A Prayer for Victims and Survivors of Violence (and Those Who Pray for Them) Friday, Feb 16 2018 

sad-status-for-Whatsapp-and-FacebookLord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy.

The pain and grief is more than we can imagine…and more anyone should have to face.

The senseless loss of life is incomprehensible.

Inexcusable.

So, we pray.

Or at least we start with prayer.

We know there is more to it than simply praying,

although our prayers remind us of Whose we are

and that we are all in this together.

We pray, first of all, for You to provide the comfort and strength needed by victims of        violence to face what is certainly the devastating aftershock of a nightmare.

We pray, also, not only for the removal of evil from violent hearts that lash out at others,

but that You first eradicate from our own hearts and lives all violence:

In our thoughts.

In our actions.

In our words.

We choose for ourselves to forgo violence in words and actions

to settle disputes and disagreements.

And we accept our responsibility to model and teach others that violence is too quickly   our response, which results in damage that is beyond repair.

Forgive us for passively praying and then sitting on the sidelines

waiting for someone else – You? – to act on in our stead.

And remind us of our responsibility to work for what we pray for.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Amen.

(image: Google search)

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I’m Done with “Thoughts and Prayers” Thursday, Feb 15 2018 

23167753_1814540448574988_228631237868895880_n-1-640x520.jpgOK, it’s time to say it: I’m giving up saying “my thoughts and prayers” are with victims of unimaginable suffering and loss.  I’m done.  And I will no longer encourage people to “send thoughts and prayers” or “keep them in your thoughts and prayers.”  In light of the incomprehensible school shooting yesterday in Florida, and the other 12 or so school shooting since the beginning of 2018 alone, it needs to be said that thoughts and prayers are not enough.

Now, let me clarify: I am a firm believer in saying prayers for those who suffer; and I’m all for keeping people in mind as they go through those struggles.  It’s only natural to have compassion for another human being who is going through some unbelievable pain.  Praying for their comfort in times of pain, for their peace of mind when the bottom of their world has just fallen away, for strength to get through it all…is a good thing.  How many times have we asked someone to pray for us as we face some challenge?  Or how often have we mumbled a prayer – as feeble as it may seem – for someone, even if we don’t believe in praying?  It is not that we are praying that the monster they face will just disappear; it is simply asking God to give them strength to face it.

Praying for such things is what people who have compassion do.

It is also compassionate to keep people in our thoughts as they face their pain and broken hearts.  Keeping them in our thoughts is simply remembering them as they face whatever it is they have to face.  It’s not expecting the pain or suffering to just go away or to pretend it doesn’t exist.  Keeping someone in our thoughts and prayers is a way of honoring them, respecting the suffering they face, and remembering our own inability to avoid pain, loss, and suffering.  When we keep someone in our thoughts and prayers, we are made aware that we are not alone in this world; that when one suffers, we all suffer; that pain is contagious and that we are willing to experience that pain with another person because we are human, too, and pain multiplied becomes – in the long run – pain halved.

So, it’s not that I’m against “thoughts and prayers.”  What I’m sick and tired of is using our thoughts and prayers as excuses for not doing anything else.  We make ourselves feel better by repeating the words and convincing ourselves that we have done something.

What we forget is that prayer is useless without action.  We pray that something will be done, but forget that we are often that very “something”…that the God to whom we pray expects us to act on our own prayers.   It’s a cop-out to say we prayed and then sit on our high horses and wait for God to do whatever God is going to do.  It’s pathetic and, to be blunt, just not very Christian.  Prayer involves not just speaking it, but taking responsibility to act on it.

We are often the answer to our own prayers.

It’s past time to stop sending “thoughts and prayers” and start praying for and pondering how we can be the answer we pray for.

Love vs Tolerance Thursday, Feb 15 2018 

4983_Shiny-small-heart-love-conquers-all

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day,  a day set aside not just to think about love, not just to remember love.  This is a day set aside to intentionally celebrate and practice love in the purest form of the word.

Love is not the same as tolerance.

Jesus did not say “Tolerate one another as I have tolerated you.”  Nor did Jesus say, “By this, people will know that you are my disciples, if you tolerate one another.”

