Monthly Archives: January 2016

Love God or Fear God?

I’m almost 80 years old and like most people my age I was taught by my church that I needed to fear God, in the usual meaning (as I interpreted it) of being scared of God.  God was described as King, Judge, and living in Heaven which was far from me in some uncertain place and above and apart from the earth.   God was surrounded by the “heavenly hosts” of angels who sang and worshipped him 24/7/365 and was often pictured as  just waiting for someone like me to do something wrong so he could punish them. God was “up there watching me” to make sure I was a good boy.    This entire picture reminds me of the song that was popular during the late 1900’s introduced by Stan Philips called “God is Watching You.”  It goes through many of life’s situations, always followed by the refrain “God is Watching You, God is watching you!  From a distance God is watching you.”   It also reminds me of the Bette Midler song:   From a Distance, God is watching you.”

How those who claim to follow Jesus have managed to twist and mangle the picture of God that Jesus brought!     The picture of God we get through the life and teachings of Jesus in the gospels is not one of a wrathful, vengeful person just waiting to punish us in the fires of Hell if we don’t behave, but it is a picture of a loving father as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.    God is like the father in that parable who rushes out to hug and kiss and welcome home the wayward son who is broken in spirit and body.     God is a forgiving God.   God is a loving God.

“In Jesus, God was given a face and a heart.   God became someone we could love.” as Richard Rohr puts it in one of his daily devotions.    God is one  who desires relationship and to whom we can relate.    And this God is not far away in some place called heaven, but is around us and within us and beside us all the time.   We cannot, not live in the presence of God.  But as Jesus shows, living in God’s presence is a good thing.   And the Apostle Paul amplifies that in Romans when he says that nothing can separate us from God’s love.   And Jesus declares in the Gospel of John that “God is love.”

We have today, too often domesticated the Gospel and made it into a means of keeping social order and control.    A fear-inducing God is what is needed for control of society.   But a God of love is who we need if we are to be transformed and rise above all the hate and greed and cruelty that we see all around us.    Love is a greater motivator than fear any time.

The words I would give you today are these:     Do not fear God!    Love God!   Seek God’s presence.   Be aware that he is always there for you and will never abandon you.

So how do we love God?    The only way we can love God is to love what God loves!     And that is everything in creation;  everyone, including you and me.   It is as Jesus reminded the one who asked him how can I earn eternal life—-in the words of the Shema of ancient Israel:      “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, body and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”   We show our love for God as we show our love for others.    When we love our neighbor we love God.   Amen.

Walking in another’s Mocassins

There is an old Indian proverb that says, in effect:   ” Never judge another person until you have spent a day walking in his moccasins.”     A recent update of that appeared in Facebook  as a sign saying:   “ Be kind to everyone, you don’t know their story.   And Ellen signs off The Ellen show each day saying:   “Be Kind to each other”!!However, it seems a lot of us have more of a built-in  tendency to judge than we do to be kind to each other.

For example:   We see someone in dirty clothes, carrying all he owns on his back in a plastic sack, unshaven—-and we judge in many ways:    We judge that he is dangerous; we judge that he’s probably an alcoholic or on drugs;   we judge that he is ill educated and uncouth; we judge that as a human being he is a drag on society.    Who hasn’t exhibited one or another of these judgments?

Another example:   There are few teachers who haven’t had to endure the insult of this little rhyme:   “If you can’t do, teach.   And if you can’t teach, teach others to teach.”    As one who both taught and taught future teachers I find this highly derogatory and insulting.   Society has seemed to always look down on teachers as failures who can’t do anything else—as evidence that they usually make very little money, which is the way we judge success.    They are people who must be closely watched by administrators and the state to make sure that they are “held accountable.”   We chide them because they have the summers off.  (they are usually working another job to make ends meet during the summer).   They are at the mercy of school boards and administrators because they no longer have tenure protection.

Now let’s spend a day walking in a teacher’s moccasins—–This person gets up at 5 a.m. so he can make it to work by 7 p.m. with a 30 minute commute.    He arrives at work, makes some coffee for his colleagues and then walks back to his cubicle where he begins to get books and supplies and graded papers  together and carefully goes over the class plans he has for the day.   He has a class to teach in American History, one in European History, and three freshmen English classes (English is outside his major)  Five classes in all with each class having an average of 30 students.   He teaches each class in a different classroom—one of the Freshmen English classes is taught with computers and the other two are not.   His classrooms are located in different spots scattered over a large high school campus.   He must prepare carefully because after each class he must run by his office during a 10 minute passing period to collect materials and books for the next class.   At the end of the day he is exhausted, but today there is more.    He rushes home and changes into a Park Ranger uniform, straps on his 38 revolver, and drives to the San Diego Wild Animal Park where he will work from 4 p.m. until midnight.   He arrives home after midnight and goes to bed and gets up at five the next morning and begins it all over again.   The next day  will be a good day—-he doesn’t have to work the second job—-but he does have a huge pile of papers to grade and prep to do at the end of that day.

This was a day in my life as a teacher at a high school in California. At the end of the school year I had to look forward to working my second job full time during the summmer.     It was during the economic period where inflation was surging and wages were not, and I had a family to support—-two children, one in high school and one in college.  So I had no choice but to work two jobs.

