Thursday, May 5, 2011


I've been grumpy ever since Easter. Little things that normally don't bother me are extremely irritating. I want to snap, lash out, and let someone have it.

I thought to myself "I'm just tired, I've been putting in lots of hours. Anne and I have both been practically living in at our jobs, and falling into bed exhausted, up early and at it again for days. There are lots of little things that need to be fixed around the house, the car, and I had to file an extension on my taxes. That's what this is."

But then I got a message from a friend whose husband died a few weeks before Easter and sorrow and grief welled up inside and I choked up. And then I knew. I was tired of loss. Big losses and small losses, and almost no time to say goodbye, to really reflect, to hash them out with God.

There was a time when we valued a year of mourning. People wore black for several months, sometimes a year, so that others would know, and they would have a reminder.

So, for the last several mornings, I've been telling God who I miss, what I miss, and asking for grace to live with loss, and to live in hope that we will someday be re-united with those we love.

Colossians 1:15  The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Christ Church Youth just finished doing the 30 Hour Famine this Sunday after Easter. Anne and I participated, didn't eat, and slept in the parish hall with the kids. (I am getting a bit old for sleeping on the floor!) But it was a thought provoking event for the kids and for the adults.

In some ways I wish we had done it as a parish event, not just a youth event. After all, many of us can give up food for 30 hours, and seek to set aside or to get money to help feed the truly hungry. And most of us become much more compassionate when we have felt the initial stage of hunger.

In 1971 I remember feeling overwhelmed the first time I went to the grocery store after living in Guatemala for 5 years. There was so much stuff. And people threw jars and bottles and cans away! I was shocked by choice and consumption.  I thought about how so many poor people I knew in Guatemala would have been able to re-use all that trash and how sad it was that we just threw it away.

Gandhi said, "Live simply, so others can simply live." Yet how simply? I know that Americans, self included, consume disproportionate amounts of the worlds goods. Yet, if we were to completely stop, what happens to the people who produce the goods we consume? There is some truth to trickle down economics.

I am no longer shocked by conspicuous consumption, but when I find plastic trash out in wild places, or snokeling, or walking along the beach I am saddened.  I am thankful for technology, and yet I wish that as a species we were more thoughtful about the long term effects of our actions. I wish that we could think generations ahead, not just a few years ahead.

Of course to each his own consumption. Some people would be shocked by the number of books I have. (There is no such thing as too many!) Others might be shocked that by the sheer amount of electric power Anne and I consume to cool a house that we are not in for at least 12 hours a day.

Ultimately there are no simple, easy answers. But it would do us all good to reflect on what we need versus what we want.  Jesus reminded us to store up treasures in heaven, and not to be overly greedy for this world's goods. It seems to me that he and a great many other wise people have thought the same. Perhaps they know something I need to learn.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

48 days and counting

Easter Sunday is over. But the season lasts for 50 days.  Jesus apparently kept showing up for the next 40 days, usually unexpectedly. And then at the end of those 40 days, he tells the disciples to gather and pray. So for the next ten days they gather daily and pray. And suddenly on the 10th day, the Holy Spirit descends.  So if you wonder where that custom of a novena comes from, you can stop wondering!

So what comes next. Next is being the church. Praying, loving, working, sharing, caring. And expecting God to do things in our lives and the lives of those we love.

So, time to get up and enjoy these next 50 days. Consider praying at a regular time for 10 days, starting on June 2, 2011 until June 12, 2011, and see if God does something new in your life.

Of course you could start praying now and see what happens if you pray for 48 days!

Monday, April 25, 2011


In a drawer in a safe at Christ Church are several pearls. They are part of an old necklace that belonged to a maiden parishioner whose belongings were willed to the church when she passed away more than 20 years ago.

They're not in great shape, nor particularly valuable as jewelry. But they represent someone who was deeply loved by many of that church.

Jesus speaks of God's kingdom by talking about a merchant on a journey who finds a pearl of great value. He sells all he has and returns to buy that one pearl.

The events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter are God's way of showing us that the valuable pearl is us. The merchant is God's Son. He "sells" all he has to acquire us.

Like those pearls in the drawer, we may not seem particularly beautiful or valuable. But to God we are people of infinite value and worth.

The Father raised Jesus from the grave to show that his offer of eternal life, of everlasting companionship with God and one another is what God most longs for.

And deep inside if we will allow ourselves to set aside our fears that this can't possibly be true; if we remove our cynical shell that keeps us from ever really giving ourselves deeply to Christ; if we move past the fear of possible hurt and grief - we will find that we are the pearl so valuable to God, and that God is the pearl we tried to find in other activities and pleasures that never quite satisfied us.

Jesus knew his life would end and he made it count. May we know that our lives will end and make them count.

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
Jim Elliot

Saturday, April 23, 2011


"Suffered under Pontius Pilate,Was crucified, dead, and buried:He descended into hell;

What lies in hell that Jesus would go there?

