Monday, November 30, 2015

Are You Sure It Works Like That?

Passage for Second Sunday in Advent: Luke 3:1-6

Sometimes life is counter-intuitive.  In order to get our desired results, we have to do things that seem like we might be going backwards.  For instance, in order to grab something that is above your head, you might stretch out to the tips of your toes.  It is still out of reach.  How do you get it?

You could try to jump from the tips of your toes but it would be more effective to squat down to get some spring in your legs before jumping up.  You have to go down before you go up.

Flying Officer T. R. Jacklin inspects the damage to
his plane after flying it back from a mission in the Pacific.
During World War II, there were patterns of bullet holes in surviving aircraft.  They only had enough armored plates to partially outfit the planes.

Where would you put the armor?

The natural thinking would be to put it where the majority of the holes were.  Abraham Wald thought about it differently.  He concluded that these surviving planes were able to fly in spite of being hit in these areas.  Those planes that were shot down were likely hit in the places that didn't show patterns of damage.

So he put the armor where there were no bullet holes!

As we think this week about repentance, it might seem that we would be better off in glossing over former sins or mistakes we have made.  What's done is done and it may be too painful to revisit.

While this is true if one is truly at peace with something, we often try to put embarrassing incidents out of mind without actually resolving them through the forgiveness we need. Then the consequences come back to haunt us in ways we don't expect or realize.  Our behavior toward others may be off.  We might be touchy around certain areas.  There may be topics that are taboo because we are sensitive to what they might recall.

If this is the case, we may need to do some soul searching and some repentance.

In order for us to move forward in a healthy way, we have to tend to those things in our past which may be holding us back.  This can be counter-intuitive, but it works.

I think this is what John the Baptizer is calling people to do when they come out to hear him preach at the Jordan River.  They are convicted and find themselves being baptized in the river.  This coming out of the water reminded the people of their ancestors who crossed the river to enter into the Promised Land for the first time.

It was like starting over.

Repentance.  It's not just for the truly horrible.  It's for all of us.

It helps us to prepare the way of the Lord.

Sometimes we have to go down before we can go up.

In Christ,


Picture by Harrison, John Thomas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What is our Capacity for Love?

Paris shootings - the day after.
As I have watched the devastation in Paris unfold, it is numbing.

At first, it took me back to the awful scene of the homecoming parade in Stillwater a few weeks ago when so many lives were crushed right before my eyes.

It then took me back to 9/11 in seeing the images unfold as a nation stayed glued to the television for days on end as we sought to understand what had happened.

Then I remembered the scenes from the Oklahoma City bombing that impacted so many lives.

Tragedy has always been a part of life.  It is not that we have a greater capacity for violence but that our technology allows us to inflict harm upon such large masses of people all at once.

Before the attacks in Paris, our country was receiving refugees from Syria that were trying to flee the awful violence going on there.  Our capacity for compassion at this point was understandable.  I've watched stories of the persecution not only of Muslims but of Christians as well.  As a father, I can put myself in their shoes.

These stories give us a larger capacity for compassion if not love.

Now that we have seen the horror inflicted upon Paris, we become uneasy about a repeat performance closer to home.  We hear things like the brother of two of the terrorists had no clue that they were planning this.  He said that terrorists blend in with others and give off nothing that would alert anyone to their plans or activities.

The mystery surrounding their identity is a chief weapon of terrorism: fear.

The fear is legitimate in that we may not know who we should be watching.  It makes us paranoid and those of Middle Eastern descent in our country become question marks in the eyes of many.  How well do we really know them?

This line of thinking is very different from when Jesus said, "If you welcome a stranger, you welcome me."

He said this in a day when there was plenty of violence.  He said this when his own country was under foreign occupation.  He said this when people were afraid for their own safety and the safety of their families.

Acts of terror try to increase our capacity for fear.  Fear is a powerful weapon.  When I am afraid, I set my trust aside.  When I am afraid, I set my compassion aside.

This Sunday, we will celebrate the Reign of Christ.  What does that mean in a world torn asunder?  Is it still legitimate?  I believe that it is.

I believe that my faith helps me to conquer my fears.  This doesn't mean that we don't take necessary precautions.  It just means that my perspective is not ruled by fear - which is sometimes easier said than done!

