Saturday, December 23, 2017

'Immensity Cloistered': Meditating Upon Mystery

The poet considers the baby Jesus, awaiting birth from Mary’s inside: (Read it slowly. Repeat. Repeat again. Meditate on each brief word picture. Listen for the Spirit’s voice.)

“Whom thou conceiv’st, conceived; yea thou
           art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in darke; and shutst in little
Immensity cloistered in thy dear wombe.”

John Donne, La Corona (Donne, Poems of John Donne, 319)
(Source: Reformation Commentary on Scripture ©2015 T. George, Ed.)

May the divine ‘immensity’ enter in the little room you have prepared for the Holy One, and from there bloom forth, forever changing you and everyone you touch.

O Holy Night. O Night Divine. O Night When Christ Was Born.

Be Born. In Us. Today.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Prayer for A Boy Turning Ten

(To be read by the boy today and each ten years hence…)

A prayer for a boy turning ten, that during the span he celebrates the turning of many, many more decades this ‘may have happened to you’ more than not:

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost, green thrives, the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave a stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to do.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you.

Sometimes, by Sheenagh Pugh (sources: Good Poems, Selected and Introduced by Garrison Keillor© (Penguin Books, 2002); Sheenagh Pugh, Selected Poems, (Dufour Editions, 1990)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Friendship Bench

Acacia is Tiny. That’s her nickname. Acacia’s arms are not fully developed. Acacia knew what it was like to not ‘fit in’ to school and social circles. She didn’t want other children to feel what she felt. So, this “Tiny Girl’ came up with a ‘Big Dream’: provide a Friendship Bench to every school in the United States and Canada.

Friendship Benches exist for children who want a friend to talk to, to play with, to remove the sense of being ‘all alone.’  If a child is looking for a someone to play with on the playground, she sits on the Friendship Bench and other children then come and invite her to join them. I asked one child whether her schoolmates were reluctant to sit on the Friendship Bench because they didn’t want to be noticed as being in need of a playmate. She looked at me with this quizzical expression meaning, “what are you talking about?”, and politely said ‘no.’

So I got to thinking about whether adults have any ‘friendship benches’.  If you walk into a restaurant and see someone alone at a table, do you ask if you can join them? If you walk into a bar and see someone alone at the bar do you take the barstool next to that person or sit three stools away? If you walk into your house of worship and see someone alone in a row do you sit next to them or start another row? Maybe children who grow up with Friendship Benches will be better at this sort of hospitality, of being the friend to one in need. 

I think about sitting on the Friendship Bench like I think about the season of Advent. It is waiting, sometimes all by ourselves, for ‘Jesus’ to show up. It is a frustrating business, this waiting alone. The hardest choice might be whether we want to sit on the Friendship Bench and wait or to remain in our rooms and sit all alone.

I pray this Advent season for those who are lonely, that they will find the courage to take a seat on one of life’s ‘friendship benches’. And wait.  And I pray that someone, maybe you, will be the Friend who will come and sit next to them and ask if they would like to play. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017


A prayer for you to pray today, if possible, with a Veteran.  It’s not too big a sacrifice to ask, is it? Healing happens through acts of genuine gratitude.  Love your neighbor…
Bless Them Abundantly: A Veteran’s Day Prayer
Dear Lord,
Today we honor our veterans,
worthy men and women
who gave their best
when they were called upon
to serve and protect their country.
We pray that you will bless them, Lord,
for their unselfish service
in the continual struggle
to preserve our freedoms, our safety,
and our country’s heritage, for all of us.
Bless them abundantly
for the hardships they faced,
for the sacrifices they made,
for their many different contributions
to America’s victories
over tyranny and oppression.
We respect them, we thank them,
we honor them, we are proud of them,
and we pray that you will watch over
these special people
and bless them with peace and happiness.
In Jesus’ name we pray; Amen.
By Joanna Fuchs

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Asking the Right Questions

The men wore silk top hats, the women their best dresses.  The prior evening’s snowstorm threatened to undo the entire event, but the winds of change were more powerful than the storm.  So, he ascended the podium, hat off now, looking so young, so dapper in his black jacket, silver vest,  with a silver tie adorning his crisp white shirt.

The speech early on had a captivating illustration designed to inspire a new generation about the passing of the torch.  This early word picture captured the ears of the listening crowd, even the world. Through another twenty-two paragraphs he tried to inspire.  The speaker, now almost preacher, began paragraph twenty-five with a fist gently pounding the podium. And then, as he got to the second half of the sentence he raised his right index finger, slightly bent, and with his distinct accent he spoke his most famous words. The crowd behind the lectern didn’t seem to hear or notice the moment, but for one man. He was a large man with big ears who possessed a keen sense  of greatness, and as the words echoed over the open air this astute listener raised his head and looked surprised, no-he looked aware,  that he had just heard a man declaim generation-changing sound:

“…ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.”

Has the  ‘ask not’ generation become the ‘what about me?’ generation?  A sign of “growing weary in doing good” is that the questions which we ask change;  the range of people we seek to care for, to love, grows more and more narrow until our sole concern, as with infants, is “me.” 

Generations change. Leaders change. Visions change. Nations change.  Questions change. What God expects of nations which claim to seek God’s blessing does not change.

Are we being asked the right questions today, questions which lead us to become an America we would expect God to bless?

Saturday, October 28, 2017

An Ocean of Grace

The moment they realized the engine was not starting again. Ever.  Followed by the moment they realized that their radios could not reach anyone, on the ocean or on land.  Those had to be the two most frightening moments.  Being surrounded by sharks was probably a close third.  How do you deal with that kind of fear? You keep on sailing.

Two female sailors and two dogs, on their way from Honolulu to Tahiti in their small boat encounter a Pacific Ocean storm which destroys their engine.  Two sailors smart enough to pack a year’s worth of food, supplies and a water purifier.  But, despite their best hopes and efforts, the boat’s sails did not take them to safety. They were more than off course. They were lost. In the middle of an ocean. And the months passed, one, two three, four, five months, lost at sea. Thousands of miles of course, and no way to figure out a way back home. They were really lost, they thought.

But they were not lost. They were just not yet found.  A Taiwanese fishing boat found them, which in turn called upon the U.S. Coast Guard, which came to the rescue of the sailors and their dogs. When asked to comment on their work of finding, of saving the lost, Commander Steven Wasson said, "The U.S. Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation." (Source: John Bacon, USA Today, 10.26.17)

It is easy to get lost when the storms come up. And despite the best planning, if you are stuck in the middle of an ocean of troubles, it is normal to feel lost.  But someone, somewhere, is looking for you. Someone is ready to turn your ocean of troubles into an ocean of grace.

Define Grace: for any distressed mariner; of any nationality; in any type of situation, the Commander is ready to pluck you up and place you on the rescue boat.

If we believe that this is the mission of U.S. Navy, why do we find it so hard to believe it is the mission of God to do the same?

‘Grace Alone’.

God is in the business of finding the lost. Mission accomplished.

