Accident or Not?

I have friends in Orlando who live this as their philosophy,

We go nowhere by accident.
Wherever we go, God is sending us.
Wherever we are, God put us there for a purpose.
Christ who indwells us has something to do through us wherever we are.

Though I try to share their conviction, I am often the one of little faith. Walking through our yard last week, barefooted, on the phone, I have to wonder, was what I stepped in an accident? A gift from our dogs? A gift from God?
I make lots of mistakes. They seem to be life’s learning lessons for me. Only God, perhaps, never blunders, though the duck billed platypus makes me wonder. That being the case, I take this paraphrase of Psalm 53 that I came across this week as no chance reading but an assignment to study. See if you don’t agree. Continue reading “Accident or Not?”

God is love?

When I was a youth, we learned a song that made memorizing 1 John 4:7 & 8 quite easy. The verse is,
 
  Beloved, let us love one another,
for love is of God; and everyone that loveth
is born of God and knoweth God.
He that loveth not, knoweth not God for God is love.
Beloved, let us love one another. 1 John 4:7 & 8.

  Through the years, I have not forgotten the song, but I have had to work on trying to begin to comprehend what God is love might mean and have to do with me in my day to day living, and when I can, loving.
  I gained help from some who reflect on our human experience in deeper ways than I can. One is Frederick Buechner. In Beyond Words, he wrote of love’s stages:  

Continue reading “God is love?”

Leadership Guides from To Kill a Mockingbird

Out of the Crowd front cover 21One of my favorite books is To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch stands as a great literary model for leadership.
One of my personal hopes is to live up to such an example that, win or lose, to in some way, live like Atticus.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book which are great examples of the character of Atticus I tried to write about in my own book for leaders, Out of The Crowd.
For more information on Out of The Crowd, click this cover:

Chapter 11
“Scout,” said Atticus, “when summer comes you’ll have to keep your head about far worse things . . . it’s not fair for you and Jem, I know that, but sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down-well, all I can say is, when you and Jem are grown, maybe you’ll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn’t let you down. This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.” ”
“Atticus, you must be wrong.”
“How’s that?”
“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong. . .”
“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” Continue reading “Leadership Guides from To Kill a Mockingbird”

ENOUGH around town…

Friends in Nashville send me pictures from time to time when they see my friend Jimmie’s car around the city. Though Jimmie is gone, his impact on me lives on. Here is what I wrote about Jimmie in my book, ENOUGH…

Jimmie has ENOUGH as a customized license plate. He was asked, “Jimmie, would you still have that license plate if someone gave you a new Mercedes?” “Nope,” he replied, “then I’d get a plate that says, More than Enough.
Jimmie had the plate made after reading Life is So Good!, the biography of George Dawson, a man who signed his name with an X until age 98. At 98 George learned to read and write.
George’s biographer asked him, “George, when you think of life, do you see the glass as half full or half empty?”
“I don’t see it as half full or half empty,” George replied.
“Then how do you see it?” the biographer asked.
“It is enough,” George replied. “Enough.”
Jimmie loves the book and the philosophy. Jimmie figures if George Dawson, a man who grew up black in one of the toughest times in a country’s history for a minority, and a man who was illiterate until 98 could look at life and say, “It is enough.” If this man could see life as neither half full or half empty, if he could look at life and claim enough, then so could he.
For my friend Jimmie, enough hasn’t just been an attitude, but a lifestyle – and a diet plan. Jimmie travels a lot for work, so he eats out a lot. Eating out usually means an easy road to gaining weight. Jimmie used the power of enough to limit what he ate. Instead of eating what he could, or what would make him feel good, he just ate what he needed at each meal. The Enough Diet Plan took forty-two pounds off Jimmie even while he was still traveling. Enough changed Jimmie’s life. It can change yours.
Consider the king in this next story adapted from Heather Forrest’s collection Wisdom Tales

