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I am going to try something new today and I am afraid. There is a new gym in my area that offers something unique; you go and you wrap your hands with something that looks like an Ace Bandage with velcro and then you put on your boxing gloves and then you get to punch and kick the calories away for a solid hour.  The website says that I can burn up to 1,000 calories in just 60 minutes; that's like running about 8 miles.  Punching a big bag like Mike Tyson while someone named "Karen" blasts the music and keeps us all motivated sounds like a whole lot more fun than running. I am afraid.  I am afraid because I have never wrapped my hands with that "hand wrapping stuff" so they will have to show me how.  I've never worn boxing gloves and I know myself well enough to know that I am susceptible to putting them on the wrong hands out of nerves or not securing them properly so that they would fly off my hands right towards "Karen" when I attempt my first uppercut.  I am susceptible to looking like the idiot in the room.  The website assures me that the gym is a place that is "non judgemental", where newbies like me are welcome with open arms and where "Karen" will just pick up the glove that flew off my hand and say, "don't worry, it happens all the time."  My optimism is tempered by the realization that I have been going to gyms for well over half my life and try as they might, they will snicker at the new guy who can't keep up because I have seen it too many times.  In fact, it will be just my luck that I will be the only new person in the group so now I will become the court jester whose missteps are fodder for entertainment.  I am afraid.

With wars being fought around the world and lunch ladies swiping food out of the mouths of babes because their parents had outstanding school lunch balances, my fear about working out in a new gym seems highly irrelevant, so bear with me.  My fear about the gym speaks to the human condition. Sometimes I am shocked when it occurs to me how much of my very good life is driven by fear.  I shudder just a bit when I think about how often I am waiting for the "ball to drop".  Things might be going pretty well with my adopted son right now, but I know his biological history so it won't be long before______.  I know that I have missed opportunities in life out of fear.  "I would love to do that but, what if ________?"  I have thought about skipping the workout today out of fear.  I seriously considered dispensing with the idea of adopting a child from CPS because of fear.  I know that some of the decisions that I have made in my vocational life have been driven by fear.  Fear of what exactly?

Failure.  Think of the most offensive word for you personally and that is what "failure" is to me.  Failure (specific to me) connotes weakness.  Not meeting expectations is failure.  People thinking that I am "all that" only to learn that I am not.  Not punching the bag like a pro is failure.  When failure happens, people point and people laugh and they shake their heads because I do not know how to wrap my hands and secure the wrap with velcro. Everyone should know this and I don't.  Loser.  When I step up to preach on Sundays, I will often have the thought that it will be the Sunday where I finally say something so outrageously ridiculous that I will be standing there like the Emperor with no clothes. Or, I fear that I will so completely bore them that they will never come back.  On those Sundays I wonder how I ever muster up the courage to stand up and say anything at all.  Fear.

I have read that the words "do not fear" or "do not be afraid" occur 365 times in the bible; one for every day of the year.  I have no idea if that's true and to be honest, I am not going to check.  I like the idea though.  The God inspired scriptures make it a point to identify the demon in us all, fear of ____. We need to hear "do not fear" at least once a day and maybe twice on Sundays.  Fear is one of those things that you never quite overcome; you just learn how to deal with it.  Unless you have a natural mechanism to "have no fear", you will use it to your advantage or you will let it rule your life.  It's like making an assessment of the "best option" in any given moment.  It is all in how much you are willing to risk; sort of like one of those "risk/reward" shots in golf.  Is this risk worth the reward?  I stand up and I preach every Sunday even though my fears will try their best to keep me planted in my seat.  I am willing to risk myself because the passion to speak in that setting is so strong in me.  I would rather be uncomfortable and afraid than to never step up and take the risk again because if that happened then a part of me would die.  I was willing to say yes to the adoption because the reward of raising this beautiful child who, as luck would have it, looked alot like me was worth the risk of it all going south one day.  I am willing to go to the gym today and say, "I have never done this before so I will need your help" because it's something that I really want to do, and because if I burn 1,000 calories in that hour I can eat so much more food for dinner!  I am not willing to risk my life to skydive.  I am not willing to swim with sharks.  I am not willing to smoke pot, get drunk, or do both and then get behind the wheel because my inner Spirit tells me that the reward is not worth the risk.  Might be for you, but not for me.

Giving in completely to fear means that I never know the power of blessing in my life.  The rewards (blessings) of raising a child or preaching a sermon or for some, plummeting out of a perfectly good airplane may never be known if fear always says "don't".  I will not open myself up to public humiliation or ridicule on every occasion, but sometimes I will.  I will take note of the fear and then I will trudge forward anyway.  The key is that, when it's important, I will have done this prayerfully.  I will have partnered with the Spirit, my guide according to the bible, to give me a subtle hint of the purpose or the blessing that lies at the end of the risk that I will take.  Most of the time, God will give me that little peek.  Fear has kept me alive I am sure.  Fear has also forced me to challenge myself and to follow on my instinct that tells me that God may have a purpose behind my willingness to "go for it".  I will give in to fear when I shouldn't and I will heed its warnings when I should.

I will not let it rule my life because fear stifles the Spirit in me and it silences the blessings that comes from taking a prayerful risk.

Good God I hope I don't make a fool of myself at the gym today at 4:15.  Even if I do, I will still be able to eat way past full and not gain a single pound.  Risk.  Reward.  Go easy on this preacher 'Karen".             

 
 
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The age old question.  Why is there evil in the world?  The question as stated is usually just a nice way of asking, "why does God allow it?" or "why did God create it?" or "why do bad things happen to good people?"  If you watch the news with any regularity then you are assured of seeing evil at work right there in high definition on your 50 inch screen.  If you receive push notifications from news "apps" on your mobile devices then you will be notified of mass shootings and bodies being discovered in vacant lots and teachers doing highly inappropriate things with small children after school.  Move beyond local news and follow things on a global scale and you will have the regular occasion to shake your head and ask the questions above.  "Why is there evil in the world?"

These questions have baffled human beings ever since human beings began to believe in an all knowing, all powerful, all good Deity who "shepherds" his people.  If the God of the Bible, and in particular, the Gospels, has pledged to protect his people from the "fox" who seeks to destroy them then why does the "fox" seem to be having its way with God's "sheep"?  If God is watching so closely, if his "eye is on the sparrow", then how does he allow the "fox" to break in and steal children out of their homes while their parent's sleep in the room just down the hall?  Why doesn't the shepherd stop it? Why doesn't the shepherd wake up the family and shout, "YOUR CHILD IS IN DANGER!".  Why doesn't the shepherd do something about it?  Typical answer?  "God is in the healing, God is there to be a comfort when bad things happen."  Typical follow up?  "Healing and comfort would not be necessary has God stepped in and stopped it."  Typical conclusion?  God allowed it.

