Moments of Silence

I took this image last month while on a hunting vacation in Colorado. I spent an entire week hunting with my son, my brother, and a dear friend in ministry. We spent the week together spending a significant amount of time out on the wide open prairie at sunrise and at sunset. The house we stayed in had no television, nor did we have access to a stereo or internet other than on our phones.

In a word, I spent a week in quiet, still, huge, screaming quiet.

The only things that broke the quietness were our conversations, our laughter, the sounds of grasshoppers, antelope talking, birds, the wind in our ears, and the volume of our own thoughts.

It was amazing, refreshing, and intimidating all at the same time. When you are quiet, there is nothing that interrupts you own stream of consciousness. Nothing drowns out your own thinking. You become aware of exactly where your mind is, where it goes, and where it is taking you. Even more, in the stillness you become acutely aware, if you are attentive, to the voice of the Holy Spirit of God in your soul. In the stillness of a sunset, God speaks to your harried spirit reminding you that you are God’s own…you are a beloved child of God. God’s voice comforts, corrects, leads, reminds, and communicates God’s character to our souls.

Too many people do not hear God’s voice to any significant degree. The rampant noise in our culture drowns out God’s leading and God’s comfort. The frenetic pace of our life chokes out the life of the Spirit that God longs to create in us. From the moment we rise in the morning until long after we close our eyes in sleep, our worlds are filled with noise as well as mental and spiritual clutter.

Perhaps the Psalmist really understood and knew what he was talking about when he penned those words in the 46th Psalm, “Be still and know that I am God…” Something profound and powerful happens when we cultivate moments of silence. When we de-clutter our minds and our souls, the voice of God has opportunity to reorient and to reform our lives.

I invite you to find moments of silence in your day. Breathe deeply the voice of the Holy Spirit. Turn moments into hours, hours into days and days into a week of restful reorienting quiet before God. See if God doesn’t do something powerful in your soul…

Anyway, that’s just my pondering…

Time

time aI have been thinking a great deal this morning about time. Events of the past several days have reminded me of the precious nature of the gift of time.

You see, time is more than just a measure of the passage of the hours of the day, waiting until we can punch the clock and go home. Time is more than just the countdown of the days until we go on vacation, or go to see the grandchildren. Time is a much more precious commodity than the tics of the second-hand on a clock, or the beeping of the alarm on a cell phone.

Last night, as I sat in my chair, watching a documentary on the Oklahoma City Bombing, I heard the first hand story of one of the victims, who worked in the Murrah Federal Building. She was trapped in the rubble for six long hours while the first responders sought to free her. It struck me, as she talked about those six horrifying hours, she didn’t think about anything other than how she should have lived her life differently. She bargained with God for more time…and if she was granted that time, she would make the most of each new hour God gave her. Time became precious for this lady who was rescued from a horrific disaster.

This morning, I awakened to news that a childhood friend passed away entirely too soon. In a matter of eight days, he went from healthy husband, father, churchman, and all-around good guy to a victim of cancer. This morning, I am saddened, shaken, and grieved that a beautiful person had their time on earth snuffed out…entirely too soon. He was too young.

As I process all of this, I am working with congregants who have been diagnosed with cancer. I have celebrated homegoings eight times over the past eleven months for dear and loved people…each of whom died, in my estimation, entirely too young. I have wept at caskets. I have held the hands of dear saints who were graduating from this life. I have prayed over grieving family members. I have had dear friends pray over my own grief. I frequently shed tears as precious memories of family members overwhelm me.

If scripture bears out anything, it is that we are not guaranteed timtimee beyond the moment in which we now live. In the scheme of life, old or young have no real bearing. What has bearing is how we live our life in this moment. What counts, in Kingdom time, is how we use the hours, the minutes, the days that we have right now. How we steward the time we have been given is the measure of the quality of a life.

We live life now with an end. Lives that are well-lived  are the ones that are given away. You see, we don’t earn more time by hanging tightly to the time we have. We earn quality of life by giving that over which we have little control to bless others.

Time is a gift from God. Use the time you have well. Love others with God’s reckless love. Give yourself to others, pour your gifts and passions into them. Use your words to build other up, to bless them, to speak grace into their lives. Hug your wife, your husband, your children, your grandchildren, your parents. Hug strangers that they may know the love that Christ has so freely given them.

