The Spectre of Lost Potential

God doesn’t have a plan for your life.

Give that a moment to sink in because I’m guessing more than one of you wants to push back on that notion right away.  It probably runs counter to some of the very ideas you hold to be true.  But God doesn’t have a plan for your life.  At least not in the way we traditionally think of it.  When bad things happen to us, in a very well-meaning way, Christians try to offer support by telling each other, “God has a plan.” But when you take that thread and follow it to its end, you come out with a very mean God.  Because that means all the bad, horrible, nauseating things that happen to you are CAUSED by God.  That somehow his PLAN includes treating you in an abusive and harsh way.  With that kind of thinking we limit God and imagine our great God almighty wasn’t smart enough to think of a better way to teach you or equip you for life.  But that’s not our God.  Whenever I think about this idea that God has a plan that somehow includes pain and suffering, I think back to my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. McNally.  Mr. McNally was one of the nicest teachers we had. Everyone loved him.  He was well respected by both staff and students alike.  So it came as a shock to find out he was killed by a drunk driver late one night while he was in the car with his son.  They were coming home from a game or something when a guy broadsided his car, killing Mr. McNally.  The drunk driver?  He lived and walked away from the accident.  But Mr. McNally was dead.  Was that really God’s plan, to take him away from his family, his loved ones, and his students?  Or did Mr. McNally have to die tragically just so this drunk driver could learn some kind of life-changing lesson?  Or maybe this guy was just irresponsible, had too much to drink, and killed my high school chemistry teacher because he didn’t have enough sense not to drive.  I think the last one is the most likely.

PicMonkey Collage
Our lives may not be a Hollywood script but some of Deacon Mike’s creations have made their way into some pretty famous ones.

Our lives do not follow some script like a Hollywood movie.

There isn’t some plot twist that justifies the harmful things that happen to us.  Our lives are not meant to go down a specific path that’s been charted out for us.  God DOES have a plan for your life, but it’s the one that he shares with the prophet Jeremiah and through Jeremiah to all of us. God said in Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  So God does have a plan, but just not in the way we often think about it.  God’s plan for us isn’t a map to follow but a hope for a brighter future.  Your life is not pre-determined.  You have free will.  You have choices to make.  And those choices can lead you down a path that brings you closer to God and makes this world more like the Kingdom that he imagines it could be, or we can choose to drift away from God and get swallowed up by what the world thinks is important.

2011-05-15 - Amazing the colors in God's paletteLife is a journey. 

This idea of life and faith being a journey is one that is stuck in my mind, because I believe God is working in us and through us to help us grow closer to God. None of us are born fully complete.  None of us wake up one day with all the answers we need to live a perfect life or to have perfect faith.  It’s like John Wesley said, we are moving toward perfection.  But we aren’t there yet.  At least not the vast majority of us.  If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please find 1 Corinthians 12 beginning with verse 1.  God tells us he has a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future.  But we still have to choose to go down that path.  We still have to choose to take that journey.  Some of us willingly take that path, but others of us are more like Jonah, resisting the entire way.  If you remember his story, when God asked him to go to Tarshish, he ran in the opposite direction until he got eaten by a fish. And even then he only went reluctantly.  And when his mission to the people of Tarshish ended up a glorious success, Jonah got mad and moped about it.  Sometimes that’s what we are like, resistant to God’s will.  But if we ARE open to it, if we ARE willing, this journey is not one we have to make alone.  I believe with all my heart that God places people in our lives to help us along this path.  That if we are open to it, God will guide us and draw us closer to him.  God will not only place people in our path but will equip us for the journey. He gives to each of us gifts for us to use and the beauty of it is that each of us are given different gifts so that we can contribute uniquely to the journey.  As it says in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth this is what he writes.

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Have you ever really thought about what your gifts are?

Sometimes they are obvious, but sometimes we need people in our lives to help point them out to us.  You may think you know what your gifts are, but maybe you have even more gifts than you realize or you have talents that you never thought you could use in service to God.  It’s as Paul writes to us, “I do not want you to be uniformed” but YOU have a gift.  Some of us have many gifts.  Some have more obvious gifts and some more subtle gifts, but whatever gift or gifts you have they all come from the same place, from God.  And he has given you these gifts to make a difference in the lives of others.  And if God has that much faith in you and God has that much faith in me, then I know we can do great things if we have even a mustard seed size amount of faith in God and in the gifts he has given us.

01 Mikes
Mike in his career today (left) and in his comic book days (right)

Everyone thinks of Rev. Mike Friedrich as “Deacon Mike.” 

And even though he has been with us for many years before he became a deacon, how many of you really know who he is?  I thought I knew who he was until I began preparing for this message.  Turns out there is even more to Deacon Mike than he humbly lets on.  My first encounter with Mike was at Annual Conference at the NJAUMC luncheon.  He came representing our church and I was at the time serving in Dinuba.  We got to talking and he told me that prior to serving the church he had worked in the comic book field.  That interested me as I am a lifelong comic book nerd.  He only hinted at the number of works he did, never mentioned the people he worked with, or what kind of contributions he made to the field.  Only later did I find out that many of the stories I grew up with, many of the films I’ve seen in the theater, have been influenced either directly or indirectly by his work.  You may have heard of a few of them.  He worked on such titles as Iron Man, Batman, Justice League of America, and one of my personal favorites, The Flash.  He created or influenced the character history significantly of characters like Thanos (the big bad guy from Avengers: Endgame), Drax (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame), Ant-Man and Adam Warlock who I’m sure we’ll see more of in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3. But as impressive as that is, Mike is known for more than that.  You may have heard of a little gathering of comic book fans called San Diego Comic Con.  Over the years, they grew further and further away from being a comic book convention and became a multi-media convention.  So Mike and some of his companions decided to create a convention that went back to its roots called WonderCon.  Based up in the Bay Area, that convention grew and grew and grew until it caught the notice of an organization – Comic-Con International.  ComicCon bought out WonderCon and now runs it as its second biggest gathering of the year.  What I didn’t know was that Mike was also responsible for one of the first successful forays into independent publishing.  Before there was a thing such as Image Comics, there was Star*Reach.  Star*Reach was the flagship title as well as the company name and they published a number of different titles featuring such noted authors and artists as Jim Starlin, Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Lee Marrs.  For his work, he is being recognized this year at Comic-Con with the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing.  I love the way Mike conceptualized his career.  He said, he started out writing stories about men who put on costumes to bring justice into the world, now he puts on his own (religious) costume to bring justice into the world.[1] But what I think is one of Mike’s great gifts is not that he was a comic book writer, not that he was a publisher, not that he was a union rep for research scientists and technicians at Cal, and not that he founded his own successful comic con.  All of those are pretty amazing, but at least two of the gifts Mike brings to God’s table is a spirit of innovation and perseverance.  He is willing to try new things and comes up with unique ideas.  He’s the first to admit they don’t always work, but he doesn’t let that deter him from trying different ideas to achieve his goal.  For most of us, that kind of commitment to change and challenge is troublesome, but for Deacon Mike he embraces it.  And now that he is working directly for the church he is using those talents in new ways for Christ.