Once there was a prince who was so sad, his eyes seemed full of sadness and tears. The king was concerned about his son. He got cooks to prepare the best dishes, toymakers to make the best toys, and teachers to share their most stimulating ideas, but to no avail. No gift or treasure could free the prince from his sadness.
The king called his advisors who offered this solution, “For the prince to be happy, you must dress him in the shirt of a truly happy man. Then he will be cured of all his sorrow.”
So the king set out on a journey to find a truly happy man.
He went through the village to the church. The priest always seemed to him to be a happy man. “Your, majesty,” the priest said, “to what do I owe this honor?”
The king said, “You are known as a good and holy man. I would like to know, would you accept the position of bishop should it come to you?”
“Certainly,” replied the priest.
“Never mind,” the king said and left disappointed. If the priest were truly happy, he wouldn’t want to be bishop.
The king went to another kingdom and visited another monarch. “My friend,” asked the king, “are you happy?”
 “Most of the time, but not always, there are many nights I am restless because I am worry about losing all that I have worked so hard to gain.”
The king left for he knew that this man’s shirt would not do.
On his way back to his own kingdom, he happened to be riding by a farm. He heard singing. He stopped his carriage and followed the sound of the song. There he found a poor farmer, singing at the top of his lungs. The farmer looked up to see the king approaching and said, “Good day, sir!”
“Good day to you,” said the king. “You seem so happy today.”
“I am happy every day for I am blessed with a wonderful life.”
The king said, “Come with me to the castle. You will be surrounded with luxury and never want for anything again.”
“Thank you your majesty, but I would not give up my life for all the castles in the world.”
The king could not contain his joy. “My son is saved! All I need do is take this man’s shirt back to the castle with me!”
It was then the king looked and realized… the man wasn’t wearing a shirt.

To find out more about the power of “enough,” click here: ENOUGH

 

 

You Might Be a Church Committee

A member of my church was asked, “What do you think of the new pastor.” The response was, “Imagine Jeff Foxworthy telling you Bible stories.”

You can decide if she meant this as a compliment or not.

Foxworthy did quite well with, “You might be a redneck.” In order to live up to the comparison, I came up with… You Might Be a Church Committee

If you died, and at the gates of paradise were given the chance to enter heaven or go to a group and talk about heaven and you would choose the group to talk about heaven instead of entering in, you might be a church committee.

If the question, “What does this group do?” stumps every member of your group, you might be a church committee.

If “That’s not how we’ve done it?” is your primary response to trying something new, you might be a church committee.

If, “Well the group down the road has a ukulele band,” is a reason to hire a group of four stringers, you might be a church committee.

If 20% of the people do 80% of the work, you might be a church committee.

If you think that getting people to come is serving, you might be a church committee.

If you think sitting on something is serving, you might be a church committee. Sounds like this, “We need another member to sit on Buildings and Grounds.”

If the biggest vision you have for the kingdom of God is a balanced budget, you might be a church committee.

If seeking to avoid objections with no tangible objectives is your goal, you might be a church committee.

If you feel responsible for people’s emotions thinking that someone being upset is the end of existence as you know it, you might be a church committee.

If you believe the key to success is having a decision everyone can agree and that all problems will be solved with a unanimous vote including things as big as climate change, as broad as human sexuality, as ongoing as the problems in the Middle East, and as simple as a clogged drain in the church kitchen, you might be a church committee.

If you changed the Great Commission of Christ from, “Go into all the world and make disciples,” to “Let’s sing ‘Kum Ba Yah’ so people will come,” you might be a church committee.

If you have a mission committee without a real mission for your congregation, you might be a church committee.

If the members of your group age but never mature or even grow up, or if your members become older without becoming wiser, you might be a church committee.

If your group wants to do the same things it’s always done hoping for different results thinking, ‘If we just try harder, it will be different,” you might be a church committee.

If your efforts lean toward subtle mind control asking, “How do we get people to (do what we want or think they ought to),” you might be a church committee.

If your mission decisions begin with a survey asking people, “How do you feel about homelessness,” or believe issues like homeless are more a problem to the community than the person who is homeless, you might be a church committee.

If you think that your likes and God’s likes are identical, you might be a church committee. Sounds like this, “I didn’t like that sermon,” assuming that if you din’t like it that God didn’t like it either. Applies to draperies as well.

If you don’t do for the least of these because you don’t know that it’s Jesus that is homeless, lost, hungry, or in prison, you might be a church committee.

If you seek for the Creator of the Universe to be the God of your dreams instead of being the people of God’s dreams, you might be a church committee.

If you objectify people into something you own or want to own, you might be a church committee. Sounds like this, “We’d hate to lose some of our members.” “We need more members.”

If people are your goal instead of your reason for existence, you might be a church committee. Sounds like, “We need children if we are going to exist…” instead of wondering why children are fine without you.

If you ask God for a drink of water, and God gives you a banquet, and then you respond, “But I asked for water,” you might be a church committee.

If you think you can go somewhere without changing your location, you might be a church committee. Sounds like this, “We left that denomination for another one…” when you didn’t move at all. This includes taking an ideological shift to the left or right without moving from your seat or pew.

If you think that the reason your group isn’t popular is because of marketing or branding, you might be a church committee.

If you think the followers of Christ are supposed to be popular when he promised, “If the crowd will crucify me, then they’ll crucify those follow me…”, you might be a church committee.

If you shout, “Hosanna,” when a new leader comes to town, and “Crucify him!” or “Crucify her!” before they leave, you might be a church committee.

If you believe faith saves you from dying when it didn’t save Jesus, you might be a church committee.

If you want someone to save your organization in the name of Jesus when Jesus didn’t save anything he wrote, his family, his followers, his religious tradition, or himself, you might be a church committee.

If your group exists to try and keep the institution from dying instead of finding Easter resurrection and life after death at least one day a week, you might be a church committee.

If you think your group, nation, party, or even yourself is God’s favorite of all time, you might be a church committee.

If, unlike the widow in the Temple who believed God could use her two pennies, you curse the pennies children put in the offering plate, you might be a church committee.

If you finish this phrase, “the almighty…” and say, “God,” when you mean, “dollar,” you might be a church committee.

If you think charity is giving away instead of being all in, you might be a church committee. (If you are unaware of the difference, charity is money you give away while mission is what you live for and will even die for.)

If you can say the word, denomination without seeing the irony that the same word used for a dollar bill is how you describe your church association, you might be a church committee.

If you see no irony in the words “In God we trust,” being on a dollar bill, you might be a church committee.

If all your churches goals are dependent on making budget instead of the miraculous work of God, you might be a church committee.

If you believe the work that you do is boring but that God sees your efforts as essential for all creation, you might be a church committee.

If you got confused and think God needs you instead of seeing how much you need God, you might be a church committee.

If you think play is what children do and that your business is always serious business, you might be a church committee. (Even the orchestra plays, church members just pay and pay and…)

If your folks leave their service exhausted instead of energized, used up instead of lifted up, committed to a mental institution instead of the kingdom of God, you might be a church committee.

If you hate endings and you want things to last forever or at least your meetings seem to, you might be a church committee.

If you try and save your minutes but have few real moments, you are definitely a church committee.

 

What’s Your Tribal Worldview?

One of the better books I’ve read on leadership is David Logan’s book on Tribal Leadership According to Logan, no matter where in the world we live, we are all tribal people forming into groups in one of five stages of maturity. Our personal and tribal maturity is dependent on our view of the world. Here are Logan’s stages and the view of life held in each.

STAGE ONE: DESPAIRING HOSTILITY or “Life Stinks.”

People in these groups are hardly groups at all. They generally live isolated lives limited by a sense of despair that life cannot and will not get better because that is just the way life is. If they had a motto, it might be, “Life Sinks.” The best way to help people stuck in stage one is to get them out to another place. A person surrounded by a Stage One Tribe will have a difficult time seeing or experiencing life differently.

STAGE TWO: APATHETIC VICTIM or “My Life Stinks.”

People in these groups have a sense that life is not terrible for everyone, just for them. While others may do well, they can’t imagine a productive path for themselves. The best help for people in stage two are mentors who help them see their lives differently.

STAGE THREE: LONE WARRIORS or “I’m Great!”

People in this stage have a sense of personal accomplishment. They group together but are more competitive than communal. Every get together is an opportunity for outdoing another. The best projects to encourage people to grow out of this stage are tasks that require others to complete.

STAGE FOUR: TRIBAL PRIDE or “We’re Great!”

People in this stage have bonded together with a sense of what a group can carry out. Great things have and are continually being accomplished by groups at this stage. The limit is this group needs a sense of superiority over other groups to have a sense of value. Working with other groups on goals greater than their own tribe helps members grow to stage five.

STAGE FIVE: WONDER or “Life is Great!”

