Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Patriots! Never Surrender!

In 18th century western Europe, they coined a term for one who had blind, aggressive loyalty to the fatherland without regard for its underlying principles - freedom, liberty, compassion, faith, service and justice. The term was patriot, and it was actually a term of derision and insult. 

Thankfully, in our day and our country, a more noble meaning is attached to the word. New Englanders and fans of Tom Brady are happy about that. I am too, even as a Cowboys fan.  But I am especially happy because I consider myself a patriot.  I love my country!

Still, it seems that many are working as hard as they can, maybe unknowingly, to devolve the word patriot to its original meaning. There has been a sad decline back to the idea that a true patriot is one who gathers with others just like themselves, circles the wagons and looks out for their own so that what they have is not taken by dark, sinister forces.  The guiding value is an unhealthy, indiscriminant self-interest fueled by pride, fear and insecurity.

So as not to be misunderstood, I am not referring to a particular political party or ideology here. This kind of fear-baiting and marginalization of the other in the name of patriotism functions quite well on both sides of ideological lines.  This degrades and devalues the meaning of what it is to be a patriot in America.  And for those of us who follow Jesus, nothing could be further from the values of the Kingdom which we love, serve as thankful ambassadors, and in which our true citizenship resides.

That said, my prayer is that the tide begins to turn on this one.  And may we who call ourselves patriots in this day remain faithful to our nation's founding principles rather than the weak tribalism of us vs them, and may we never surrender the current meaning of the word patriot back to its ignoble beginnings.  And as we do, may God bless America!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Be Not Judged, Lest You Start Judging Others

Not long ago, Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like fame said in a Tweet, "Stop giving your critics PhDs." That's great advice. But I couldn't leave the thought alone. It seems that in our culture, people do other, similar kinds of things that cause our lives to get all junked up. Evidence can be seen, I think, in the popularity of tv shows that feature some kind of contest to find the next singing, dancing, or on-stage performing star. Maybe we like these shows because for a change, we feel like, "Finally, someone other than me is being judged and voted on."

All kinds of thoughts come to mind, but I won't inflict them on you. However, I will ask, does this strike anyone else as a possible signal that we give way to much value - maybe pathologically so - to what we think are the opinions others have, or judgments others make about us? I mean, when you think about it, I doubt anyone is even paying much attention. They are all worried that you are judging them. You're not, are you?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Streetlight Effect

There is an old story that says a police officer came upon a man at night crawling in the street underneath a streetlamp looking for some money he dropped. The officer asked, "Is this where you dropped your money?" The man said, "Oh, no. I dropped it just down there under that car that's in the dark." The officer asked, "Then why are you looking for it over here under this lamp post?" The man replied, "The lighting is so much better over here."

This story is used in scientific circles to describe the all-too-frequent practice of drawing conclusions that go well beyond the evidence available.  But it is worse than that. They know the evidence is inadequate and possibly even irrelevant given what they do not know and cannot observe, test or demonstrate.  But they make their bold pronouncements anyway, and usually in a manner that indicates their findings settle the issue when in reality, the issue may yet to be intelligently addressed at all.

It makes me think of scientists like Stephen Hawking saying he has disproved the existence of God based on what we now know about gravity. Two things. First, what about what we do not know about everything else? Second, if the question of why something exists rather than nothing is answered by "gravity," then what created gravity? Why is there gravity rather than no force at all? 

Hawking keeps trying to move everything into the small little area illuminated by his tiny little streetlight. Because he cannot see outside of this small area of illumination, he imagines what he can see defines everything outside of his field of vision.  He even wants to shrink and move God into that narrow field. But you cannot disprove God by pretending he is smaller than his creation - gravity included. 

The good professor will need to get a much bigger streetlight, or try coming out and looking around in the light of day once in a while.  The left side of Hawking's brain is quite brilliant. But like so many others, he needs to discover his right brain and trust that it has the capacity to discern truth in very different, yet powerfully complementary ways.  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Living in the Extremes

A recent Twitter post of mine read;

Grace or Justice? Forgiveness or Accountability? Support or Challenge? Embrace or Remove? Some want balance. What about both extremes?