Friday, April 22, 2011


John Claypool, (1930-2005) once preached that if he was God, and if Jesus was his son, he would have done three things:
1) raise Jesus from the dead,
2) Destroy the world for it's hatefulness and evil,
3) Take his Son back to heaven and turned his back on the world for evermore.

Think about it. Good Friday God's power is profoundly conspicuous by it's absence.  No last minute miracle to save Jesus,  no thunderbolts of lightning falling on those who rejected and killed him.

In a world that worships power and glory, God flips the table on both.

May I learn the mystery of that amazing power.  Amen.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The problem of good again....

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh - oh - oh - oh...
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Passover, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Earth day tomorrow. Lots happening on the calendar.

This Lenten Blog started with something I called "The problem of Good". Why is there so much goodness in the world?

It was one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis who first helped me realize that there is no such thing as "pure badness" or "pure evil."  He noted that all evil and all bad are themselves corruptions of the good they were meant to be.  And even the worst of beings have attributes and qualities that are good. They have just been perverted.

Thus we call tomorrow "Good Friday" when it probably deserved a title like "Bloody Friday" or "Torture Friday". 

How does such a gruesome event get a title like that?  If it were cynical we could understand. But Christians don't seem to be using cynicism when they call it good.

In a stunning reversal, instead of the firstborn of Egypt dying, the firstborn of God dies on behalf of all who face with certainty the angel of death. And death becomes forevermore the slave of God, no more the ultimate end, only the beginning of something unimaginably glorious.

Sometimes it causes me to tremble...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil."
(The Lord's Prayer in Luke 11 from "The Message")

"Keep us safe from ourselves..."  There is an old Clint Black song where the refrain goes:
"Wherever you go there you are
You can run from yourself but you won't get far
You can dive to the bottom of your medicine jar
But wherever you go there you are"

Most of my temptations and struggles come from inside me. Going somewhere else, or self medicating myself will not work for long.

I am a person capable of great good and generosity. And I have a dark side capable of great evil and self-centered egotism.

Buddha recognized this inner battle and argued that desire needed to be eliminated. St. Paul recognized this. He wrote to the Colossian Christians: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry." Colossians 3:5

Both recognized that it this is not the path of least resistance but that it will take a lifetime of effort.

For lazy people like me, we want this to be a one time deal. I prayed as a young person for God to free me from those temptations in Paul's list, sexual immorality,lust, greed. I wanted an instant cure.

It took me a while to realize that the putting the selfish, greedy, self-centered part of me to death was a daily, hourly, sometimes minute by minute way of living.

AA has a line, "Fake it till you make it." By that people mean: "Do the actions of a sober person even when they feel unnatural to you. Eventually the reverse will happen."

Ask for help from God, and then take a cue from Paul's advice a few verses later: "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."

In other words when temptation comes, go and find something good and positive to do and do it.

And when you blow it or someone else blows it then take his advise from the next line: "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

Obviously Paul and many other wise people who have traveled this road know the ups and downs themselves, and have wisdom to give us.

Finally, don't try to do this alone as he says a few verses later: "Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts."

Share your struggles and victories, prayers and worship with each other. Paul seems to think that the message of Christ lives not just in us, but among us. This spiritual life is not a solo journey but a corporate one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Leap of faith

I have always been a Christian, but I have not always believed. I was baptized as a child, and therefore a Christian.

However, as I reached adolescence I ceased to believe in the “fairy tale” of Jesus resurrection. Atheism seemed a much more rational choice.  I enjoyed making fun of other people's foolish faith in God.

And then one night, I had a vision of Jesus and experienced a transformation in my life I could not explain.

The next few days I read the Gospel of Mark and the Acts of the Apostles. In them I met people who seemed to have experienced Jesus in the way I just had. In them I met skeptics and people hostile to the faith who suddenly realized they were wrong.

Over the years since then, while praying to Jesus I have seen people healed immediately, unexplainably of cancer, deformities, and serious illness.  I have seem people experience deep emotional and spiritual healing. I have seen skeptics like me come to faith in Jesus.

The irony is, that despite that encounter I still have to have faith daily.  Even though I have repeatedly experienced the power of Jesus in amazing ways, I still must make the leap to believe every day.

It was years before I realized everyone has to have faith every day. Only our object of belief varies.

The materialist who believes there is no spiritual reality, is dependent upon faith that there is no God.

The pantheist who believes that the universe and all that is in are God, has to take that on faith.

The spiritualist who believes that the material universe is an illusion, must take that leap of faith to get there.

And the person who believes Jesus is who he claims to be, and rose again on the third day, must also take that leap of faith.

I cannot prove Jesus rose from the dead. I used to try. Now I simply testify that I believe the writers of the New Testament to be telling the truth, and tell my story.

After all, if Jesus did rise from the dead he does not need me to prove it.  If he is who he says he is, the universe was made through him and its very existence depends upon him. 

I simply tell what I believe and why, and make myself available to answer the objections and answer the questions. Everyone already has faith. The question is: faith in who or what?