Pastor Bill

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Remembering 'Mighty Mouse'

I cheered for ‘Mighty Mouse’ to win.  Saturday nights at the Plymouth Fairgrounds, listening to the deafening roar of modified Stock Cars in the early 1960’s, I would keep my eye on the strategic moves of ‘Mighty Mouse’ as he, lap after lap, weaved and bumped his way from his starting position at the back of the pack of competitors. I have pictures in my mind of the little painting of the  cartoon character on the side of his car, as the muscular mouse became a blur speeding past the grandstand, his fans screaming encouragement as he maneuvered another corner propelling chunks of mud from the dirt track across the warm night sky.  And then there was the almost inevitable victory lap, ‘Mighty Mouse’ holding aloft the prized checkered flag as he took that final lap.

Fast forward half a century.  I am standing in the back of church as one of Ken’s (a/k/a ‘Mighty Mouse’) granddaughter’s has just professed her faith.  Ken had no idea he was a boyhood hero of mine, but I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as he and I talked about how God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform in the lives of the people we love.  Sometimes it seems miracles happen right before our eyes. When Ken saw his granddaughter overcome her trials to stand before the congregation and read from Ephesians that, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” it was for good reason he was dabbing his eyes at the thought of her victory.

And now it is my privilege to pastor two of Ken’s great-grandsons.  While Ken was a member of another church, he came to their baptisms at our church, and we had a couple more conversations about the joys of seeing your legacy receive the sign and seal of God’s everlasting love.  I feel this sense of obligation to make sure those boys know about God’s love for them, telling them how their Great-Grandpa Mighty Mouse was my boyhood hero, and how proud he was to see them be a part of the family of God. And to help them ‘re-member’ Ken.

You see, Ken is now racing on a new circuit.  The joy of racing, the thrill of the win, those things all must be how he experiences Heaven.  Engine roaring, checkered flag in hand, ‘Mighty Mouse’ takes that Victory Lap.

That Ken, he’s a real winner now.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"Regrets, I've Had a Few"

Having dinner with good friends, the conversation turned to today’s “young people”.  We, who are both sides of 60, were talking about those in their early 20’s, the ones just finishing college or starting jobs.  We talked about their need for good mentors and how young they looked. “Did I look that young?”, I wondered out loud, “when I started my career at 22”? My wife assured me I did.

What if we could be 22 again, we wondered? “Boy, there are a few things I would have done differently.”  We all agreed on that observation. But then I began to wonder, would I really have changed anything? As we talked further we wondered whether you could say, “I would have treated this person or situation differently”, without  changing all of the other parts of life. In other words, had I not made this mistake in life, then I would not have been wise enough to avoid making it at another time or with another person.  Or, if I had not met “Mary”, then I would never have met “Martha”.  In other words, isn’t our life the sum of all of the parts, the good choices, the great decisions; the bad choices; the horrible decisions?

So what do we do with the life choices we ‘regret’? We can sing, along with Frank Sinatra, that though ‘we’ve had a few’ they are too few to mention. I am close, I think, to that school of thought.  It is good to remember the choices we regret. That’s what helps us, hopefully, improve our lives, if we use the regrets as lessons.  But we should not dwell upon them. The bigger danger than forgetting regrets too soon is living with them too long. While decisions last a lifetime, the regrets don’t need to. 

The most underrated and least believed fact in the Bible is the truth that God remembers our sins no more.  I have so many encounters with people who are dwelling in regret, in guilt, in shame, wondering how God could accept them given their ‘past.’  I believe the reason we have trouble believing that God could forgive those decisions we regret is that we cannot forgive ourselves for them.  God’s ability to ‘forgive’ is based on his marvelous, grace-filled decision to forget; to accept you, to love you, just as you are, the sum of all the decisions, good, great, bad, horrible.

Can you do the same?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Of Frogs and Mass Shootings

“If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.” (Version of the boiling frog story from Daniel Quinn's The Story of B, source: Wikipedia)


Sandy Hook.


San Bernardino.

Las Vegas.

The Frog Experiment story is not true. The point it makes is all too true.  I know that we as a nation have the ability to find a solution which protects the right to own a gun and at the same time protects society from mass shootings. Do you know that a mass shooting, defined as 4 or more victims, has happened 275 times in 2017 in the United States? Have we lost our ability to be outraged? I have no desire to undo the U.S. Constitution.  I have every desire to see it interpreted in a way which protects the very people for whom it exists. We are smart enough to do this, right?

If we do not act this time I fear we never will. We have grown way too comfortable in the boiling pot.  Let’s get out while we can.  How can we say we bring ‘shalom’ from the God of Peace if we do not start a chorus for doing something rather than nothing.  I do not have the solution, but I want to find one while we still can feel that the water is boiling.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"To Honor America, Please Rise..."

We teach our children to stand when the National Anthem is played before a sporting event. Why do we do that? The standard announcement which precedes the song states something like, “Now to honor America, please rise, remove your caps and join in the singing…”.

Those words are the key to understanding how Christians should respond to the current controversy over sports figures who kneel during this symbol-laden event.  Christians view themselves as having a very clear order of loyalties: first to God and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  Second to our families. Third to the nations in which we live. God has instructed Christians to honor the governing authorities, and so we should. (You can read about it in Romans 13:1-8)  The tradition of standing is also a sign of peace to our neighbors: “we stand with you.”

But, Christians also have a right, even a duty, to peacefully protest the governing authorities when the government invades human rights.  God tells us about the dangers of governments with too much power in Revelation 13. Revelation 13 is the warning for the Church about governments run amok. (Credit to John Stott for this insight) The Beast is a government which demands that Christians reverse the ordering of their loyalties, demanding that the knee bow before it. The bowing of the Christian’s knee is limited to one person: Jesus Christ. (Philippians 2:10)  A government which demands that its people kneel before it as a sign of loyalty is the enemy of God and God’s Church.

At the present time, and really in most times and under most (but not all) governments, there is both a need for national unity and a need for protest against violated rights.  The clear call of Scripture is to give honor where honor is due; to seek peace with all, so far as it depends on us.  So I believe the correct response of Christians citizens of these United States is to stand during the playing of the National Anthem. To refuse to stand is to say, in effect, “I do not honor America.” You may intend your kneeling to say something else, but that is what your neighbor hears you say.

But, I also think that Christians should be in the front lines of the peaceful marches against racism and racial profiling.  God opposes discrimination in all of its varieties.  “We Shall Overcome” is also a symbol-laden song that Christians should stand arm-in-arm to sing as “Christian soldiers marching as to war.”  These acts of peaceful protest also honor America and the foundational principles for which millions have given their lives.  

So, yes, please rise to honor America. It is the pathway to peace with your neighbor. And, yes, please stand with the victims of injustice. It is the pathway to love your neighbor.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The World is (Not) Ending Today!

Did you know that the world was going to end today? David Meade, a self-proclaimed prophet, had forecast that today, Saturday, September 23, 2017,  a planet called “Nibiru”, or “Planet X”, would crash into the earth, thus bringing our ride to an end.