While it may sound a bit odd (it does to me as well), let me explain it like this. If you have ever tried to balance anything on your finger, and the weight of the object is centered directly over your finger, like a yard stick standing on end, the job of achieving balance becomes difficult. If, however, you turn the yardstick sideways where more of the weight is extended away from the center of the object, It is much easier to keep the object from falling off you finger and crashing to the ground.

My post simply asks the question, what would happen if we moved through life pursuing the values of Scripture in their most extreme forms? Rather than think that seemingly opposing values must mitigate one another, what if God was not confused when calling for radical compassion and radical justice to be lived out in the same life? What if God wanted us to radically separate ourselves from any hint of sin, and radically embrace a sinful world and its inhabitants? What would that look like? Would it be more likely that we would not always be wobbling back and forth and have an easier time keeping our lives and our understanding of God from crashing to the ground without resorting to embracing weak, politically aligned ideologies to defend us?

Okay, if I ask the question I should give the answer, right? Well, what if we should radically pursue answers, and be radically content if they remain elusive? If you want to share your thoughts about how to live, or the value of living on the radical extremes, feel free.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Cool Presence

This is a hopeful title. One note about this kind of poetry. It is really meant to be heard and not so much read. So you visual types may read this and think, "It makes no sense." I am hopeful you auditory types will get it. Either way, here it is.

A Cool Presence

Heat of the day when things start to weigh
Heavy and oppressive, making me sway
In the hot, burning sun, seeking relief where there's none
To be found in the solutions that are my main stay, undone.

So I seek other means, on scene but unseen
By eyes not yet clean that see dimly what is on full display.

A cool breeze has arrived to bring strength and revive
A natural breath not contrived that makes the dying
Come alive, thrive and more than survive the wave
Of burning meant to hurt you
Keep you from turning to the one who
Makes all learning come though
Alive fresh and brand new
So that you and me
And all who share eternity
Find ourselves discerning what is true.

Jesus is true, the glorious one
God's son, sins undone, punishment gone, there is none
Life is now here, a shifting of gears from reverse to forward, steer
Down the new road ahead
Cancel code red
For our sin load he bled,
Blood shed from his hands, feet and head
Life became dead.
The heat of that day seemed to have its way.

But death could not be the ender of life
A new breath has come, so surrender, cease strife
And embrace the Son, the giver, and tender of life.
Who is shade in the storm or the heat
Turmoil in any form, his work complete.

Now, return to the place of Adam and Eve
Our hope is retrieved, no longer deceived
The heat must now leave and give way
Now receive and believe,
God's presence is here, the cool of the day.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Melissa, TX - New Church Start - Mission

Update:  You can now find Melissa UMC on the web at

So the work has begun.  I have been in the community for a few weeks now still waiting to attend boot camp and waiting to have all of the requisite meetings with the leaders of the mother church and my coach before we begin the big push of recruiting and promoting.  Still, there are connections to be made and things to be learned about Melissa, TX - a community that I am discovering is a great place to live and do ministry.

While there are several churches in Melissa, there are only two of significant size - a Baptist Church (surprise!) and a Mormon Church.  When I think about those who might be looking for an alternative, I am excited that a United Methodist faith community is on its way!

The reason I am excited is because I love our Mission Statement in the United Methodist Church.  We are here "To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World!"  And that is what I am in Melissa to do as well.  I am NOT here simply to begin a new community of faith, but creating that community is only the way we go about serving the mission.  Then, what kind of faith community this will be in terms of style and outreach and ministries will shape the personality and character of the faith community.  But the mission is the thing!

I like the way Andy Stanley, one of our Baptist brothers, has put it.  The very first promise made by Jesus to his followers was that if you follwed him, he would make you "fishers of men (people)."  His very last commandment to his followers was to "Go . . . make disciples of all the nations. . . "  So this business of making followers - making disciples, seems to be rather high on Jesus' priority list.  It was his first promise and last command.