The best time is the time spent loving…

Anyway, that is my meanderings this morning…

My Brother’s Keeper

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

Genesis 4.9 (ESV)

The news from the past few weeks has been giving me the unfortunate opportunity to reflect on this powerful verse in scripture. The questioning from God to Cain comes when God discovers that Cain, in a fit of jealousy, has murdered Abel. Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God while, for whatever reason, Cain’s was not. In a fit of violence, Cain beat Abel to death.

Unfortunately, this pattern of behavior has continued throughout human history. Anger and jealousy lead to bitterness and malice; which when cultivated and nurtured give birth to rage and ultimately to violence.

The news has been filled with violence and with it’s after effects for weeks. Mass shootings, suicides, mass stabbings, domestic violence as well as the consequences have been prominently featured on the news. Lives are being snuffed out at an alarming pace.

My greater concern is the response that I have seen. The wagons are circled. Political pundits begin their spin. We are given a litany of whys, wherefores and causes. People cry for change. Yet no change comes.

The argument against change often boils down to a staunch argument for personal rights. It is MY right… You fill in the blanks as to which rights are cited. Meaningful change is gridlocked in the pretext of guaranteeing MY INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS.

I would be less than genuine if I didn’t come clean and tell you that I used to be one of those. I am not so sure that I am any more. Each innocent that dies convicts me that much more.

my brother's keeper

I am reminded by scripture that I am my brother’s keeper. As a resident alien, that is a citizen of the Kingdom of God, (where my first allegiance lies) I AM MY Brother’s Keeper. My rights are of less value than serving others. It seems to me, when John applies Jesus’s words (quoting the Great Commandment) that he is reminding us of our first responsibility to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves and to surrender my rights for the good of others. As a refresher, John says, Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down his life for one’s friends (John 15.19).

John further amplifies this teaching of Jesus, saying: By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or in talk but in deed and in truth. (I John 3.16-18 ESV). As I reflect on each new incidence of violence, this verse convicts me more and more.

The operative word I hear in the rhetoric on both sides of the equation is the word MY and PERSONAL. The older I get, the more I wince when I hear those words proclaimed loudly. So much hurt is perpetrated in the defense of MY ideas, MY rights, MY needs, MY tastes, and MY will. In a culture where ME and MY are lord, community is destroyed. People are destroyed and the Kingdom suffers.

I think it might be time for the Church, for those who comprise the Church, and for those who consider themselves to be members of the eternal Kingdom of God to lay aside MY in favor of the more scriptural WE. WE are all members of one Body…the Body of Christ. I wonder how the world would change if we began to look at ALL issues through the lens of the Body of Christ.

Perhaps it is time that we who are followers of Jesus Christ are willing to surrender our right to our personal rights to see peace come to earth, or at least a little more peace come to the earth.

Anyway…that’s my recent pondering…

Jesus Wept

“Jesus wept.”(John 11:35 and Luke 19.41)

One of these passages is the shortest verse in scripture. The other is a powerful account of the compassion of our God and Savior for the city of Jerusalem. I find these verses to be profound in their expression of the depth of passion of God for God’s creation.

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In these two recollections, by the authors of the Gospels, years after the life and ministry of Jesus, it is significant to me that they remembered that Jesus publically wept over the state of affairs of both individuals and of the community at large. There were incidences in the life of Christ that moved him to a significant display of emotion.

The account of John is well familiar to us. Jesus wept at the tomb of his good friend Lazarus. Death moved Jesus to tears. The one who is very God of very God was moved to grieve the suffering and the death of his friend. God is a God who suffers with us.

The second account, reported by Luke, occurs immediately after the Triumphal Entry. Jesus surveys the city and weeps over the spiritual depravity found there. The city could not conceive of the peace God offered them by God’s presence and God’s salvation. Jerusalem, particularly its religious leaders, would not accept the salvation God was offering and would not live into the in breaking Kingdom of God.

God is clearly moved by the plight of the people of the world, their lack of peace, and their rejection of God’s salvation.

I stood by this statue just outside of the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City this spring. I considered the emotion, the tragedy, and the loss experienced that horrific April day. There is no doubt that Jesus wept over the loss of life, the hatred expressed, and the agony of the City that day.

I further pondered, I wonder what is going on in the  world today, that causes Jesus to weep. What situations are going on in the world, in OUR world, that move God to express the raw pain of grief, to shed the tears of hurt, of abandonment, of loneliness, of suffering. Where might we find Jesus weeping today?

Then I wonder, if those same things that move our God to physically manifest God’s grief and passion move us to tears as well? I wonder if we, who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ grieve the things that Jesus grieves, or if we have become so calloused to the plight of others, so soothed by our comfort and our peace, that we don’t even notice the pain of the world around us.

