Past, Present, and Future

Psalm 126 is easy to outline: It starts in the past, with praising God, then touches on the present which isn't going so well and needs prayer, then sings about the future (prophesy)

Part 1 -- past & praise

There is a good remembering of the past, and a bad one. The church spends most of its time doing bad remembering. Bad remembering includes, but is not limited to the following:

Pentecost 25
Sunday, October 25, 2015

Recently, I attended a church where the pastor told a story that I suspect he got from a homiletics service. The problem was, he told the story in first person, i.e., “This is what happened to me.” He then proceeded to use the story to reinforce a theological point that I found questionable. I doubt that anyone else was as troubled by this as I was. First, because most people of that denomination are okay with the theology which I found questionable. Second, because the average church goer doesn’t expect their pastor to lie.

Why does honesty matter?

A Fundamental Difference

I think we should pay attention whenever Jesus makes a direct comparison between how his people do things and the standard procedure of the rest of the world. In Mark 10:37, Jesus gets asked a simple question, “When you take over, who are you going to have as your right hand man (or woman)?” It’s the kind of question that we’ll be asking the 2016 field of presidential candidates when it gets winnowed down a bit more, “Who’s going to be your running mate, Jesus?” His two-part answer pleases no one.

Pentecost 24
Sunday, October 18, 2015

It’s fall, time to set the pastor’s salary. When I reflect back on my career, my most painful moments revolve around this ritual. In my first two situations, the compensation package was literally at the poverty level. I had to plead to get a few dollars above “minimum.” This was in spite of the fact that the churches were doing better than they had under my predecessor. If it wasn’t for the real needs of my family, I would have kept silent at the committee meetings where my salary was under discussion.

How much do I have to pay for this pastor?

Not Far From the Path

I sometimes tell people that the reason I am a writer today, is because I bought a computer in 1984 that had Spell Check installed. In grade school, I would get the weekly spelling test back with three or four out of the ten words marked wrong. As classes progressed and I was given essays and creative writing assignments, they would always come back with some variant of “nice story” or “interesting points” at the top, and then such a multitude of red marks and grammatical mistakes that the net grade barely passed. I didn’t know that I could write, until a mechanism allowed me to stop focusing upon the rules.

Pentecost 23
Sunday, October 11, 2015

Two of the most helpful terms in describing church leaders are  Over-Functioning and Under-Functioning.  Over-Functioning as a neurotic state is related to codependency. This was first noted in the study of the family systems that surrounded alcoholics.  The vacuum in family structure and process created by a drinking parent would suck one or more of the children into adult-sized roles. They would take on tasks that were really not their jobs. As they grew into adulthood and left their family of origin, these wounded souls would characteristically over commit.

Not My Job

Ecology

Psalm 8 and the Genesis creation story reveal something that can only be learned from revelation: that our dominion over all creatures, as well as, our responsibility for the environment, is not something humanity gained by evolving into the top position in terms of intelligence, nor have we conquered the earth by our own might, ecological dominion is instead a gift, a matter of grace from our creator. This is why Pope Francis’ voice on climate control is a significant addition to the debate.

Pentecost 22
Sunday, October 4, 2015

Places where we experience the Holy are more common than people who embody holiness. As we watch Pope Francis visit our hemisphere, this seems to be the point neglected by many commentators. The crowds are coming as pilgrims to places where they expect a blessing. No matter what the form our religion takes, we are called to extraordinary prayer in particular places and by contact with those we consider to be Holy. It is important to recognize this fact without getting too analytical.

 

What is different about this Pope?

7 Reasons to Pray

In James 5:13-20 seven prayer topics are considered: Trouble, Happy, Sick, Sin, Prophetic (Elijah concerned with political situation), Environmental, and for those who are Lost. But, everything James says is prefaced by a discussion of the prayer-less attitude many have towards life.  In James 413-15 we are cautioned not be drawn into thinking that we have a god-less solution to the troubles of this world.

 

Pentecost 20
Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Time for Honesty

At the heart of every twelve step program, like AA, there is an emphasis on holy confession. We confess the path that our urges and inner demons have put us on. We confess our inability to manage them by ourselves. We affirm our commitment to change our course and walk on a new path. James, being the New Testament’s wisest wisdom book, resonates with these truths.  In James 3:13- 4:10 we are urged to think about the costs associated with following our selfish desires.

Pentecost 20
Sunday, September 20, 2015

Imprecise language is the bane of group processes. Whether you are Donald Trump, Bill Maher, or the substitute teacher for the kindergarten Sunday school class, your audience deserves a better word choice.  Unless you are referring to a recent blow on the head, as in to be knocked stupid, the word “stupid” is always a poor choice. Not only is it inflammatory, it distracts us from the choice we must make whenever we talk about motive. I write novels and none of my characters are stupid. Whenever they make a bad decision or commit a felony, the proper word for what they are doing is either incompetence or malevolence.

Leadership demands precise language

Know Your Cross

The news tonight is bound to contain at least one example of a foolish religious sacrifice. It may be a suicide bomber, an IS recruit selling all to go to Syria, or a county clerk going to jail for failing to give marriage licenses. That last example may be a bit controversial, but it is carefully chosen. I think all forms of martyrdom should conform to the rules of civil disobedience. Before I pick up a cross, participate in an act that is likely to cause me harm or imprisonment, or fail to perform the reasonable duties of my workplace, I must ask:

Pentecost 19
Sunday, September 13, 2015

All transition has three components. It doesn’t matter if you are moving to a new location, starting a career, or exiting puberty. For general terms you could name the components: body, soul, and relationships. Attention should be paid to each one; failed transitions and broken hearts are often the product of rushing the process and failing to do one or two components well. 

 

During transition, our souls rest on a base of body and relational concerns

Up or Down, a Show of Hands

Most religious beliefs aren’t suited for Yes/No, no qualifiers, interrogations. The Republican field of candidates was asked to indicate by a show of hands whether they would support the nominee if it was not them. Simple question, answer Yes or No.  In the Baptism ritual we ask a series of similarly simple — no grey area — questions. Beyond this, what other assertions deserve this treatment? In James 2:5, a rhetorical question is asked and James assumes that we will answer confidently, “Yes.” That question goes like this:

Pentecost 8
Sunday, September 6, 2015

It’s important not to get caught up in America’s current political polarization. There was a day in which Republicans were promoting the Fourteenth Amendment instead of seeking to get it repealed. Support of particular political candidates, movements, or parties, often gets the church coopted into simply providing the people to serve someone else’s agenda. 

To be sustainable, churches must serve the community

The Heart of Religion

The great physicist Richard Feynman once described what he and other scientists were doing this way: “[The Universe] is something like a great chess game being played by the gods, and we are observers of the game. We do not know what the rules of the game are; all we are allowed to do is to watch the playing. Of course, if we watch long enough, we may eventually catch on to a few of the rules.” I think he was right, but his analogy scares me a bit. People who attempt to learn something, like chess or swimming or religion, often get fascinated with irrelevant customs and nonessentials. A child may think that it is impossible to learn to swim without a blue bathing suit or that chess (or science) is only played by boys.

Pentecost 17
Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dusting the Altar Rail

Do this: while you’re reading Solomon’s dedication prayer for the temple, take a can of Pledge and dust the altar rail. If your church doesn’t have one, take a few moments to complain about that fact (the architect must have been a pagan). Solomon admits that God doesn’t need an altar rail to be worshiped — in fact his great temple didn’t have one. Actually, his whole temple was an altar rail and the courts around it equivalent to the kneeling pads we place before our rail. In church language, people come to the altar during prayer time, even if they don’t leave their pew.

Pentecost 16
Sunday, August 23, 2015

Specializing in Wisdom

Today if you want to know something, you Google-it. Works for discovering the lyrics to the song in your head, knowing how to tell if your pomegranate is ripe, and for looking up the population of Canton, Ohio. Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia dispense a lot of useful knowledge — people even buy smart-phones so as to never have this wealth out of reach — but, where is wisdom? What is Wisdom? People should hear about wisdom in church often, because it is our business. Internet-based information sites out perform bricks and mortar religious institutions when it comes to answering peoples’ questions.

Pentecost 15
Sunday, August 16, 2015

Joe:  OK, so it is Monday after “one of those weeks.”  During the past seven days you have (1) conducted two funerals, (2) been informed by the chair of your Trustees that the church’s air-conditioning system is dying and the Fellowship Hall’s roof still leaks, (3) are facing the need to exit a long-time staff member because of ongoing performance issues, and (4) have verified that the church’s worship attendance was lower this quarter than any time during the past three years.

Is this attitude permanent?

Loving Jesus in a Gluten-Free World

In John 6, Jesus causes a scandal by claiming to be the bread of life. The word bread itself is problematic today; many people are on gluten-free or low carb diets. This leads to three sticking points around Jesus and bread.

Pentecost 14
Sunday, August 9, 2015

Poignantly Paul

From the prison cell, where he is cut off from the lifeblood of Christian fellowship, Paul speaks with clarity about how church is meant to be. Ephesians 4:1-16 should be read by those nominated to church office, should be responsively chanted at church council meetings, and should be prayerfully kept in mind as we enter our fall reorganizational and vision casting gatherings.

 

Pentecost 13
Sunday, August 2, 2015

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