This group has a vision for the world that is rooted in wonder. As G.K. Chesterton said, “The world does not lack wonders but a sense of wonder.” For people working together at this stage, they see the world as full of limitless possibility. They do not need to perceive themselves as superior but can marvel at all that is possible whether enacted by their group or others.

In this famous parable of “The Talents,” which worldview does the servant with one talent hold? Though it would seem that the numbers are significant with one having five talents, one having two, and one having only a single talent, be careful. Jesus is often like a magician using sleight of hand to distract us. These stewards are all servants of the master. Though each is entrusted with a different amount, the numbers are irrelevant. The talents, money, or gifts are the property of the master. What is significant is what they do with them. The question I ask you to consider, is the one who buries his talent in the ground stuck in a world view of, “Life Stinks”? Does he only receive what he can see, a harsh world with a harsh master?

Where would you place yourself in the parable?

Matthew 25. 14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[f] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 
24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

If you would like to consider further David Logan’s work you can read his book, Tribal Leadership, or watch his talk at a TED conference by clicking the link below.

 

Parables, Parables, Parables

In Seminary, we learned to preach sermons with three points and a poem. We learned to read long volumes of theology. Somehow, what we didn’t learn, was to do as Jesus did, short two minute memorable parables that connected to everyday life. Here’s my attempt… Click the play button to watch and the > button to skip to the next one.

One Solitary Life

When you’re not sure whether or not what you might do today or who you might contact has meaning, remember Jesus as reflected in James Allen Francis.

One Solitary Life
by James Allen Francis (1926)

He was born in an obscure village 
The child of a peasant woman 
He grew up in another obscure village 
Where he worked in a carpenter shop 
Until he was thirty when public opinion turned against him
He never wrote a book 
He never held an office 
He never went to college 
He never visited a big city 
He never travelled more than two hundred miles 
From the place where he was born 
He did none of the things 
Usually associated with greatness 
He had no credentials but himself
He was only thirty three
His friends ran away 
One of them denied him 
He was turned over to his enemies 
And went through the mockery of a trial 
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves 
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing 
The only property he had on earth
When he was dead 
He was laid in a borrowed grave 
Through the pity of a friend
Nineteen centuries have come and gone 
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race 
And the leader of mankind’s progress 
All the armies that have ever marched 
All the navies that have ever sailed 
All the parliaments that have ever sat 
All the kings that ever reigned put together 
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth 
As powerfully as that one solitary life

From poet to psychologist, Scott Peck observed, The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual…. For it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost. Who knows, maybe you’re the one solitary individual who will change the course of history – maybe it’s today!

 

The Parable of The Song

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each gave their perspective on the gospel, or good news, of Jesus. Each version is a little different from the other. A common comparison is one song shared by different people. Here are three versions of a song by Travis Meadows, “What We Ain’t Got.” The first version is Jake Owen’s interpretation, then an acapella group, Home Free, shares their perspective, and finally, the original from the song writer, Travis Meadows. One song, three different takes on it. See what differences and similarities you notice.  (Travis will be live at Macland Presbyterian in Powder Springs, GA, on Saturday, January 21st at 7:00. $10 cover charge.)

Practices for New Life in The New Year

Moment Practices

Whether it is the best of times
 or the worst of times,
it is the only time we have.
Art Buchwald

Confessing my own limitations, I am very unzen-like, uncalm, unquiet, in internally nonpeaceful. My moments go by worried too much about the future, trying to prelive all possible events, or regretting my past and attempting to avoid reliving any painful past experience. “Now,” “being present,” and “in the moment” are foreign to me.

Though a pastor, I find the teachings of Jesus more difficult than the creeds about virgin birth, resurrection, or ascension. I struggle more with passages like this one from The Sermon on the Mount,

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

In order to learn what I do not comprehend, we started a community in Nashville focused on singers and songwriters that we called The Moment. The blog posts that follow are some of our practices that have helped us to become more present beginning with this one,

Continue reading “Practices for New Life in The New Year”

New Year’s Transformation: One Step at a Time

I love musicians. I don’t just love them for the songs the create, I love them for the lessons they share. As a pastor, we miss what musicians take for granted.

Practice: No matter how good you get as a musician, you still need to practice. Religious people often forget that no matter what your faith – it takes practice.

New Songs: No matter how proficient an artist is, there are always new songs to learn. Too often we religious approach our sacred scriptures as if “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” The United Church of Christ holds, and I agree, “God is still speaking.” No matter how many times you’ve heard a story, you can hear it in a new way as God can use any moment to bring forth a new creation.

Work is Play: Musicians play music. Religious people make sacrifices. For someone working at what they love, with people they love, you may give, you may even give up, but when it’s for the greater song, it’s not a sacrifice because it’s part of what you love. Religious folks seldom play. Perhaps a new statement for some could be, “In Christ we play…”

Moments Lead to Moments: Musicians finish a song. The song must end because if you keep playing it, you’ll ruin it. (Check out John Fogerty’s version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.”) Religious people try and live forever without ever facing an ending. For musicians, the end of one moment leads to the next.

One Step at a Time: Musicians learn about steps. You can’t take all steps at once. You can only take them one step at a time.

If you are making some big changes in your life this year, don’t resolve to do it all at once. Take it one beat, one moment, one step at a time.

Here is a wonderfully encouraging song for taking your steps, whether one step, twelve steps, or a journey of a million miles, take them as Mike Zito suggests. “One Step at a Time.”

Beyond Christmas to Christ – Good News for the New Year

Do you ever hear voices from your childhood? I do. I can still hear the promises. Like my parents, as they assured me, if I worked hard, then my hard work would pay off as I could create a life for myself and my future family.
I can still hear my teachers, encouraging me to study hard for every challenge, promising me if I would apply myself, get good grades, then I could go to any college I wanted and have whatever career I chose. I was eight. I did not know if I wanted to go to college. I didn’t know if you needed to go to college to be an astronaut. They assured me that I did.
From my coaches, I still can hear their voices, calling me by my last name, “Jones! Hustle! Get in the game! Get in the game!” The promise was there, if I worked hard, I might get to become a ‘starter’. I never made it. I was too slow. There wasn’t a sport that by the time I got off the bench and into the game, half the season wasn’t over. Still, I can hear them pushing me onward so that one day, I could drink from the cup of glory, whatever that was.
Among those voices, promising rewards for my effort, there was one other. A mysterious, legendary giant of a man. He promised me rewards for being good, tangible gifts of my own choosing to celebrate just how good I had been. He watched over me, paying close attention to who and how I was at home and at school, keeping track of everything I did, assuring me that if I was just good enough, I could make “The List”. He got me so excited about what I might get that I could barely sleep trusting that I had been a good boy and would make the cut. I still remember what we said about him, what we sang about him.

He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice,
gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…
He sees you when you’re sleeping,
he knows when you’re awake.
He knows when you’ve been bad or good,
so be good for goodness sake!

Besides being the mascot for Macy’s, Santa gives the basic message of society, the one we were all raised to believe, and the one we’ll likely pass on to our children, our cultural crowd’s norm: Do good, be good, and guaranteed, you’ll be rewarded. Do poorly, be bad, and sooner or later, guaranteed, you’ll be punished.
That’s what the shepherds must have been thinking when the angel appeared in the sky, “Uh-oh! Here it comes!” Punishment was surely on the way. The King James version states, “They were sore afraid,” which, to my young ears, always meant so scared it hurt.
The angel told them, “Fear not…” those beautiful words spoken on the first Christmas and the first Easter by messengers from God, “Fear not…” Perhaps the shepherds relaxed a little, realized they were in the midst of something wonderful, the work of God, not the typical reward and punishment, but good news… of grace.
“Fear not for behold I bring you tidings of great joy, for unto is born this day, in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord!”
“Fear not… for unto you…” Grace. The best Christmas gift ever.
Read more about life beyond Reward and Punishment inPsychology of Jesus FRONT Cover 2014141l8ZM0+5xL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ (2)Out of the Crowd front cover 21

What’s Your Christmas I.Q.?