You don’t have to become a deacon or a minister to serve God.

You can serve God in so many different capacities.  The best way you can serve God is naturally.  Finding a way to use your own unique gifts and talents in a way that helps to show the love of Christ to a world that needs it.  To be bold for God in proclaiming his love through the ways you feel God is calling upon you.  I know for Deacon Mike social justice is high on his list and he is gifted in that.  I imagine he will do some wonderful things for God’s kingdom by being an advocate for those who don’t have a voice and I believe he will use his gifts of innovation and perseverance to serve God in a way that will make a difference in a field he is passionate about.  What are you passionate about?  How does your passion fit into God’s kingdom?  How can you use your gifts, your talents, and your passion to challenge yourself to grow in faith, to move closer to Christ, and to serve his kingdom?

01 what if
What If? comic books delve into alternate timelines for our heroes

Growing up one of my favorite comic books was called “What if?”

And they explored alternate timelines where our heroes made different choices that would lead to different outcomes and I was always fascinated by what I would find inside. Sometimes those choices would lead to a vision for a bright future and sometimes it would lead toward the spectre of lost potential.  But it was always up to the author to decide what road to follow.  You have a choice as you always have.  Will you use the gifts God has given you to lead you to the life he has planned for you?  Or will your life be one of lost potential?  Pray this week for the Holy Spirit to open you up to his movement in your life.  Pray about being open to where God is leading.  And be ready to step through the doors God opens up for you, because if you’re willing God is waiting to give you the life he has promised.

 

 

 

[1] https://www.comic-con.org/awards/bill-finger-award-node

Love Without End, Amen

Imagine a world where everyone knew they were loved unconditionally.

In that kind of a world, many of the problems we have today would probably disappear.  Not all of them to be sure, but many of the demons that plague us would vanish.  If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to 1 John chapter 4 and we’ll begin reading from verse 7. 1 John 4:7. Unconditional love is the greatest gift in the world.  It gives you a sense of self-worth, confidence, and assurance that nothing else can give you. People spend their whole lives looking for it.  By its very definition, you can’t buy it, you can’t earn it, you can’t do anything to get it.  It’s the one great equalizer in society because everyone wants it and whether you get it has nothing to do with wealth, fame, or power.  In fact, it’s probably the one thing that’s harder to get the more successful you become because you can’t help but wonder if people love you because of who you are or for what you have.  But God loves us unconditionally, no matter how much we have or don’t have, no matter how much we do or don’t do – God loves us anyway.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

2004-04-07 - Already looking up at Daddy
First day of being a daddy to my little Emma

We love because he first loved us.

As parents, we experience the kind of love God has for us most strongly with our children.  We feel it right from the moment of their birth. Or even before then.  When Cassie was pregnant with Emma, I used to talk to Emma everyday.  Before bed each night, I’d put my head next to Cassie’s stomach and talk to my little unborn baby girl, telling her about my day, about how I can’t wait for her to come out, and saying “good night.”  Sometimes I’d randomly just go up to Cassie’s stomach and just for fun say “Helloooooo in there.”  It was probably a bit embarrassing for Cassie, because I’d do it whenever the mood struck – at home, at the mall, in the car – just whenever.  One night, Cassie started getting some unusual pains and we rushed to the hospital, worried that something had gone wrong.  We sat in this cold, sterile intake room waiting for Cassie to get some kind of medical scan done, and I remember holding her hand and just feeling completely helpless.  The worst part was when they wheeled Cassie away.  They wouldn’t even let me go with her and I sat in this little, tiny waiting room all by myself with Law & Order on the television above me.  I remember thinking about how much I loved my little girl who I hadn’t even seen yet except on some fuzzy sonogram, and praying everything would be alright.  I hadn’t ever felt that anxious before.  Thankfully, it was just a scare and about seven months later, Emma would come out just fine, but I felt like just for a moment I had a glimpse of God’s unconditional love for us – that deep love of God that reaches out to us even before we realize we need it.

2017-03-25 - Daddy daughter night at the theater
Still love our Daddy / Daughter Days – I’ll never get tired of them

It’s that kind of love that John is talking about in this letter. 

It’s the love that comes before we even realize we ARE loved.  In Methodism we call this prevenient grace – the unmerited, undeserved, unasked-for love of God that comes before we even know there IS a God.  And it’s this unconditional love that motivates God to send Jesus on our behalf.  Not because we behaved particularly well.  Not because we did some great deed for God.  But because he knew it was what we needed.  It’s what we do for those we love.  That’s why John writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  When John tells us that we need to love one another in the same way that God loves us, this is the kind of love he’s talking about – the unconditional, self-sacrificing, put-yourself-out-there kind of love.  We don’t do this because we need to “pay God back” or to balance some kind of cosmic debt.  It isn’t love if it requires payment.  We don’t do it to store up God’s good will.  Again, that isn’t love.  Look at what it says in the Gospel of Luke.  In Luke 6, Jesus tells the crowd to love their enemies.  He says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.”  It doesn’t take any effort to love those who already love you because you expect love in return.  Real love is being able to offer it without any expectation, to love the way God loves us.  When we are able to love like that, we have a deeper understanding of God’s love for us.

2011-12-09 - Riverview Ram Dad
Volunteering for Ram Dad Day

Love is essential.  When we are loved, we do better in life.