Things have not changed that much today!.    Prices still are going  up.    Teacher’s salaries are not.   Schools don’t receive the money they need so teachers do more with less and teach multiple subjects, some outside their area of expertise.   They teach them to students who have been told that teachers don’t know what they are doing.   That  if they “had it” they would be in “real jobs” amaking “real money” and therefore be successful.  .    The governor doesn’t trust teachers nor do the state legislators in Kansas.   Teachers  have no security from administrators who do things to them to get rid of them like my administrator did to me that year that I just described above.   The Kansas legislators and governor got rid of the tenure law last year.

WALK IN THESE SHOES FOR A DAY OR A YEAR  AND SEE IF YOUR CRITICISM OF TEACHERS IS STILL THE SAME.

I am retired now and sitting at the check-in-table at the Lord’s Diner here in my home city of Wichita.   The Diner is open 7 days a week to feed the hungry in Wichita and usually there are over  500 people eating each evening, including many children.    Many of them are carrying all their belongings on their back.   Look in many of their eyes, even their children, and there is a deadness, a loss of hope in many.

My wife sits alongside me and since I am diabetic, before we are finish I need to go get something to eat.   I reluctantly leave her and sit inside on the other side of a glass wall as I eat so I am able to keep watch on her.   (There’s my bias—-I think she is in danger because she’s dealing with homeless people.)   As I watch, a very tall, black-headed “motorcycle dude” with a scraggly beard and a handkerchief on his head came in.    I took one look at him and thought “that is a mean-looking dude”.    He came in and got his food and sat at the end of the table where I was eating.    I was surprised to see that the first thing he did after being seated was to fold his hands, bow his head, and I saw his lips moving in prayer.

We got to talking and he shared some of the story of his life with me.   He told me how blessed he was because he had just found a place to stay in a warm garage (it was winter) and he was better able to do what he liked to do.   As we talked his story unfolded that what he liked to do was to rescue homeless people who were on the verge of committing suicide..    He recounted the number of times and some of the ways he had reached out to homeless persons who were ready to end their lives.    He took them in, made sure they got something to eat, let them stay with him and tried to talk them out of suicide.  He said he was usually successful, but lost some.   He said he felt that was his ministry and I assured him that it was indeed a ministry—-a God given one.   He had found a way to put his faith in God into life-saving action.

HOW MANY OF US HAVE A LIFE STORY TO MATCH  THIS?

Do you still think that this man is a “drag” on society?  That he is dangerous and uncouth after hearing his story?   How many of us can say that we work at saving lives every day?   KNOWING HIS STORY MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

 

In My Thoughts and Prayers? Really??

“You (they) will be in my thoughts and prayers!”   How often do we hear  this phrase?   When disaster struck in the shootings in California recently,  how many congressmen did you hear say this?    When the school shootings in New Jersey took place, how many in our government said this.  And its not just group disasters.    Those who have lost a loved one for any reason are hurting.  For example,  when we see the son or daughter whose mother has  just died, aren’t these the words that we often say?  “You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers”.   It is usually said very sincerely, I’m sure (although with my cynical nature I often question that).   It is usually said very piously as though we have a special line to God—this is especially  true of many clergy persons.

I’m sure that most people when they say these words really think that they will do that.    My question today is—-how many of us feel guilty because we don’t follow through?    How many of us get busy with life and never take time for prayer and communication with God?    How many of us really have a prayer life?   How much do we think about what happened?   If we pray, what do we pray for?

My wife has a practice that she has taught me—instead of saying the words “You will be in my thoughts and prayers, she says—-“would you like for me to pray with you now?”    And she puts her arms around the person and prays for them—-for strength to bear the burdens they have, for courage,  for God ‘s strength and love for them.    In other words—she DOES SOMETHING

How many of our Congressmen and Senators said after the school disaster in New Jersey to the parents of children and spouses of those who died—-“my thoughts and prayers are with you”   —-and then went to work the next day and voted down proposed changes to gun laws that President Obama put forward because of his obviously being touched by the massacre and the  meeting with parents and spouses directly after the event?.   What the President  put forward might have helped avoid a future disaster.  He tried to do something.   It’s just “empty words” if you don”t try to do something.    Those children and teachers were not in the thoughts of Republicans who voted down a change in gun laws in obedience to their masters in the NRA—-and certainly not in their prayers.   These Senators and Congressmen may have a connection to God, but its only in their heads and obviously not in their hearts.

My suggestion as a pastor?    Don’t say these words unless you have an active prayer life and prayer journal.   It’s better to say—“Can we pray together now?   It’s better to do something for the support of those who are wounded and hurting— determine what they need and just do it!    

When my first wife died after a fall and being in a coma for a week—-I had a pastor friend who just sent me a booklet  “Trust in God” that was written for those who had lost loved ones.    He wrote a note saying,  ” this helped me in the recent loss of my wife and I hope it will help you”.    I went through that booklet  twice- over a two month period—-and give it often to those who have lost loved ones.    Those who are grieving don’t need pious promises that “I’ll pray for you.”   They need prayer now.    They are hurting now.   They need hugs now.  They need your presence with them now. They need help with their daily burdens they shared with their loved one that have now become theirs alone, now.  Find out what they need and do it—now!!   Please don’t ask those who are grieving what you ccan do for them—-find what need to be done yourself—and then DO IT!

God doesn’t need to hear from you!   God knows what has happened!    Be God’s servant  and do something that will help the person and reassure the person that God is very present with them in their pain and working through you.

I don’t mean to be unkind!   I know people mean well when they say “you will be in my thoughts and prayers” and that they often don’t know what else to say in the face of tragedy and death.  But I would suggest that your presence and a hug and a prayer with them  and doing what is needed to be done right now will always mean more than the words “you will be in my hearts and prayers.”.