With that in mind, I am excited about the work and ministry that is ahead of me and those who will sign on to be about the ongoing work of Jesus as it is extended in a new way to the community of Melissa.  Please pray for us.  This is the kind of thing that for all the hard work put in, will not succeed without the prayers of faithful people being offered in support.  So bless those of you who pray for us.  Okay, bless all of you whether you pray for us or not.  But please pray.  Grace and peace.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Saying "Yes" to July 4 Celebrations!

My last post was prompted by all the articles and blogs by those who are highly critical of the USA, some going so far as to say that they would not celebrate Independence Day.  Mine was kind of a tongue in cheek post, but being a bit more serious, this is why I WILL be celebrating the 4th.

For all of our faults and failures and in spite of the injustice that still exists in the country, our freedoms are second to none here.  We have the ability to correct the wrongs that exist in a way that no other country can - from the grass roots up.

So my family and I will be celebrating today and thanking God for the freedoms we have in the USA.  Blessings to all of you.  And may God bless America!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Saying "No" to July 4 Celebrations?

There have been a few articles and blogs recently written by conscientious people who refuse to celebrate the 4th of July on grounds that our country was founded on violence and hypocrisy. This has caused me to reconsider 2 of my deeply held beliefs. 

One involves reconsidering reincarnation. The hippies from the 60's are back and the only things missing are the demonstrations against our troops as supporting an evil nation despised by God that . . . wait! The folks at Westbroro have that covered. So between these modern day America-bashing, non-kissing cousins of hippies and those protesting our troops, I guess the 60's are back in full force. One thing, where is the cool folk music? Oh well.

The second reconsideration is my own personal commitment to the celebration of Independence Day. I agree with those who say that we need to put an end to this celebration of injustice and hypocrisy. Every Fourth of July, I am forced to pack my family in a car and drive to some remote location, get out of the car and sit in an open area with thousands of other mind-numbed drones and watch a predictable spectacle of choreographed explosions in the 90+ degree Texas heat. When it's over, we sit in a line of cars waiting for up to 3 hours to leave the parking area, everyone needing a bathroom, and we inevitably get stuck behind the guy in the rusted out pickup with the "No-Bama" bumper sticker spewing 25 times the exhaust emissions of a 1978 International Cabover. There is no justice in this, and to call it a celebration is an evil deception. 

So this year, I'm with the hippies (but not their cousins from Westboro) in saying "no" to Independence Day celebrations. In fact, I am eschewing all celebrations during the time of year when a rocket's red glare would show up as substantially cooler than the surrounding atmosphere on a thermal imaging screen. And if you try to make me celebrate, I'm off to Canada. It's much cooler there anyway.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Starting a New Job

Remember your first day at a new job?  Or are you still trying to forget?  It can be awkward.  You don't know exactly what to do, where to go, or even when to go or do.

I start a new job tomorrow, but my anxiety level is  lower than normal, I think.  Not because I got it like that (I have no idea what that means but my teenage girls say it all the time and then giggle), but because of what I get to do.  I get to partner with some wonderful folks at First United Methodist Church of McKinney to launch a new community of faith in the city of Melissa in 2012!

As cool as that is, it is a venture into the unknown, the uncertain, and the unpredictable.  Most of us try to avoid these things in favor of the known, certain and predictable.  We call it security.  But let's be honest.  At some point, so much security finally becomes jail doesn't it?

Did Jesus say come, follow me and I will give you a comfortable and worry free life?  The kind of life we live is not promised.  Who will be living it with us is.  So this is the real reason I am excited about starting a new job tomorrow.  It is a new opportunity to see how Jesus, our Emmanuel, God with us, will be with me.  I expect to remember this first day on the job for all the right reasons.