We'll join together in worship and prayer.  We'll pray for our allies in France who are suffering.  We'll pray for our soldiers who are put in harms way.  We'll pray for the innocent families trying to flee a war-torn area.  We'll even listen to our Lord and pray for our enemies which is harder than anything else we do.

Because the Reign of Christ is real.  It becomes all the more tangible when we live it out.

The Reign of Christ increases my capacity for love.

In the end, this is more powerful than any act of terrorism.

In Christ,


Photo by Maya-Anaïs Yataghène from Paris, France (Paris Shootings : The day after) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Do Whatever We Ask of You

This was the oldest of my X-Men comics which
was pretty cool but I really wanted #1!

What would you do with a million dollars?

I used to play this “what if” game as a child.  It was fun to think about having zero restrictions.

Would I buy the latest Atari 2600 system with all of the game cartridges – even all of the different ones published by Activision?

Or maybe I would pick up all the back issues of my favorite comic books like the X-Men or the Avengers (long before they were movies, I read those stories as a kid). 

Having my own swimming pool with a high dive and a huge slide into the deep end was also something that would have fit nicely in my back yard.

My parents always said something or other about not spoiling me.  At the time this seemed like a ridiculous reply.

Later as we got older, the fantasy question often turns from what would you do with a million dollars to what would you do for a million dollars.  That small change of prepositions changes the entire nature of the question, doesn’t it?

Now we are talking about morals and boundaries in ways that are more profound.

The question changes from a fantasy of excess to an exploration of character and identity.  Kids also have a way of pushing the envelope with one another into places that adults hesitate to go.  As an adult, if I ask it of you, I realize that you might ask it of me!  Kids don’t seem to care.

Sometimes we would say things that we would do just to shock the others.  After all, no one was really going to front the money for such an outlandish experiment.  Later they turned this sometimes dark question into a dark movie called Indecent Proposal which takes the viewer places we really don’t want to go.  But shock value and curiosity go hand in hand.

I wonder what Jesus thought when two of his disciples said to him, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  After the miracles they saw him perform, was this their version of “What if we had a million dollars”?

I always picture Jesus smirking when he replies, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

Of course the disciples miss the bigger picture.  It’s been 2,000 years and today’s disciples are still missing it.  It is interesting that Jesus seems to turn the question from what would you do with a million dollars to what would you do for a million.  He lets the disciples know that there are expectations for those who follow him.  It's more fun to think about the great treasure than our responsibility in working toward it.  But it's also comforting to know that they struggled with the same things we do.

In Christ,


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

We All Like Our Stuff

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:17-31

When we first moved to Piedmont, Sheryl was pregnant with Kyla.  The parsonage was empty for several months before we arrived as the congregation worked on restoring it.  It was a nice parsonage and was built only about thirteen years before we moved in.

One of the impressive things about that house was all of the storage available to us.

We had a ton of space in the attic.  There were large cabinets in the hallway that you could sleep several people in if they were empty.  We had closets and book shelves and a shed out back.
I see a sign like this and I want to look.  What if there's something I need?

At the beginning of our time, they were empty.  We praised the storage many times over.

This kind of storage allowed you to just keep stuff.  Stuff you might normally get rid of!

If you had a place for it, why not just keep it?

After two children and over thirteen years of accumulation, we finally filled that house up!

When it was time to pack, I no longer praised the storage.   We were moving to a home with far less space and so now we had some choices to make.

We threw away a lot of stuff that we thought we might need.

We made trip after trip to the Goodwill thinking that others might still find it valuable.

One thing we did was improve the attic storage in our new house so that we could fill it with boxes of the things we couldn't bear to part with.  The majority of these boxes have been untouched for over a year now.

I don't think that I am overly fond of material things.  But I have my share.  Someday my kids will inherit a lot of junk.  They'll probably throw most of it out.

What does this mean for our life as spiritual people?  Do our things keep us from being more Christ-like to others?  Do our attachments make us superficial?  With apologies to Sting, can we be spiritual people in the material world?

I do know this - I haven't missed any of the things I threw away or gave away.  I'm not sure what that says but I think if I pay attention, it might be significant.

In Christ,


Picture by Ellin Beltz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons