Monthly Archives: August 2015

Climbing Ladders

There is a drive in all of us to achieve success in our lives.   That is what our ego’s, or as Rohr puts it “our false self” feeds upon.   Seldom do we take time to really define what “success” is.    What is “success” for you?   You will have to answer that question, I can’t.   I have a hard enough time answering  the question for myself!

On my wall above my desk are some physical signs of what might be called success.   Three college degrees (including two Master’s degrees);  Awards of various kinds from both the Education field (Who’s Who in American Education, e.g.)  and the field of Christian Ministry (Minister Emeritus of Christian Church in Kansas, e.g.).   Does that mean I’m a success?   No—it means some people think that I am a success, I feel.

I have pictures in my office of my two children, a boy and a girl.   They are now adults and are doing well—but most important they are loving and caring individuals who are contributing to society.   Does that make me a success?   I’d like to think so,  but who knows but what they would be the same despite me being there to help raise them—-and I have to share any success in that area with my wife who did more to raise them than I was able to do while working two jobs to support my family.

I have a nice, comfortable home in Wichita and a loving wife to share it with after the death of my first wife.   We have two cars and a half-garage full of woodworking tools that I love to use.    My life is comfortable and I’ve had reasonably good health for my age in the late seventies.   Does that make me a success?   It may mean that I am blessed by God far beyond what I deserve, but I do not believe material things make me a success.

Wherein should my feeling of success lay then?    As I write this I am reminded of the words of Thomas Merton:  “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.”

I am trying, at this point in my life, to lean my ladder of success on the right wall—God’s wall.   The only true success I can strive to attain is in an ever closer relationship to God.    I found at the sudden death of my first wife that all the knowledge and skills that I had were of no value in dealing with an event over which I had absolutely no control.   I turned to God and said:   “Help me God, I can’t do this without you.”   And I felt a peace come over me and knew that God heard and began the healing process of my heart at that point.

Since that time, as God helped heal my grief and led me to a loving caring and Godly  woman that would share my life and become my wife,  I have realized more and more that the ladder to success for each of us mortals is the ladder to God.   The happiness my wife and I feel today is the result of a “God-thing”, we both agree.   So I have endeavored to place my ladder of success on the wall of God.

And the greatest thing about the ladder  to God is that we don’t have to laboriously climb it from day to day with great fear of falling and failing—-instead our God of love and grace comes down the ladder to dwell  with us now; right here,  and will do so forever.    Amen

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Termites in our Churches

Do our churches have “church termites”?   Are you one of them?   Termites eat away the structure of a house from within.   Not until the structure is almost a shell does their work begin to show.   “Church termites” are very similar.   Alert!  Alert!   Their work is beginning to show!    Many of our churches are just shells of what they once were.   They have gone from being vibrant, sturdy, and involved  structures meeting the needs of their congregations, community and world, to just shells of what they once were.

What happened?  Of course to answer that question completely  would require a book, but I want to focus on a very subtle thing that has caused much of the destruction of the church—-the existence of “church termites“.  The question is:   What is a “church termite”.   You may not have to look any further than your own mirror to see one!

Just look for a “comfortable Christian” and you’ve found one!   Most churches are full of them. Here are a few ideas of what to look for to find them:

Look for a church that does not challenge its congregation to its mission of practicing the Great Commandment-–in fact that has lost memory of what it’s real mission is about. ( See Matthew 22:36-39 for the great commandment in case your memory is poor in this area).   Carrying out the Great Commandment is not a comfortable thing to do.   The challenge of “loving your neighbor as yourself”  is not a comfortable challenge.   It is a formidable challenge.

Look for a church members who don’t have time to do Bible Studies because they must do other things they consider more important—-almost anything is more important!  The church usually has lowest priority  among the demands for their time and talent and money instead of highest priority.  Termites at work!

Look for church budgets passed by termites that spend most of the money given to the church upon their congregations and very little  on community outreach, social justice for the homeless, or carrying out their mission of proclaiming the good news Jesus proclaimed.      These budgets  prefer making sure everyone of their congregation is sitting in comfortable pews in air conditioned comfort once a week to going into the community in the name of Jesus every day and showing by their life the Way of Jesus.   They prefer improvements to their buildings.   They spend thousands in maintenance and upkeep of their building   and pennies, in comparison, for Week of Compassion,  community outreach,  the poor, the homeless, the outcasts.   More termites at work!

Look for churches who have no children’s Christian  education program because everyone is too busy with other things to teach children about Jesus.   All those people who are too busy are seeking their own comfort, not following Jesus as a disciple, and  are among the termites chewing away on their church.

Jesus did not call his disciples to a life of comfort sitting in a padded pew with air conditioning  and listening to beautiful music.   He called his disciples to serve, telling them that “the greatest among you will be the servant of all.”  .   He called them to follow him into the world of his day.   To heal.   To help.  To proclaim God’s love for all of his creation and his children.   Jesus did not tell them that to be his disciple they had to make sure they were comfortable.   He said that “if you  would be my disciple, you must take up your cross daily  and follow me.”   Carrying a cross is not comfortable.   Following Jesus is not comfortable as he went a lot of places we would prefer not to go.   Most of the members of our congregations would take this challenge by saying—-well, if that’s what you want—count me out!   They are “church termites”.

This attitude of seeking “my comfort” is destroying our churches.   More and more we see the effect of this attitude as our church buildings remain intact and solid but the congregations dwindle and eventually die within their comfortable buildings as the membership thinks only of their comfort and not their mission as a church.   For the church is not a building—it is a living, breathing body of people who seek to become disciples and followers of Jesus, the Christ.   If that is not their purpose then they have no purpose.

Where are your priorities?    Are you a “comfortable Christian”?     Or are you one of the termites that is destroying the church from within?

 

 

 

Old Friends

I have made many acquaintances through the years but the number of people I call friends is limited.   You see—friends are the ones that, though we may have been separated by miles and years, we can greet after that separation and take up where we left off, although we may have not seen them for years.    I recently had the experience of that as my wife and I visited three old friends in Chicago that date back to my days of teaching there and living in the “co-ops” in Park Forest, Illinois when our children were young.   I spent two wonderful evenings with them and it was a heart-warming experience.

Friendships are built by caring about each other.   They are built on the sharing of our lives with each other.   They are built by experiences of support when we needed it and giving support when they needed that support.   Friendships are something that build slowly over the years.

Old friendships remind me of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or as I prefer to call it the Parable of the Loving Father, that Jesus told.     The Father waits for years until his son returns and then runs to meet him, throws his arms around him,  and welcomes him.    God is like that, Jesus taught.

Just as my old friends reached out to me, gave me a hug, and greeted me warmly, so God does to those of us who have gone far away and come back.     Thank you God, for old friends.   Thank you for being my friend as well as my God.

Sorry, Jesus, we still “just don’t get it”!!

Many people in our country, and especially in our government say that they are disciples of Jesus—but they just don’t get it!    We don’t get what Jesus was about, what and to whom his mission was,  and what his priorities were.   We don’t get it!     Our behavior reveals our ignorance of what following Jesus means, and it speaks much louder than the worshipful words we might use.

I’ve been teaching a Home Fellowship Bible Study on the Gospel of Mark, and one of the characteristics of his gospel is the multiple times that Jesus is exasperated and frustrated because his disciples just don’t get what his mission is all about.   They just don’t get that his mission was to the poor, the outcast, the blind, the leper, the rejected by society, the tax collector, the sinner.  This last session we read these words in Mark 9:  3-11  and discussed them:

“Then he began to teach them that the Son of man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again.  He said all of this quite openly.  Then Peter took him aside  and began to rebuke him.   But turning and looking at the disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter just didn’t get it!   And neither did the rest of the disciples.   So Jesus further taught them in these words:   “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers , let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it.   For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?  (Mark 8:34-37)

The disciples did not get that to follow Jesus meant to share his care and love for the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the bereaved, the rejected, the leper, the aged, the children.    To follow Jesus was to take care of what we would call the “dregs” of society.   WE STILL DON’T GET IT TODAY!   To follow Jesus is to serve these who are created in God’s image, not to be served by them.   To love the poor, not to shame them.   And yet by our actions today many times we do just that—we shame the poor.   This is especially true of our government at the state level.  E.g.:

A recent article in the Wichita Eagle stated that one of the surprises that states  have is the large number of people who enrolled in Medicaid, once it was extended in their states.   Politicians quoted stated concern  about the future costs of Medicaid,  rather than being concerned how many citizens were without health insurance.   They were concerned about money.   We just don’t get it.

Scott Walker, Republican Governor of Wisconsin  and a Baptist preacher’s son, insists his marching orders are from God.   He wants to make it a requirement that  anyone who applies for employment, food stamps, or other assistance programs would have to prove their sobriety.  He says:   “This is not a punitive measure.   This is about getting people ready for work.    I’m not making it harder to get government assistance.   I’m making it easier to get a job.”   Who is he kidding??   The aged and the disabled poor get a job???   He is a so-called Christian, who just doesn’t get what following Jesus is all about!

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, who styles himself as a born-again Christian, recently signed a bill that prevents welfare recipients from spending their assistance on “expenditures in a liquor store, casino, jewelry, tattoos, nail salons, lingerie shops, vapor cigarettes, movie theaters, swimming pools, cruise ships, theme partks, dog or horse racing, etc. etc.  The act sets a $25 limit on withdrawals from ATM machines.    The author of this bill that the governor signed is State Sen. Miachael O’Donnell, the son of a pastor who likes to mention Jesus when he explains his opposition to helping the poor.   He recently told the Topeka State Journal “We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used in the way intended.  This is about prosperity.   This is about having a good life.”   (But he’s not talking about  a good life for the poor I might add!)

The late William Sloane Coffin sums it up well:   “It is ironic  to pray for the poor on Sunday, and spend the rest of the week complaining that the government is doing something about it.”

Pope Francis sees clearly that American Christians just don’t get it!  He says “We have created new idols.  The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new  and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”

Far too many Americans who call themselves Christians are worshipping at the idols of money, self-gratification, and political power.   We Christians keep re-electing the governors and legislators who take punitive actions against the poor, the aged, the sick, the children.   So we must also say…..

SORRY, JESUS—-MOST OF US JUST DON’T GET IT AFTER ALL THESE YEARS!