Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Christmas Anothen at Maplecrest
Having seen what it did to my home pastor, I never wanted to be one.
How it happened was…
I wanted to be a professor and write books; so I went to a seminary that was more academic than, uh, pastoral.
After my first year, the president’s right hand man called me into his office and said there was a very small church around the Delaware Water Gap on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey that needed a pastor but couldn’t afford to pay the going rate at that time for a graduate.
I said I had no interest in putting up with the kind of stuff that pastors put up with because I saw what it did to my home pastor; and reminded him that I was in seminary as part of my plan to become a professor.
He reminded me that I was getting a full ride.
So I went to the Delaware Presbyterian Church in
Delaware, New Jersey that was a few miles down from the road from the First Presbyterian Church of Belvidere, New Jersey where my supervisor was pastor.
He became a mentor and said something that I’ll never forget: “Bob, I know you have your heart set on becoming a professor but don’t let academics ruin you so much that you separate yourself from God and His people by degrees.”
I made lots of mistakes.
But even more back then.
While tempted to say they endured me because I was cheap, I think, looking back, they just understood love a lot better than…
Mary comes to mind.
She was older than my mom is right now and sat in the front pew every Sunday; smiling and nodding approval even though I didn’t know what I was doing and fumbling around with what I was saying.
Anyway, I spent two years being their pastor; and can recall almost everything that God did for me through them to convince me that I’m called to be a full-time pastor and occasional professor.
Actually, I always knew I was called to be a pastor even if I wanted to be a professor and write books.
It happened first in 8th grade.
My home pastor took me to the seminary that I’d attend years later and asked over a coke, “What do you think?”
I said, “I’m coming here some day.”
My first goals as a pastor were pretty simple – modeled by my home pastor.
I wanted to tell people about Jesus, visit people in the hospitals and nursing homes, and try to help people to become happy.
Yeah, that’s why I wanted to tell people about Jesus; for even way back then, I knew, still know, the only way to be happy is to know Jesus.
That was years ago.
Yeah, I wrote some books along the way that nobody’s read – still running behind the toothy guy from Texas in sales by about a trillion to one.
I’ve been an adjunct professor at two seminaries and kinda liked being brown-nosed which is different from churches that rarely pretend to like you if they don’t.
I’ve been a high-steeple preacher with lots of perks and made lots more money in my first two decades than last two.
Pero I’ve only been really fulfilled and personally happy when telling people about Jesus, visiting people in the hospitals and nursing homes, and trying to help people to be happy in/through/for Jesus.
While I’m no longer tempted to write books that no one will ever read or any of the other things that I thought would be fulfilling and make me happy before my seminary president’s right hand man made me go to that small church near the Delaware Water Gap on the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I’m still tempted every now and then to look for significance and respect and prestige and renown and reward in other ways from being a pastor that just tells people about Jesus, visits hospitals and nursing homes, and tries to help people to be happy in/through/for Jesus.
I’m tempted by the dissonant voices to my soul that keep saying I’m not significant or famous or attractive or innovative or winsome or wise or whatever enough to grow a church as big as that toothy guy in Texas; and size and sizzle do matter to people that don’t know any, uh, better.
Just recently, I got caught up in that again while ministering to a fallen colleague and another wonderful pastor that just isn’t popular enough in the community to satisfy the need of his church for a religious superstar to feed their emotional as well as financial coffers and egos.
I looked at the attendance on the corner of Lincoln and Main; and it’s not getting better.
I looked at the finances; and the handwriting is on the wall.
I heard whispers.
Sure, I know the church in America peaked in membership and attendance from WWII through the 60s and it’s been downhill ever since with an acceleration over the last decade or so that portends the official end of the church age.
Still, people longing for the way things never were or maybe were but are no more were getting in my ears and I started wondering what to do to recapture those good old days that never were or maybe were but are no more.
I begged God.
I did it before in New Jersey and Kansas City and…it happened.
Can’t something big happen again for God?
Can’t I be a part of something big happening again for God?
See, I was getting caught up again in who God never meant me to be.
Then I went to Maplecrest Nursing Care Centre in the second week of Advent.
I sat and listened and prayed with people that reminded me of Mary.
We sat at the table of Holy Communion together.
As I was getting ready to leave for some clergy meeting to discuss things that would never get done because nobody really wants to do them anymore as the church of all persuasions continues to decline in passion, relevance, and cultural interest – Jesus just ain’t what He used to be in America and her churches anymore – a resident came to me and said another resident just learned that he son died and could use a prayer.
So I went to see her with her friend.
Then we sat at the table of Holy Communion together.
During the sacrament, we thanked God for the eternal life that her son now had by grace through faith in Jesus.