Why?  Reasons abound.  God is punishing people.  God never directly intervenes (which would then make one wonder why we would ever pray for anything).  God can't do much about it.  It's all our fault because Adam and Eve ate the apple and so evil is inherent in all of us.  It's in our DNA.  You can't change your DNA.  Most any answer that we could concoct in our minds will result in a rather circular conversation because in the end we will always be forced to deal with the very basic things that we believe about our God.  God is the embodiment of good.  God knows everything.  God is our shepherd. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that God "causing" or "allowing" evil does not jive with the "God the Good Shepherd".

Newton's third law of physics states that, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." A bird in flight pushes its wings downward which results in the bird moving upward.  A downward motion results in the opposite reaction of "up".  A fish moves its fins in the direction of its tail.  The opposite reaction is that the fish moves forward in the direction of it's head.  This same principle helps to answer the question, "why is there evil in the world"?  Simply put; because there is good, there must also be evil.  Evil is the equal and opposite reaction to good.  If one can make a choice to "do" or to follow good, then there must be the equal, opposite choice of doing or following evil.  If I can choose to pay for the bag of chips in my hand, then the other choice must exist; I can stuff it in my coat and walk away.  By creating good, and then giving human beings the free will to choose, God ensured that there would be evil and that God's will may not always be done. The only way that this could have been avoided would have been to take away our ability to ever make a choice about anything.  God must have asked the same question that you are asking right now.  "What would be the point of that?"

Why doesn't God step in and prevent evil?  If I am to have any hope in my God then I have to believe that he does, only not in the way that I might like it.  If God stepped in to prevent evil then the concept of "choice", and therefore, free will, is taken away.  God has stepped in without taking away our ability to choose.  God has provided the equal and opposite choice.  I can choose good.  I can choose right.  At any given moment I can make a decision to stop and to take my finger off of the trigger.  I can choose the good and nothing will ever prevent me from doing so.  Even when all of the mechanisms and systems were in place, Adolph Hitler could have made a choice at any time to stop the genocide of the Jews.  He was not forced or compelled to do evil.  He was not demon possessed. He always had the choice to stop.  He followed the path of evil and the world discovered what it looks like to give yourself over to the power of that evil.

The blessing is that the equal and opposite reaction always exists, right along with genocide and child abuse there exists a path of good and right and joyful.  Hope is found in the knowledge that, when a great evil is introduced into the world that Newton's law is no less true.  When evil rears its ugly and shocking head; there is an equal and opposite reaction to that ugly, shocking thing.

The shepherd always shows up to pick up the pieces.  Healing is the opposite of suffering.  LIfe is the opposite of death.  God is the opposite of evil.  

                  

 
 
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By now you have seen and heard more than your share of the "sensation otherwise known as the arrest of Justin Bieber."  It's all over the place; if aliens from outer space had the unfortunate privilege of landing on planet earth on the day of Bieber's arrest then they would have no other choice but to conclude that it's the most important issue of the day.  It has been dissected from every possible angle, although I realize that "every possible angle" is not a true statement because within the hour some other earth shattering revelation will come forward. Social media has pounced in the usual way. Funny, off color remarks.  Mug shot pictures that make him look like Miley Cyrus with no makeup. Facebook posts that include photoshopped pictures of Bieber in jail with his monkey, or with his wild hair going in a million different directions so that he looks like quite the crazy little man.  We need a good laugh don't we?  As I write, the market has fallen over 200 points.  Gmail went down today and there was that brief moment when we thought we'd all been hacked or that the rapture was upon us. There is a winter storm wreaking havoc on our land. We need a good laugh, so let's focus on Justin's public fall from grace.  If not Justin, then we can seize the opportunity to get a laugh over Governor Christie's weight or his apparent imminent fall from grace.  The governor of Toronto?  Fodder for a million laughs.  If we are lucky enough, Lindsay Lohan will do something ridiculous and we can laugh like there's no tomorrow. And, as if we have hit the proverbial jackpot, we have 8 days to wait for that guy that plays defense for the Seattle Seahawks to pop off again on live TV so that we can forever crown him as the village idiot. They all have it coming don't they?  They chose to be famous and rich and there is a price to pay for life in the fishbowl.  It's not as bad as it first seems because, at the end of the day, who among us wouldn't trade a mug shot for the money that Justin Bieber has?  It might cause a little embarrassment in the moment but when everyone moves on to laugh at the next fall from grace they will forget all about you.  You get the last laugh.  You would be justified in doing so since "John Q. Public" had such fun with you. 

We love a good fall from grace don't we?  The longer and harder the better.  That one very sweet southern lady that we all loved so much popped the "n word" into a conversation 30 years ago and she got dropped like a hot piece of iron, laughing all the way.  There was once a man that we adored to the point that we called him the "King of Pop"; did one man ever give us so much ammunition to play with?  He lived in a place called "Neverland" for Pete's sake.  There was another man we simply called the "King"; but he had a drug problem.  He had affairs.  Off with his head.  There was once a woman who came along with the voice of an angel.  When she sang the words, "and I will always love you", we could feel as though she was talking to us.  She had her problems.  Abusive husband she kept going back to. Drugs.  Addiction. A very long, hard fall from grace.  Late night talk show hosts made us laugh to tears at the jokes about her escalating problems.  Then she died and the laughter stopped.  People went right back to calling her an angel.  Too bad she wasn't around to hear it.

Why do we so enjoy the fall from grace?  Do I really enjoy seeing lives destroyed?  Do I really find it so amusing when famous people cannot handle the fame?  Do I honestly believe that a child of God who gives in to an addiction is nothing more than comic relief?   Maybe for some.  For most, the public fall from grace gives us a sense of empowerment.  We can point our fingers and we can judge and we can share the posts because if we focus our energy on the faults and falls of those who give us public witness to their own faults then we won't have to think about our own faults and falls.  If we can bring the sins of others to the "front of the house" where the spotlights are, then ours praise God can move backstage.  If we can have some fun with the faults of others then maybe no one will notice our own. If we can say, "SEE, look at that, here's an example of a life that's gone completely wrong", then we become the Pharisee who can gain a greater sense of our own imagined perfection because we have noted every flaw in the people around us.  At least I don't do that.  At least I'm not that fat.  At least I know the rules.  Who wears their hair like that?  If my name was Justin Bieber then I would do things different.  I cannot speak for you, but I am guilty as charged.  

I wonder if there isn't a little envy going on here?  I wonder if there is a feeling that comes from somewhere deep inside of me that loathes people who have so much more than I have.  I will never have a house in the Caymans and Mr. Celebrity does.  I work hard and all he does is sing and have people screaming at him and he gets on TV and says that it's "hard"?  Really?  You don't know HARD!  So, a fall from grace brings Mr. Celebrity right back down to "my level"; down here where the real people are who work and sweat and who have wondered just recently how the mortgage will be paid.  You are no better than me Mr. Bieber and all this time you thought you were.  Turns out you are no better than me, and isn't that the point of the laughs and the posts and the comedy?  Is it because, deep down, I don't like the feeling that you are better off than me?  Is that why I wait for your fall from grace?

