other words, we will be expected to do more with less.
Denominations have decreasing appeal for true believers.
While those of us who were saved and nurtured in them
continue to herald their efficacies, we are a decreasing
minority. I see parochial partnerships becoming less and
less and less attractive/viable as they are replaced by
ecumenical networks of common ideology and sometimes
While I’ll never be as astute as Don Norek when it comes to
eschatology, I believe we are in the last days in a Matthew 24,
Mark 13, and Luke 21 kinda way without too much reference
to John’s apocalypse that Calvin and Luther couldn’t figure
out either. Moretheless, the particulars are not as important
as the ultimate victory of Jesus that inspires us to live
triumphantly amid the meanness, madness, misery, and
miscreance of these days. Living in the assurance of
eternal paradise by grace through faith in Jesus enables
our strong calm sanity to press on with confidence,
courage, and contagion.
Within the undershepherding context of Matthew 10:16, MLK, Jr. still speaks for women and men praying and laboring to be His in hostile cultures: “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life…But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know…I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
As King would say, we have increasing “strength to love” each other and others as loving Him because of increasing intimacy with Him (see Philippians 4:8-13).
Knowing the end of the story compels our confidence, courage, and contagion in the meantime.
Blessings and Love,
Shatter the sound of silence!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!