As a father, there is a unique role we play in the lives of our children and a reason God created us to be fathers in the first place.  It’s not only a duty, but an honor to be a father.  As more research is done, it becomes clearer and clearer that fathers are an important part of a child’s development not just because they are a “second parent” but men specifically interact and behave in ways that help their children become more well-rounded, well-developed people.[1]  Studies have shown that having a loving, involved father increases a child’s chance of getting A’s in school by 43% and children are 33% less likely to repeat a grade.[2]  43% more likely to get A’s.  Children with fathers who play with them on average have higher IQs “as well as better linguistic and cognitive capabilities,” meaning they tend to be more sophisticated in both speech and thinking.[3]   Children with involved fathers tend to be more sociable, exhibit better self-control, and tend to be more popular.  They were less likely to lie, experience depression, and more likely to engage in pro-social behavior.  The more we learn about fathers, the more we realize how important they are.  Not that mothers are any less important, but too often in society the job of raising children has fallen on mothers.  The well-being and welfare of a child rests solely on her shoulders when it should be shared by both parents.  Fathers have a deeper responsibility than society gives them credit for or often expects of them, but not less than what God expects.  In Ephesians we hear from Paul that fathers are responsible for bringing up their children in the “training and instruction of the Lord” and are called not to exasperate them.  In the letter to the Colossians, Paul writes that fathers should not embitter their children, or they will become discouraged.  God places upon fathers an expectation of love and encouragement that is important in how they grow up.

Love is a choice.

Love isn’t just a feeling.  Love is a choice.  We shouldn’t love our children just when we feel like loving them.  We shouldn’t love them when they deserve it.  We shouldn’t make them earn our love.  We should love them simply because they are our children.  But what we SHOULD do and what we DO do are not always the same.  Ultimately, love is still a choice as evidenced by the unfortunate number of fathers out there who are not involved in their children’s lives.  One in three children live in a fatherless household.[4]  48% of those see their children less than once a month.  31% say they don’t even call or email once a month.[5]  We choose what’s important in our lives.  We choose who to love and how to love even if it’s only ourselves.  It is a choice we make moment by moment just as God constantly chooses to love us despite our rebelliousness.  And just as we are loved by God, we must also choose to love our children so that when they explore faith for themselves, they have an idea of what it means to have a loving God in Heaven.  It’s hard to imagine a loving Father above when right here ours is absent.  Love is a choice.  And God chooses to love us everyday.   We must choose to love also.

2009-11-07 - Emma, Me and Ariel
One of my favorite Daddy / Daughter Days together

We don’t always realize the importance of the role we play in the lives of our children.

Academically, socially, and spiritually, too.  How involved a father is in the faith life of their children influences greatly the future faith of their children as well.  Fathers who go to church regularly have a greater impact on the future of their children being in church than their mothers.  In fact, if a father goes to church regularly with their mother, 75% of their children will still be in church either regularly or irregularly as adults.  If a father doesn’t go to church but the mother does only 39% of their children will go to church at all, with only 2% being regular attenders.[6]  As a father, we have a greater responsibility to our children’s well-being than we often think.  We influence not just their life here, but their eternal life as well.  On this Father’s Day, I want to encourage you to show your unconditional love to the people important in your life.  Encourage, embolden, and love your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren so that they may know not only your love but the model of love God has for them.

One of my favorite songs in the world is by George Strait.

And it speaks directly to this idea of unconditional love that fathers should have for their children.  It’s called “Love Without End, Amen” and in it, he begins by singing about his own rebellious childhood and how he would get into trouble at school.  He prepares this whole speech for his father while he is waiting for his dad to come home and after giving it, he waits for his punishment.  But instead, his father tells him, “Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love.  A secret that my daddy said was just between us.  You see daddies don’t just love their children every now and then.  It’s a love without end, amen.”  When his own child gets in trouble, he decides to share the same words with his own son and passes down to another generation this idea of unconditional love between parent and child.   He says to his son, “Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love.  A secret that my daddy said was just between us.  You see daddies don’t just love their children every now and then.  It’s a love without end, amen.”  And in the middle of the night, he dreams that he’s died and realizes that he has lived a far from perfect life.  He says, “if they know half the things I’ve done they’ll never let me in.  Then somewhere from the other side, I heard these words again, ‘Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love.  A secret that my daddy said was just between us.  You see daddies don’t just love their children every now and then.  It’s a love without end, amen.’”  The unconditional love that we have for our children comes from the unconditional love God has for us.  We must as fathers and grandfathers and parents in general, offer this unconditional love to our kids.  All children deserve to know the love of their father – both here and in Heaven.

[1] http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/parenting_roles/the_involved_father.aspx

[2] http://www.thefatherhoodproject.org/10-facts-about-father-engagement/#_edn7

[3] https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/fatherhood/

[4] http://www.fatherhood.org/media/consequences-of-father-absence-statistics

[5] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/06/15/a-tale-of-two-fathers/

[6] http://www.christianpost.com/news/fathers-key-to-their-childrens-faith-51331/

The Lasting Power of Casserole

What do you think of when you hear the word “church?”

If you’re like most of us, you probably think of a white building with a steeple on top with a cross towering high overhead.  You might think about stained glass windows or pews or a preacher.  You probably think of pulpits and potluck dinners.  A lot of things with the letter “p.”  But none of those things are “church.” The church is really about a people instead of a place.  The word “church” comes from the Greek ekklesia or “assembly.”  It doesn’t by itself have any special definition beyond that.  But when Jesus asked Simon who he was and Simon said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus responded, “…I tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my ekklesia… my church…”  In that moment, the word ekklesia gathered a new meaning, because Jesus wasn’t talking about any old assembly of people.  He was talking about HIS assembly – the children of God.

2007-09-23 - Near the entrance to my office
One of the church buildings on the Roswell UMC campus had the classic church “look”

But don’t let that go to your heads.

Being the children of God and acting like it are two totally different things.  It goes back to what we’ve shared before, “Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car.”[1]  So what does it actually mean to be the church?  When we recite the Apostles’ Creed we say we believe in the “holy catholic church” and the “communion of saints” but to the outsider, it must seem like we’re kind of self-righteous.  I mean we call ourselves “holy” and “saints.” It doesn’t take a long, meaningful look into church history to realize there were plenty of times we didn’t act very holy or saint-like. But like most ideas, our concept of “holy” and “saint” has changed over time and we’ve added tons of meaning behind it that wasn’t there to begin with.  “Holy” simply means “sacred to” or “set apart for” and in our case holy means we are people who recognize we are set apart for God. That doesn’t mean we’re super-special or that God has a gold star next to our name. Being holy is our recognition that our lives are devoted to God and not the other way around. As Adam Hamilton wrote in his book, Creed, the church is holy “when those who consider the church home don’t ask ‘What do we want our church to do for us?’ but rather ‘What does God want his church to do for him?’”[2] The same thing is true for the word “saint.”  “Saint” is derived from the Greek hagios which is often translated as “holy.”  It simply refers to a person who acts as if their life belongs to God.

2018-10-31 - Halloween Giveaway
I love this pic of our church getting ready to serve the community on Halloween!

That is the work God calls on us to do as his people.