I wonder if Jesus looks at his church and weeps over our lack of concern for others, for the lost, for the broken, for the hurting, for the poor, for the oppressed.

I wonder where I should be weeping… if I really did find the heart of God in me…

Anyway, just my thoughts today.

 

Back Pain and other Teachable Moments

As I write this post this morning, I have been living, the past five days with lower back
pain. On one hand, it is a constant reminder that I am on the downhill side of 50. Nothing works the way that it used to. You see, I was helping a friend put up his store of firewood and I did something. Immediately, I knew that I had done something I shouldn’t. I felt the pain in my lower back.

lower back pain
As the day went on, the pain and the stiffness grew more intense. Sunday morning, I could barely get out of bed and dress myself. Tuesday, I visited the chiropractor for the first time (Boy! am I glad that God has gifted people with His healing touch!). Yet today, I still have the pain that comes from being out of adjustment. My movements are slower, more deliberate, and I avoid certain actions and ranges of motion.

While the condition, with rest, with treatment, and with a GREAT deal of prayer is improving, the injury often reminds me that it is there! This morning, as I was lamenting the pain and limited mobility, the Holy Spirit reminded me that Paul prayed three times for his “pain in the flesh” to be removed from him. Yet, God didn’t seem, as far as we know, to answer that prayer as Paul wished. Paul acknowledges repeatedly that in our weakness, God’s power and God’s grace are made known.

Today, because I have a pain in my back, I am reminded of my desperate need to live in, to experience, and to know the power of the grace of God at work in my life. It is all too easy for me to live as if my life depends on me, on my strength, on my abilities, and on my wisdom. Such living dooms me to live beneath the potential we all have in the love and the grace of God.

Paul, the same Paul of the persistent thorn-in-the-flesh fame reminds us that we can do all things through Christ Jesus our Lord. When we live life in step with the Holy Spirit, God forms us in paths of God’s choosing. God provides for us the same Holy Spirit that is in Christ Jesus. We can be more than overcomers, if we learn to depend upon, to obey the leading of, and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us.

This is not at easy lesson to learn. It means that we have to learn and practice daily surrender. It means that we have to lay aside the things that lead us away from God. It means that we must continually cultivate that deep inner relationship with God, so that we recognize His leading, and we can hear his voice.

Anyway, those are just my pained pondering today…

Words With Friends, with Family, and Others (What You Say Really Matters)

Talking is a necessary part of our everyday life.  From saying “Good morning!” to ordering coffee, to telling our mechanic exactly what noise our car is making, we talk. It is a joy to listen to babies learn how to talk, to use their mouths to communicate meaning, to express emotion, and to share their needs with the world.

As I have been thinking about talking, I have been reflecting how we use our words. After all, we “talk” through a variety of mediums. We use our voices, we use email. We communicate through social media and we use sign language and nonverbal forms of communication to share our words, our thoughts and our feelings. We are naturally communicative beings.

Of late, I have become acutely aware of how powerfully words are utalkingsed, and how harmful we allow our speech to become. I see people express anger, hatred, racism, and violent intent quickly, easily, and seemingly without repercussion. I watch people express their opinions quickly and easily. They justify hurtful words, thoughts, and ideas easily because, “They are right!” We cover destructive speech under the cloak of being correct and fail to consider the powerful impact of the words we use on friends, on family, on loved ones, on coworkers, on acquaintances, and on strangers.

We take little stock of the damage our words, our speech, our social media footprint causes to those around us. After all, “I am right! I speak the truth! If they don’t like it, that’s tough!” I see the carnage all the time when believers use words as a weapon.

Scripture speaks repeatedly about the power of our speech and how we are to speak the words we use. In Ephesians 4.29, Paul, when speaking to the Ephesian Christians regarding speaking the truth to one another says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word ans is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (NASB) Later on in Colossians 4.5, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person. (NASB) Proverbs 15.1 reminds us that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (NASB)

Scripture is teaching us that our words are powerful tools either for good or for evil. We choose which function they will have. The words that we use, (regardless if they are spoken, printed, or delivered in sign) are to be tools for the grace of God in the life of those around us. We choose the words we share with others. Perhaps we should be much slower to speak and evaluate the possible repercussions of what we share, or what we say, or what we post.

I am reminded of the four-way test of  the Rotary Club,

Of the things I think, say, or do:

  1. Is it TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and build BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL TO ALL WHO ARE CONCERNED?

I encourage all who read my ramblings to consider your speech. Evaluate if your words are a tool for grace or an instrument of carnage.

Anyway, just my ramblings,

A Pastor in Camo

Discipline, Training, and other Four-Lettered Words

Discipline is a dirty word, generally speaking, in the culture in which we live. We are bombarded with images every day that encourage us to super-size our food, our beverages, our desserts and our portions. Instant gratification is the buzzword. If I can’t have it NOW, it isn’t worth having.

Further we are pelted with images on our phones, our televisions, our email, and on billboards with gratify all matters of consumerism, voyeurism, fetishism, and communicates to us that all of this sensual experience can be ours. We are told, “Go ahead! You can’t help yourself!” And we wonder why society is going the way that it is.

Discipline is frequently lost in the world we live in today.

I confess that I struggle with self-discipline. I think anyone who is truly honest and transparent does so. After all, discipline means delaying gratification. Discipline and training take word, sweat, and effort.

WeightLift_inlineI have been introduced to this four-lettered word, discipline the hard way. I have been on a journey to better health. For me that means loosing weight…and a lot of it. I have been tracking every bite that goes in my mouth. That in and of itself is hard. Such mindfulness has forced me to make choices. After all, do you have any idea how long you have to spend on a treadmill to work of one large Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard?

I have been tracking my exercise. Forcing myself to go to the gym and to be more active. That is really not fun. However, the long-term payoff is pretty good. I have lost weight. My knees feel better, and the Doctor LOVES my blood work numbers. My clothes are mysteriously getting larger! I still have a long way to go…but I can see some payoff.

All of this has caused me to think about the most difficult training of all. The training necessary to discipline our minds. After all, there isn’t an app to count what I am looking at, what I am seeing, what I am reading, or what I listen to . I am acutely aware of the drift in society to glorify and gratify the violent, the profane, the illicit, and the sensual. It is all too easy to feed (knowingly or unwittingly) those sides of our mind. Then we wonder why we can’t hear God speaking or see God moving as clearly as we once did. We have poisoned our minds with worldly content and deadened the spirit Sensitive side.

Scripture is replete with admonitions to discipline our minds, to nourish the Spirit and to encourage God’s work. Paul gives this challenge, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…” (Philippians 4.8 NRSV) The apostle is reminding us of how important a thing it is to train our minds, to discipline our thoughts to produce goodness, love, and the personality of Christ.

So, perhaps we should go into training together?

Anyway, just my meanderings,

A Pastor in Camo

Saltiness (not saltines!)

I love salt. When I sit down for a meal, salt is the first condiment I reach for.salt

When I am cooking, I taste my creation often, evalutating the flavor profile. When I begin a recipe, often times the flavors are bland and uninteresting. As I add spices, notably salt, the flavors deepen. Salt brings out the natural flavors inherent within the various ingredients. I love to sprinkle salt on a fresh-from the garden tomato and enjoy the tomato’s juicy goodness. Watermelon and cantaloupe are sweeter when a bit of salt in sprinkled on them. My chili is so much more robust when I use salt to marry and blend the flavors into a rich, hearty, meal.

Even coffee these days is given to being salted. At my favorite coffee shop, there is a new treat, salted caramel macchiato! You wouldn’t think that salt would taste good on coffee with hot steamed milk…but it does! Salt even enriches my coffee!

I am reminded of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5.13, “You are the salt of the earth.” What Jesus was teaching was that wherever his followers were present, they were to enhance the world in which they lived with the in breaking Kingdom of God. Our mere presence is to bring out the God-flavors of creation. Our lives, our actions, our words, our presence is to flavor the drab, lifeless world of this age with the flavors of Christ, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

It is God’s plan that those living in the world would miss the presence of Jesus’s followers, should they be missing, in exactly the same way they would miss salt on their eggs in the morning. The world should KNOW that the followers of Jesus are busy bringing God-flavors to our world.

I wonder how we, as disciples, might be saltier salt in this world. could it be that we could love more fully? Perhaps we could give more of ourselves, our possessions, our resources, our talents away, that they world might see Christ in us. Maybe with might advocate for justice, and those who cannot advocate for themselves. Maybe we could walk across the street, get to know our neighbors a  bit better. We might even get really crazy and sit down and have coffee with someone who may be different from us.

Just my ramblings today… Pass the salt, please!

Companions for the Journey

A month or so ago, I had the privilege of making a road trip to a Church Conference. That trip entailed spending the better part of four days in a van, with eight other people. We laughed together. We had close conversations with one another. We were inspired by worship, by workshops, and by the conversations we shared. All told, there is nearly 50 years of friendships represented among us.