I wonder something else.  I wonder if my reaction to the fall from grace comes from fear.  Is there a place deep in my soul that imagines a fall from grace for myself when everything comes crashing down around me and I wake up to a life completely altered for good?  Is my propensity to laugh at the posts and to giggle at the TV a nervous reaction to the fear that wells up within me when I see someone lose it all because I know that it could happen to me?  Do I hear that still small voice that says, "if it can happen to Whitney Houston, an angel for crying out loud, could something happen to me?"  When Paula Deen was found to have used a racial slur that resulted in the toppling of an empire; do I fear what can happen if I speak without thinking?  Does the fall from grace serve as a sacrament to what can happen to any one of us?  I may not have the life of Justin Bieber, but I do have a life that I do not want to lose.  Can it all go away in the blink of an eye?  Apparently it can, if I am to believe the news.

Truth be told, there is no such thing as a fall from grace in the Kingdom of God.  Earthly things will pass away.  The things of heaven do not.  People turn their backs, they loath and they laugh.  We will take the occasional opportunity to have some fun with the Lindsay Lohans of the world.  Jesus will call her to do the same thing as he will call me to do.  He will call her to the cross, to lay down her life and her fears and her addictions and her problems and he will promise her that if she will do that very hard thing that life will indeed be altered for good.  Jesus Christ will even move in the heart of Justin Bieber.  He will ask the same of him as he asks of all of us because in God's Kingdom there is no partiality.  He will ask Justin and I to do the same thing; to live by him and with him and in him.  He will expect Justin, Lindsay, Gov. Christie, and myself to never turn our backs on anyone who is distressed.  To love not to laugh.  To pray and not to point.  To understand that one does not need to "have it all" for the fall from grace to be equally long and hard.  If you lose it all then you lose it all, even if your version of "all" doesn't include a villa in the Caymans.  Compassion is the word that must rule a day like this.  Compassion is not condoning.  It is healing.  It is understanding.  It is the recognition that we stand on equal footing in the Kingdom of God.  It is the realization that we will all seek "compassion" from Jesus Christ even if our fall from grace never makes the news.  Compassion is what we want most from God, for understanding comes with compassion.  Compassion is one possible reaction to the suffering of others.  Compassion shows our care for the human condition.  We pray that God gives it to us.  We have faith that he does.  He, in turn, makes but one request.  

Go and do likewise, good and faithful servant.
         

                

 
 
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I have a voice in my head that, on my best days, I am always listening to.  It could be the voice of the Holy Spirit, or it could be the voice of my conscience; it could be just plain old common sense.  The voice will often warn me about things that, in the moment, sound like good ideas.  I'm thinking that I will run 13 miles tomorrow.  The voice says, "not such a good idea."  I will write a really long email so that I can respond to someone who has said something that I take exception to; the voice says "don't you dare send it." I am thinking that I will blog about my strong views on the legalization of marijuana.  The voice?  "NO!"  "Why would you subject yourself to the torment that will come?  Why put yourself out there when, in reality, it doesn't really matter what you think?  Why make enemies?"  That's what my voice is saying right now as I am typing the first paragraph of this blog.  Why do this?  The reason?  Because I am called to speak the truth as I see it; that is what God calls me to do on Sunday mornings and I think it's what God calls me to do here.  I have strong feelings about this issue and (here goes risk number one) I am adamantly opposed to our President's remarks about it.  One preface, I am not talking about marijuana for medicinal purposes here.  Let the hatin' begin.

The first and most often used argument is this one (used by our President); "there is no difference between alcohol and marijuana", or, "it is no worse".  Right?  Wrong.  Dead wrong.  I do get the reasoning; (some) people will abuse alcohol.  Alcohol can get you "drunk" and it can cause you to black out and kill people on the road late at night without remembering one moment of the whole tragic thing.  People use alcohol so that they can get "happy" and so that they can live in a fog that gives them a distorted sense of reality.  I get the argument.  It has one major, or maybe the better word is fatal flaw.  The other night I was in New Orleans being treated to a wonderful meal at Besh Steakhouse. My steak, a peppercorn ribeye with a peppery gravy was savory and delicious.  When I ordered it, Nelson, our waiter, suggested a Cabernet that paired nicely with my steak so I asked him to please bring me a glass with my meal.  Nelson was correct; the wine enhanced my meal and the meat was more enjoyable when it was washed down with a good Napa Cab.  I sipped my wine with my entree because I appreciated the flavor and it seemed to make my steak taste just a little bit better.  I did not order the wine in order to get drunk.  I never do that.  You smoke pot for one reason; to get high. You smoke pot because it will make you feel that "fog" and it can cause you to look at all things through your happy, pot colored glasses.  The reality that you see and feel is not reality at all, especially if it is accompanied by delusions of grandeur.  You smoke pot to feel that "daze".  It makes you want to just sit and stare and your reflexes are softened.  It makes you want to say thought provoking things like "wow".  It makes you crave Cool Ranch Doritos dipped in mustard.  These descriptions come from the source; people who smoke pot. Question; is another mind numbing, fantasy invoking, reflex slowing substance necessary in a culture that already excels at these kinds of things?  If the level of alcohol and prescription drug abuse is an indicator then it is obvious that we live in a culture that is obsessed with the "fog".  I wonder why we so desperately seek the fog in the way that people long ago were so desperately seeking the things of God?  Why do we have such a propensity to be "dazed and confused?"  

"If we legalize pot then it can be taxed."  A good argument that I'm not buying.  Right now I am looking across the table at my 6-year old son while he eats his dinner.  He's watching a cartoon on his little DVD player with the wonder in his eyes that only a 6-year old can show.  I'm sorry to be so blunt (no pun intended) but I do not want my son to be taking drags from a bong so that my government can increase it's taxable income.  I do not want my son getting high so that I can keep from paying higher taxes. There must be another way.  There is another way.  Nothing in my world is worth a decision on his part to live his life in a legalized state of "fog".  I'll pay more taxes if I have too.

Imagine this (it's really not a stretch).  Ten years from now, you can go to the Walgreens just up the road and buy a "dime bag" of pot.  You have to be 21 to do this, but there are ways around all of that. Now marijuana is readily available and the supply is barely meeting demand.  People are getting rich! And our children are getting high!  They are getting high whenever they want!  The party never ends! "Man, this stuff is addictive!"  I have never tried to buy marijuana, but I know how it goes.  You have to ask around.  You have to have a connection.  Then you make a purchase which is illegal.  Get caught and there are serious legal consequences.  This is a deterrent.  You might say it isn't, but it was for me and for all of the people like me whose worst fear was calling mom and dad from jail, mostly because of the threat of "leaving me there".  There is still that tiny bit of caution.  We still hear that voice in our head, "not such a good idea."  The felony charges attached to buying and smoking pot can stick for life.  It can keep you out of the best schools and it can keep you from the best jobs, most especially if you have multiple offenses.  If pot is readily available and legal, then there is no deterrent at all to living in the fog for life.  The number of people in the fog who'll be driving 80 miles an hour next to me while I am trying to get my son to soccer goes up dramatically.  How high (no pun) will the rate of addiction and abuse go up if marijuana is legal?  How many more people will rob, steal, and kill to get there hands on something that they never would have risked trying before?  Death?  How many more people will be living in the fog?  There are already millions of people wandering around in an alcohol or Xanax or Vicodin fog already.  How many more will there be now?  I'm pretty sure I know the answer; and I am sure that you do too.