She didn’t ask if I had written any books.
She didn’t ask about any of my degrees or where I went to school.
She didn’t ask where I taught or even where I am a pastor.
She didn’t ask how many members are in our church or the size of our budget.
She just smiled…like Mary…and I remembered why my seminary president’s right hand man made me go to that small church so long ago.
Yes, there are times when I am tempted to want to be famous for Jesus; or maybe, really, famous for church members that need a famous pastor or maybe, really, famous for myself and, just coincidentally, famous for Jesus.
Maybe you’re a pastor and feel like that.
Maybe you’re one of those people that lusts for your pastor to be like that.
Maybe you think too much about your pastor and church than Jesus and His kingdom.
Maybe you need a trip to Maplecrest with me sometime.
Maybe all of us need a trip back to the cow trough.
It wasn’t a big crowd.
Pretty mixed gathering.
Rich, poor, celestial, barnyard.
Talk about inclusion-inspiring incarnation.
They didn’t seem too concerned about the attendance.
They were focused.
While I may be wrong about a lot of things now, I know I was wrong when I thought it’s got to be more than talking about Jesus, visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes, and trying to help people to be happy and knowing the only way to be happy is to open the door and let Him in.
Blessings and Love
Saturday, November 9, 2019
So I'm consoling a pastor at the Starbucks on Bell School Road in Rockford because a woman in the church has been making life miserable for him.
It's the typical catalogue of complaints scarcely concealing a pathological transference of her miserable life to him because sick people feel better when they do that.
I've been around long enough to know misery really does like company and creates it whenever possible.
I've also learned nothing has changed from the beginning when it comes to rebelling against God like our first parents and killing each other like their first kid.
God knows I know God knows everybody's getting really sick and tired of hearing how awful things are getting in our country; but there ain't enough St. John's Wort at Walgreens to anesthetize America from the truth of a decaying and declining empire because it increasingly distances itself from the real Founder.
Anyway, he asks, "Ever feel like quitting?"
"Every day," I say.
I go on, "You know how Jesus said sheep are dumb. They're always getting into trouble and easily misguided and always dumping their do-do for the shepherds to clean up. Still, Jesus said anyone that's gonna follow Him as an undershepherd better be willing to love them to death like He did or they should get the Sheol out of ministry right now."
"Besides," I went on, "if you're called to it, you survive. Looking at my pile of pension credits and continuing enthusiasm for pastoral ministry and how I really love people enough to tell them truths that will cause them not to like me for anything but Christ's sake, I guess I was called way back in 8th grade when my pastor took me to a seminary for some reason that I now get and I said, 'Rev. Mante, I'm coming here some day.'"
"Pero, yeah," I confessed, "I feel like quitting every day. There's always someone peeing on the parade. It's human. Always remember that's why Jesus came. He didn't come because we're so hot. He came because we can be such dumb..."
4,000 churches closed in America in 2014.
1,700 pastors quit every month in 2014.
We've had 6 churches leave our presbytery in the last few years with 2 more getting ready to exit because their speck-inspecting faith and morality are sooooooo much purer and perfect than...without, uh, mentioning their, uh, pride that, uh, I guess, is no longer on the list of deadly sins.
That fellah on Bell School may add to the stats in the next tabulation that gets worse every year.
Unless Jesus is our foundation, focus, and filter, we can't get no satisfaction in life and especially ministry.
Sounds like a song that I heard back in the...
Anyway, learn more about how to endure, overcome, and live triumphantly amid the meannness, madness, misery, and miscreance of life in the modern world on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Sundays at 7:20 and 9:50 a.m.
BTW, if you don't like us or me for some irreconcilable reason alien to Christianity, just call me and I'll provide a list of great churches and pastors in the area that love Jesus by the book so much that they'll endure you. There's no excuse for not worshipping God. God deserves it. You need God. And your failure to worship means you don't get it/Him and are forfeiting the blessings that He wants for you by grace through faith in Jesus.
Blessings and Love
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
“Why Everyone Should See Hamilton”
Rap rhymes with…
Requiring intellectual gymnastics akin to dolts that still think our two party system works in America, rap resembles music about as much as DC, Springfield, and Chicago’s teachers’ union reflect our nation’s heritage rooted in Holy Scripture.
That’s why I resisted seeing Hamilton; and didn’t go until my favorite Special Olympian and his mom took Leslie et moi to see it.
I’d pay for a root canal before I’d pay to attend a rap concert.
Having heard Hamilton was a rap musical, I wanted to see it about as much as an equally nauseating archived video of bubble gum music featuring the Cowsills, Partridge Family, or Donnie and Marie.
