Friday, May 23, 2008

Foot in Mouth

Hillary Clinton obviously does not want to be Vice President.

If she did, she would not make comments about Barack Obama's impending assasination.

Celebrity Drama

It was sad to hear the tragic circumstances of the death of the adopted child of Steven Curtis Chapman. I feel awful for the kid who ran her over, who is going to be scarred for life.

However, it is very interesting that we get fixated on this tragedy because it happened to some famous Christian musician who is insanely rich and famous. Why are even we in the Christian community so fixated on drama about people who have won popularity contests and thus are minor Christian celebrities?

I suppose it is easier than thinking about people suffering under the grind of poverty and oppression in our little parts of the world, and worldwide.

Appalachian Surprise

I find it interesting that some people are looking to take the Democratic nomination away from Barack Obama because he cannot carry the Appalachian white vote.

For real? Do people know this area has many of the struggles in being open to racial equality as the deep south, but without the racial diversity that might offset this part of the electorate? Crazy!

These are probably the same people that believe simultaneously that Barack Obama is a Muslim and that his Christian pastor should be renounced.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Theodicy Lessons from the Twilight Zone

One of the things I have loved about being in Fowler so far is the opportunity to hear people's stories. Although people here do not always understand their faith in terms of a growing narrative, they certainly do understand their lives that way. The last couple of weeks I have been taking time to drop by people's homes and get to know them. One person I have gotten to know pretty well is Scotty.

Scott has had a rough go of it lately. He is a truck driver, and recently rolled his truck around Salina, KS. He was heading home from Kansas City, and he had an empty trailer. The winds got up to 80 miles per hour, and one gust picked his trailer up which tipped his truck. He was rushed to a hospital in Wichita, which did a very poor job in caring for his wounds. In particular, he was tipped over in a way that he had road abrasions on his skull.

Since the accident, he has been waiting on Workmen's Compensation. Since that is slow in developing, he has been recieving care through the Veteran's Administration. He still has a rather large and somewhat open wound on his head. His accident was sometime around March.

Scott and his wife Sheryl live across the alley from Jennifer and I. The first time I visited with Scotty over the fence he said, "Clint, I can tell we are going to be really good friends."

Scott is a Vietnam Veteran. He talked about listening to the Doors when he left for Vietnam, and realizing the whole world was different when he returned after four years of combat and the hot group was the Jackson Five.

What I like about Scotty is that he is part wide-eyed five year old boy, and part armchair philosopher and sage. When he talks, his voice raises pitch and his eyes get big like a child. Some of the things he talks about lets you know that he thinks a lot more than most folks about life, faith, and what everything means.

Last Monday, I headed up to Denver to visit Scott at the VA Hospital. He and his wife Cheryl were battling discouragement. He had went up to Denver expecting to get a skin graft from his leg to go over his wounded head. Instead, they spent four hours in surgery cleaning gravel, glass and other debris and clearing infection from his wound. Its seems the first responders did not put a lot of energy into making sure his wound was clean when they released him from care. Each day, they are told a different story about when he will be ready for the surgery that he expected.

As I visited Monday, Scott was nearly moved to tears. Our church had given he and his wife gifts and cards that I had brought with me. Most of the gifts were monetary, to defray expenses while they were in the hospital.

As I continued to listen to their story, Scotty taught me about what philosophers call "the problem of evil" or the "problem of pain". The theologian shorthand for this term is theodicy. In other words, why do bad things happen to good people. Scotty was pondering these questions and he said, "Sometimes I wonder about why all this is happening to me," he said, "But then I remember this episode from the Twilight Zone"

The episode he descibed I later discoverd is titled A Nice Place to Visit. The story begins with a man robbing a pawn shop. At some point in the middle of the robbery, the police come. As the robber, named Rocky, seeks to make his escape, he is shot dead by the police.

The next thing he knows, he wakes up with a large man in a nice suit next to him. The large man introduces himself as Pip, and Pip explains that he is Rocky's guide to the afterlife.

Pip tells Rocky he can have everything he wants. Rocky wants a nice place. He gets a Penthouse. He wants women. He gets three who tend to his every need. Rocky wants a million dollars. He is given that as well. As Rocky goes along, he assumes he is in heaven.