We are supposed to be the people of God in the world, but even our perception of “church” has evolved over the years. Today it’s more about a place than a people.  But that’s not at all the way God meant for it to be.  Back in the days of the disciples, they didn’t have a place of worship unless it was the temple.  By the way, that’s how much they loved God. Today a “regular church-goer” is someone who attends more than once a month but back then they would go twice in one day! First to the temple and then to the gathering of God’s people, usually in someone’s home.  God’s idea of church was something inside of us.  It wasn’t based on a location but anywhere the people of God showed up as Peter wrote in his letter to the church.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

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Our church family (and friends) at Easter worship here at BMUC

YOU are the church!

Like the words to that classic hymn, “I am the church, YOU are the church, WE are the church together.”  And that’s what Peter was trying to make clear to the Christ followers of his time.  He told them God was building them up not from the outside but from the inside.  He was telling them, yes, God is building his church, but it isn’t a place but a people.  The spiritual house God is building starts with Jesus as the cornerstone and each one of us are the brick and mortar of this never-ending structure known as the people of God. In my head, I picture a sort of Winchester House for Jesus, a building always under construction, shaped by the people who comprise it.  If you’ve ever been to the Winchester House, you know that Sarah Winchester had the superstitious belief that construction on the house must be never-ending to appease the spirits of those killed from the rifles made by her husband’s rifle company.  Legend has it that Mrs. Winchester never stopped adding to her house, constantly adding new features, rooms, and adornments throughout her life.  That sense of never-ending construction of God’s house is how I picture each of us being worked on all throughout our lives; to become better disciples of Christ and to add to the beauty of the spiritual house we call the church.

2018-10-07 - Greg cleaning the stained glass window
It is a blessing to have a worship space as beautiful as ours is at BMUC, but it’s the people inside that make it our church

Too often church becomes simplified to a building.

Or worse, the people of God forget they are the people of God and place so much importance on the forms and functions of “church” that they forget that “church” is just the people inside the building. And when the people inside the building act in ugly and unforgiving ways, when the people inside the building are unloving, unchanging, and unwilling, then the church begins to crumble no matter how beautiful the outside is.  When I was in seminary, one of my fellow pastors told us about a congregation he knew of that had split over a couch.  By all measure, it was an ugly couch.  It was lopsided.  It had lumps.  It was an eyesore to most.  But it was donated by a beloved member who had a lot of family attending that place.  For years, no one said anything but finally someone suggested they replace it with a new couch and almost immediately people took sides – those who wanted to keep it and those who wanted to get rid of it.  In the end, they couldn’t resolve their differences and they split the church in two.  Over an ugly couch.  It’s one of the reasons why I am opposed to putting plaques on anything.  I don’t know why we feel the need to memorialize someone by putting a metal plaque on some object.  It just makes it harder to get rid of when it’s time.  You know the old saying about not naming your food?  It’s doubly true for the church.  It makes it that much harder for us to let go of the trappings of church, even when we know we should.

2014-03-11 - First cooked meal since we are back - tuna casserole
Who would guess you could find the love of Christ in a casserole?

For me, church became real in the power of a casserole.

Or many.  For all of the knowledge I had gained about what it meant to be a follower of Christ, it took on new life in a casserole dish.  When Cassie gave birth to Emma, the families belonging to our Sunday School group all took turns and brought food to us for the entire week.  THE ENTIRE WEEK!  And there was always enough for leftovers so I pretty much didn’t have to cook or make anything at all.  And they didn’t just bring casserole, but chicken and spaghetti and lasagna and other dishes so we had a variety every single day.  And it wasn’t just the main course either.  They brought salads, veggies, and even dessert.  Pretty much all I supplied was the milk.  We hadn’t asked for the help, but that made it all the more meaningful.  They anticipated our need before we even expressed it.  It gave me more time to just dote on Cassie and our new baby girl.  It gave me time to make sure Eve was doing okay and to spend time with her, too.  It was just a tremendous blessing to our family.  These people not only WENT to church, but they WERE the church.  And that’s what I believe God calls on all of us to do – to be the church in the world today.

That doesn’t mean what we do here isn’t important. 

Worship is the heartbeat of all we do.  I know if it wasn’t for a worship service that touched my heart, I don’t think I would have stayed around long enough to know that God wanted me, too.  Good sermons not only teased my brain about who God was, but gave me the confidence to keep asking questions.  Incredible music uplifted my spirit and revealed God to me in a new and different way.  Missions work is important.  If it wasn’t for the opportunity to connect to our community and our world, I don’t know if I would have had a broader view of what it meant to be a follower of Christ.  Volunteer opportunities were important to help me test my own gifts and see where I could contribute.  And obviously, small groups were important for me.  It was where I was best able to see how what we learned in worship lived itself out in life.  So what we do as a church is important.  But never forget this.  Jesus didn’t give his life for us just so we could GO to church.  He wanted us to BE the church, too.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] I wish I could claim credit for that snappy line, but I heard it from someone else and if I ever figure out who, I will give them full credit!

[2] Adam Hamilton, Creed, p. 108.

Equal in All Things

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. – Galatians 3:23-29

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My mom when I was still inside her tummy

I want to share a little bit with you about my mom. 

My mom is great.  She is the kind of mom all the neighborhood kids knew.  My buddy Rick would come over and we’d play backgammon for hours at our dining room table.  My friend Jay would come over and we’d go a few rounds of Rummikub and often times my mom would join in. Whenever we had study groups, she would always offer for my friends to come over to our house.  In fact, when we were studying for the SATs and pulled a couple of all-nighters, it was at our home where my friends crashed. My mom would always bust out the popcorn and chips and soda for everyone, and there were times I wondered if my friends actually liked me or just my mom.  My mom was “the cool mom.”  She listened to top 40 music, watched the movies we liked to watch, and followed along with all of our TV shows.  But it was also my mom who got me into liking the Beatles.  We’d spend hours on Los Angeles freeways and my mom would often turn the radio to KRLA – the “oldies” station and there I would hear the likes of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  My mom was the one who got me interested in Star Trek.  She was a big fan and we’d watch them on KTLA channel 5 almost every afternoon. I used to do the Vulcan Death Grip on my sister Karen all the time and watch her wriggle to the ground in laughter.  My mom also introduced me to Tommy’s Hamburgers, a culinary haven for chili burgers.  My mom was such an important influence on my life on who I turned out to be, it’s hard for me to fathom how sexism continues to thrive today.

Ordinands on the landing
My fellow clergy – both men and women and all more than capable of serving God faithfully

What’s worse? It happens in the church. 

