To Whom Are We Listening?

So how do we tell if someone is worth listening to? Just a few points.

First, what seems to be the real motivation of the prophet? Is what they are saying for your good – or for theirs? Who really benefits if one follows the prophet’s advice? History is filled with con men and women who have sold entire communities and countries a promise and nothing else. The prophets who have filled their personal bank accounts, who have gained power and influence at the expense of the gullible, who have held on to that power by any means necessary, these are influencers whose only real aim is their own well-being.

So the fruits of the prophet’s life – the gathering of wealth, power, expressions of immorality and personal greed will tell us who they are really trying to help – the listener or themselves.

Second, what are the fruits of their teaching? People worth listening to build up communities, they don’t divide them. How I wish our politicians understood this! People worth listening to speak truth, they call out injustice, they put a verbal spotlight on the dark places of our world, but they do so in such a way that the entire community is lifted up, not torn down. They call us to better expressions of ourselves, of ourselves as a community, of ourselves as a culture.

Third, they point us to a truth that exists beyond ourselves. They point us to a truth to which we are all accountable, including the speaker. As Christians, we believe that Scripture holds these truths. The power of Martin Luther King, Junior was not in his powerful oratory, although he was certainly a strong, charismatic preacher and teacher. No, the power of Martin Luther King was in his ability to articulate a dream of a society where the justice of human culture lined up with the justice of a divine God. King pointed us to truths beyond what we had settled for.

Will We Be Faithful?

Institutions change. Structures transform. Denominations dissolve and merge, alliances shift but God – God – will always breathe new life into the faithful body of Christ. The question becomes: Will we be faithful?

I believe, with all my heart, that the church has its greatest opportunity for faith explosion since perhaps the first century. Think about it! No longer do we have to be chaplain to a broken, secular, political status quo. No longer do we have to function as spiritual chameleons in a rapidly changing cultural backdrop posing and masquerading as Christian. No one – no one – owns us. No one directs us. No one, no thing can claim a competing allegiance. We are free – FREE! – to be the people God has called us to be. We have our independent voice. Let’s use it!

Will we be so faithful?

Our text from Deuteronomy reminds us that if we love God – God; not our position, not our titles, not our wealth but God – that things will go well for us. Jesus links this text, with one from Leviticus to remind us that our greatest charge is to love God with all of our heart and our neighbor as ourselves.

And what is the promise if we do these things? Deut. 6: 3: it will go well with us. What is the promise for our church? If we do these things it will go well for us. Look at Psalm 119! God’s commandments are right; God’s law is our delight; God’s ordinances will help us. When we go wrong – and we do, don’t we? When we go wrong, it will be God’s wisdom that gets both our individual faith lives and the ministry of the church back to where God wants it.

I am not saying it is going to be easy. The life of faith rarely is. We will be tempted to go along to get along, we will be tempted to shift faith priorities to become less offensive. The spiritual buffet is out there, and it is so easy to walk the line, to take a little of this, a little of that, some comfort food here, some sweet and tasty thing there. At the end of the buffet we have traded a clear faithful Christianity for a philosophical and theological mess of our own making. 

But friends, if we hold fast – not to form or convention but to truth and conviction there is nothing we cannot overcome because the One who is in us is so much greater than any force that might be against us. Times change. Structures change. Voices change, but an eternal God moves forward.

It begins with God. With a gift. With transformation. With Holy Spirit power. With the courage to live into God’s word. Will we be faithful?

Some Thoughts On The Church

The reality is that the church has been its own worst enemy. Poll after poll shows younger Americans believing the church to be made up of judgmental hypocrites who seek to force some kind of fixed, ancient, tired dogma down their throats. They are fed up with rituals, traditions, and mindless ancient forms masquerading as authentic, relevant faith. They are tired – especially the millennials – tired of ideals compromised for political expediency. They are tired of seeing religion co-opted by manipulative politicians. They are fed up with the church, as they have experienced it. And who can blame them? I am afraid that we professionally religious types – that’s the folks who wear the robes and the collars like me – will have a lot of explaining to do when we get to heaven and see the mud that we have heaped up on the bride of Christ.

But I would suggest, that it is exactly because we have not been the church that we are supposed to be, it is exactly because we present a muddied version of the church, that confidence in the church is leaking like a sieve. We have not been what we are supposed to be. As a result, people are looking for eternity, for identity and purpose, they are looking for faith in the pretenders of our world and bypassing the only authentic expression of the body of Christ. This happens because we are presenting a stunted pretender claiming to be the church.

We need to confess where we have come up short. We need to quit relying on our own power and instead embrace the power of a Holy Spirit whose presence we celebrate on this day of Pentecost. We need to embrace the seeker, the questioner, and not be afraid to sit down over a cup of coffee and respectfully address our questions. We need to be unafraid to say, “I don’t know,” and courageous to point to the Christ that we do know. We need to present the church, in all its beauty and power, and not settle for the cheap church versions of our own making.

Thoughts on Memorial Day

It’s been 52 years. 52 years since I came home from elementary school without a care in the world only to find out that my father had been killed while engaged in flight operations off the coast of North Viet Nam. 52 years…..that’s a long time. 52 years…..you think I would have dealt and processed all the pain. Yet here I am in church yesterday, in the middle of announcements, unable to speak as I ask the congregation to pause in the midst of their Memorial Day celebrations to remember and give thanks for those who died while in service to our country. I couldn’t speak. I thought I was going to lose it. 52 years….you think I would have gotten’ over it. What a silly notion.

Its been 52 years of wondering what it would have been like to have my Dad at my sporting events, my graduations, my wedding, my ordination.

Its been 52 years of wondering if he would have approved of me going into the Marine Corps – he was a Navy aviator after all.

Its been 52 years of wondering what he would have thought of my wife, my college, my commitment to follow God’s call into fulltime ministry.

Its been 52 years of wondering how he would have related to our daughters – his grandchildren. Would he have taken them camping, shooting, fishing like he did with his children?

Its been 52 years of wondering what he would have thought of our political climate. As a man who believed in duty, honor, and service I can’t believe he would be too thrilled.

Its been 52 years of missed experiences, and yet he has been with me the entire time. I have heard his voice. I have sensed his presence.

He’s gone, but he has never left me. I will always be thankful for his love, his strong sense of honor, faith, and service. I want to believe that he would be proud – not just of me, but also of my brothers and sister. He taught us well. Our mother continued the lessons he began.

Memorial Day means many things to many people. For me it will always be a time to wonder…..and give thanks.

Loving Your Enemies

Loving our enemies begins with thoughtfulness and then leads to praying for their well-being. It means praying for God’s love and mercy for them. It means praying for their welfare, the welfare of their families, the welfare of those whom they love.

In doing so, in praying for our enemies, we are then placing ourselves in a position before God for God to bless us. And what might God bless us with? First and foremost, the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let’s face it, on our own, by our own will this is almost impossible. But as the Spirit fills us; as the Spirit turns our hearts from anger and hatred; as the Spirit moves us to what is right, what is noble…………then we are changed as well.

As the Holy Spirit blesses our intentions; as the Holy Spirit blesses our thoughtfulness, as the Holy Spirit fills our hearts and minds with alternatives to reaction and payback, then our spirit begins to take on the flavor of God’s Spirit. We begin to change. Our emotions begin to shift. From reactive anger to thoughtful consideration. From faithful consideration to heartfelt prayers. From heartfelt prayers to changes in our spirit. We begin to love – even our enemies.