No.  Jesus said we are to love other as he has loved us, and that we are known to be his disciples if we love others.

Love is harder than tolerance.  But love is also greater than tolerance.  And love surpasses tolerance in its reward.

Giving Up and Taking Up – An ABC for the Season of Lent (and Every Other Day) Tuesday, Feb 13 2018 

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Give up anger and take up cheerfulness

Give up bigotry and take up open-mindedness

Give up complaining and take up complementing

Give up dread and take up confidence

Give up ego and take up humility

Give up fear and take up confidence

Give up griping and take up gratitude

Give up hatred and take up love

Give up indecision and take up determination

Give up judging and take up grace

Give up being a killjoy and take up encouragement

Give up limitations and take up freedom

Give up misery and take up happiness

Give up neediness and take up “enough”

Give up overwork and take up playfulness

Give up pessimism and take up optimism

Give up quarreling and take up harmony

Give up revenge and take up forgiveness

Give up superficiality and take up authenticity

Give up timidity and take up courage

Give up ugliness and take up beauty

Give up violence and take up peace

Give up worry and take up calmness

Give up xenophobia and take up good will

Give up going through life like a zombie and take up living

Things that Make for Happiness Wednesday, Feb 7 2018 

HappinessI’ve been thinking lately about happiness.  What is happiness?  How is happiness attained?  How is it sustained?

In light of all the negativity, divisiveness, and mean-spiritedness we witness on a daily basis; in the face of the political rancor and the self-centeredness of the religious, I think it is important that we look at happiness, not to try to force ourselves to be happy but to learn what it is so that we can work toward it.

One thing needs to be clear: there is a huge difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is dependent on our circumstances.  If all is going well, we tend to be happy.  If things go south, we tend to be come unhappy.  Joy, on the other hand, is not so fickle.  Joy remains steady in spite of circumstances. While happiness can be a fair-weather friend, joy is a constant companion.
That’s not to say happiness is not important.  It is!  Happiness is something that improves our lives in many ways, from a sense of well-being to better physical health.  Who doesn’t want to be happy?

The problem is that we try to force happiness.  We convince ourselves that happiness is “just around the corner” – however far down the road that corner may be; that happiness will come when we get that promotion at work, or the latest iphone, or our dream home, or….you get the picture.  In other words, we believe that happiness comes as the result of something we gain, something we acquire through our hard work, or something that is given to us.  But it’s not true.  Yes, we experience momentary happiness when we get what we want, but that happiness is fleeting; soon after we gain it, we move on to the next desire.  It’s a constant hamster wheel: we are always chasing after that next attainment that will bring us happiness; it’s always that “one more thing.”

Our forefathers wrote that one of our “inalienable rights” is the pursuit of happiness.  That means that we are free to pursue whatever makes us happy so long as it does not cause harm to another.  But the truth is, happiness is not something that is pursued, as if happiness itself is the goal or the end product.  The chief cause of unhappiness is the constant drive to have happiness.  We get in our own way when we pursue happiness as if it were a trophy to gain.  Chasing happiness can be a very self-centered pursuit.

The truth is, happiness is something that ensues, not something that is pursued.  Genuine happiness comes as the result of doing something other than chasing after happiness itself.  Put another way, real and lasting happiness ensues as the result of doing something that is meaningful, something beyond ourselves: serving others, working for justice, getting our hands dirty for the environment, and any number of other life-enhancing work.

That means that happiness is not always easy.  Happiness takes work, literally.

The great thing about happiness is that it can, if allowed to ensue, lead to joy which results in an unwavering sense of contentment with life, come what may.  While happiness may be fleeting if chased after for its own sake, it does result in an abiding joy when allowed to come to us.

 

A Theology of Abundance Friday, Jan 20 2017 

overflowing-cup           One of the most corrosive lines of thinking in the Church has been a “theology of scarcity.”  This idea states that there are never enough resources to do what we are called to do; that we cannot do what is needed because we don’t have enough…money, time, people, room, etc., etc.

A theology of scarcity implies that God has led us to this point, but left us here to fend for ourselves; that God calls us, but does not equip us to do the task or provide for us what is needed for the task; that we believe in God, but not that God has given us what is necessary to do the work God has called us to do.

Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Still, we have bought into the lie that we don’t have enough to do the work of the church, and that belief has become our excuse for not risking, not taking action, not living out who we say we are, and doing the same thing over and over in hopes that one of these times things will change.  A theology of scarcity has become an excuse for holding onto the status quo with a vice-like grip.  We can hear this theology in statements that are tainted with “my way” thinking; in statements that pine for how things were “when I was growing up”; and remarks that reflect the seven deadly words of the church: “We’ve never done it that way before.”  A theology of scarcity is what I call “me-opic” thinking – thinking that cannot/does not see beyond the end of our own noses, our own preferences.

A scarcity theology slowly erodes the mission of a church when it is not confronted and called out, allowing the church to falter in its mission.  Too often, those who uphold such thinking hold the church hostage if they are ignored.  Scarcity theology kills dreams and plans; it sometimes embitters those who work for the betterment of the church and its ministry; it refuses to put itself in the place of those who are not a part of the Church, looking only to itself as the measuring rod of what is best for all;  it stalls and stagnates both numerical and spiritual growth because no one wants to board a sinking ship or a ship that is going nowhere; and it plants the seed that God works only  in certain ways (read: “my way”).

Not only is this theology corrosive, it is not fitting with scripture.  The God who created the earth and all that is in it, provided all in abundance (Genesis 1 & 2).  The God who led God’s people out of Egypt, led them back to a place of abundance (a land flowing with milk and honey).  And the God who offered the world a way back into a right relationship with God, provided that very way in the most abundant gesture possible:  through the death of God’s own son, Jesus.

What would happen if the church began in earnest to think, speak, act, and serve through a theology of abundance, rather than a theology of scarcity?

Might the church begin to believe that we serve a God who “is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8)?

Might the church begin to speak in such ways that express its faith that God will provide all we need to do the work we’ve been given, even when all the voices around us say it can’t be done?

Might the church begin to act in faith that God’s abundance is always at hand and ready to be tapped into so that the world may be hear the Good News?

Might the church begin taking the risk of thinking about and serving others first, and thereby serve Jesus himself?

If the church is ever going to reach its community and the world, one of the greatest hurdles it must quickly overcome is thinking too small.  We must take the risk of dreaming big.   The God who has called us and to Whom we have responded in faith is not a God of too little.  No, our God is a God of abundance who provides more than enough to do what God has called us to do (Ephesians 3:20-21).

 

The Christmas Rush Friday, Dec 16 2016 

 

how-many-hours-until-christmas-eyzapuizWe are impatient people, aren’t we?

Every year around this time, I hear it.  Sometimes, I get bombarded by it.

“Why aren’t we singing more Christmas songs in worship?  I don’t even know the songs we’re singing now.  Let’s have more Christmas hymns.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these statements or questions.  The problem is they all reflect a prevalent attitude many folks – even church-going folks – tightly hold: the attitude of getting through the season of Advent and rushing into Christmas.

Many folks want to forego the preparation Advent calls for.  They would rather not have to wait or prepare themselves for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Many would prefer skipping right over this sometimes-slowly-moving and uncomfortable season of Advent because it forces us to slow down, to pause all the hectic activities and focus on making ourselves ready for the birth of Christ.  Advent involves taking an honest look at our lives to see where we have gone astray in our journey of faith; to move beyond our superficial mindset of the “sweetness” of Christmas and looking at the difficult task of making ourselves ready: self-examination, confession and repentance.  It can be a long process.

Advent also helps us move beyond the self-centered idea that worship is all about us, as the question above reflects.  We need to be reminded that worship is not about us.  It’s all about God.  The work of Advent serves as that reminder.  We do not worship so we can sing only the songs we know and love.  We don’t worship just so we can “feel good.”  And we don’t worship to be reminded only of those parts of Jesus’ life that we most like.  We worship because it is all about God; it is our response to God’s goodness toward us.  Advent is a big part of that story.

We rush to Christmas at our own peril.  In our own Christmas rushes, we easily forget that the birth of the Messiah long ago involved waiting and watching, preparing for that day.  It still does today.  Rushing to get to Christmas means we won’t have to do the hard work of waiting and watching; of making ourselves ready to welcome the Messiah; of the humbling work of removing ourselves from the center of our own lives so that this newborn King may become the object and reason for our worship.