Blessings to those of you who might be looking at new beginnings of your own.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Naming a New Church, Again

So next month I go on staff at First UMC of McKinney to start a new United Methodist Church in Melissa TX.  First McKinney will be the mother church.  I have met several of the staff, knew a few of them already, and look forward to meeting the rest along with the members there. 

This coming Sunday, July 3, I will be in all 6 - yes, 6 - worship services!  Wow!  You can tell there is an energy and buzz about this place that is contagious.  My prayer and confident expectation is that we can extend this contagion to the community of Melissa very soon.

In the mean time, all kinds of things are running through my head.  So if anyone can help me out, there is one issue that I'd like to get a head start on right now.  What to name the new church?  What can I use that has not been used?  All kinds of churches have words like corner, cross, roads, life, way, point, fellowship, creek, faith, etc...  So after hours of wondering, the only thing I have been able to come up with is "Lifeway, Crossraods, Cornerpoint, Fellowship Creek United Methodist Church."  Seems a bit unwieldy.  

All more reasonable suggestion are welcome.  God's peace.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

From: Red Letter Christians

Beer at Church?

by Tony Campolo Saturday, May 28th, 2011

I found a church in England, not far outside of London, in a very densely urban community, a congregation that took up every seat in the sanctuary. What’s more, they had to have multiple services in order to hold the crowds.

When I preached there, my driver couldn’t find a parking place. I asked the pastor, “With so many people, what room do you have for parking?” The pastor told me that almost everyone in the church came from walking distance. That amazed me because I wondered how a church could get so many people from such a small area.

The pastor explained to me that every other Saturday night they make arrangements to rope off a city block. The police cooperate. They bring in a barrel of beer and a barrel of wine. They add to this a good band. He then went on to say that a hundred of his young people come to this block party and start dancing. It doesn’t take long before people come out . . .  (READ MORE)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Do Crazy Relatives Mean Your Family is Nuts?

From Christianity Today

What to Do with Aunt Julie
Harold Camping is only the latest "problem" relative.
I once had an aunt with a serious case of schizophrenia. She thought one of her daughters came to her on a beam of light from the moon. She also had rages of temper and threatened to kill her children. Things got so bad, she had to be hospitalized for a time, and then medicated for years.

One day I was driving through the community where she lived, Bryte (just over the river from Sacramento), because my mother spent a large part of her childhood there. I was with my wife and my father; I had asked my dad to explain everything he knew about my late mother's life there—where she lived, the gas station she was born in, and other such lore. We were hoping to do a drive by, wanting to avoid... (READ MORE)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Left Behind. No Rapture Required.

I saw this church sign today and thought about what was behind the decision to put it up.  What if a Ford dealership put up a sign that said "Cars Like They Used to Be?"  You know, no air conditioning, a manual choke and wood-spoke wheels with tubed tires.  Or what if a theater had a sign that said, "Movies Like They Used to Be?"  No sound. Black and white only. Special effects comprised of things attached to visible string and miniature towns crushed by humans in badly constructed monster suits.  Frequent stoppage of the movie to splice back together the broken film. 

Still, part of me gets why they long for church like it used to be.  The trouble is, God is always doing a new thing.  While Jesus is the same "yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), God's way of extending love and compassion is "new every morning" (Lamentation 3:22-23).  So Jesus like he used to be is fine.  Church like it used to be may find that God is up to new things.  Turns out we might not even need a Rapture to be left behind. 

What Lady Gaga Says About You

Lady Gaga tells us a lot about ourselves according to Relevant Magazine

Lady Gaga
If you want the truth about a culture, don’t look to its politicians. Look to its artists.And when it comes to Lady Gaga, it’s hard to not look.As the current reigning queen of pop, Lady Gaga has garnered a name for herself by delivering chart-topping music, high concept videos and eye-popping fashion. Judging by the anticipation for and unescapable promotion of her newly released album, Born This Way, this isn’t likely to change. But she’s more than just a spectacle.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

C.S. Lewis on A Book for Grown-Ups

“There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’.  The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.  All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible... People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.” - C.S. Lewis

Saturday, January 29, 2011

How to Respond to Violence

An Egyptian woman teaches all of us how to appropriately respond to violence and aggression.
See more pics from the protests here at the MSNBC Photoblog.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Second Chances

Have you ever written anybody off?  You just decided someone was too high maintenance, or too much trouble to take up any more of your time and energy.  So did Paul with respect to John Mark.

Acts 15:37-39
37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,

But as the years went by, something evidently changed Paul's mind because they are together again.  

Philemon 1:23-24
 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

So what happened?  We don't know.  Was the separation justified?  We don't know.  Was Paul too harsh with Mark?  We don't know.  What caused them to reconnect?  We don't know.  But what we can say is that a rift that caused the separation of these two was somehow repaired, and the work of the Kingdom of God moved forward.  May the restoration of oneness that these two experienced be a reminder to those of us in the present day church that people are worth the effort it may take to offer them second chances.

Friday, January 21, 2011

When God Leaves You in a Dry Place

Isaiah 58:11 says...
"And the LORD will continually guide you,
         And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
         And give strength to your bones;
         And you will be like a watered garden,
         And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail."

This verse is part of what I have been reading this week, and one observation here stands out for me.  The promise of strength and refreshing and continual blessing - all those things that God does for us -  is placed in the context of what God does not do.  God does all of this "in the scorched places."  God does not say "I will remove you from the scorched places and then..."  

One of the mistakes I think many Christ-followers make is deciding that long periods of time in scorched places indicates a lack of God's presence and the absence of blessings.  But at least here in Isaiah, the promise of an endless flow of God's presence and life-giving strength is given precisely to those in the driest of all places just when we need it most.

If you are in a scorched place, begin to look for God's grace to show up.  If you are in a scorched place of financial struggles, or a relational disaster, or a place of spiritual dryness and doubt, it just may be that you are in the perfect place to be surprised by God's grace and provision.

So may you rejoice in the dry places knowing that God is already with you.  May you experience the strength and flow of God's Spirit.  And may you even become one who ministers strength and blessings and provision to others who are also dwelling in life's scorched places.   

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Following Right When the Leader is Wrong.

I just heard one of the teachers at my youngest child's pre-school ask the class, "Who wants to be the line leader today?"  They all enthusiastically raised their hands.  Even at age 4, we humans are conditioned to think it is better to lead than follow.  

Yesterday in church, I talked about this whole business of being a follower, because all of us are.  We are all followers.  We are either good ones or bad ones, but following in some capacity is not a choice for any of us really.  So what kind of follower do I want to be?

King David had two followers that exemplify what it means to be either a good follower or a bad one.  When David needed to have Uriah, the Hittite (One of my ancient ancestors.  Get it?  "HItt-ite."  Never mind.) killed to cover up his one night stand with Uriah's wife and the resulting pregnancy, he gave the order to one of his followers - a general named Joab to put Uriah where fighting was heavy and then have the other soldiers back away so Uriah would be killed.  Joab had a choice to make.  He could risk his career and maybe even his life and challenge David, or he could obey and become complicit in murder.  Joab chose to do as instructed.

Another of David's followers viewed his responsibility to the King differently.  Nathan came to David about his actions with Uriah and Bathsheba.  He told David a story about a great injustice a rich man had inflicted upon a poor, innocent man.  David became emotional and swore to have the rich, unjust man killed if Nathan would identify him.  Nathan said to David, "You are the man."  It led David to see his sin for what it was and brought him to a place of great remorse and repentance. 
Most followers go along to get along.  They just avoid the subversion of truth or core values and hope it all blows over.  Others cannot let it go, but are not courageous enough and do not love the person, or group enough to speak up.  They just quietly pick up their ball and go home.  Both of these responses are sin.

Followers have a responsibility to speak up in love when the values that matter most are being subverted.  It does not matter that it's hard.  It does not matter that no one may want to hear it.  If we love the community, organization, family or church we part of, really good followers will speak the truth in love no matter what.  So be a great follower.