Perhaps no other time of year proves the saying of Lao Tzu, “Those who think they know, don’t.” Try this Christmas quiz and see if you know as much as you think you do…

1. Joseph was originally from… (Luke 2:3)
A. Bethlehem
B. Nazareth
C. Hebron
D. Jerusalem
E. None of the above

2. What does the Bible say that the Innkeeper said to Mary and Joseph? (Luke 2:7)
A. “There is no room in the inn.”
B. “I have a stable you can use.”
C. “Come back later and I should have some vacancies.”
D. Both A and B
E. None of the above

3. A manger is a…
A. Stable for domestic animals
B. Wooden hay storage bin
C. Feeding trough
D. Barn

ANSWERS:
1. A. He worked and currently lived in Nazareth, but he was returning to Bethlehem – “his own city” (See Luke 2:3).
2. E. In the Bible, the innkeeper didn’t “say” anything (See Luke 2:7)
3. C. Feeding trough

How many did you answer correctly? Want to learn more? Here is the whole test: Christmas Quiz

Give the World a Gift this Christmas

In this season of giving and receiving gifts to those we love, or those whose name we drew in an office party Secret Santa, reflect on this question, “What can I give the world?” If this is the season for celebrating when God so loved the world, God gave… What can you give the world?

Here is a song by Mipso, a trio formed in the fall of 2010 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina when Jacob, Joseph, and Wood were students at UNC – Chapel Hill. They graduated in May 2013, and took the show on the road.

The hope for the world is to “leave this wicked winter just a couple of acres greener when I go.”

How will the world be better because you’ve been here?

Too Much Stuff

Delbert McClinton, Lyle Lovett, and John Prine recorded a wonderful song I listen to this time of year that reminds me that whatever it is that I think I need this Christmas, it’s not more stuff. (Join many of us in Atlanta Variety Playhouse for the release of Delbert’s new CD on January 28 – I know, more stuff…)

If that doesn’t set my head straight, I turn to George Carlin philosophizing about stuff,

A couple of other helpful resources on stuff:

George Dawson learned to read when he was in his nineties. Mr. Dawson was asked if he saw life as

a cup half full or half empty. He replied, “Neither. It is enough,” which inspired me to write many a sermon and even a little book to remind myself when Enough is plenty.

 

Live Your Moments: Let Your Soul Sing

Can a commercial carry the impact of a hymn? This one does. In a rollicking fashion, this Discovery Channel video carries an awe and wonder in response to the classic hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” See if you don’t think so.

Likely the Psalmist in Psalm 8 felt a similar joy:

Psalm 8

Divine Majesty and Human Dignity

To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
    to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals[a] that you care for them?

Which Way is Jesus’ Way?

 

A friend asked me if this week if I believe that “Jesus is the way…” from John 14. I replied as I usually do, “Sure.” It’s an easy question. As a pastor, a professional Christian, I placed my bet a long time ago.
Even for amateur Christians, it’s still an easy question. All it asks of us is, “What do you think about Jesus?” or perhaps this year, “Who are you voting for Messiah?” In this simple do or don’t decision, the implication is that you pick Jesus in opposition to anyone else who might be, “The Way.” Jesus vs. Muhammad would be the latest prize fight with Jesus followers doing all the fighting. Imagine Jesus vs. Ali? He wouldn’t stand a chance, turning the other cheek… He’d get hammered. Good thing the faithful step in defending Jesus in a life or death fashion. That seems to be our way.
“Is Jesus The Way or is it Buddha? Muhammad? Confucius?” Through the years, as a pastor, I’ve seen some terrible behaviors from the true believers who could have voted any of the above. “Is Jesus the way?” no longer seems to challenge or transform us. It only seems to divide us, requiring us to vote for Jesus but then, apparently, giving us the liberty to do as we please, especially if we do so in Jesus’ name.
What does challenge me is when I turn the question around and then read the gospels. Then I don’t just ask about Jesus being “The Way,” but wonder, “What was Jesus way?” And if I dare apply it, I ask, “What would my life look like if I lived Jesus’ way?” That’s a much more problematic question. It requires me to do more than think, I have to consider, and ultimately, I have to choose. It takes me from, “What would Jesus do?” to “What would Jesus have me do?” or “What would I do if I was a follower of Jesus’ way into the world?” After all, if Jesus is the way, shouldn’t his way be my way?
Jesus’ way is different than the other ways, and I don’t mean in the traditional religious sense. We just don’t seem to notice. When a pharmaceutical company raises the prices on Epipens to an astronomical level, there should be no surprise. That’s what corporations do. It is their way. That’s how a corporation maximizes profit. Supply and demand determine the price. When politicians support their candidate justifying his or her actions, it is what politicians do. It is their way. Win at all costs. No matter what it takes. Integrity is sacrificed in the name of the greater good. The ends (all the good we will do) will justify the means (whatever it took to win). The writer of the book of Judges in the Bible twice critiques the people of that era, “everyone did that which was right in his or her own eyes.” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). Apparently they were even worse than Machiavelli who supposedly is the first to say, “The ends justify the means.” For them, they didn’t even care about the end result, each just did as he or she pleased.
For Jesus, the ends never justified the means, no matter how good the goal. For Jesus, the means were the end. That was and is his way. You love because you love, it’s your way, even if it gets you crucified. You don’t judge, condemn, or treat others with contempt, apparently even in the midst of a crucifixion, because that’s not your way. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out that for followers of Jesus, his way is our way, and that means, the ends never justify the means but the means are our ends, our goal, our way in the world. He preached,