Living with the season of Advent is often uncomfortable.  It can be tedious.  It is often slow.  But in living with it, we become more receptive to the coming of the Christ child not only into our world, but into our lives.  And when we determine to struggle through Advent, we arrive at Christmas more ready to welcome and celebrate the arrival of the One for whom we have been waiting and preparing.

So, let’s live with the unfamiliarity and discomfort of the Advent season.  Let’s sing at the top of our lungs those unfamiliar hymns of Advent, even if we don’t like them, or appreciate them.  Let’s use this time to remember that when we sing those hymns we don’t know, when we sometimes slog through Advent, it will all be worth it because we have done the difficult work of removing from our lives all that stands in the way of fully receiving, celebrating and worshiping Christ.

We are All “Jedidiah” Wednesday, Oct 19 2016 

beloved03It is difficult – if not impossible – to pick up a newspaper or listen to the news and not hear about another scandal.  Almost every day, we can recite the latest scandal without even thinking about it.

But scandal is nothing new.  Even King David was involved in a not-too-unfamiliar scandal that shook him to his core.

While surveying his kingdom from atop his palace, he spied a beautiful young girl, named Bathsheba, bathing.  It was more than he could take.  He invited her over and she accepted.  And on thing led to another.  Soon, she returned word to David that she was pregnant…with his child!

But that was not the biggest problem.  The biggest problem was that Bathsheba was married.  What would David do about her husband, Uriah?  Well, he tried several things: he invited Uriah home from battle, told him to take some much-deserved time off and spend it with his wife, hoping that such a ruse would dispel any notion that the baby was his own.  But the plan failed.  After trying and failing again, David arranged to have Uriah killed in battle, and no one would be the wiser.

It worked.

Soon, David’s son was born.  But he was a sickly child and died a few days later.  Some time later, David, and Bathsheba had another son.  Nathan, the resident prophet, named the child “Jedidiah” which means “Beloved of the Lord.”  It was Nathan’s way of saying to David that he had been forgiven of his scandal.

Now, how many of us, like David, are carrying around a load of guilt from some indiscretion done years ago?  We can’t seem to let it go.

But there is good news!

I like to imagine the conversation between Nathan and David going like this:

Nathan appears at David’s door.  “I have seen the child,” he said.

“What did you name him?” David asked.  “Did you name him ‘Ichabod’ – ‘the glory of the Lord has departed’?  Is that what you named him?”

“No,” replied Nathan.  “I called him “Jedidiah,” ‘the beloved of the Lord’.”

God takes our sin seriously.  But what is closest to God’s heart is not our sin, but grace.  Whatever guilt you are dragging around with you, let God take it away.  Each of us is “Jedidiah” – beloved of the Lord!

Peace and Progress Friday, Sep 23 2016 

roadHuman beings tend to be people-pleasers. In general, we don’t want to do anything or say anything that would cause distress or “rock the boat.”  So, instead of risking an upset, we say or do nothing. It’s easier, we say, to just maintain the status quo. It is “nicer,” we say to ourselves, to remain where we are than to risk move forward.

But I have been convinced over the years, that peace and progress are incompatible. In other words, if you want to keep the peace, do nothing that would move forward because moving forward will upset someone. On the other hand, if you want to progress, expect the peace to be unsettled.  Again, you will upset someone.

The fact is, we cannot please everyone, even though everyone expects to be “pleased.”  But buying into the idea that we can – and should – make everyone happy is a losing battle.  Such thinking holds us hostage to small-mindedness and fear. And it holds us hostage to those who are displeased. “Peace mongers” (those who seek peace at the expense of progress) often cause stagnation in a church – or any organization – because they do not want to risk upsetting anyone or anything. They are often controlling, attempting to stop any sort of progress so that no one gets upset and people (especially themselves!) remain comfortable. Therefore, they do all they can to sabotage any forward movement.

