Tag Archives: God’s love

Churches Survive by Saying “Yes” to new ideas

If you want your church to survive and see the next decade, figure out how to say “yes” to new ideas.  

I still receive newsletters from many of the churches I’ve served, and when I do I always check two things:  (1)  The calendar of activities ; and (2) the attendance figures, if given.

As I look at the calendar of activities I am saddened to see the same things that they were doing when I was there—10, 15, 20 years ago are being done today.   Same old, same old. year after year after year!   As I look at attendance, it is steadily dwindling for these churches  And church membership rolls are losing more to death than gaining new Christians.

There is a connection between the above two.  I believe that the only way to turn things around is for the church to start saying “yes” to some new ideas.    Actually the ideas are not new at all.    Somehow between now and the time Jesus spent on earth the church has forgotten the message that Jesus brought. Jesus’ message was one of proclaiming something new—The Kingdom of God on earth—a new and transforming way to live according to the principles found in the gospels  and his life and ministry that was summarized in the Beatitudes in Mathew.   His message about living in the Kingdom was a complete turning upside down of all the rules and regulations and greed and hatred and exclusiveness of the temple religion and the way people related to each other at his time —it was the  good news,  a gospel of love of God, neighbor.  Jesus message proclaimed that God loved all peoples, especially the poor, the widow, the outsider, the excluded, the homeless, the sick,, the mentally ill, foreigners, those at the “bottom of the barrel in society.

Those disciples and early Christians who followed Jesus attempted to live out these ideas.    That is why we read in Acts that religious authorities were complaining about them—“these Christians have turned the world upside down.

Groups of followers of Jesus gathered together and received the Holy Spirit and then were guided by that Spirit of God in all that they did.      They gathered often  to help each other live out the “Great Commandment” that Jesus said summed up all the foregoing law and prophets:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength;  and your neighbor as yourself!.    They were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts speaks often of Jesus’s followers being “filled with the Spirit—the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples that  would come after he departed the earth and would be their counselor and their guide and inspiration.     Filled with this Spirit, from the day of Pentecost,    the disciples and the early church  did things that seemed impossible, for example—Peter, who had denied Jesus in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial,  boldly proclaimed  the resurrection and the Kingdom of God at the risk of his life.   Followers of Jesus  endured persecution and death in order to stay faithful to this one, Jesus, who had changed and transformed their lives, and worked together to spread the good news of God’s transforming love and the new way of living in the Kingdom of God.

What we need to say “yes”  to is the Holy Spirit.   We need to say “yes” to welcoming the Spirit into our lives individually.   We need churches who say “yes” to the Holy Spirit and look toward the Spirit’s guidance.   The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and churches  that are full of the Spirit of God are churches that survive and grow because they are not into religion but into transformation.

In a world full of challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion.   We cannot contain God’s Spirit in such boxes as we build and call churches.     They are not churches—-they are buildings.  Jesus did not come to build a new religion, but that is what we have done.   Instead of following him on the Way we have turned Jesus into a religion.   As Rohr says:   ” We worshipped Jesus instead of following Him on the same path”

Jesus transformed lives on a hillside,  in a house, wherever people gathered.   He reached out to ALL people and told them and showed them that God loved them not just in words but in actions showing the love..  To be loved by God is to be transformed, and to be transformed is to reach out to others in God’s name and seek their transformation.

When the church accepts the “new” idea that their mission is one of changing and transforming lives and sees it’s mission as one of changing and transforming the lives of those around them by  following the teachings and example of Jesus, then, as in Acts:   “the Lord will add daily to their numbersl

Congregations that are full of God’s Spirit are full of people!

Spring and Resurrection

This February I celebrated my 80th birthday!      I must admit that at times during the year I questioned whether I would make it to that milestone, because my health has been deteriorating.   But,thanks be to God and to the care of my doctors and my wife I am seeing another Spring.     Perhaps that is why I am seeing Spring in a different way this year!   I am reminded  by what I see around me that Jesus told his disciples that a seed must die before it can be brought forth (resurrected) and bloom and produce fruit.    As I was coming home from my doctor’s office today, the flowering pear trees were blooming, the trees were budded and will soon produce leaves, and the somber and stark winter landscape is rapidly becoming green and inviting and beautiful again.    That is the miracle of spring.   That is the miracle of resurrection!

Nature each year goes through the process of death and resurrection, as Richard Rohr reminds us in many of his books.    As part of God’s creation, why should we think we will not go through the same process,  and that after we die we will be resurrected to something glorious and beautiful, just as the trees and flowers that I see all around me this Spring?

Something to ponder…..

Where is America Going?

“Give America Back” is the common slogan of most conservative Republicans running for President.    They never spell out what that it means to give America back, but I take it to mean  that we must go back to the past—but what past do they have in mind?   Having lived 80 years and having taught U.,S. History for 34 of them, I have reached the conclusion that the past was often not so great.    I, myself,  have no desire to return to life as it was in my past with no electricity, with no antibiotics,  no polio vaccines, no social security,  no medicare, etc.   What I would like to see—if we are going back to the past— is to go back to the principles on which our nation was founded .    Those principles are found in the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution  and we have lost sight of them.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure Domestic Tranquility, provide for the Common defence, promoet the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

By “going back” to these principles  America will really be moving forward into the future, for they are principles that communicate the hopes of the “founding fathers’ for the kind of nation they wanted to build.  We have a long way to go to return to those principles.   More and more I see our country and my state of Kansas not following these principles, and , in fact, going in the opposite direction..  For example:

Instead of “striving for a more perfect Union” we are politically divisive and uncompromising.   We are full of mistrust for each other and fear of  each other.  That leads to disunion rather than perfecting our union.   Being politically divisive and uncompromising as several of our G.O.P candidates have been and say they will continue to do led to our Civil War and it can do so again today.

We have only  established justice for those who can afford it.   We often confuse “justice” with “vengeance” in most cases—-getting even.    An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth justice.    We recoil at the idea of social justice which involves an equal opportunity for all, regardless of color, gender, ethnic characteristics or wealth. Those at the bottom of our society today are disregarded as not important and we say they need to work and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps—-but our laws have taken away the bootstrap, and often the boots themselves.    We now value people based on their “market value” in a capitalistic economy that favors the rich and is based on taking away from the poor.

Domestic Tranquility.   I’ll ask one question?    Has the law that everyone can open carry a gun in Kansas produced safety and domestic tranquility?   No it means that every night there is a shooting in Wichita, either accidental or planned.   It has resulted not in tranquility but in fear of your life lest you get caught in the crossfire of someone who does not know how to handle a gun.  When the Constitution said to “provide for the common defense”  do you think they actually meant that everyone should carry a gun to protect us from each other?    No—they were talking about the defense of a nation, not personal defense against our fellow Americans.

Finally, “promote the general welfare” is the last principle I’ll discuss.    We have lost two things that would do this:  (1)compassion for the poor and those at the bottom of the society who are struggling to survive; and (2) putting aside our selfish wishes for the good of the nation.    We see the lack of this principle  in a Congress that tries to repeal Obamacare instead of improve it so that all can have health insurance.  .   We see that in the state of Kansas state in favoring the rich at the expense of the middle class—raising taxes to pay for a tax cut for businesses.    Somehow it doesn’t see that anyone is interested in my general welfare when my Kansas income taxes and sales taxes both go up!   Political advantage gets in the way of promoting the general welfare—-providing what is good for all of our citizens, not just the rich and the powerful who finance the politicians who pass the laws.

 

Our founding fathers had a deep belief in a Supreme Being—the one that Jesus revealed to us

Some of  the things that Jesus emphasized as most important when he revealed the heart of God are found in his inaugural sermon given in the synagogue at Nazareth, his home town:   “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.   And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.   The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.   Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your midst”.      As Jesus expanded on the meaning of this message, those in the synagogue tried to take him and throw him over a cliff.

Jesus  spent his time healing and recognizing the outcasts of society—the leper, the mentally ill,  the poor,  the rejected.He was interested in the general welfare of society—-a he showed us all are equal in the eyes of God and all deserve to be treated as God’s children.

America and my state of Kansas are doing the opposite!   We are not carrying out the teachings of Jesus even though the governor and legislature say they are Christians.   Neither are we fulfilling the dreams of our founding fathers.  We who say we are following Jesus are disregarding everything in the message Jesus brought that are reflected in  principles of the  founding fathers of our nation.

I think if our founding fathers came back to life now they would be appalled and disappointed over the direction of the nation they founded.

I think that if Jesus came again tomorrow, he wouldn’t last a week until we crucified him, because he would stand for all the things that we feel are unimportant—-like feeding the hungry, giving all an equal opportunity.   He would stand for fixing the system that causes great poverty—not just throwing the poor an occasional crumb from our table. He would take a stand for mercy and forgiveness in the face of our hatred and desire for vengeance.   Yes—I’m sure we would crucify him within the week!

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.”.

What We MIss in the Magnificat….

As we near the Christmas Season,   we read he words of Mary, the mother of Jesus,  as she reflected on the blessing that had been given her to be the mother of the Messiah.    We seem to always  concentrate on the opening words:   “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.   Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed.”   But we somehow have missed what she then said about the coming Savior:   “He has show strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.   He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty…

In case we missed what Mary said,  Luke also reports Jesus reading from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry:   “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.   He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”;  and he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.   The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.   Then he began to say to them,  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:18-21)

Jesus life and ministry was a mission dedicated to carrying out the above.    How have we as Christians through the centuries failed to see what Jesus was about?   How have we missed the major thrust of his ministry?     Why have we utterly failed to continue this mission?    

As I approach the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I look out on my own state (Kansas) which is supposed to governed by professed Christians.    I see poverty that is growing worse each year.   I see adults working two and three jobs to provide for their children and not being able to do so because of low wages and part time employment with no benefits.  I see a state legislature and governor who have refused to extend Medicaid to thousands who have no health insurance who are suffering needlessly because of that. I see a governor and legislator who have refused to raise the minimum wage so that working people can live on what they earn.    I see children and adults who are homeless.   I see thousands of children going to bed hungry each night, if they have a bed.   AND I ASK—-WHERE ARE THE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS?   Why have they not stood up to the powers that cause all of this suffering?   Where is the voice of “the crucified one” demanding that those who have the power to change this picture do so?    Where are we?

We are sitting in comfortable churches.   We have joined the “powers that be” rather than bringing them down to deal with the desperate condition of many in our state.    Not a single voice has been heard from the church and Christians demanding that Medicaid be extended.   Not a single church has demanded that the minimum wage be raised.   The church and Christians have remained silent in the face of the poverty and suffering all around them.

The Magnificat speaks of the change that the society will experience because of the birth of the Messiah.   Centuries later, we who claim to be the “body of Christ” have not brought that change about.    Rather we have joined the forces of the powerful that are causing those conditions of poverty and helplessness to continue and to grow.

WE’VE MISSED JESUS’ ENTIRE POINT, FELLOW CHRISTIANS!!!