I really don’t want to spend a lot of your time (or mine) whining about this foolishness, but I don’t want to just let it go either.  You see, this is a perfect opening to talk about the danger of basing an understanding about life on a segment of the Bible which is taken out of context.  To be fair to Mr. Meade, he follows in a long line of others who have made similarly false claims.  I suppose that his motives could have been pure, and that he genuinely wanted to warn us about “the end.” And to explain further, Mr. Meade has now explained that, upon further reflection, the world is not ending today, but starting in October things are going to be a lot different in the world. Really? Consider: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

But, back to my point about understanding the Bible when it comes to prophecy (and anything else, for that matter). Read it for yourself.  Understand the audience the writer is addressing, the circumstances, the timeframe. Yes, the Bible is timeless in its truth, but it was written by humans (inspired by God) to a people at a time in a place for a purpose.  Context matters, Mr. Meade.

So, when we read about the so-called “end of the world” in Matthew 24, we cannot stop half-way. We need to read on to verse 36, in which Jesus is quoted as saying, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  So, Mr. Meade, how did you think you got so smart?

The point Jesus was, and is trying to make is “keep watch” (v. 42) and “be ready” (v. 44).  In other words, live your life today as if Jesus is coming to transform the heavens and the earth tomorrow. Jesus’ point is simple:  if you live your life in a way that is pleasing to God it won’t matter when “the end” happens.

And anyway, the “end” is not a bad night, it is a glorious morning just on the horizon!

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord be with God’s people. Amen.” (Revelation 22:15)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Seeing Giants

“There is no way we can win.”  “There is no way this is going to work out for me.”  “We are just too small to have any chance of making a real difference.”

You can add you own favorite sayings to that list if you like. It is the beginning of a list of phrases by which we persuade ourselves that the goal we desire in our lives is unattainable. This kind of thinking goes back to our early days as human beings. You have perhaps heard of the group of men sent  by Moses to explore Canaan, the Promised Land, the “land flowing with milk and honey.” Twelve men are selected to observe and report what lies ahead; the fruit-bearing possibilities of the land; the nature of the enemy they will need to conquer if they are to possess the promised future God has prepared for them.

The men all report that the land is a wonderful place to live, with abundant resources. But ten of the men report that it is a hopeless task. “There are giants in the land.” Two of the men report that they can surely win the battle for the Promised Land.  You can guess whose report prevails. (Read more in Numbers 13-14).  

When you look at your life, at your family, at your work, at your place of worship, do you hold back yourself or people you love from receiving God’s promised future because you see giants in the way? Name your biggest fear, you most daunting challenge in your life right now.  Do you believe that God has a Promised Land for you on the other side of that challenge? Are you willing to confront the challenge, or do you see giants standing between you and God’s promised blessing?  Now do the same exercise for your family, workplace, your place of worship.

The truth was that there were no giants in the land. The ten men made up the bad report. Their fear of losing the present prevented them from taking up the opportunity to grasp God’s future. Friends, the “giants” you see are not real. These are manageable problems you can conquer. On the other side is God’s promised tomorrow.  Let hope replace fear.

Here is a prayer for those times we see giants standing between us and God’s blessings:

“God on the move, teach me how a reckless disobedience originates in a mere lack of trust. Forgive my unbelief that I prefer to call prudence, my fear that’s often masked as good sense. You call your church on a world-transforming mission: give me eyes of faith to trust you and follow in fearless obedience. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
(Credit: Philip F. Reinders, Seeking God’s Face, © Faith Alive Christian Resources, Grand Rapids 2010)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Get in the Boat!

Of all of the enduring images from post-Hurricane Harvey coverage, the ones that are most memorable for me will be those of the Texas men and women in boats driving through neighborhoods, down what were streets and had become rivers, looking for people to rescue.  As they approached cold, shivering, frightened neighbors, the boat operators would simply pull into the boat as many bodies as possible.  I didn’t see anyone asking questions about political preference, religious practices, beliefs about social issues.

The images said to me that these folks who had a boat were out there to rescue anyone who needed and wanted rescuing with a simple invitation: “Get in the boat!”

This, to me, is the image the Church should always have before it: “You who are in danger of drowning, you who need care and comfort, you who are tired and worn, get in the boat!”

From the very beginning God spoke to humans using images of creating land to separate it from water.  God uses the image of a huge boat to rescue God’s creation.  It is notable, is it not, that one of the characteristics John envisions of the New Heaven and New Earth is that “there was no longer any sea”? What he means, I think, is that the dangers of water, of being devastated by the “sea” will be over.  Hurricanes and storm surges will be no more. But until then the work of the Church is to rescue and heal the victims.

The first task of the Church is to offer the invitation to all who will listen to “get in the boat!”  Our task is not to decide who should get the invitation. Not all will respond to it, but that is between them and God. The Church’s role is not to limit the invitation to people it prefers. God loves the “world”, and the boat is sent to whosoever would believe in the Giver and the Gift.

Two things are necessary for a rescue to happen: one, someone needs to bring a boat and an invitation to get in; two, people need to believe that they need to be rescued, and then to accept the invitation to get in.  If you are someone with a boat, go out and search for those who need rescue. Don’t ask questions, just offer God’s invitation. If you are someone who is not yet in the boat, please, please, accept the invitation and get in the boat.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"There's Gonna Be a Great Day!"

When I was much younger I had a favorite audition song entitled "Great Day." I loved the upbeat tempo and message: "When you're down and out, lift up your head and shout, there's gonna be great day. Angels in the sky promise that by and by there's gonna be a great day."

I didn't know much about being "down and out" when I was young.  At this stage in my life I see how "down and out" it is possible to get. I live in this traumatic time with many people. Some are family. Some are friends. Some are members of the congregation I serve. And some are strangers, at least until they walk into my study at church.

One visitor was an older man, unemployed and disabled, a single parent to a teenager. He needed a gas card. He told me how he sometimes made money singing and playing his saxophone.  I invited him to audition for me in the sanctuary. So, there the two of us were, in a dark sanctuary, he singing a song he wrote and I serving as audience and potential employer.  After his audition  I gave him the gas card and invited him to perform for our congregation.  After a long discussion he stunned me by handing back the gas card. He said, "I'll be back for that when I come to sing in your church." 

A second visitor was a tall, fit man who looked for all the world like a "success".  What I found out was that he was recently "down-sized" when his position was eliminated. He was married and has seven children.  But, he wasn't there asking for anything from the church. Rather, he was using his time ("all I have is time right now") to explore how he and his wife could best use their "God's Storehouse" fund. On top of their tithe to their church, this couple took extra money, bonuses or gifts, and put them in a separate account to bless people in need.  They had vowed to never use it for themselves. So, though he was unemployed, he was looking to give his savings away.  Rarely have I met a better example of a person who lived out his belief that, though he was presently down and out,  "angels in the sky promise that by and by there's gonna be a great day."

The ultimate "great day" is  going to happen when Gabriel blows his famous horn.  Until then it takes a little effort on our part, and probably a shift in vision from “down” to “up”, to make a

day great. What step of faith are you willing to take today to prepare yourself to receive the promised great day?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A Lesson From 'The Mooch'

Your mouth is a window to your brain (and maybe a doorway to your heart).