Look at Jesus’ own ministry. At no time did Jesus allow anyone to keep him from advancing his work for the Kingdom. Many tried to stop him, many tried to “keep the peace,” many tried to convince Jesus to maintain the status quo.

But Jesus knew better. He knew that peace and progress cannot live together. And he let nothing and no one stand in his way…even if it meant losing a follower. He kept his eye on the larger picture (which is impossible for “peace-mongers”), and let that picture guide his every step, until the goal had been attained.

I thank God Jesus did not let those who wanted to keep the peace stand in the way of his mission…else our salvation would have been forfeited. I am thankful that Jesus kept pressing onward, even in the face of stiff opposition.

Ask yourself, “Where do I stand? Do I stand for peace at all cost? Or do I work for progress toward the goal God has set before us?”

You cannot have it both ways.

 

Stuff Happens Tuesday, Sep 20 2016 

stuff-happens

There have been countless times my wife, Tammy, and I have had a conversation that revolves around a statement we have often heard.  We hear the statement – or a variation of it – most often after some tragedy that has befallen a community or a family.  Quite often, it is spoken by well-meaning people – often Christian people – who feel as though they must say something in the face of another person’s pain or grief rather than remain silent.

“Everything happens for a reason.”  Or the variation: “This must have been God’s will.”  The implication is that God causes – or wills – everything that happens.

At first blush, this statement seems encouraging.  Think about it: you or your family have just endured the news of the loss of a loved one.  Word quickly spreads to your friends, community, church, and neighbors.  Like any good person would do, many flock to your side to shower you and your family with love and support.

During the rush of people coming and going, offering to help in whatever way they can – perhaps by providing meals, watching your children, taking care of household things – someone sits next to you on your couch, puts an arm around your shoulders and, as you weep at trying to take in all you have just heard, says, “Everything happens for a reason.  It’s all a part of God’s plan.  You may not know what that plan is, but God never does anything without a purpose.”

The person means well.  He or she is trying to offer comfort in what is the most painful time of your life.  That person may actually believe what was said is true, that everything does happen for some reason we may not be able to see or understand in the moment, but will become clearer as time passes.  Maybe.

Such a sentiment is often offered as comfort.  But, the truth is, it often comforts the one saying it more than the one receiving it.  In other words, it is spoken so that the one saying it is comforted in the fact that he or she “said something.”

It would be better to say nothing at all.

To begin, such an idea portrays God as uncaring, distant, aloof.  It implies that God willfully brings about tragedy.  It is as if God’s hand is literally guiding a person toward misfortune.

When I was nine years old, my family moved to Tulsa, where my father would serve as the senior pastor of an up-and-coming church.  Three days after we moved in – boxes still unpacked – dad walked in the front door, called for my mother who was in the kitchen making grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch for my brother and me, and announced that their oldest son – our brother – had been killed in an accident while serving in the Army.  At that moment, the world stopped.  At nine years old, I was unable to take in what dad had just told us.  My mother collapsed on the floor; dad sat next to her.  My older brother and I just stood there, not knowing what to do or say.

Somehow, word had gotten out in the church.  Within minutes, leaders of the church were at our door.  They had come to express their sorrow and offer any help they could.  One of them was a physician.  He had come to offer his condolences and, thankfully, administer a mild sedative to my mother.  As my brother and I stood there, trying to take it all it, not knowing a single person who came into our house, I saw one of those people sit on the couch next to my mother and heard her say, “You may never know what God’s will is in all this….”

It was the first time I remember thinking to myself “Did God really cause my brother’s death?  Was the accident really not an accident, but something planned…by God?”

The accidents we experience in life – the accident that took my brother’s life – is just that: a random event that.

It was not part of God’s plan.

It was not a case of “everything happens for a reason.”

It was not God’s will.

It just happened.

Simply because a random tragic event occurs – as devastating as it may be – does not mean that good cannot come from it.  The death of my brother serves as an example.  Because of his death, my family was better able to minister to families who have found themselves in similar situations.  We know what it is like to lose a loved on to random events with tragic endings.

God does not will everything that happens.  But in everything that happens, God wills good to come from it.

When tragedy strikes, perhaps knowing this will move us closer to the love, beauty, and wholeness toward which God is constantly calling us.

 

 

 

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