There are still people today who believe women should not be leaders in the church.  There are people who believe women should stay silent.  There are people today who believe women do not belong as pastors and preachers.  And they use the Bible to justify their sexist, prejudicial attitudes.  It’s not enough they quote from Ephesians to tell women they should be subservient to their husbands and how they’ve used the Bible to justify the physical abuse many women have suffered over the years.  But they also use the Bible to tell women how to behave inside the walls of the church.  1 Corinthians 11 – women should cover their heads.  1 Corinthians 14 – women should remain silent in church and bow to the wisdom of their husbands.  1 Timothy 2 – women do not have the permission to teach a man or to have authority over him.  When I was at Candler School of Theology, I read a story about a Southern Baptist seminary that fired all but one of the female professors when they got a new president because of this passage of Scripture.[1]  He wanted to hold to what he believed was the Christian idea of the role of women.  The only female professor they kept was his wife who taught home economics.  She would teach classes on how to properly keep a Biblical household including of course the “biblical model for the home and family.”[2]

But the author of those passages is the same one who wrote the letter to the followers in Galacia. 

This is the Paul who said we are all equal before God.  That there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no man nor woman in Christ Jesus.  Paul says very clearly that in all things we are equal before Christ.  So which Paul was proclaiming the truth?  Those who are against women leaders in the church would have you believe that is not what Paul is saying.  They would tell you that Paul is saying that although we ARE all equal before God, we have different roles to play in the greater order of things.  That men are supposed to be leaders and women are supposed to be followers.  That men are in charge of making decisions and that women are fit for sitting quietly.  And yet.  And yet, I tell you that this very same Bible these fundamentalists are deriving their support from shows us women ARE to be placed in positions of leadership.  They ARE to provide guidance and instruction. And they are NOT to stay silent.

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My mentor and later my DS, Debra Brady, helped me in so many ways and taught me a lot about myself

The Bible has many examples of women in leadership.

Take for example, Deborah from the book of Judges in the Old Testament.  It was Deborah who held the favor of the Lord and to whom the Lord spoke.  It was Deborah who led the Israelites to victory against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite armies, and gave Israel their freedom.  And it was Deborah to whom Barak the leader of Israel’s armies bowed down in submission.  God had truly been working in Deborah as the leader of the Israeli people.  The Bible tells us, “Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until you, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.” (Judges 5:7)  But such role models weren’t limited to the Old Testament. We see equally strong examples of women faithful to God in the New Testament as well.  Even women in Paul’s own ministry who taught the Word of God.  Phoebe, Priscilla, and Junia are just three of the women who Paul NAMES as instrumental in starting the Christian movement.  Phoebe was considered a deacon and was likely the person Paul entrusted to deliver the letter to the church in Rome.[3] Priscilla joined her husband in teaching others about the fullness of God, and she even taught Apollos, a man who was considered a great follower of Jesus.  Why would Apollos listen to a woman if God’s Word was meant to be taught only by men to men?  Maybe Apollos, recognizing the gift of teaching in Priscilla as given by God, felt he had much to learn and ignored what society said and instead listened to God. And finally, Junia.  Although only recently discovered among the earliest of manuscripts, this person from the letter to the Romans (16:7) had long been translated as Junias, a male name.  Some scholars believe that men, threatened by the fact Paul of all people would consider a woman to be an apostle, could not bring themselves to believe it and substituted a man’s name in the place of this dedicated woman. For a woman to be called an apostle, especially by Paul whose writings have long established the role of men and women in the church, would be to marginalize Paul’s writings about women.

So why did Paul write the things he wrote in those letters?

Why did he make it seem he was against women as leaders if he actually made them leaders? Many scholars believe Paul was writing to specific ministries and addressing their challenges in their context.  He wasn’t writing to all women in all circumstances.  If you notice, each of the arguments used to suppress women in church come from Paul’s letters to specific people in specific ministries or to specific churches like the church in Corinth.  Unlike the Gospels which contain none of these difficult passages, these were letters written to specific people.  His instructions then applied to these select societies for their situations only and were never meant to apply for all time to all women everywhere.  Some argue these passages DO apply to all women and some even cite the book of Genesis as establishing the hierarchy of men over women.  Since men were created first, then men were obviously meant to set the tone for the human race.   But what about fish?  What about birds?  Since they were created before men, should we be subservient to them?  Some will argue that because it was a woman who brought sin into the world they should hold a lower place in society, but that is a constructed argument and not one you’ll find anywhere in the Bible.  And those same people forget that Adam sinned equally before God.  He ate of the fruit as well and of his own free will.  Instead, we should judge by the fruit of the Spirit as Christ commanded us to, instead of our own human interpretation.

Today, it brings me to think of a mother who embodied this fruitful spirit.

Susanna Wesley, mother of all 19 children in the Wesley clan, was a person that God used mightily in the life of young John and in the lives of the people around her. [4]  While her husband, Samuel was away in London she had begun to read to her children and teach them about the Bible as a supplement to what they heard in church.  Her servants told Samuel’s parents about this and they came to hear.  They were so impressed with her lessons that they told friends as well, and soon the number of people who came regularly to Mrs. Wesley’s lessons numbered in the hundreds.  Over 200 to be exact which upset the curate to no end who had fewer people attending worship than Mrs. Wesley, a WOMAN, was receiving.  He wrote in complaint to her husband and Samuel responded by telling Susanna that it was his desire for her to stop.  She wrote back, telling him “what good the meetings had done, and that none were opposed to them but Mr. Inman (the curate) and one other. She then concluded (her letter) with these wonderful sentences: ‘If after all this you think fit to dissolve this assembly do not tell me you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity for doing good when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.’”  Needless to say, Samuel didn’t send any such command.    You could say that Susanna was Methodism’s first female pastor.

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Two special women who deserve all the dignity and respect in the world

Anyone who reads the Bible knows that women play an important role in the shape of our faith today.