When you work for the President of the United States of America, and when your job is to be the lead communicator of the White House’s ‘message’, what comes from your mouth really matters. So, if you display a ‘potty-mouth’ to the world, well, you get the picture.  You won’t be the mouth of the office of President for long because when you speak it is not just your own voice the world hears, it is also the voice of the ‘Leader of the Free World’ and all that that description entails. From Australia to Zambia, the world hears the string of expletives and wonders.

The lesson for those of us who claim to speak for God is a very basic and simple one: “remember who you are.” I borrow this idea from John Stott in his commentary on Romans 6.  Stott writes, “It is my conviction that our heavenly Father says…to us every day: ‘My dear child, you must always remember who you are.’”  His point, and mine, is that our conduct, our language, as people who claim to represent God matters, to all who hear us, especially to God.  God is not going to ‘fire’ us as his children, but he very well may ‘fire’ us from being his spokespersons.

I suppose it could be argued that the language of Mr. Anthony Scaramucci (the ‘Mooch’) was excusable because he didn’t understand he was on the record, and he was angrily defending the President. I don’t buy it.  What comes out of your mouth should not be measured by whether you are on or off the record, because, frankly, with God you are always ‘on the record’. There are proper ways to be forceful in the defense of the one we serve.  A profanity-laced tirade is not one of them. So, I applaud the President and his Chief of Staff for sending the right message: he doesn’t speak for this office.  Should he be forgiven for his indiscretion? If he is remorseful, sure. But actions have consequences, as they say, and now he lives with those.

I know that the use of profanity, especially words based on sexual acts, has become a ‘normal’ way of speaking for much of society.  However, of this I am sure, God is not impressed.  If your goal is to ‘fit in’ with society then you need to decide how to do that in a way that doesn’t reveal that you have forgotten who you are: a child of God, sent forth into the world not to ‘fit it’, but to redeem culture for the One in whose behalf we speak.

Or, to quote the children’s song: ‘Be careful little tongue what you say…”  Remember who (and whose) you are.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

42 and You

“Why is number 42 up there?”, Wil wanted to know.  The thing about taking young children to a Major League Baseball game is that there are so many distractions you should assume you will miss most of the actual game on the field. But this is how they learn to love the game, I hope. We had already talked about the names and numbers surrounding the field at Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. I explained how I had seen Yount and Molitor and Fingers play, and that I listened to Uecker call radio play by play for decades. But what about “42”, he wanted to know. There was no name, just the number. I explained that “42” was Jackie Robinson’s number, and that he was the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. My other grandson, Joshua, asked why his number was in gold. I explained that it is a special number, since Major League Baseball retired his number, and now no one may wear it ever again, because they want everyone to remember who broke the color barrier. “What’s the color barrier?”, he asked.

I thought that was a good sign.  The idea of a “color barrier” was foreign to his way of thinking.  He goes to school with children of all skin colors; he plays soccer with boys and girls of all skin colors; and he worships with people of all skin colors.  So, what in the world would a color barrier be, and what would it be for?

One goal of the church should be to become a model where the very idea of color barriers, or any of the other usual social barriers, are foreign to our way of thinking.  Whether race or gender or national origin or economic class, or any other distinctives, they are all barriers that the church must help tear down.  The Bible gives us all the authority we need to know that God hates barriers, beginning with the first barrier between “Jews and Gentiles”, and continuing with every other barrier humans can erect.  “There is no difference”; that is an essential part of the gospel (good news) we are sent to teach and model.  This is what it means for the church to be countercultural, to go against the grain of cultural ideas which grow from fear and are used to justify barriers.

God is still looking for people to be the Jackie Robinsons who are willing to break barriers, and for the gatekeepers who will give them an opportunity.  Who are the people still separated from society by barriers that God wants torn down? Are you willing to be or to speak for the next “42”?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

When Someone is Drowning

Jamel Dunn was drowning.  He had been distraught. He apparently waded into a large pond-like body of water. We don’t know what his intent was, but we do know that after a time he became afraid of dying. He called for helped. He screamed for someone to rescue him.

A small group of teenagers, ages 14-16, were standing across the body of water watching Jamel grow weaker. They heard his voice, his pleas for assistance.  They turned on their cell phone and, rather than calling for help, started videotaping Jamel drowning.  They called out to him with words to the effect, “You shouldn’t have gone in there.”  After Jamel died, still laughing, they said, as if congratulating themselves, “we could have done something for him but we didn’t.” And they laughed some more.

The legal authorities explained that there were no laws requiring someone to help a drowning man. That doesn’t surprise me. As a former legislator I can confess that there are some wrongs you just cannot imagine you would need a law against.  There is a standard in the law which says “this shocks the conscience of the court.”  It won’t apply in this situation, but it is likely that you want it to apply; it is likely that you want some means for the legal system, on behalf of Jamel Dunn and you, society itself, to say, “we cannot let such disregard for life to go unpunished.”

I have no evidence for this, but I believe that this act of disregard for life would shock the conscience of every society.  To watch a child of God die without intervening, when you had the tools to do so without even endangering your own life, must be abhorrent to all sane humanity.  Why would that be true? Because, I believe, God has placed in the minds, the consciences of all of his created ones, God’s own image. (Genesis 1:26).  People are as close to God as their conscience; we, as created beings, know “right” from “wrong” without an act of Congress. (Romans 1:20)

And if we have this understanding as those made in the image of God, what does that tell us about God, the “image-maker”?  When God sees someone drowning, do you think God stands by telling the angels, “He shouldn’t have gone in there?” Or do you believe that it is the very nature of God to send One to save those who have gone in too deep?   

If you saw Jamel Dunn drowning you would have done something to help him, right? In the same way, when God sees someone is drowning, Jesus saves. You know that’s true, don’t you?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

When Flowers and Ministries Die

As I walked into worship last Sunday I noticed that the two Sundays old flowers were fading.  I should have removed them, I thought, but, they still were serving their role of brightening up our worship space.  Yesterday I noticed that the now three week old flowers had died. Petals were falling. The stems were leaning.  Life was gone.  I tried to carry out both vases in one trip to maximize time on a fading Friday, but with no free hand  I could not catch all of the falling petals. I had to make my way back along my path to collect the pieces, one at a time. But I needed to clear the way.

Earlier in the week I sat with some friends as we talked about the end of a ministry.  There are lots of ways to talk about dying ministries.  Let’s give it more time; let’s give it a new vision; let’s wait for God to do something new.  I ended up being the voice who had to say, “It’s time is over. Let’s bring it to an end.”  That is a good way to become the least popular person in the room very quickly.  But, in the circumstances of that particular ministry, it looked to me like the ministry was not just wilting. The petals had fallen. Now we just needed to decide whether to throw out the flowers or let them stay in the vase, pretending that they were still beautiful flowers.

Sadly, my mind has been full of thoughts about dying ministries this summer.  Why, I ask, would God would allow ministries that seemed so full of life and energy at one time to now die.  My minister friends remind me that we need to be “pastoral” as we approach these “end of ministry” situations.  There is truth to that. But, how do we know when it is time to carry the flowers out of the sanctuary because their purpose has been fulfilled? Does God allow good ministries to die, like flowers, because their purpose in the church has been realized?

Tomorrow when I walk into worship there will be a new vase full of bright flowers. The flowers, like the baptismal waters, will be a sign of life springing from death.  I wonder if God allows some ministries to die because there is something new, something full of life, that God is bringing into existence to take its place?  It is painful and messy to clean up that which was beautiful and yet has now died. But perhaps the act of picking up the petals one by one is a way of grieving what has died and preparing the path for what is life.

When flowers and ministries die the best the church can do is to prepare the way for God’s resurrection story.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

No Tailgaters in Heaven

Why do otherwise normal people act like crazed maniacs when driving their cars?  You might imagine that the answer to this important question requires a complex analysis funded by a grant from the Department of Transportation.  I don’t think so. I think the answer is obvious.  People are evil by nature.  You see, for a Calvinist, understanding human conduct is easy.  People are sinful by nature. Oh sure, they will say things like, “I am basically a good person” and give you a few examples. But, get them behind the wheel of a car? Forget about it. Their true nature is revealed.

And here’s the thing: the people who are the victims of random tailgating get caught up into the web of bad behavior too.  They are the ones who start thinking evil thoughts about what they would do to the evil tailgater if they weren’t such a good religious person (or afraid of getting shot).  They start to imagine what it would be like to just tap on the brakes and get a million dollar verdict for the injuries the tailgater caused by rear-ending them. 

It turns out that the drivers in my home state of Wisconsin are ranked as the 5th most rude drivers in all the United States.  That’s what the folks who did the Kars4Kids Survey said. (Maddie Koss, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 7.6.17)  I am not surprised. In my experience, I have been tailgated by people of both genders and all age ranges, although it seems that the drivers ages 16-25 bear much of the blame. Who says I am not becoming a grumpy old man?

I have been studying Paul’s letters to the early churches and he makes big deal about how all of us are sinners who need a Savior other than ourselves. If we need proof, he suggests, just look around.  No matter how much we try to become perfect by doing good, we just cannot get it done. We don’t love God perfectly, and we certainly don’t love our neighbor as we ought.  If you drive the speed limit in the left lane of any highway for a half-hour you will witness the basic “badness” of humanity.  Because people who love their neighbors don’t tailgate and people who love their enemies don’t think evil thoughts about the child of God tailgating them. 

That’s all the evidence I need to confirm my belief that our human nature needs God’s nurture. Heaven’s Highways will have no tailgaters. But, do you think there will be speed limits?  Uh oh.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

When Social Security Writes

The letter had to be a mistake, I figured.  Why would those nice people at the Social Security Administration send me this letter telling me that I needed to contact them right away in order to get my Social Security payments started?  I called the SSA and spoke with a very nice woman who, when looking at my records, said, “Happy Birthday almost”.  I said “thank you”, and then I told her I was confused about why they were writing to me.  Her best guess was that, because I was about to turn 63, they were letting me know that if I was ready to start my payments I needed to get an application filed.  I assured her that I had no desire to “retire” just yet. She told me, “Well, in three years you will be eligible for full benefits.”

Three years.  That got my attention.  I have three years left until I have reached the age when the government says I should stop working.  Thirty-six months until society will tell me it’s time to quit the commute and all that happens at the other end of it.  Now, I fully understand that, for many, maybe most people, they want to retire from their work routine and take advantage while they can of the rest of what life has to offer. I am all for that for those who need or want to take advantage of that change in life’s direction.  But, for me, I already am doing what I want to do when I retire. In fact, I am so comfortable in my “work” that most of my friends are constantly asking me how I am enjoying retirement. “I am not retired!”, I tell them in an exasperated tone.  

Three years, my friend at Social Security told me. Get ready, buddy.  So now I am focusing. Focusing on what I want to accomplish in the next three years, or if circumstances permit, a few more beyond. Three (or so) years to “finish well.”  What can I do to touch lives in some meaningful way before I can do so no more?

Today I am going to officiate the spreading of the ashes of a friend of mine of the same age who was taken by disease.  She was focused during her dying years, focused on her family and friends and on dying well.  Her last three years of life were a testament to the power of “focus” that comes from the desire to finish well.  To be focused on finishing well, whether it is a career or life itself, carries with it the promise that makes it all worthwhile, that we shall behold Him face to face, and hear the “well done” that is reserved for the faithful servants.

Thanks for the letter.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Sowing Buttercups and Daisies

How did those get there, I wondered?  Jill, my gardener spouse, reminded me that we spread a packet of Buttercup seeds in some topsoil so that we could enjoy them as we walked the paths in our yard.  There are about a dozen of them this year.  We do nothing to help them grow or to come back year after year.  We just count on the rain and the sun and the warmth to keep them happy, and we hope that the deer don’t like Buttercups. (If you are singing “Build Me Up Buttercup” right now you are not alone.)

Further along the path are dozens of daisies. They are the white petal/yellow center variety (“Shasta daisy” for you gardeners).  We didn’t put them there so far as we can remember. I did sow some wildflowers about fifty yards away from their current location some eighteen years ago, so maybe they migrated there from that effort, but I won’t take the credit.  We used to mow the area where they sprout now. Maybe that is how the seeds spread.  I can’t be sure how they go there, but they are quite a picture.

Isn’t it a wonder that the Sower keeps spreading seeds that figure out a way to survive with the least bit of human help? I mean, you can mow the flowers down this year and next year you get more of them.  We live on top of what amounts to a rock quarry. Poor soil. Lots of rocks.  And the seeds keep spreading and growing anyway.  If we put some good soil down we get different flowers, the variety that need some deeper soil in which to sink their roots. I like them both, the Buttercups and the Daisies. 

The joy of exploring wild flowers is that you can’t quite be sure how they got there. Maybe you had something to do with it. Maybe nature (or God, depending on your point of view) gets the credit for putting them there, for making them grow.  I just know this much: the Sower has enough seeds that he pretty much doesn’t worry about where those seeds land.  Why, you can find flowers peeking up through the rocks, right?  The Sower just keeps on sowing, never worried that the supplies of seeds will run out, never worried about finding perfect soil to receive the gift of the seed. Sure, the Sower likes to see Buttercups take root in deep soil, but the Sower is just as happy to find Daisies sprouting in the shallow soil of fields. They are all beautiful. They all got there somehow.

“Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:9)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Should Christians Boo?

Danica Patrick is a professional race car driver. She is a lightning rod for controversy in the world of racing because she, her detractors believe, is given position and privilege because she gets publicity for her sponsors more for her looks and gender than for her driving skills.  Her supporters see her as a hero who is breaking gender boundaries and setting an example for girls, showing the way for breaking the “glass ceiling” in male-dominated pursuits.

Ms. Patrick’s latest controversy comes about because she called out a fan who was booing her for failing to give him an autograph. As Ms. Patrick tells her side of the story, when she heard the “boo” she ‘had a moment’, meaning she sort of mentally flipped out. She marched over to the fan and said, “"I'm a person too. I have feelings. When you boo me, it hurts my feelings."