There is a bigger question to be answered here.  Why are we so obsessed with the fog?  Why do we so desperately seek an altered sense of reality?  Why do we want to get high?  Why do we want our children to have ready access to this "high", that they can gain access to as easily as they can get a bag of Cheetos?  Why would we ever say that it's alright if our children live out their days with softened senses and reflexes?  Why would we say "yes, it's fine if our children become so obsessed with the fog that it's the only way that they can find their happy place?"  Why would we add one more thing to the list of legal substances that can be abused?

Why are we obsessed with the fog?  And, what will be next?  What else will be alright?  What else will be "no big deal"?  It scares me.  It should scare you. 

Fog:  "something that obscures and confuses a situation or someone's thought processes; bewilder or puzzle; make an idea or situation difficult to understand; unable to think clearly or understand something."  From the dictionary on my iMac.   


 

                 

 
 
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I seriously hope that you will read and share this blog because the subject matter is close to my heart.  If my assumption is correct then I am speaking from the heart of almost every pastor of almost every church.  Today, in this blog, I am speaking to the people who are thinking about leaving my/their church.  I may not know who you are, but I know that at any given moment in time that there is probably at least one individual or family that is currently sitting on the fence.  You love your church but you're having that feeling; "it may be time to go."  I'm not judging you; I am speaking to you.  I am speaking to you here because most of the people who decide to leave their church will not take the time to converse with their pastor about their impending departure unless they are really angry about something; so I would like to have the "conversation" here in this space.  There are some things that you might want to know before you go away to the "other church".  It will not change your decision, but it might give you something to think about before you leave.

I am going to blame myself for your departure:  Preface; this is not a "if you leave you'll make your pastor feel guilty" kind of thing.  It's reality.  Since the pastor is, in theory, the leader of the "organization" and since leaders like me tend to internalize everything, I will inevitably believe that I did something wrong.  I will believe that my sermons didn't connect or that the worship was substandard when compared to the big, loud, modern, "smoke and strobe lights" style of worship in the place that you are going.  I will believe that the opportunities for your kids were inadequate and that you slowly backed out because your family was not being "fed"; and that it's my fault.  When the church got bigger I couldn't call you for coffee every Wednesday anymore because there were so many other "call for coffee on Wednesday" people who wanted a small slice of my time.  I will believe that I was unable to do the job in the way that I have been called to do it because if I was doing it "right", you wouldn't even think about going anywhere else and my church would be every bit as attractive as that "other place" just around the corner that IS doing everything "right".  You're departure will leave me questioning everything, most especially myself.  If we could have had a conversation about this when you began to get the "maybe we should go elsewhere", then things could have been different.  In fact, they should have been different.

Think about being a part of the solution before you go:  Did you think about the ways in which you could have used your gifts to help build up the programs that were lacking in your church before you left?  When you began to sense the areas where the church was deficient, it may have been a nudge from the Spirit to utilize your gifts for ministry in that area rather than a call to leave.  With so many churches to choose from these days, it's easy to go church "shopping" when your current church isn't offering the products that you are craving.  It's easy to "shop" because it takes no work.  You don't have to help envision new ideas, you don't have to attend planning meetings, you don't have to give any of your time.  You can just "Google Map" the place that offers nacho bars, bowling alleys, and praise bands for their Sunday school kids.  I'll name the elephant in the "room".  This is called consumerism.  This is being a part of a community as long as it is fully serving your needs.  Consumerism is not what Jesus had in mind when he created the church. The church was not meant to serve, but to be served.  The only "feeding" that the church was called to do was to "feed" the poor.  The church was meant to be the place where it's people came with an attitude of sacrifice; the Body would come thinking first about how it could give and how it could work and how it could best do its ministry.  People were called to come ready and willing to give of their time and to do whatever it would take to make their particular faith community the best place that it could possibly be so that their church could reach the max number of people for Christ.  When things got tough, or when the church was lacking, they bound themselves to one another to figure out how to meet the needs of the congregation.  If they received something in return then they gave thanks for the unexpected blessing. You can see this in the second chapter of the Book of Acts.  Perfection in ministry takes work and it takes sacrifice.  It takes your work and sacrifice.  The ability to do this work is greatly diminished when you leave.

Before you talk to everyone else, please speak to your pastor:  This is one that I quite frankly have never understood.  Sometimes people will begin to whisper in the ears of their closest friends in the church; "we aren't happy anymore, I think that we might be leaving."  Often, those "whispers" get back to me.  "Father Mike, don't say anything, but ____________ called me last night and said that they are done here."  I'm sure that I get the same shocked look on my face every time it happens and I am certain that I ask myself the same question on every occasion.  "Why would they do that?"  "Why wouldn't they talk to me?"  Do you want your friends to agree with you to the point that they will leave too?  Are you hoping that it will "get back to me" so that you don't have to be the one to "break the news"?  I don't get it, honestly. Not that your pastor deserves some sort of special treatment, but please remember this.  When you asked your pastor to pray for you, she did.  She may have been praying for you even when you didn't ask; she probably named your prayer concerns before naming her own so that God would get to yours first.  She openly celebrated the ministry you offered.  When you brought your honey glazed ribs to the fellowship luncheon, she acted like she'd never tasted anything so good.  Remember when you stopped showing up? She emailed you or wrote you a note or she called you just to check in because she was concerned about you. She embraced you at the door on Sunday both coming and going.  She listened when you needed to talk. In other words, she loved you, and she will continue loving you even when she is signing your letter of transfer to the new, exciting place.  Before she does so, I know that she would welcome the chance to at least say goodbye and to give you one last embrace.

Think about it this way:  Imagine this.  You're pastor arrived 5 years ago and things began to change.  The church grew!  Money in the bank!  Ministries created and flourishing!  You love the sermons, and the guy in the pulpit seems so genuinely glad to be with you.  He's not perfect, but, you love him just the same. You've had the pastor and his wife over for dinner and you appreciate the fact that they don't put on airs and that they are down to earth people who are dedicated to the church that you have loved for so long. Then, one Sunday, you arrive and you notice that he's not there.  A member of the church stands up to give a shocking announcement.  Your pastor has left for a bigger church down the road.  Then he sits down.  No explanation.  No reasons.  No goodbye.  Just gone.  You find out later that some people knew about this. The pastor confided in them and he named some of the reasons why and when you heard those reasons it made you feel deficient because if you had known then maybe you could have made a difference.  You would like to ask those people in the inner circle to clarify some things but unfortunately they have left for the bigger church as well.  You feel angry.  You feel betrayed.  You wonder why you didn't know and why your pastor wouldn't talk to you about things. You begin to feel as though the relationship was highly conditional; as long as you and the church were offering everything your pastor needed and wanted then it was all good.  If not, then the job search was going to commence.  It didn't have to be that way, did it?             