Pero within seconds of the opening scene, I was captivated by the genius of playwright, composer, lyricist, and producer Lin-Manuel Miranda and list it among Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, and Phantom of the Opera as personal favorites.
Yeah, there are some moments that kinda sound like rap but not, uh, cr…
The variety of musical expressions is astoundingly to overwhelmingly unprecedented.
As an advocate of public education, convinced public education is the backbone of America’s greatness by leveling the playing field for all people regardless of color or class or culture, I think every child should have the opportunity to see Hamilton to learn more about our nation’s birth and promise for everyone.
Acknowledging every moment being pregnant with patriotic persuasion, the most emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually transcending to transforming scenes relate to forgiveness.
Only Les MIserables, in my estimation, captures the Christian ideal of forgiveness as closely as Hamilton.
That’s why I think American churchgoers should see it along with schoolchildren.
As I look at churches today – declining and dividing more than ever before – they could use more lessons on forgiveness.
God knows they haven’t been paying much attention to their, uh, teacher.
Succinctly, forgiveness is a big deal to Jesus: “If you forgive others, you will be forgiven by God. If not, not.”
Forgiveness is one of those words that everybody can define yet fewer and fewer and fewer in our declining and dividing church as well as country can or even want to extend.
It’s one of the reasons why Christians look really bad in the eyes of the unconvinced ergo unconverted ergo unchurched.
Really, why would anyone listen to churches that are increasingly declining and intensely dividing as they sing, “Blest be the tie that binds…We are one in the…”?
I don’t think so.
Truth is most churches that I know really suck at forgiveness; and I use that uncomfortable to profane word because most churches don’t practice what they preach when it comes to forgiveness and profane their profession to be Christians.
Actually, one of the big hypocrisies in most American churches is they don’t walk the talk of Jesus when it comes to love expressing itself in grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
When Christians don’t forgive and then inevitably divide, accelerating the decline of Christianity as a player in America’s cultural evolution, they are as much a part of the problem as DC and Springfield and make Jesus puke.
BTW, if you don’t think today’s churches as well as American politics nauseate Jesus, you haven’t been reading our Lord’s letters to the seven churches of Revelation that, excuse me, have so many reincarnations from sea to shining sea.
Still, there is a remnant in America that continues to take Jesus seriously.
It’s the only hope left to save the republic in a Genesis 18 kinda way.
So let me tell you of a recent experience when Christians looked really good…faith-filled and overflowing fidelities into time.
She was a faithful wife.
She loved Jesus.
She loved her children.
She loved her church.
She was fun.
Her husband went to the dark side.
He cheated on her.
Gender-inclusive and serial promiscuity was his specialty and he wasn’t very particular…or careful.
He picked up a disease and transferred it to her.
They divorced most acrimoniously.
The family disintegrated.
The STD complicated an existing health challenge and she became terminally ill.
A few weeks before she died, she gave permission to me to tell him that she forgave him.
The tone of her voice was so kind, gentle, comforting, and angelic; reminding me of the old joke that now seems so profound to her forgiveness.
Do you know why angels can fly?
Because they take themselves lightly.
Again, the tone of her voice was light…radiant…resilient, rejuvenating, reassuring, resurrecting, and…reconciling.
We had such a wonderfully warm conversation filled with laughter and love wrapped together by faith.
It was symphonic.
She became Christianity at His best.
She rests in peace.
Christians look really bad when they don’t forgive.
Christians look really good when they forgive.
They look like Jesus.
That’s how He sees them.
Blessings and Love!
Monday, September 23, 2019
“The strong man holds in a living blend strongly marked opposites…Life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony…
Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that His disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order. He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. So He said to them, ‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.’ And He gave them a formula for action: ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’…
We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart…
There is little hope for us until we become toughminded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of softmindedness. A nation or a civilization that continues to produce softminded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan…
But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind. The gospel also demands a tender heart. Toughmindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached…
Jesus reminds us that the good life combines the toughness of the serpent and the tenderness of the dove…
To have serpentlike qualities devoid of dovelike qualities is to be passionless, mean, and selfish…
To have dovelike without serpentlike qualities is to be sentimental, anemic, and aimless…
We must combine strongly marked antitheses.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love
Act up for Jesus!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Blessings and Love!
Thursday, September 19, 2019
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
“America, Bless God!”
David’s Psalm 67 is an invitational, inclusive, and welcoming call to worship God for everyone regardless of color, class, or culture.
It reminds us of the many times that Paul says God shows no socioeconomic favoritism that will be evident to all at history’s conclusion: “Every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of Father God.”
When all is said and done, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of Father God.
David calls everyone to worship: “Let all the peoples praise You, God! Let all nations rejoice and shout for joy!”