Now, I can make a good case for putting blame on Ms. Patrick for being overly-sensitive. She is a public figure and if you want to be in the public eye sometimes you will get booed.  But, I would rather make a case that the fan who booed stepped over the line. We wouldn’t endorse the fan physically hitting her with a stick, so why do we think it is acceptable to hurt with words.  Sticks and stones break bones, and words break spirits. 

You may be wondering why I am wasting your time on this when, instead,  I should be writing about the horrible state of affairs that leads a deranged man to open fire of human beings because he disagrees with their politics.  Consider this: Public discourse (TV interviews; Twitter; Facebook) has created in the minds of deranged people the justification they are looking for to do horrible acts of violence.  The problem is that public discourse has become so disrespectful, with seemingly no boundaries, that nothing shocks our eyes or ears. We need to see how our horrible public language has created an environment which, in the minds of the deranged, justifies hateful acts.

If Christians are going to transform the world, and that is our call, then the beginning point is to change the language we speak from hate to love. To “boo” another person, even if it is deserved, is to contribute to social language which creates an environment of hate and hateful acts.  What can you do to change a world which is becoming more and more hateful? Don’t boo. It’s a start.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Graduate Into Who You Were Meant to Be

Maybe life needs more graduation days.  A day where you can say of a period of your life that you at least survived, if not necessarily thrived. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say that Graduation Day is wasted on the young, but I am not so sure that they “get it”.  For high school graduates there is a sense of accomplishment, but mostly a sense of “freedom”. For college graduates there is a sense of completion, but also a sense of dread, as in “now what?”  What Graduation Day should be about is examining our lives with the question, “Who do I want to be?”

If we could have more “graduation days”, we would be recognized by society, family and friends for successfully completing the various stages of life: getting a job; paying for your own housing from your own paycheck; finding a mate with whom to share life and, for some, to expand the gene pool; finding a way to retire with grace and purpose.  We do have, of course, some version of “graduation day” for these life events, usually some sort of “party.”  But I think we need something more serious than a few stupid jokes and a couple of drinks to mark life’s progress.

I am advocating more frequent graduation day exercises which invite us to examine whether we have yet discovered who the person is that God wants us to be:

 “Could’st thou in vision see
Thyself the man God meant,
Thou never more could’st be
The man thou art, content.” Emerson

Like the song says, we are tempted to just keep “Dancing through life/skimming the surface”, living the “unexamined life.” To get the most joy out of life we should instead invite others to help us see the vision that God has for our lives, and to help us not be content with who we are until we live into that vision.

Can you think of anything that would bring more joy on your final graduation day than to know that the person you ended up being is the person God meant you to be?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Tale as Old as Time"

Just what is the “tale as old as time”? 

Tuesday was not a good day for me.  It was one of those cold, dreary May days in which nothing was going right; one of those days that persuades me “spring” and its promise of “new life” is a myth invented by those famous ‘old wives’.  So when Jill suggested a trip to the movies to see “Beauty and the Beast” I jumped at the chance. Buttered popcorn solves a lot of life’s little problems.

The movie tells a “tale as old as time”, as you know, and if you don’t then this is your “spoiler alert”.  The handsome prince becomes a hideous Beast because he fails to see the beauty inside a woman who comes for help at his castle door. He will remain forever the Beast unless someone loves him before the final petal of a magical rose falls.  The Beauty finally does express her love for the Beast, but not until after the final petal has fallen, and not until after the Beast has been killed in his defense of the beauty from her enemy.  Now, I have to tell you, I have seen this story in movie and theatre form, but I had forgotten that the Beast dies as the final rose petal falls. I thought, “Oh no, did they modernize the movie and let the Beast die?”  Silly me.  What kind of ending is that to a tale as old as time? The Beast, of course, rises in a swirl of sound and sight and the entire castle and environs are restored. Dark becomes light. Brokenness is healed. Death becomes life. Love wins.

So, what is the tale as old as time, I wondered. That animals and humans can love each other? While true on some level, I don’t think that is the point of this tale. That beauty is only skin deep? No, the prince and princess each gain a companion with a beautiful outward appearance.  That true love transforms people’s personalities? That might be closer to the meaning of the tale.

But I think the real tale as old as time is that when you love someone not for their appearance, and even when that love is not returned; when sacrificial love is offered, then death is defeated. What makes such a tale remain part of the campfire stories library for as long as time is not that “boy gets girl”, but that transforming love acts to save the object of one’s love expecting nothing in return. Such love happens because love is “other-centered”; such love is unselfish. Such love is what grace might look like if expressed in a tale as old as time.

It is this kind of love alone which allows the Lover to say to all who will listen, “Even though you die, you will live. Do you believe this?”

Saturday, May 20, 2017

"Oh, Daughter"

That there are children of church-going parents who have “left” the Church, who deny God, is hardly news. That there are parents who won’t give up on their hope that God has not left their children ought to be news. And that is what this story is about.

A Grandma raises her daughter to love God and neighbor.  That daughter becomes a Mom who raises her daughter the very same way. But then college happens. And that daughter/granddaughter finds out about life and living and worldviews which make the “church” and “religion”, and even “God”, seem like “fake news” made up by insecure, simple-minded old folks.

Well, one day Granddaughter tells Mom that she doesn’t know if God exists. She proclaims herself to be an “agnostic” (as opposed to an “atheist”, who claims to believe that there is no “god.”)  She announces to Mother, and in turn to Grandmother, that, well, maybe there is no “god” after all, and if there is no “god” then you certainly don’t need a church or religion.   

Anyway, Grandma sends Mom last week’s entry (“Oh Mom” 5/12/17) and Mom tells Grandma that this is how she reacted:

“I agree with his wisdom here - especially with my current status of being the mother of an 'agnostic'.  Like I told (Mary), when she was very distressed about telling me her current spiritual belief for fear of distressing me:  ‘I will continue to pray to God that He will reveal the truth of Himself to you.  If my beliefs about God aren't true, then there's no damage done.  But if they are, I won't live in perpetual distress about your spiritual condition because I believe the Holy Spirit can and does influence people's minds and heart towards God.’”

Isn’t that profound?  It is a wonderful view of how to respond to a non-believing child with grace and humility.  She is not saying “Oh, Daughter, believe!” She is saying, “Oh, Spirit, help her unbelief!” Jesus promises that he will send the Holy Spirit to assist in making that prayer effective.  Faith flows from God’s gift of faith.

There are a lot of “Marys” who do not yet know how much they are loved by God.  But one day they will. To all of you Grandmas and Moms out there with a “Mary”, let me assure you, she is not lost. She is just not yet found.  Keep on loving like Jesus loved; keep on praying for the Spirit’s power “to influence her mind and heart towards God”; keep before your mind’s eye the beautiful picture of the three of you together forever.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"Oh, Mom"

Mother’s Day is traditionally the third-highest attended worship service, following Easter and Christmas Eve.  Why? It is not celebrating some aspect of the gospel story, like the birth or resurrection of Jesus Christ.  What accounts for the pattern of higher attendance on the 2nd Sunday of May? Here is my theory:  Moms are the spiritual center of their families.  Of course, in some families the Dad is the “spiritual director”, but more often than not, based on my observation, the mother is the stronger faith motivator for the children. So, when it comes to Mother’s Day, a Mother is able to motivate her family to attend worship with her. One Mom told me straight out, as she walked in the door with her entire family (an unusual event), “I told them the best gift they could give me for Mother’s Day was to go to church with me.” 