But it doesn’t take much to also know that women were often mistreated by those who claim to be faithful, let alone by those outside the faith.  There are many stories in the Bible that tell of horrible things having been done to women and more stories about how little society thought of them.  But in none of those stories does Jesus ever support that kind of thinking, nor did he ever treat women in that way.  In fact, Jesus treated women with dignity and respect and even though we expect that today, it wasn’t expected in his time.  If Jesus is the barometer by which we judge our own actions, then shouldn’t we model Christ rather than society?  To diminish a woman based on her gender is to do a grave disservice to all people everywhere.  We should respect people the way that Jesus did.  We should uplift people instead of forcing them down.  We should seek to encourage their gifts instead of denying them.  We should value all people everywhere as individuals and as God’s children for as God’s children, we are all equally loved by God.  As God’s children, we are all equally loved by God.  Far too often, the marginalized in society are treated as if they don’t matter.  They are treated like property or objects or tools to be discarded when used.  At one time, this group included women, children, people of color but especially those of African descent, and those who identify as LGBTQ.  If we spend long enough, we can add even more to that list. And still too often, society still excludes these groups. What’s worse is when the people of God use the Word of God to justify actions God would never want us to do.  I have a daughter, and that is not the world I want her to have to grow up in.  I have a wife who should never feel marginalized because of her gender or for any reason.  We must find a way to offer dignity and respect to all human beings and to modify what the great Dr. Martin Luther King said, to judge people not on the color of their skin, or their biological gender, or the way they identify themselves, or any other constructed way of defining one another, but instead on the “content of our character.”  On this Mother’s Day, remember the women in your lives who by the content of their character made a difference in yours.  Whether they are your biological mother, your adoptive mother, your grandmother, your friend who was like a mother to you, make sure you let them know how important they are and how much you love them.  And not just today, but everyday, honor, cherish, and value them for the people that they are.

 

 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/27/us/27baptist.html

[2] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-08-11-homemaking_N.htm

[3] Archaeological Study Bible, p. 1860.

[4] http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/wesley/susannawesley.stm

Craig’s Kitchen – Simple Fried Rice

No revelations here.

What you’re about to read will not shock you.  It will not change your life.  But maybe it will offer a new or different way of making fried rice!  It’s a favorite of my family and I thought I would share it so others could enjoy it, too.  I would also love to hear of your own variations to this simple yet tasty dish.

I became fascinated with fried rice when my dad made wienies and fried rice for me as a kid. It was a hearty, satisfying, tasty meal that pretty much involved seemingly two ingredients – hot dogs sliced up into diagonal pieces and rice all cooked up in a skillet.  The wiener goodness would mix with the rice and would taste so good.  I think my dad added a little oil to the pan to make it fry better but that oil would penetrate the rice and give it a slightly buttery taste.

But fried rice was elevated to another level when we ate at Sakura Chaya in Fresno.  Watching these hibachi artisans cook up a bowl of tasty fried rice was fascinating and I’d eat every last bite – and then some.  Everyone in our family loved it, especially Cassie, so I started watching and taking mental notes about how they did it.  The key seemed to be seasoning salt and butter.  Yummy butter.  The other ingredients complimented it and varied the flavor, but the key to good fried rice was seasoning and butter.  And really good soy sauce.  But you can classify that under seasoning.

The list of ingredients is simple.  It’s really how you mix them that makes a difference.

Fried Rice Ingredients
I’m a big fan of the gluten-free soy sauce whether you are eating gluten-free or not. The flavor is just amazing.

Ingredients

  • 3 uncooked cups of rice (by “cups” I mean the little cup that comes with your rice cooker.  They are about one full cup each)
  • Kikkoman Gluten-Free Soy Sauce – I love this particular brand because it’s not as dense as Tamari but has an even more impacted umami flavor than regular soy sauce.
  • Thick-cut bacon – We use Wellshire which I love.  Personally, I think this is the best brand because it has a nice thickness and the meat is flavorful without artificial additives.  Good bacon is just good.
  • Ghee or Salted Butter – I like ghee since it’s just clarified butter, but regular salted butter is just terrific.  I like using 4th and Heart Ghee, especially the Himalayan Salt version or if going with butter, I like Kerrygold since it’s made from grass-fed cows
  • Lawry’s Seasoning Salt – Use whatever seasoning salt you like best, but Lawry’s looks and tastes the most like the stuff they use at Sakura Chaya (I could never get them to actually tell me the ingredients)
  • Two Large Eggs – Depending on how “eggy” you like it.  Two is plenty and in fact you might want to cut back a bit if you don’t like a lot of egg in your fried rice.  But some egg gives it texture and flavor so don’t omit unless you just don’t like egg or can’t eat it.
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Yum…it does taste good. Remember you can add whatever you like to it.

Beyond that, you can add whatever you like!  This is the base for my “Breakfast Fried Rice” but at times I like to add green onions for more added flavor or kamaboko (fish cake) for texture and depth or you could add different meats in addition to the bacon (but you gotta use bacon).  Really it’s whatever floats your boat.

  1. Cook the rice – However you cook rice just have it cooked by the time you put it in the pan.  Jasmine rice works great.  Seems to absorb the flavors well.  My favorite is plain old Japanese sticky rice (not the sweet rice, but the plain sticky rice).  Our family like Botan but that’s a preference thing.
  2. Cook the bacon – Cut the bacon (literally) into little squares.  Ideally, they should be as uniform as you can get it, but don’t worry too much.  Bacon is bacon.  I cut them with a pair of kitchen scissors – first into strips and then the strips into squares or rectangles.  I fry them up in a large pan with a non-stick bottom until they are just barely all nice and crispy.  Stir them around occasionally to make sure the pieces separate and cook relatively evenly.  The scoop them out onto a plate, BUT LEAVE THE BACON DRIPPINGS IN THE PAN!  Key.
  3. Put the cooked rice in the bacon pan.  Mix it up so that the bacon drippings coat the rice grains.  This should cause some separation in the rice grains, but that’s good!  It makes it even easier to mix everything.  This is where I add ghee.  I don’t have a specific amount I add because it depends on how well coated the rice is.  Some bacon is more “drippy” than others.  I always put some ghee because that butter flavor is awesome.
  4. Sprinkle the Lawry’s Seasoning Salt all over the rice so there is a good single layer of it and begin mixing it all up.  Once you’ve mixed it some, add the soy sauce liberally over the rice.  Most of the grains of rice should turn a brown-ish color from the soy sauce.  It’s okay if some are still white.  What you want is a good flavor without too much saltiness.  You’ll be surprised how much soy sauce the rice can take.  I probably use about 2-3 TBSP.  Mix well.
  5. Flatten the rice as much as you can in the pan and let it sit for about 3 or 4 minutes.  What you hope is to develop a little bit of crust on the bottom.  Not so it’s hard but with just a tad of crunch.  While the rice is sitting, beat the eggs together in a small bowl.  I like to add just a tad of milk (like 1 tsp) and salt and pepper with it.  Once beaten and mixed set aside briefly.
  6. Lift up the rice and fold it over so that the bottom comes to the top and you mix it up again.  Once mixed, move the whole pile to one side of the pan to make room for the eggs. Pour as much of the egg mixture as you want.  We use about 1 1/2 eggs (but since eggs don’t come in halves, I just mix together two and use about 1 1/2).  I scramble the eggs until they are just this side of fluffy (not overcooked) and start breaking them up.  Once broken up, I mix it together into the rice, add back the bacon, and stir well until it is all mixed together.  This is where I would add things like kamaboko or green onions or chicken (cooked) depending on what you want.
  7. Serve and enjoy!