David says worship is the most important and only indispensable activity of God’s family: “People show respectful gratitude to God in worship! People become happy and shout their happiness in worship!”
David says everyone is ultimately accountable to God: “You judge people with fairness!”
David says it is the responsibility of people that know God to make Him known: “May God be gracious to us and bless us; look on us with favor so that His favor may be known on earth and His salvation be known among all people everywhere!”
It brings our Lord’s great commission to mind: “You will be my witnesses everywhere with everyone to the ends of the earth!..Preach, teach, baptize, and save!”
Our Lord’s great commission is the practical implication of His great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with your head and heart and gut; and love every member of His family because that proves you love God!”
Jesus also put it this way, “Love each other just as much as I have loved you.”
That means gifting grace, mercy, and forgiveness wrapped in love to everyone no matter who, what, where, when, or why.
It doesn’t mean liking them.
It means loving them.
It doesn’t mean liking their behaviors.
It means agape loving them which is praying and working for their highest good regardless of who, what, where, when, or why without the need or expectation for response, regard, or reward.
Again, like Jesus loves us.
The greatest expression of God’s love for us is confident living in the assurance of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus which means the greatest expression of love for others that expresses our love for God is to point them to God for that confident living in the assurance of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus.
Like David sang and prayed in Psalm 67, it means those who know God’s love climaxing in existential serenity because of eternal security aka salvation in heaven make Him known to everyone so they may experience and express the same.
Dan Pope, the faithful pastor of Belvidere’s Open Bible Church, let me read his copy of the 2019 Barna Group report on the realities of sharing faith titled Reviving Evangelism.
It confirmed my suspicion, to paraphrase Gandhi, that lots of folks might become Christians if it weren’t for Christians; which is why I often tell the unchurched not to blame Jesus for Christians that need more Jesus in their lives.
While the Korean and WWII generation remains the most faithful in America (age 73+), churches really have their work cut for them when it comes to baby boomers (ages 54 to 72), Generation X (ages 35-53), Millennials (ages 20-34), and Generation Z (younger than 20).
Still, despite the challenges and causes for the challenges that the book outlines so well with the inauthenticity of too many pewsitters and pulpiteers being the greatest turn-off to people that might be interested in Jesus but can’t get to Him through those posers, those who know Jesus have an opportunity to save people for confident living in the assurance of eternal life by taking up their responsibility of making Jesus known.
I like how the book heralds that opportunity and responsibility: “The Church’s mission is to spread the mission of saving, sacrificial love and ultimate hope that Jesus commissioned His followers to proclaim.”
In other words, people that know Jesus make Him known.
Christians aren’t supposed to keep Jesus to themselves.
The loving thing to do is to share Him.
Of course, if people don’t share Jesus with others, it means they either don’t think others need Him or don’t really know Him themselves; or as somebody said, “You can’t give away what you ain’t got for yourself.”
The Barna book betrays that fact: “If you go to a fantastic restaurant or watch an unforgettable movie, what’s the first thing you want to do after you savor the moment? Share it!”
Speculations abound when we hear people talking so much about the Yankees, Cubs, Bears, Packers, and maybe even White Sox and see ‘em wearing all of those trinkets blaring their loyalties; yet, when it comes to Jesus,…crickets.
Back on August 25, 2019, I began preparing people that say they’re Christians for November 3, 2020 by saying it’s easy to figure out who should get the votes of people that say they’re Christians.
All ya gotta do is take each candidate’s platforms, pontifications, and previous practices and put ‘em side by side with what we know about Jesus by the book as enlightened by the Holy Spirit that never contradicts Jesus by the book.
If you’re an authentic Christians, that’s what you’ll do.
If you’re a poser and not really that devoted to Jesus, you’ll come up with another formula.
Pero, again, if you’re a Christian, you’ll want to honor Jesus by your vote; or as my friend Cliff blurted out during a big church meeting in Pittsburgh many years ago before a big ballot on something, “Vote for Jesus!”
Believe Him, how we vote says a lot about who Jesus is to us.
Is He our Lord or not?
If He is our Lord, we want our votes to reflect His values.
If so, so.
If not, not.
Faith-sharing is for all people in all places at all times.
We are not Christians some of the time or when it’s convenient or popular.
Being a Christian in time has eternal consequences; or as Samuel noted the difference between people like Saul and people like David, “God honors those who honor Him.”
That’s good to remember when singing, “God, bless America!”
We can’t expect God to bless America if we’re not trying to bless God in America.
David’s Psalm 67 calls people who know God to worship Him and make Him known as the only key to unlocking confident living in the assurance of eternal life.
So vote for Jesus!
He’s good for the country.
He’s good for the soul.
And souls last forever.