I got to thinking about this after I read an advice column written by Carolyn Hax (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 5.12.17) in which a young woman was seeking advice for how to deal with her mother who would not relent on pushing religion. The young woman and her husband had “chosen not to continue” to observe their religious practices. When her Mom would ask about certain practices, especially after the grandchildren were born, the mother and daughter would end up in huge fights, taking months to repair.  So, what’s a daughter to do, Carolyn?  The advice given was to “disengage”; that is, don’t talk about it; change the subject; respond to a question about religion with, “I love you, Mom.”

I like that  advice.  The writer of Hebrews says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another….” (10:24-25) I often tell Moms (and this comes up a lot!), don’t push religion on your adult children. If it is practical, offer to bring the grandchildren to worship or education events on your own. Pray for them and trust in the promise of baptism. Let the Spirit do the heavy lifting of bringing them into a faith community.  It appears that the practice of “not meeting together” is a complaint going back to the earliest churches.  It continues today, of course, but that doesn’t mean non-attenders are “lost children.”  Find ways to encourage your children and grandchildren which don’t result in an “Oh, Mom” response accompanied by an eye roll.

You could always begin by asking your children to worship with you on Mother’s Day…and offer to feed them afterwards!  A mother’s work is never done, right Moms?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Planning the Funeral

The day after a loved one dies is the first day that reality starts to take hold. Customs vary by region and faith, but, the dawning of the day after is not a day to sit idly by the window meditating on the life of the lost one, the lost relationship. There is too much to do.

I have sat on these “days after” with many families. The most difficult, painful, emotionally wrenching encounters are with mothers and fathers who have lost a child, minor or adult.  There are literally no words of comfort. All you can do is cry along with the grieving and try to plan the funeral, one step at a time.

I try imagine the challenge of trying to console Mary on Saturday morning.  Hadn’t the angel made this very clear, that she was “highly favored”? Hadn’t it been promised that her son would be given the “throne of his father David”? Hadn’t Elizabeth prophesied that both she and Jesus would be “blessed”?  But now, instead of having the front seat to the coronation of her son the king, she spent Friday afternoon lying in the dirt as her son’s blood dripped all around her during his death by torture. And they placed him in the tomb.

Now it is the day after.  Everyone sits around, trying to recall the words he spoke. How could he, how could everyone who followed him have been so wrong?  But, there is a funeral to plan.  What songs shall we sing? “They said ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?”  Who will dare try to sum up his life in a eulogy? Will anyone come as we sit together, or will they everyone be too fearful, too ashamed to be seen with Mary, the woman who said God visited her?

I wonder if maybe, just maybe, this funeral planning was put on hold for a day because Mary still believed that her son would be king?

Maybe the ‘other Mary’ told Mary she felt the earth stirring up a recipe of hope this Saturday.  “Hold off on that funeral, Mary.” Maybe it was just words meant to comfort. Maybe it was true.  Let’s see what the morning brings, shall we?

Pastor Bill

P.S. I will be taking my “spring writing break” for a while.  Thank you for your faithful readership!  Lord willing, we will re-connect in good time.

Holy Saturday, Holy Week "Also Present in the Grave"

Reading Jeremiah 23:24b (NIV) "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the LORD.

Jesus is dead. He lies in a grave.

"Low in the grave he lay...."

But, he was not alone. Grave sites, be they tombs carved in the side of stones; holes dug in the earth; urns filled with ashes; whether the ocean depths or the summit of the mountain, the dead do not lie alone.

The LORD fills the earth. His presence is unseen, but in some mysterious way, not unknown, not 'unfelt'.  The LORD's life force is stirring this Holy Saturday.

Jesus is really dead, but he died in this knowledge:

" body will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the will make known to me the path of life... ." (Psalm 16:9-11)

"...waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord."

Just you wait.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday, Holy Week "The Revealing of God's Arm"

Reading Isaiah 53:1b "...and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?"

I wonder if that is something to be desired or feared?

On this holy night our Lord, Jesus Christ, was dead. Really. Dead. "He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death."

But here's the thing, Isaiah explains: "...he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth."

Why, God, did you forsake your Son? "Yet it was the LORD's (Yahweh's) will to crush him and cause him to suffer... ."

Is this what is means to have be on the revealing end of the LORD's mighty arm?

Or is it this?  "After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied... ."

I choose to believe, or I believe by the power of the Spirit, that earth and heaven will be one and that this is when Jesus will be satisfied, all because of a Friday afternoon in which he died an unspeakable death and dwelt in his grave for what must have been in heaven an unbearable three days. Unless you knew how it was going to end.

And this is how the arm of the LORD has been revealed to us.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Thursday, Holy Week "Fear and Following"

Reading Luke 22:54b "Peter followed at a distance."

Can you blame him, really?

Who doesn't want to avoid danger that could lead to arrest and even death?

He could have just gone home, right? I mean, at least he followed Jesus as Jesus was being hauled away for his so-called "trial".  Would it not have been wiser, for the sake of the movement, to stay away, so that the leader of the disciples could carry on Jesus' work?

Ah, the beauty of rationalizing our decision to follow Jesus at a distance.

Can you imagine, as the rooster crowed, the piercing to the toenails look when Jesus eyes met Peter's frightened stare? "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter."  Crushing. No wonder he "went outside and wept bitterly."

So much of our lives, as followers of Jesus, are spent living in this Holy Thursday moment of fear, or shame, or guilt, that someone might see us so close to Jesus that we get labeled as one who is "with him."

Can you blame us, really?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday, Holy Week "Only Jesus Was Silent This Day"

Reading Matthew 26:15 "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" (Judas)

Wednesday of Holy Week is remarkable for what does not happen to Jesus.  Scholars call this day "Silent Wednesday" because we don't know what Jesus did today.  The speculation is that that he and his disciples spent time in fellowship, perhaps with other friends, just enjoying each others company one last time.

But I don't know.  Jesus had to know by now what was about to unfold.  I know how I feel the day before a major event in my life, and I have had no life event even approaching  the trials and trauma of the next two days in Jesus' life. I pretty much want to be alone.  My intestines roil. I don't want to talk to anyone.

Jesus was about to be "dead man walking". Did he really attend a party?

I think he spent time thinking about where Judas was and what he was doing.  Either Jesus had spies, or he had divine knowledge of what Judas did on Wednesday, offering to help capture Jesus for a price. Because on Thursday night, Jesus will tell Judas to go do what he planned. No one else seemed to have a clue what was going down.

Jesus rested? Maybe. Jesus wrestled with his betrayal by Judas? Maybe. Either way, while Jesus was "silent" this Wednesday, evil was not. It never is.

Jesus could be silent on Wednesday because he knew Friday was coming, and so was Sunday.  Still, the day's events had to trouble him as he tried to fall asleep for the last time before his death.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tuesday, Holy Week "A Time for Darkness"

Reading Luke 22:53: "...this is your hour-when darkness reigns."

The Source of Light was about to willingly engage the forces of "darkness."

Jesus knew that he, the Light of the World, was descending this week into utter darkness.

Spiritual darkness.

Physical darkness.

Did Jesus know that, while darkness was given its own "hour", that the eternal Light would emerge from the darkness victorious?  If he had such assurance from God as he walked toward Friday, did it make the journey any easier?

Is this statement to the authorities who are arresting Jesus one which springs from the knowledge of coming victory or the despair of looming defeat?

Walking toward Friday takes courage that God alone can provide, and faith that Jesus alone possessed.

It is by the faith of Jesus that you have been saved, by grace.  Darkness reigned for but an hour.

The darkness of Friday would not be a surprise to Jesus. Neither would the Light of Sunday.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday, Holy Week: Musings on the Two Marys

Reading Matthew 28:1.
" ...Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb."  (NIV)

God calls these two women to be his prophets and preachers about the most momentous moment in the history of the world.

It is a brave thing they did, going to the tomb. It is a mysterious thing that they had ears to hear the angel's news, and a miraculous thing that they believed what they heard.

It is a life-changing vision they had of that empty tomb.

It is the greatest act of faith that any person could have shown that day as they left the tomb as bearers of the light, the light which the darkness had not, has not, will not overcome.

Thank God for sending such a resounding message that he chooses women to be God's ministers.

Then and now.

To conclude otherwise is to deny the choice God made in relying on the "Two Marys" to carry the light.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Opening Day

It was Opening Day this past week.  I was not at the ballpark cooking up brats and swilling down cold beverages.  But, I was thinking about the first day of major league baseball as I was speaking with a guy who was in Omaha. When I mentioned that it was Opening Day the guy’s voice lit up. He started to wax on about the beauty of this particular Opening Day because his Chicago Cubs were beginning their defense of their World Championship.  He told me about watching and listening through losing seasons with his Dad, and the unfettered joy of “Game 7” last October when Cubs fans patience was rewarded.  Here we were, me cheering for a Milwaukee Brewers team which advertises that it is “rebuilding” (again) and him cheering for a team thinking they are destined to “repeat”.  Yet we both were full of Opening Day hope: “this could be our year!”

“Hope springs eternal” is an over-used phrase, but it truly does apply on Opening Day.  Everyone is tied for first place. Everyone hopes that this will be the year their team becomes the “Miracle Mets” or the big league version of the “Bad News Bears”: a bunch of misfits who stumble upon a winning formula. On Opening Day, everyone is a potential winner of the biggest prize, and people fill the ballparks to celebrate that hope.

I know it is just coincidental, but I love the way that Easter Sunday happens near Opening Day.  Easter is “Opening Day” for so many people of faith. It is the day they “re-set” their faith clocks; it is the day that they come to hear about how, no matter where their life finished in the standings last year, this year could be different.  This could be the championship year for their faith, the year they discover how to produce more victories than losses. So the crowds line up and fill the stands waiting for those beautiful words that mean hope is here: “Play ball!”  The Church’s proclamation is the same: “He is Risen!” Those words mean it is time to start living a new life under new power and with a new focus.

It’s almost “Opening Day”, friends. Don’t miss the first pitch of what just could be the best season your life.  

P.S. My Brewers beat Mr. Omaha’s Cubs last night in extra innings. I’m telling ya, this could be the year!

Saturday, April 1, 2017


“No Crosses Allowed in Workplace” screamed the headlines.  It was the lead story on the evening news, while the cable news outlets ran special reports on this “Breaking News”.  The reports all covered the Supreme Court’s determination that employers could ban employees from wearing any religious symbols in the workplace. No jewelry in the shape of a cross; no crucifixes; no “fish” symbols; no “WWJD” wrist bands.

The case started with a group of atheists complaining to the HR department that they were offended by the HR Director’s gold cross which she wore over her clothing during Lent.  The president of the company stated his company was “neutral” in its views of religion, and therefore instructed the HR Director to remove her gold cross during work hours. The HR Director claimed religious discrimination. The case worked its way through the court system until, finally, the Supreme Court, in a landmark opinion, gave a new meaning to “religious freedom”.  The court reasoned that, so long as everyone was barred from expressing their religious preferences in the place of employment, no one could do so.

Leaders of religious organizations wondered aloud if this is the first step down the slippery slope of becoming “one nation without regard for God”. The nation’s citizens, however, were noticeably less bothered by the case’s final outcome.  Pundits speculated that, as religious practices have diminished among the population, the concern about protecting the right to express faith publicly has likewise dropped dramatically.  Among the nation’s children, less than half of those polled knew why people wore a cross in the first place.   

Meanwhile, God sighed.

(This is not an April Fool’s joke. It is fiction based on a real decision by the European Court of Justice.  Of note: the European ban on wearing crosses grew from an employer’s action banning an Islamic headscarf at work.  The court reasoned that Islamic religious garb could be banned if crosses were too. It is a legal theory coming to a court near you.)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"When Life Makes You a Sixteen Seed" (2015)

Sixteen seeds have a 98 per cent chance of losing their first (and thus only) game in the annual men’s national basketball tournament.  That’s life for a 16 seed.

(There are over 350 schools which have men’s basketball teams at the highest level, called “D-1”.  Of that group, 68 teams are invited to an annual single-elimination (“lose and go home”) basketball tournament. The best four teams are “seeded” as a “1” in the first round of games against the worst four teams, called “16 seeds.”  No “16” has beaten a “1”.)

So, why bother playing the “16 v. 1”  game? Because when you are a 16 seed you believe you can win.  Each year at least one 16-seed player declares, “We can beat anyone.”  They believe it. They are champions of their own conference, and they have won something like 20 of their 30 games, and they believe in themselves. And then the game is played and they lose. Every time. Reality sets in.  The game is over.  No one cares.

You would think that “David loses to Goliath” should be a headline, but it’s not. People expect David to lose to Goliath, except in the Bible story.  We want David to win, but, let’s face it, in our lives, Goliath wins more than he loses.  And yet all kinds of “Davids” keep taking up 5 smooth stones, trying to slay life’s giant enemy. I wonder if when Jesus was a little boy he played with a slingshot, pretending to be the superhero he admired from the temple stories.  But then, maybe not. Maybe he knew that he was born to be a 16 seed, always playing a 1.  Oh, he would have his moments, but then, in the end, the enemy won. And he knew it was going to happen. But, Jesus kept playing.

Why did Jesus bother to play the game of life if he knew he was going to end up dead on a cross? Well, maybe the cross isn’t the end of the game. Maybe the game isn’t over. Maybe all the “cross-watchers” are wrong. Maybe the people who give you no chance to succeed in your life don’t know that the game of life isn’t what it appears; that David still beats Goliath; that good conquers evil; that the faithful are rewarded with the victor’s crown. The game isn’t over, friend. Keep on playing.  Someone cares.