                    

 
 
As you are reading this blog, I would like for you to play the video that you see above, making sure that the sound is turned to "on".  Just let it play while you read.  Got it?  OK, I know what you are thinking. "Wouldn't that be nice?"  "I would love to be right there, right now, with a comfy chair, the wind in my face, the sounds of the ocean in my ears, and a cold beverage in my hand."  This is paradise for most of us isn't it?  Nothing like the water.  I just got back from a few days in Galveston, Texas.  The house I stayed in was just across the highway from the Gulf of Mexico.  Yesterday I took my dog for a little walk on the beach and my eyes rarely left the water.  Every so often I would stand there, with dog in tow, and stare at the ocean that I have seen so many times before.  There is something soothing and almost tranquilizing about the ocean and its gentle waves and breezes.  This is true of water in general.  In my neighborhood there are some fairly good sized man made ponds.  You often see walkers, joggers, and bikers taking a moment to stand there and stare at the water.  If you have been on a cruise then you probably know that the "days at sea" with no stops to make are among the best on the trip.  You can sit in your chair, often on your own private balcony, and you can stare at the sea. For hours.  Most of us, maybe all of us, would welcome the opportunity to own a home on the water, even if it's just a small man made pond.  If we had a home like that we would cozy up on the back porch and we would stare.  We are naturally drawn to the water.  I like to go to the local pools and sit in the water for hours and when I do the time just passes by. My son would sit in the bathtub for hours if I would let him.  He loves the feeling of being in water. Human beings are drawn to the water.  I wonder why?

Water is essential for life.  We cannot live without it.  Depending on who or what you are reading, our bodies are made up of anywhere from 55-75% water.  Our brain and our heart can be made up of as much as 75% water and the number can go up to over 80% for our lungs.  The most essential, life sustaining organs have the highest levels of water.  I wonder if this is why we are so naturally drawn to it?  Could it be because it is THE essential life giving thing?  Could it be that our bodies and our senses are naturally drawn to the thing that gives us life?  When we are looking out over the turquoise blue seas of the Caribbean, we are looking at life.  We are looking at sustenance.  We are looking at the thing that we cannot do without, for to do "without" means death.  Without it, we will begin to hallucinate and to see things that are not really there and our sense of reality will become distorted to the point that we cannot find our way; just think of wandering in the desert for days without water and you'll get the point. The heart rate increases, which can lead to anxiety.  We will crave water in those moments because water is life.  Therefore when we see it, we can't take our eyes off of it.

This is why I am drawn to Jesus.  When I sense the "nearness" of God at the altar of my church, in a sunset, in the ocean, in my son's face while he sleeps, I can't help but stare.  I stare because I know that I am being drawn towards the thing that give me life.  When I looked into my wife's eyes on our wedding day I sensed the near presence of Jesus Christ washing over me; I could not take my eyes off of hers.  I was getting a peek into the thing that gives me life.  I have been to Alaska by way of a cruise ship, which means that I have seen places that human beings cannot see any other way than by water. God's presence almost knocked me overboard.  I could not take my eyes off of the snow capped places and the glaciers that bald eagles were calling home on the day that our ship sailed by.  I knew I was seeing God in all of his glory; I was looking at life.  I looked long and hard so that the sights would be etched in my mind for good.  I saw life.  I saw the thing that takes up residence in my soul.

I am keenly aware that I need the life that Jesus Christ brings.  Without this "life" I am like a parched man wandering in the desert.  I will begin to lose my way and to drift from here to there searching for life.  I will grow anxious and afraid if I think that my "life" is not as near to me as it should be.  My sense of reality, in all that is real, will become distorted to the point that I will not know the way.  In those moments I will crave him because Jesus is my life.  I can't explain how this is so in any kind of metaphysical way.  I just know.  I know that water permeates my vital organs.  I know that the Spirit permeates it all.  The water in me that keeps me alive moves me to long for the kinds of places in the video that's playing on your device right now.  It makes me crave the wind and the waves.  I long to be near the thing that gives me life.  Same can be said for the Spirit in me.  I long to set my eyes on a sleeping child that bears my name.  I crave a pink sunset.  I adore time on the porch in Galveston with my friends while eating pancakes for dinner.  I am drawn to the things that give me a peek at the Spirit inside me; the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  I am drawn to anything that makes me think that Christ is near, winking at me from behind the wind blown waves and a short stack of hand made pancakes with butter and syrup running down the edges, chuckling at me because I have noticed; because I have seen my "life".  Sleeping child.  Gulf of Mexico waves with dog beside me.  Eyes of my bride.  Pancakes for dinner.  Bald eagles in Alaska.  Glimpses of my Jesus.  Glimpses of my life; the thing that draws me in, the thing that gives me life.          
 
 
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The church needs to be more liberal.  The church needs to be more conservative.  The church needs to be more moderate. The church needs to do more for the poor and it needs to take the lead in social justice issues across the board.  The church needs to reach the unchurched more, it needs to be more modern, it needs to reach the new generation and the church needs to stop being so darned institutional.  The church needs to be "emerging".  According to the online version of the Houston Chronicle, the church needs to "join the 21st Century...stop competing with other churches...read more....study more...love more...fail...pass the torch."  Everyone has an opinion about what the church needs to be doing more or less of these days.  If you are a leader in the church like me, then you have another list of "needs".  The pastor sits behind her desk and prays about the church because it needs more money, it needs better attendance, it needs more staff, it needs more space, and it needs more volunteers. It would seem that the church is the most "needy" institution of all.  I don't disagree that the church needs to be doing more of the things that it "should" be doing.  I don't disagree that greater resources and more people would help advance the ministry.  It's just that, dare I sound snarky, I am growing weary of all this.  I just watched a video that, while having a fairly hopeful ending to it, painted the church as some sort of evil empire that stood on the sidelines while the Nazis, the klan, and the crusades destroyed lives and that somehow the church turned a totally blind eye to the oppression of God's people.  I don't deny that it happened, but the video had this whiny guy singing "what did the church do" over and over again.  I read into it; "the church needed to stop it, the church needed to crush it, the church needed to; fill in the blank."  In other words, the church was no better than Adolph Hitler.  I agree that the church could have and should have stepped in.  I know that the church has not always stepped forward when people cry out for help.  I know it and you know it.  Here's the point in all this; you could spend a lifetime reading about what the church needs.  You could spend a fortune on books that will tell you what the church needs to do or what it needs to stop doing.  Can I add my own to the growing list?  What does the church need over and above all else?  The church needs you.  Rephrase; the church needs "committed you".  If the church doesn't have "committed you" then nothing much will happen other than the occasional small victory.  If the church is going to make a real difference; if it is going to move a Kingdom, if it is going to do something significant, it needs committed you. Unless it has "committed you" then, I am afraid, the snarky videos will speak some level of truth.