One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren’t important. The important thing is to get to the end, you see.
So, if you’re seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.
It’s one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace. And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.
Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God. And so when we say “Thou shalt not kill,” we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world. Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such.

Dr. King knew of what he spoke. Jesus’ way should be our way, and as Dr. King pointed out, the path to love begins with respect.
Will government or corporations or television guide you in any way other than what’s right in their own eyes? No. But we shouldn’t expect them to. When we do, we just look silly as Kurt Vonnegut observed,

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, the demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!”

Jesus never seemed to expect Caesars or Institutions to be role models or follow his way at all. That was the job of each individual disciple, or as those who lived in the communities of the early church were known, “The Followers of The Way.”

Clinton and Trump, Presidential Candidates or Married Couple?- A Pastor’s Guide to Listening to the Debates and Learning About Life, Love, and Relationships

1-rkyhyb6tzxn02lcpbqucnwAs I watched and listened to the Presidential Debates, I heard the arguments through my years as a pastor. To me, Clinton and Trump sounded, looked, and acted less like Presidential Candidates and more like a married couple in the midst of a contemptuous divorce. Regardless of your politics, this election season offers an opportunity like no other to learn about how we relate to one another whether spouse to spouse, parent to child, or one political leader to another.

At the next debate, instead of trying to decide, “Whose winning?”, I encourage you to use the following list from Dr. John Gottman, scientist and therapist, as a scorecard.  Gottman offers a practical guide to listening to language and observing nonverbal communication that he calls, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Gottman chose this striking image of The Four Horsemen because, like in the book of Revelation, one follows right after the other. If you learn to see these behaviors in not just presidential candidates but in yourself and others, then we all can win. Here they are:

Horseman 1: Criticism. A complaint focuses on a particular action while a criticism is broader and passes judgement on the other person’s character or personality using the action as evidence for the conclusion drawn. For example, “I’m really angry that you didn’t sweep the kitchen floor last night. We agreed that we’d take turns doing it,” is a complaint and addresses a specific behavior. “Why are you so forgetful? I hate having to always sweep the kitchen floor when it’s your turn. You just don’t care,” is a criticism. Criticism throws in blame and engages in character assassination. To turn a complaint into a criticism simply shift from what you want to what’s wrong with the person. Here is another example:
Complaint: “There’s no gas in the car. You said you would fill it up. Will you take care of it?”
Criticism: “Why can’t you ever remember anything? I told you a thousand times to fill up the tank, and you didn’t. You are so irresponsible.”
Criticism often gets historical, not hysterical, though that can happen, but the past enters the present as an endless list of examples of the persons flawed nature.
Criticism, focusing on the character of the person, the past as well as the present, and not addressing specific wants and needs, is a common bad habit in relationships. Jesus warned against it in The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7: Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. For Jesus, by passing judgment on others, we pass judgment on ourselves showing our own character more than making evident the deficiencies in others. Passing judgment on a person’s actions is different than judging a persons character or soul. For Gottman, this criticism of other persons or people is common. The danger is when it becomes an accepted pattern because it paves the way for the other, far deadlier behaviors, or as he labeled them, horsemen.