Pip takes him to the casino downstairs. Everything he plays he wins. He always rolls the right number at craps and roullette. He always wins when he plays the slots.

For a while this thrills Rocky, but then he gets bored. Everything is just too easy. Everything is just what he wants.

He calls up Pip, and through a conversation he discovers that everything around him is programmed to give him whatever he wants. Nobody choses to love him. Everyone is just playing the role of treating him well. He never has to have any risk or any faith. He never has to deal with anything he does not want.

Rocky does not like this. He grows to dislike this programmed antiseptic world where he is given everything he wants. Finally he explodes to Pip, who he assumes is an angel. Rocky says, "I want to go to the other place if this is what this is going to be like!"

Pip responds, "Why this IS THE OTHER PLACE!" and then laughs this evil disturbing laugh.

Scotty finishes telling this story. "A life where everything was easy and I got everything I ever wanted wouldn't be more like hell I suppose," he says, "that is what that show said and I think it is true."

"I am just going to continue to pray and hope for the best," he said to me, "and I know you will too."

Friday, May 16, 2008

The New Book that Came in the Mail

Floral Meditation

"4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart..." (Jeremiah 29)

This week and this month has been full of chaos and adjustment. Our bathroom is nearly finished in the parsonage, but we have had the trustee of the church in our home nearly every evening working to get it done. I officially started at the church on Sunday. From Sunday on, it seems that everything has been new. We have had new experiences and a new pace of life. We are learning new ways of speaking with people, and new we have both started new jobs. I am learning that the church has a more informal way of functioning than I had anticipated (no regular deacons meetings for example). I am trying to figure out how to copy bulletins and wondering how to purchase paper for the copier. We have spent over a week waiting for cable and internet (no internet in the office). I am very slowly learning what people expect of me. I have spent a lot of time making home visits to members, and that means getting to know and trying to read lots of new people. I knew things were going to change drastically in ministry, but living that adjustment has been a stretching, learning experience this week.

Today, after I was encouraged not to visit the person we have in the hospital quite yet, I took the day off. It was the first day off that I was not moving things that I have had in nearly a month. So, after waiting for the plumber and taking a few phone calls from church folks, I headed into La Junta for lunch. I stopped by Walmart, and made Jen a picnic in the park for us both. Then, I started to drive home.

On the way home, I made a decision. I stopped by Big R and Arkansas Valley Lumber Company and got some flowers. Then, I spent most of the afternoon planting roses and mums in pots and flower boxes on the front porch. I learned during some stressful moments last year that caring for plants and flowers helps me practice what a mentor called "Long, Wandering Prayer".

Today, while potting the plants, I thought of the passage above. As I pot the plants I plant in faith. I trust that God called me to this place. My actions say I intend to be here indefinitely, ministering in this community, planting and watering the seed of God's good news in this place.

I think about how the investment in the church and in the flowers are both risky acts of hope. Hope that my work, time, and personal investment will indeed help to grow new life here in this place. And, the act of getting dirt under my fingernails and my hands dirty gives me a strange sense of peace. I have the peace for the moment that I too am being planted in this place, on this land, for this time. And that as I get my hands dirty over the coming years, I can trust that God's plans are indeed to prosper me and not to harm me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Small Town Life: A Snapshot

This Wednesday night I prayed the opening prayer at the Bacclaureate service here in Fowler. It is my first week on the job, and I have already recieved two responsibilities in community services.

Today, after the service for our soon-to-be graduates here in Fowler, I started visiting with people. Several people have asked:

"So how is that bathroom you are getting redone coming along?"

I am always a little shocked when I meet people for the first time, and they know that the church is remodeling our bathroom. This is especially interesting when it is in a conversation with people I am meeting for the first time.

I met the head of the local bank. He asked about the progress of our bathroom.

So did the minister of the Christian Church.

In a way this is a little shocking, and in a way this is a compliment and a comfort that people seem so invested in our adjusting well.

All in all, this is life and ministry in a small town.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I thought this was funny

This is a commentary on Hillary Clinton's apparent racist comments about hard-working white americans.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Final Sermon at FBC Colorado Springs: Be A Reciever

Will you be my
Will you be my
Will you be my
Will you be….my neighbor?