 

Pictures on a Refrigerator

I wonder when it came to an end.

I can’t remember if I was seven or eight or even older, but at some point I stopped giving things to my mom to put on the fridge. I bet she was disappointed. We weren’t much of a fridge family. I don’t remember there ever being a lot up there. We had a set of alphabet letters I used to love playing with and I know I ruined many a surface around the house with my stickers, but mostly the refrigerator was used for utilitarian purposes – reminder notes, commonly used phone numbers, things like that. Still I remember specifically this drawing I did my mom put on the refrigerator. It was a drawing of the Mach 5 that I did for my dad’s birthday. I must have been about five at the time. At that age, I used to love drawing cars of all kinds – any vehicle really. I’d invent my own tanks, my own submarines, my own rocket ships, but my inspiration for all of them was the Mach 5 from the show Speed Racer. Naturally, he’d want a picture of the Mach 5, for his birthday right?

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The Mach 5 in scale model

At some point, I stopped making drawings for my parents.

I don’t know why in particular. Maybe I thought it was kids’ stuff. Or maybe my thoughts were just focused on other things. And even though they understood, I think I forgot how important they were to who I am today. We do the same thing to God. We forget him. And if we’re honest, many of us do it pretty regularly. In the day-to-day bustle of our lives, it’s easy to put God on the back burner. But God misses us. God wants us to have a deep and abiding relationship with him. And when we turn away, even though he understands, God hopes we will one day turn around and come home. Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son to his disciples to illustrate this point.

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

God is waiting for you!

How incredible is that? What an amazing feeling it is to know that no matter how far we’ve gone, no matter what we have done, God is waiting for you to come home. And when you do, he will celebrate your return! I’m sure the son who came back was not expecting a banquet. In fact, I imagine he was expecting quite the opposite. He was prepared to grovel and beg for forgiveness. He probably assumed his father would be likely to reject him, and why wouldn’t he? The son had treated his father with utter contempt and disrespect, demanding his inheritance even before his father had died. He was basically saying to his dad, “I wish you were dead, then I could live the life I want to live!”[1] How self-centered would you have to be to do something like that? So the son knew to return home would be more than just swallowing his pride. He even prepared a speech to say when he came back, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But he was DESPERATE. His life was so bad he wished he was eating the food of pigs. That he was reduced to being a servant of pigs would have alone been seen as ghastly to the Jewish people hearing this story.[2] After all pigs were unclean animals. But to be reduced to wishing for food good enough for pigs? It was humiliation piled on top of humiliation. He had to go back and just hope for forgiveness. But what did his father do instead? He gave him a celebration! He killed the best calf and had a big party! To come home to that kind of reception must have been beyond the son’s wildest dreams.

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From Emma’s baptism – both sides of the family coming together to celebrate

Whenever one of God’s children comes home, he celebrates.

And we are all God’s children. We are all his creation. So no matter how far any of us strays from the path, he is just so happy you’re back. It’s like the story of the lost sheep. The shepherd doesn’t spend time nurturing the 99. They are happy and content and being well fed. They are safe because they have each other. So the shepherd goes after the 1 who is lost and astray and does everything he can to bring him home. God keeps reaching out to us through the people in our lives around us. Through your boyfriend or girlfriend who asks you to go to church. Through your grandmother who offers to say a prayer for you. Through that little flyer in the mail that says, “Come visit us!” God keep reaching out hoping one day you’ll respond. And he is patient. So patient he is willing to wait as long as it takes to bring people home. We read that in Peter’s second letter to the church where is responding to some people who are anxious for Jesus’ return as prophesied. And he tells them, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).” That’s how important you are to God. He’ll hold the bus just for you. He’ll keep the doors open on the train just for you. If you’ve ever been on a subway or rapid transit system, you know how important that is. You could be literally just a few seconds away from getting on board, but there is no mercy on the rapid transit system. Or if you’ve ever raced to the elevator and someone holds it open for you. You know they could have gone. It would have saved them some time. But instead they waited for you. So does God. God is waiting for you.

You are here reading this now.

So obviously God is important to you. But how often during the week do we spend time with God? Most of us probably struggle with that to some extent. We are busy. Working, trying to pay the bills, running around with the kids. It probably feels like there is no time left for God in our busy, busy schedule. But what I’m saying is you should MAKE time for God. And not just because it will make God happy (because it will), but because we all need God more than we like to admit. That’s the flip side to the story. It’s more than “come back to God because it will make him happy.” It’s “come back to God because you need him more than you realize.” God gives us that peace that passes all understanding. God gives us the plug to fill the giant spiritual hole in our lives. All we need to do is come home to receive it. God shouldn’t be someone you “make time for.” God should be the one indispensible part of your life that you ALWAYS have time for. It’s everything else that needs to make room for God.

A plate Emma made for me just because – one of my most precious possessions

We are a fridge family.

Ever since Emma was little, we put stuff up on the refrigerator. Drawings, pictures, awards, report cards – you name it and it went up on the fridge. We kept every single ornament Emma made since she was in kindergarten and those go up on the Christmas tree every year, too. Not just because they are meaningful to us (which they are) but because I hope she knows that no matter where she is or what she is doing I love her and I’m proud of her. She is my child. And she always has a place to come home to as long as I’m around. God feels that way about all of us. He loves us so much he doesn’t care how far away we are or what we are doing. He wants us to know there is always a place to come home to. Make time in your life for what is truly important – faith, family, and friends. Don’t neglect those things just because something seems more urgent. I think you’ll find that when you make time for what’s really important, your life will go much better than if you don’t. If you don’t carve out time for those things, you’ll find how easily they slip away when in truth they are the most important parts of who you are. I may not draw pictures for my parents very much, but I still have a way to put something up on their wall. Every year, we create a family calendar with pictures and words that we send to both my parents and Cassie’s mom. It’s my own small way of taking time out to let them know, even though we aren’t around as much, they are still so very important to us. Make sure you take time out to let God know he is still in your heart, too. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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[1] http://www.crivoice.org/inheritance.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Prodigal_Son

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This Message Is Biased

Nobody believes me, but this story is 100% true.