What, or who is committed you?  "Committed you" is a person who stays in the game regardless of what might be happening on the field at any given point in time.  There will always be a church down the road that's doing more dynamic worship.  There will always be a church nearby that's doing the rock concert youth programs.  There will always be a church in the area that's "doing everything right."  You know how they got that way?  They have lots of "Committed you's".  If their church is lacking in its ministry in any way, "committed you" does not walk away to find greener pastures. Committed you finds a way to make things better in the place where God planted them and they will offer their gifts (often without being asked) to help the church achieve a higher level of ministry.  It may not be the "rock star" kind of thing, but it will grow and it will flourish in its own significant way. If the church has to worry about whether or not its ministry is good enough to "keep people from leaving" then it is operating out of fear rather than abundance.  If the church can be confident that it has a sanctuary full of "committed you's" then it can dream the biggest dreams possible; just like it's supposed to.  

"Committed you" does not come to the church looking first for all of the ways that the church can feed them.  Committed you comes looking first for ways to serve.  They come to the church knowing that they are not consumers; rather, they are servants.  When they come and settle in they will immediately look for ways to serve the church, to serve the community, and to serve the people around them, mostly out of gratitude. "Committed you" will make their call to service a priority and they will be tuned in closely when they hear a call for help, for volunteers, or for prayer.  The life of the church, and their part in it, will be somewhere up there with Girl Scouts and soccer and the other organizations they are involved in. When signing their kids up for sports, "committed you" will ask, "do you play on Sundays"?  A "yes" will send them looking elsewhere because a full commitment to God's church cannot be compromised.  The church will not always take top priority, but, for "committed you", it will never fall out of the top 5.  The life of the individual or family revolves around the life of the community that forms in the church; "committed you" understands that it is not supposed to be the other way around.

"Committed you" sees their commitment to the life and ministry of the church as one of the primary ways that they can serve Jesus Christ himself.  This makes sense given the fact that the church is called the "Body of Christ".  Worship is seen as an act of sacrifice and service to God.  Making pimento cheese sandwiches for coffee hour?  Service to God.  Teaching Sunday school or leading a bible study? For God.  Visiting the sick?  Serving the Lord.  Changing lightbulbs in the sanctuary?  Serving Christ.  It may not seem like it when a Saturday afternoon is spent at the top of a scissor lift in the church parking lot changing out the light bulbs at the top of the light poles, but "committed you" knows that it is just the same.  Committed you does not see this kind of thing as a burden.  For them, it is an opportunity.  Is this a 'Kingdom advancing" activity?  Maybe not; but for the visitor parked underneath that light who finds her keys in her purse, in the rain, because of that one light bulb?  Huge. "Committed you" knows that everything that they do for the church and in the church will wind up serving someone else.  And, they remember the words of Christ, who once taught that when his people serve anyone else, they were actually serving Him.

Most important of all, committed you is committed.  Always.  You hear them say "my church"  a lot, which means that they have a real sense of ownership.  Pastors and people may come and go, but committed you is there for good.  This is what the church needs over and above all else.  It does not need us looking critically from afar.  It does not need us moving from place to place looking for the next "best thing" (by the way, no matter where you are, there will always be one of those).  It does not need to be operating out of the fear that if it isn't big enough or wealthy enough or good enough that the exodus is sure to follow  It needs you.  It needs committed you.

Will your church be given the gift of "committed you" this year?    


 
 
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I don't know about you, but I am tired of going to war.  I have plenty of little battles I'm fighting every day already.  The battles that I fight are mostly within myself. Trying to be the best dad that I can be while understanding that my "successes" do not always outnumber my "failures".  It's a battle.  The same can be said for my resolve to be the best husband, or at least a "better than average" husband that I can be.  It's a battle.  It gets no better at work, where I get up every day and try to be the best priest in the history of the church and to be the most loving, faithful, caring, expectation meeting pastor that I can possibly be.  It's a battle.  It's a war that is waged in my soul.  Some days I win.  Some days I loose.  Regardless, I know that each day, whether I am cognizant of it or not, I am fighting battles.

So, world, I do not need your wars.  I'm not talking about the military kind, although we could use less of those in our world I suppose.  No, I'm talking about the wars that I hear about on the news and that I read about on social media.  I hear that there's a "war on Christmas".  There is a "war" on my freedom. There is a "war" on my rights because "they" are going to come and "take away" my guns.  There is a "war" on religion.  I am being recruited, daily, to fight in these wars.  I am being solicited to "fight" for Phil Robertson, to "fight" for the bible, to "fight" for the church and to "fight" against the indecency that I see on TV.  Fight, fight, fight.  I would have time for little else if I engaged in these "wars" upon humanity.  That, "they" say, is exactly what I am supposed to to.  I am supposed to give up my life to engage in these battles because if I don't then "they" are going to win.  Quick question for clarification; who are "they"?  I can hear the answers.  "It's the conservatives!"  "It's the liberals!"  "It's the right to life people!"  "It's the anti right to life people!"  "It's Obama!"  "It's Rush Limbaugh!"  OK, I hear you.  I am supposed to fight everyone.  Please, recruiters, see the paragraph above.

I promise that I can handle some things on my own.  If it could be proven that Santa Claus wasn't white then; big deal.  I'll still put out the same Santa's in my living room that I've been putting out for years. If they take Duck Dynasty off the air then I'll watch the first 5 seasons on DVD whenever I want to watch them.  If "they" say that 'Merry Christmas" isn't correct, then guess what?  I'll say it anyway (and I'll probably say it more often).  If I don't like the indecency on my TV then guess what I will do?  I will turn it off because "they" cannot force me to watch it.  If I can't buy a large Dr. Pepper at McDonald's then I'm going to pull a "Navy Seal", stealth type of operation and buy a 6 pack of them at the store and I will even drink 2 at one sitting; caring not if "they" are secretly watching me through the camera on my iPhone.  If "they" say that I am not a good father if I let my son eat a Quarter Pounder with cheese and mayo and I, a free man with free will, decide that he can have one, then I'm pulling into the drive thru without concern about how I'm being judged.  I promise not to judge you either, other dad in the car behind me.  If "they" tell me that I cannot proclaim the word of Jesus Christ then I swear I'll proclaim it even louder and I will face whatever consequences there are for doing it because "they" can't take away the Spirit of faith inside of me.  History proves that, when "they" get really close to "taking things away for good" that it is then, and only then, that "we" respond in a manner that "gets it back". Until then, people can be rather complacent and they have little time, energy, or resolve to join in the fight.  Until people wake up and realize that's something's been taken away, it's "much ado about nothing."  I know what you're thinking; isn't that what we are supposed to prevent?  Aren't the wars meant to keep it from getting to that point where we wake up and have nothing?  Yes, you could make that argument.  The problem is that there are new wars being started every day with no sense of priorities.  We cannot fight them all.  Where do I start?  Who gets my attention?  If I go from one war to the next willy nilly then what difference am I really making? The rules of war are such that if you spread your army to thin then the "enemy" will always have the advantage.  Given the current battlefield, we are guaranteed to be spread way too thin on almost every front because we don't have the numbers to fight them all. The other thing about it is that, typically speaking, the generals don't tell me what I can do other than sign a petition or "like" something on Facebook.  When I take the time to do that I never hear what's next.  How are we doing? Who's winning?  What else can I do, because clicking "like" didn't seem like such a big deal and I see nothing changing other than my sense of pride for doing it.  I know that Cracker Barrel reversed their decision to take their Duck Dynasty stuff off the shelves because of the pressure that began on social media. Victory!  My issue is that, in a country where people are starving in our streets; Cracker Barrel's profit margin doesn't seem so important to me.        

I'm going to challenge you today.  Seriously.  I could put all of this in the blog, but I want you to take the time to look it up for yourself, like, on Google.  Look up how many women are beaten by their husbands in an average day and then go on social media and see where the "call to arms" can be found. Go to FOX or CNN and see, today, if the headlines are urging the people to fight the sex trafficking war. Google "number of veterans living on the streets" of the city where you live and then go to Twitter or Facebook and find out who, amongst your friends, is calling you to wage war on this issue.  I pray that one day, the generals will decide that, while fighting political correctness and the ethnicity of Santa are important, we should start by fighting the wars that save lives.  We should start by fighting for the people that Jesus fought for.  Maybe, as a people, we could rise up to end hunger just in our individual communities.  We could get together and do something about the high rate of child abuse.  We could focus entirely on the elderly who watch their lives turning into a meaningless nothing because no one really cares.  Let's start there.  Let's see what we can do.  Let's fight the battles that save lives and then, when we see how strong our Army can be, then we can do some work on the right to openly drink our big gulp soft drinks in public.  World, if you're going to recruit me, then I'm telling you right now that I will fight those wars.  I'll bet that if you're reading this that you would to.  Tell us what to do, how to do it, and then tell us that we are making a difference and we will fight!  

And...we will win.     

 
 
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The past few days have been troubling.  In all of the Phil Robertson talk, I have been troubled by what good, God fearing Christians have been doing with the Bible.  This is nothing new.  Christians have been wrestling with God's Word ever since the church put together the 66 books that we now call Holy Scriptures.  The problem with the Bible comes not so much in the words themselves, but rather, in the way in which we have chosen to interpret them.  Chief among them would be the literal, infallible, inerrant interpretation which means that you take the words at face value.  It says what it says and it is what it is.  This is the easy way to do it because it takes no thought and it takes no real work; you do not have to deal with odd teachings and contradictions if you take a literal approach.  If that's what it says then that's what it says; what's there to discuss?  If the Word says, "Happy (blessed) are those who seize their children and smash them against a rock (Psalm 137:9)", then blessed are you who send your kids to the ER; in the name of God. In Leviticus 10:9, God tells Aaron to "drink no wine or strong drink...lest you die."  Many God fearing Christians take this teaching and apply it to everyone; "do not drink (at all) lest you die in your sin of drinking". Of course, Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding (after the guests had already gone through every drop of wine that the host had set out, which, based on some of the weddings I've been to, makes me think that there may have been some over serving) and he served it to his disciples at the Last Supper. Contradiction? It would seem so.  When pressed on this, good God fearing Christians will say, "it says what it says".  "But what about the contradiction; if it is a sin then why would Jesus condone it?"  End of discussion, it just is what it is.  In I Corinthians 14: 34, Paul writes that the "women should be silent in churches."  So, no women speaking.  No women clergy.  No women Sunday school teachers (right); can't let women serve at the altar (unless the word "altar" is followed by the word "guild") because, that's what Paul said.  Yet, in Romans 16, Paul commends a woman named "Phoebe" who, and I'm quoting, "...is a minister of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the holy ones, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a benefactor to many and to me as well."  Now, maybe Phoebe used sign language when she spoke in the church, or, she may have written everything down that she wanted to say.  Logic dictates otherwise.  Another contradiction.  It can't be both.  Women can speak or not. What are we to do with this?  "It is what it is" doesn't hold up here.

The other end of the spectrum would say that it's all a big metaphor.  It's all ancient stories that, while giving us a good moral compass for a good moral life, in reality, have no real historical significance at all, like Pinocchio.  Although Jesus wasn't really the Son of God, he was a very good man who taught some very good things that we would all do well to live in to.  People don't live for 3 days in the belly of a whale.  The Red Sea parted at the precise moment that the Israelites needed it to because, lucky for them, the winds and the tides caused the waters to recede; like low tide.  This "perfectly timed by nature" low tide turned into high tide when the evil Roman Army needed to be destroyed.  Or, it didn't happen at all.  The "Jesus Seminar" determined years ago that maybe, maybe, one of the quotes attributed to Jesus might have been actually spoken by Jesus. Maybe.  This is easy because if it's all myth and fairy tale then we can just pick and chose what we want, mostly the easy parts, and then chuck the rest of the "entirely created from the human imagination" stories as nonsense.  When the Bible gives us pause for concern, we simply shrug our shoulders and move on. When the Bible gives us Psalm 137:9 we don't bother to ask why; "they" didn't really mean to say it like that and if they did then it shows how backwards people used to be "back then".  If the Bible gives us contradictions, we pick the "side" we like and we shrug off the side we don't as ignorance.  Our faith is based on a bunch of silly stories written by some people with vivid imaginations; we are placing our hope in the ancient version of Harry Potter.  This makes sense because there are some real life lessons in Harry Potter too; right? Sort of like Pinocchio.

There is another way.  The other way says that the Bible is inspired by God and written by flawed human beings.  The Bible did not drop into the lap of some ancient prophet who simply delivered it up to the church for immediate publication.  The Bible was written by human beings over thousands of years who were struggling at times with their world and in the way they saw God moving within it. They were trying to figure out why bad things happened to good people.  They tried to understand why their God, who promised the world, seemed to be punishing them for the sins of their fathers.  When Jesus came, they heard and saw things that defied all logic and reason and they desperately tried to make sense of it all.  I'm not so sure they had us in mind.  I'm not so sure that the Gospel writers thought', "these words I am writing will last for thousands of years and they will be considered sacred and holy and they will set the moral and ethical compass for billions of people around the world until the day that Christ comes again."  They were trying to sort things out in a world where God was most certainly playing the lead role, and their words often reflected that.  They wanted to let the people around them know how they saw it, how they felt it, and how they interpreted it.  In doing so, they contradicted one another and they contradicted themselves.  From their hands and their "pens" came a God who at once could be ready to offer them the world and then, in the same breath, could take away everything they had, including their sense of security and their way of life. We should have no trouble understanding this.  When the twin towers fell who got the blame?  Hurricane Katrina? Tsunami?  God promised us peace and love; we got historically destructive storm surges. Why all of this, God?

We have to choose.  If we take the literal way then we have to take it all, lock, stock, and barrell.  If we chose the "fairy tale" way then our faith is anchored in quicksand.  If we dare choose the "inspired by God" and perhaps, at times, not quite so literal approach, then we will have to do some thinking. We will have to do our homework.  We will have to admit that the Bible is true and that God can be found somewhere in it all, even the parts about smashing children against the rocks.  What does that have to teach us?  We (Christians) will have to read the words through the lens of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.  This may present problems, especially when the Son of God says that he "came to make war not peace".  Why would he say that? There is a reason that may not be so "face value" that, if discovered, will open up a much greater depth of meaning than we could have ever imagined.  Jesus often spoke in parables that were confusing to those that heard them and, even when he offered an explanation, still left them scratching their heads.  Bible reading and teaching takes work.  Hard work. It takes reason. It takes faith.  It takes trust. It takes heart.  It is not meant to cast people into hell.  
Rather, it is meant to send them soaring wings like eagle's.  If you don't believe that, then read John 17 so that you can know Jesus' dying wish (prayer) for you and for me.  


There's a lot of truth in that...                  

 
 
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There's a voice in my head that's been saying; don't go there.  Wait awhile until the embers flame out, when things aren't so heated, then say something about the Phil Robertson, A&E, Duck Dynasty thing.  Don't do it now; wait.  I wish I could do that but I can't.  I am a big fan of this show (see previous blogs).  I am a priest who's been watching and listening to all of this and wondering, again, about the way in which we choose to enter into the public arena of debate with one another.  I have already spent more time than I care to admit reading the blogs, the posts, the emails, and the news.  Practically every angle has been pursued.  Today I want to think about what's not being said, or rather, what's not being said about what's being said.  These thoughts might be random, but, they speak to what I have been thinking and feeling as I've read through the litany of information.  


Your view on any particular social justice issue is not the litmus test that determines whether or not you are a Christian:  It seems that we are living in a time where your views and opinions about sexuality issues are letting us know, clearly, whether you are a Christian or not.  If you are in favor of same sex marriages, then, you are not a Christian (or you're not a very good one).  If you are opposed to same sex marriage, you are not a Christian.  Opposed to abortion?  Not a Christian.  In favor?  Not a Christian. When did this happen?  I have searched the Gospels for the verses that teach me that I better make sure that I stand on a particular side of a certain issue (which is clearly defined for me so there's no confusion) if I want to be given salvation and eternal life.  I can't find it.  Does it make sense to think that, when I stand before God to give an account of my life, that my pass into heaven will be entirely determined by whether or not I agreed that the Washington Redskins should change their mascot?  Forget everything else that I have ever done in my life.  "Sorry, Mike, you should have known better."  I do not mean to minimize the importance of these issues and all the others like them.  I simply think (know) that there is SO much more to you, as a Christian, and as a person, than your stance on the death penalty.  I just have to think that Jesus feels the same way.  Otherwise, I've been doomed from the start.

Christians, please stop saying "love the sinner, hate the sin.":  This comes up a lot whenever a conversation around sexuality issues take place.  I've seen it numerous times in the last 24 hours.  Imagine this.  Imagine that you are gay, and that you come to a church that says, "we love you and we accept you but we hate what you do and how you live and the bible says that you are an abomination."  It would be the same if the church welcomed people by repeating the mantra of "we love you" only to follow it with, "but we hate that you drink too much and we hate the way that you live your life and if you don't stop what you are doing and turn your life around then you are probably going to hell; but in the name of Jesus we love you".  If you believe that way, fine, just don't beat your brothers and sisters over the head with it because if we, as believers, think that we are going to reach "souls for Christ" by telling people we love them but we don't like them, or that they are heading for condemnation because of what they do, then souls for Christ will not be reached.  In fact, souls seeking Christ might turn and seek something else.  We, then, become a stumbling block.  Jesus had something to say about that; something to the effect of, "it would be better for a millstone to be tied to your ankle and then thrown out to sea" if we are a stumbling block, or hindrance, to someone else's quest for the holy.  It's easy to say, "we are all sinners saved by the grace of God", which can most often mean that we are trying to find a light hearted way to call homosexuality a sin, like, "it's all the same".  Funny thing though, I don't often hear the "eternal flames" being associated with people who physically abuse their wives, do you?  I wrestle with my feelings on these issues and I seek to find clarity and understanding.  I converse with people on every side.  I seek to understand why my feelings are what they are or why I felt a certain way in the first place.  Isn't that what the public arena should be helping me do?  Isn't that what the church should be helping me do?

Jesus never gave us the authority to judge the eternal soul of another:  Yes, there are places where Jesus speaks with clarity about sin and the consequences of it.  Again, I have looked, and I don't find the place where Jesus ever gives a flawed human being the ultimate authority to look at one's life and then sentence it to heaven or hell.  Jesus could do that because he was God.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus could see what we cannot see.  He could see into the heart.  He could see into the soul.  He knew the motivations of the people who would say one thing when they really meant something else.  Jesus knew (knows) every single thing about each and every person and he understands how God deals with it all because, Jesus is God.  I'm not.  The church, is not.  Thank goodness we have not been tasked with judging the soul of another because I'm afraid that we would get it wrong most of the time.  Jesus knows what we can never know about others.  We might do well to remember that right now.

There is a litmus test:  And it goes like this; "thou shall love the Lord with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and thou shall love thy neighbor as ourselves.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.  I've seen this thrown around the public arena the last 2 days.  It's good that it's being acknowledged because it is the litmus test.  Not for how good you are.  Rather, it serves as the lens through which we are called to see all things.  Every law, every prophecy, every teaching.  When I enter the debate to express my views about Duck Dynasty, A&E, or when I respond to something you have to say, am I doing it with the litmus test in mind?  Am I manipulating it, like, "I am telling you that you are going to hell because I love you and I don't want you to be there"?  Phil got this part right.  You have to love.  I have to love.  I may not like what you say or how you say it.  I might not like what Miley Cyrus does, she might not like me either.  The response, regardless, must be an act of love.  Period.  Do not take this lightly believers.  If everything hangs on the "Great Commandment", then, is it logical to assume that this is how I'll be judged?  Did you love God with all of your heart?  Did you love your neighbor like you love yourself?  This is the litmus test that determines where you are in your life with Christ; how am I doing with that?

I still like Duck Dynasty:  There, I said it.  Here's what it doesn't mean.  It doesn't mean that I agree or disagree with what's been said.  It doesn't mean that I am in favor of slavery.  It doesn't mean that I condone anything and it doesn't mean that I don't like you if you are doing some hating on Phil Robertson. It means I like the show.  It means that, despite the controversy, I believe that Phil Robertson is a good person.  I have taken the time to read his books and to watch his video testimony and I actually know people that know him. He's done good in the world.  He's turned his addictive life around and he has helped his own son do the same.  He shares many of the same values that I do, and he shares some of the things that I preach about on Sundays.  He gives much.  I know this because I have taken the time to know something about him other than what I see on FOX or CNN.  This does not mean that I agree with everything he has said, or will ever say in the future.  I can't say that about anyone.  Don't be hatin' when you see my with my Uncle Si coffee cup, OK?