Generations of us were raised hearing those words sung by the Presbyterian minister who loved children. He wore a sweater vest nearly every day. He spoke in hushed tones to us as he changed his shoes. Then he went on to follow model trains through his house, talk to puppets, and visit with the mailman. Mr. Rogers was a calming influence who taught children about tolerance and never got angry or frustrated. My mother-in-law thought he was child molester like and creepy, and refused to let Jennifer watch him. However, many of us watched him with children and grandchildren, and have good feelings about the things he taught, the characters he introduced us to, and the authenticity he had in real life with the character on television. Mr. Rogers was a good man.

I liked Mr. Rogers.

I like Jesus more.

When we read this passage about Jesus with the children our first instinct is to think Jesus is a lot like Mr. Rogers. He is sitting on a little stump in an olive grove somewhere, with a sweater-vest over his flowing white robe. He wants the children to sit around him, and he wants to speak to them in hushed tones about how it will be good for them to be kind to one another and do what their synagogue teachers told them. He gets out his flannel graph and tells them some age appropriate story from the Old Testament, and then prays for each of them and sends them on their way. As they leave he sprinkles glitter in all of their hair. The children’s lives are never the same again.

This image may be a good image. It may even be the image of a faithful disciple of Jesus. It is not, however, the picture of Jesus that we have in this passage. Jesus is much more angry, forceful, and driven to teach people a point about the kingdom.

He wasn’t a member of the sweater vest crowd speaking in hushed tones hoping people would listen.

He was directly asserting the gospel is not a managed and controlled program. No matter how much we try to force it to be just that. The gospel is Christ’s gospel, not ours. We come to him on his terms.

The last month I have been teaching the CHOW Bible Study group how to do word study, and identify important words in a text of Scripture. It has been fun. We have learned a lot. The key to this passage is a few key words.

In this passage, there is a very important word that shows up to describe Jesus’ emotions. That word is “indignant”.

The Bible says that as Jesus was INDIGNANT. That is pretty strong language. It certainly is not Mr. Roger’s behavior.

Why was Jesus indignant?

The Scripture says that Jesus was indignant because little children were being brought to him so that he could place his hands on them and bless them, and the disciples were rebuking people for making this imposition on Jesus.

The disciples thought that Jesus had more important things to do. They thought he had a more important agenda to pay attention to.

The disciples were missing the point.

The disciples believe that the kingdom of God is theirs for the taking. They believe that if they manage things right and control things right, if they get things figured out right, if they find the right system, if they play their politics just right, then they will be able to claim a position of power in the Christian movement.

If we look at the context of this conflict, we can see this back and forth goes on for chapters. In chapters 8, 9, and 10 Jesus predicts his rejection and death 3 times. Jesus tells the disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. In other words, after feeding the five thousand don’t get puffed up with ideas of power and popularity. They don’t get it. They can’t control it.
He tells people not to tell others about who he is and what he has done. Following Jesus is not about riding his coattails to success.

A man says, I believe, but lord help my unbelief. He comes to Jesus needy and incomplete. He receives health for his son. He receives it.

The disciples get angry that other people are casting out miracles and doing wonders on Jesus’ behalf. They think they are losing. Jesus is happy, and says that whoever does these things are on the same team. People are receiving the grace of the kingdom. The kingdom is winning.
Eventually we come to Jesus with the children. The disciples are still trying to manage and control Jesus’ agenda for their benefit.

Jesus will have none of this pettiness. He is indignant. He lets the disciples know. Looks a little more messy and feisty than a Mister Roger’s show.

He is indignant because of the other key word that shows up in the passage. RECEIVE.

The kingdom of God isn’t something we take. It is something we receive.

The grace of God isn’t something we attain to. It is something we receive as a gift.
The power of God isn’t something we control through doing or saying the right thing. It isn’t something we earn or are entitled to. It is something we receive as needy people open to have whenever and however God wants to give it to us.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I want to share with you how this receiving has worked in our lives lately.

One of the reasons that Jen and I trust that God is calling us to Fowler is because it is not a ladder climbing move. It does not pay more. It is not a position with higher status. The total church budget is about 1/6 of First Baptist Colorado Springs. You open up guides for travelers to Colorado Springs, and it does not even show up on the map! Right now we are living in a parsonage where the shower does not even work yet, and the computer in the pastor’s study is over 10 years old.