I used to secretly take care of my baby sister, Nicole.   My mom and dad were of the mindset that you need to let a baby cry her self to sleep. But they didn’t share a wall with her. My bed was right there and I could hear her clearly every night. And while I might mentally have understood the rationale behind letting her cry, there was the emotional side of me that felt like she was being tortured. It was one thing if she cried for a little while, but when it would get so hard you could hear her gasping for breath, I just couldn’t take it. The first time I tried to sneak out of my room to pick her up, I made the mistake of thinking my parents were asleep and got caught. “Let her cry. It’s good for her,” I heard my mom say from her room. “Okay!” I said dejectedly. The next time, I made sure to be extra quiet. I found out that if I held up the side of the crib while gently pushing the hinge with my foot, it wouldn’t make any noise so that’s what I would do. I’d let Nicole cry for a while so it would seem she cried herself to sleep, and then I would go in her room, pick her up, and rock her in my arms. Sometimes her diaper was soiled so I would quietly change her and throw away the evidence. But if you ask my family about any of this, they would totally deny it. They say it never happened. And I would argue, how would they know? The whole point was that it was a SECRET!

My youngest sister Nicole with my daughter Emma way back in 2005

We tend to see life from our own point of view.

Not that I blame anyone, but that’s just the way it is. We assume people share our values, our life experiences, and our perception of right and wrong. But they don’t. Not always. We might both agree that hurting someone is bad, but is letting a baby cry her self to sleep bad? Or is that actually a loving thing to do? Even when we seek the same goal, sometimes we can’t agree on the how we should get there. I think both my parents and myself wanted the same thing with my little sister – that she would stop crying and we could all get some sleep (just kidding Nicole)! But how we go about accomplishing our goals can be different. Mine, of course, was right. But isn’t that usually the case? We seldom take the time to stop and consider a different point of view.

That doesn’t mean everybody’s right.

It just means we all THINK we’re right.  And if we’re going to get along with one another, we need to take the time and effort to understand “the other.”  I don’t believe in relativism or relativistic thinking meaning I don’t believe that everything is “true.”  I do believe there are fundamental truths in the world.  Like love.  And Christ.  But we should at least consider other points of view before dismissing them out of hand.  Because when we ignore other ideas, we miss opportunities in life that could completely change the way we think and act.  We might miss opportunities to grow in our faith and to have a better understanding of the world.  It’s the arrogance of assurance – being so sure of your point of view and your beliefs that you are unwilling to be open to new ideas.  It’s the kind of thing that happened to the Pharisees when they encountered Jesus.  They already had their minds made up about him by the time we get to our reading today.  It pretty much didn’t matter what Jesus did, they thought he was a heretic and a danger to their way of life – even if that way of life was wrong like in this example from the Bible.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. – Matthew 12:1-14

How sad it is for the Pharisees.

They were alive during the most incredible, miraculous moment in all of human history and their only thought is about how to kill the Messiah. They saw Jesus breaking the rules! But they didn’t think about whether or not those rules should be broken. They were so rigid in their thinking that they failed to see the most miraculous thing right before their very eyes. Jesus actually performed a miracle right in front of them! He healed a man’s shriveled hand completely and made him physically whole and the only thought in the Pharisees’ heads was, “How can we kill him.” But before we dismiss the Pharisees too easily, imagine ourselves in their shoes. Think about all the world’s ills that are caused because of our own short-sighted vision. The biggies like racism, sexism, and homophobia just to name a few. All justified by the Bible (supposedly). And later overturned by the Bible.

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Hard to believe that much of slavery was justified by Christians from a false interpretation of the story of Noah

The truth is the Bible never said those things.

We just made it up. The entire justification for enslaving people from Africa came from a twisted reading from the story of Noah in the Old Testament where Noah’s sons find him passed out from a huge bender he had on his own.[1] His son Ham finds him drunk, naked, and passed out and tells his brothers about it and the brothers cover up their dad without looking at him. Instead of being ashamed at his behavior, Noah instead gets mad and curses, get this, Ham’s son, Canaan. Not Ham, but Ham’s son. Ham had other sons, too and nowhere does it say that Canaan was even around when all of this happened. But Noah lays a curse upon him anyway. Now instead of assuming that Noah was just a mean drunk or felt so embarrassed he felt he needed to blame someone, this passage got twisted to mean that God cursed all people with dark skin based on some faulty genealogy and a lot of assumptions about who was dark-skinned. Because I’ve looked, and it doesn’t say anything about any of this in the Bible. But people were so desperate to justify their sin of slavery that they twisted the Bible to say what they wanted it to say. Even though it doesn’t.

We generally look at life with our own lens and never think to take it off.

For literally centuries we robbed people of freedom because of the color of their skin. We robbed people of the right to vote because of their gender. We robbed people of their freedom to love because of their sexual orientation. And in each of these instances we used the Bible to do it. What we need to do is step back and look at life from both sides before jumping to conclusions. And especially before condemning people or saying that this is the way God wants us to behave. It’s hard not to think that our own biased viewpoints have directly and indirectly caused many people to not believe in Jesus Christ as their savior. After all, who would believe in a savior who was racist, sexist, or homophobic? I like the way Will Rogers said it in the 90’s musical Will Rogers Follies. He said, “I guess I met a whole lotta people in my lifetime. I always try to approach ’em the same way my Indian ancestors would. You see, an Indian always looks back after he passes something so he can get a view of it from both sides. A white man don’t do that. He just figures all sides of a thing are automatically the same. That’s why you must never judge a man when you’re facing him. You’ve got to go around behind him, like an Indian, and look at what he’s looking at and then go back and face him and you’ll have a totally different idea of who he is. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to get along with everybody.”[2] In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey put it this way, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”[3] Seek first to understand, then to be understood. He said, usually we do it the other way around, and I think he’s right.

I want to challenge you to take a step back.

In the heat of an argument, that’s especially hard to do. But I want you to try and see the other person’s point of view before you condemn them or count them as being wrong. Even if they are wrong, maybe you can try to understand why they feel the way they do. Even if they’re wrong, they might have a legitimate reason for believing whatever they are wrong about. And if we are patient and kind and forgiving (as we are supposed to be), then we might be able to help the other person or people to see more clearly. You never know, maybe you’ll find out that it was you all along who needed to make a change. We can’t help but see the world from our own point of view. It’s just who we are. But we CAN try to stop for a moment and step into someone else’s shoes when we do that we become more like our God in Heaven who literally stepped into our shoes through Jesus Christ to see the world through our eyes. Couldn’t we do the same for others?

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/01/arts/from-noah-s-curse-to-slavery-s-rationale.html

[2] From Will Rogers Follies, “Never Met A Man I Didn’t Like”

[3] https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits-habit5.php

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