Three AmigosIn the days since the road trip, we have deepened the bonds of friendship. Some of what we do is face to face. Some of the journey together is via connection through social media. What binds us together, other than laughter and a quirky sense of humor, is the friendship that God has given us.

These friendships have served to be an encouragement to my walk with God. Most days, I get a message from one, or more likely all of these friends God has given me. Many times the messages serve to make me laugh. (Who doesn’t need a good laugh these days?) Often, these guys are the safe place where I can vent, I can share my burdens, my struggles, my fears, my hopes, and my dreams. I know that these friends, these companions for the journey pray for me and hold me up before the Lord.

These friendships are a gift from God. They are companions for the journey.

The truth of the matter is, there are many of these people in my life. I find great encouragement in the knowledge that God has created us to live in community. In entering into the lives of others, we continue to grow in the image of God. On top of this, the road is easier.

I don’t know how many people will see this post. I hope my friends do. If you are my friend, you have been the source of God’s grace and encouragement in my life. Know that, even as I compose this post, I am praying for God’s blessing in your life. Thanks for being a companion in my journey through life.

It is my prayer for you that you not only have companions for the journey, but that you recognize those people, that you take the risk of opening yourself to them. In receiving this grace, my you be a companion that lightens someone else’s journey.

 

Sites Along the Journey

20160926_144507_hdrAs I made my Sabbatical Journey last fall, I had the opportunity to stop along side the road and see sites that causes me to stop and think. On one particular day, I was driving down a road that I had no plan to travel, out in the middle-of-nowhere South Dakota. There are not words to describe how “out there” this road was. As I rounded the corner, I came upon a church alongside the road. The site that I saw was so compelling, that I stopped and spent 45 minutes to an hour just looking, listening to the prairie wind blow through the grass, and hearing the Holy Spirit speak to me.

The picture here looks pretty cool. The cross, on the steeple of the church, silhouetted against a crystal-clear, azure blue sky spoke immediately to me of the grace that God was so freely pouring into my soul on this journey. While this picture spoke immediately, and powerfully to me, it was the rest of the scene, that unfolded before me that reached deep into my soul, and has not escaped me to this very day.

You see, this scene was repeated to me on at least three other occasions, in very diverse locations across the 13,000 miles I spent behind the wheel of a rented pickup truck. On four occasions, I saw these roadside churches, out in the middle of nowhere. Each of them had the same haunting appearance. Each of the churches stood as a mute witness to some events, probably not a single cataclysmic event, rather years of small decisions and occurrences which resulted in the state in which I found them, empty. Each church building stood empty. Windows were broken out, or removed. Doors flapped open in the relentless prairie breeze. Furnishings had been taken out, or left behind in the decrepit fashion that negligence brings with it.

I found myself wondering what led to this sorry state of repair. After about 20 or 30 20160926_144328minutes, my eyes fell to a sight that you can see in the foreground of this picture, a barb-wire fence. With everything in my soul, I wanted to go inside, sit down and be alone with God. The barb-wire fence kept me from walking up and entering into this building that had formerly been a sanctuary. I thought, ever so briefly about stepping over the fence and going in anyhow, there was a fence gate at the over-grown drive way. A quick reflection on the consequences of trespassing in the west caused me to choose NOT to take that track.

As I stood there, mesmerized by the beautiful, tragic site of this prairie ghost-church, this site became a parable for me.

You see, so many congregations are in the process of passing from existence because they erect fences, rather than open doors and extending hands. No, we may not put up visible, barb-wire fences, but our actions, our words, our methodologies all communicate the very same message that this barb-wire communicated to me; “You are not welcome here.” It was as if this silent building was saying to me, “Come. Look. See. But do not stay. There is no community for you.”

All to often, we are so busy protecting our turf (physically, intellectually, emotionally) that we forget to be open, hospitable, and loving to the world to which we are called to witness. Outsiders may come, but they rarely stay for this simple reason, we are not open to bringing them into our fellowship, into our community. Oh, we probably don’t think we are cold and unwelcoming. The reality is, we don’t extend invitations. We don’t go out of our way to involve ourselves in the lives of others. We simply don’t get involved. In other words, we say to the world, “You are not welcome on my turf.”

Well, that is my wonderings today. I hope they give you the pause to stop and think, “Am I building fences?” or “Am I building community?” Ask yourself, “Does my church REALLY welcome outsiders?” or are they an inconvenient fact of life?

Well, I am just pondering…