That is not to say we did not try to push our agenda, and make a call of God what we wanted it to be. I interviewed at churches closer to Jennifer ‘s family and my own. We interviewed with churches that had more attendees , larger budgets, and better salaries and more status. Sometimes the door slammed shut on their end. Sometimes we had a deep, mystical sense that God was not leading us in that direction.

When we visited with the folks down in Fowler, we both had a sense that this was where God was leading us. We asked for God to give us open doors, and to point the way. In situation after situation, before and after we accepted the call to go there, we have received confirmation after confirmation that God has led us to Fowler.

God’s call to a new ministry in Fowler was something we received by grace, not something we controlled (in spite of my best efforts), or something we claimed by force.

Receiving is hard. We want to be strong. We want to be in control. We want to earn what we have. We want solutions and answers.

Jesus says to receive like little children.

When Jesus says this, he is not adopting our modern sensibility that children are innocent. Any one who has raised children knows that they are adorable, at times sweet, but far from innocent.
What Jesus is saying is that we need to come to him with nothing in our hands, nothing to claim, no negotiations to make, and simply receive the blessing that he is offering.

The other day, in the last word study we did with our CHOW group, we looked at the actions of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. One thing that really stuck out to each of us was the the discussion of the action of the Holy Spirit filling people. Filling, we discussed, is a receiving kind of action. And it seemed that the people who were most receptive were filled up. Once they were able to receive to the point of being full, then their filling resulted in ministries of grace and renewal around them.

So often we think God wants us to do stuff for him. Run errands for him. Attend meetings for him. Lead church activities for him. We think that our busyness and our activity level makes God happy. We think that we are good because we give more than we have to, or because we make a really special effort as forgiving someone who hurts us. We may not think that God grades on a curve, or that he demands that we get everything right. But we do think that God has a report card like I did in elementary school and middle school, where there was a grade for achievement and a grade for effort. And that God is really assessing us by our effort grade, so we must look very busy and try really, really extra hard.

What if we stopped trying so hard and just started to honestly receive from God? What would that look like?

What if instead of trying to control all of our life circumstances, we received the situations we are in and used them as opportunities to seek and discover God’s grace? What might God be trying to teach us that we are missing?

What if instead of trying to cover up and fix our mistakes we acknowledged them, and were conscious about completely receiving grace and forgiveness? Maybe forgiving those who hurt us might be a little bit easier.

What if we looked at what we do in service of the church as an opportunity to be received as well? What might God have to teach us as we prepare lessons? How might God grow us as we work with people we have never gotten to know?

What if instead of coming to worship to see what we can “get out of it”, we came to worship receptive to whatever God may be doing, even if God is not necessarily doing it specifically for us?

What if instead of thinking we have to earn God’s salvation and approval, we soaked in the fact that he wants to love us, grow us, mold us, and shape us. And that what he wants from us is to be receptive to him as he lays his hands upon us and begins to mold us and make us anew?
First Baptist Church, this will be the last Sunday that I get to share with you as one of your pastors. As I go, this is my prayer for you:

My prayer for you is that you will be receivers.
My prayer for you is that you will drop any hopes you have of earning God’s approval.
My prayer is that you will set aside any guilt or shame or sense of obligation you have with your faith.
My prayer is that you will come to Jesus like little children
That have no wealth
That have no achievements.
That have no power.
That have no control over much of anything in their lives.
My prayer is that you will be brought to Jesus.
And you will allow him to set his hands on your shoulders
And let him look in to your eyes
And that you will let him bless you
That you will receive that blessing from Jesus you need
That blessing of approval.
That blessing of acceptance.
That blessing of hope.
That blessing of empathy.
And that when you receive from Jesus,
This hope
This grace
This love
Then you will experience
This compassion
This love
This power
This flood of God-life in you
That will not simply fill you up
Like you have never been filled before
But that will overflow from you
To one another
And this church will be so full
From being open enough
To receive from God
That this God-life we received from Jesus
Will overflow
In a stream of grace
Into a thirst world around
This is what I pray for you.
That today
At this table
And each day as we are parted
That you will receive
New hope
New truth
New Grace
New Life
From the God
Who is the same
And Tommrrow
And the God
Who is always
Flowing out
And flooding forward
In an unpredictable
Torrent of
Amazing love.


Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying           Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christi...