Horseman 2: Contempt. Sarcasm and cynicism are types of contempt. So are name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt — the worst of the four horsemen — is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message you’re disgusted with him or her. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict rather than to reconciliation.
The presence of contempt and perceived contempt in a relationship can manifest itself in physical symptoms. Couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illnesses (colds, flu, and so on) than other people. Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the other. You’re more likely to have such thoughts if your differences are not resolved. As disagreeing persists, complaints turn into global criticisms, which produces more and more disgusted feelings and thoughts, and finally you are fed up with your spouse, a change that will affect what you say when you argue.

Horseman 3: Defensiveness. When conversations become so negative, critical, and attacking, it should come as no surprise that you will defend yourself. Although this is understandable, research shows that this approach rarely has the desired effect. The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” Defensiveness denies personal responsibility, as if a persons choices all originate from the other. “I only did that because you…” Defensiveness never defuses a conflict. Defensiveness escalates, which is why it’s so deadly.
Criticism, Contempt, and Defensiveness don’t always gallop in strict order. They function more like a relay match — handing the baton off to each other over and over again. The more defensive one becomes, the more the other attacks in response. Nothing gets resolved, thanks to the prevalence of criticism, contempt, and defensiveness. Much of these exchanges are communicated subtly (and not so subtly) through body language and sounds.

Horseman 4: Stonewalling. In relationships where criticism and contempt lead to defensiveness, which leads to more contempt and more defensiveness, eventually one partner tunes out. So enters the fourth horseman. Think of the husband who comes home from work, gets met with a barrage of criticism from his wife, and hides behind the newspaper. The less responsive he is, the more she yells. Eventually he gets up and leaves the room. Rather than confronting his wife, he disengages. By turning away from her, he is avoiding a fight, but he is also avoiding his marriage. He has become a stonewaller. During a typical conversation between two people, the listener gives all kinds of cues to the speaker that he’s paying attention. He may use eye contact, nod his head, say something like “Yeah” or “Uh-huh.” A stonewaller doesn’t give you this sort of casual feedback. He tends to look away or down without uttering a sound. He sits like an impassive stone wall. The stonewaller acts as though he couldn’t care less about what you’re saying, if he or she hears it. Stonewalling usually arrives later in the course of relationships than the other three horsemen. It takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become overwhelming enough that stonewalling becomes an understandable “out.”

Gottman’s work is very helpful. He also shows how starting with criticism of a person’s nature  , who he or she is instead of focusing on a person’s action, what Jesus called “Judging,” can lead to contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling and then to divorce, or in the case of a nation, Congress.

I hope this list helps provide a learning opportunity from this political election cycle and can liberate us all from the destructive relationship cycles we find ourselves. For more about Gottman’s “Four Horsemen” go to: https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/

Get Ready, Get Set, DEBATE! (Augh…)

good-guys-vs-bad-buys

As we get set for the first presidential debate and the election that will follow, Luke 15 gives me hope. Along with the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin, we find the story we call, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” We label the son who went away and squandered the family money as reckless, irresponsible, and of course, just plain bad. While the other son, the older who stayed home and worked the farm, as loyal, trustworthy, and of course, the good one. How we read the parable tells us something about ourselves, we tend to label people in polar opposite ones. One is good, and one is bad. To have ‘good’ you need ‘bad’. In the case of tonight’s debate, the tendency seems toward, ‘bad’ and ‘less bad’. In the parable, Jesus says, “There was a father with two sons.” In this parable, both sons are people you’d likely avoid unless thrust together at a family reunion. While the younger is quite prodigal (wasteful), the older is quite rude to his father and casts as much disrespect to his father as his younger brother, even though he didn’t have to travel as far away to do it. The good news is, it is The Parable of the Loving Father, also known as, God. Regardless of the outcome of the election, how harshly we judge one another, or what terrible things we do to one another, the consistent one in this story, our stories, and the world is God, the loving parent that keeps reaching out to us hoping we’ll come home, and of course, love one another as God loves us. The good news of the gospel and the hope for the world, in election years and every year.

The sermon is available on http://macland.podbean.com/

To read more about how God’s love doesn’t devalue but values us, get a free copy of The Psychology of Jesus at Macland Presbyterian or through this link on Amazon.
https://www.amazon.com/Psychology-Jesus-Practical-Living-Relationship/dp/1494399253/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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