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Fisherman

Years ago on a very hot summer day, some friends and I who worked for a contractor, ended up having the afternoon off. It was a Friday, and the home was between Giddings and Brenham, Texas. We grabbed some things to eat and drink and went up to Lake Summerville.

On a dare, two of us swam across what seemed to be a fairly narrow part of the lake. However, after about 40 minutes of swimming we could no longer tell which shore was closer and we were pretty tired. So we continued toward the far side, which seemed just a bit closer. 

Thankfully a bass fisherman who wasn't catching anything saw us as we neared that far shore. He motored out to us.

"Are you boys crazy, that's near a mile swim! You want a ride back?"  
"Yes, please." we gasped.
We climbed into the boat with that far shore just a hundred yards away and headed back.

From St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, Chapter 3 verse 10
"I want to know Christ
and the power of his resurrection 
and the sharing of his sufferings
by become like him in his death, 
if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead." 

I do want to know Christ, the power of his resurrection, and attain the resurrection from the dead. But the suffering and death part I want to avoid. Yet death is coming for me sooner or later. The only question is how will I have lived. 

Following Christ is like that foolish swim across the lake. It is exciting and fun at first, and then it becomes downright hard, and sometimes dangerous. But the truth is that there is a fisherman on the lake of life who will ferry me when it gets too hard. His boat may keep me on this side of life for now, but there will come a day when I will head with him to the far shore.

We do not do this alone. Come Lord Jesus.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Domingo de Ramos

Note: This is from a post for Palm Sunday two years ago with a few modifications.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive hate; only love can do that."  Martin Luther King, From:  "Strength to Love"

Domingo de Ramos

It was life in Guatemala in the late 1960's and early 1970's that brought the passion to life for me. I was a young teenager, living in a country where guerilla warfare kept the country on edge. Bombs would go off on buses, or in a marketplace. There were drive by assasinations, bodies that were tortured dropped by the roadside, or in front of the family home.

Holy week was full of street processions, where the Roman Catholic churches would bring forth their most gruesome statues of the passion, or sometimes hand carried floats with people portraying the stations of the cross.

These floats would parade throught the streets. In some cities families or neighborhoods would craft elaborate carpets in the streets formed of flowers and leaves. They were works of art, beautiful, yet ephemeral, soon to be trampled by the tread of marchers carrying the crucified Christ.

It was one such Holy Week, when during a procession there was a large armed presence of soldiers, each carrying a rifle or a submachine gun. At one intersection, a young man stood in the back of a jeep with his hands on a 50 caliber machine gun, with one belt loaded, and 3 ammo boxes open ready to load.

It was then that the impact of the original crucifixion hit me. Suddenly I could see the Roman army, surrounded by a hostile crowd. Some of the crowd wanted them to kill Jesus, but they were no friends of Romans. I could sense the tension in the air, the confusion.

And I could see Jesus, dragged down the street, the Lord of Glory. This was just how the world has always worked. One more troublemaker tortured, put on display as a warning to anyone who might pose a threat to Rome. All glory extinguished. Horror and beauty are slammed into one another in a groteque cosmic conflict.

I watched the soldiers and the marchers, stunned that after 2000 years we were still at it. Still torturing, still killing, still intimidating.

A few years later, after my family was thrown out of Guatemala, I found myself working with Guatemalan and Salvadoran refugees. It was then that I realized that the powers of this world, which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, and my own sinful desires and rebellion against God are no match for the power of the cross.

Every act of hate meets its match when confronted with matchless love.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I posted a brief note on Facebook about kayaking on the Rio Grande. I got all kinds of post back worried about my safety.

The irony is that Laredo is a very safe city by U.S. standards. We live near Nuevo Laredo where there is a high level of violence between rival drug gangs and law enforcement. But Laredo is pretty safe.

Statistically and experientially, living in the East End of Houston, Texas from 1973 to 1983 was far more dangerous. I had guns pointed at me twice, just missed a shootout where a policeman and two witnesses were gunned down during a routine traffic stop a block from my home, was robbed several times, and foiled two break in attempts while I was actually in the place being broken into. There were numerous times I heard gunshots. And yet most of the people who lived in that part of Houston were not criminals or dangerous.

I lived in Guatemala City from 1967 to 1971. Now that was a dangerous place to live in those years. There was a high level of violence and a high level of tension.

So why do people perceive Laredo as so dangerous? In a word, news. News media needs to sell advertising and so it has become increasingly sensational. Most Americans don't seem capable of distinguishing Laredo, from Nuevo Laredo.

Does that mean there is no danger. No. But Laredo, Texas is a fairly quiet place most of the time, where most people think the truly important news in town is on the front page of the sports section of local paper.

The truth is that all of us live in places where there is danger.

And for Christians danger needs to be measured differently. In the late 1990's I was at a presentation by the Rev. Mark Nikkel, a missionary to the Dinka people in the Sudan during a very dangerous time.

Someone asked if it wasn't very dangerous to do what he did. After a very long pause he said, "No. If I believe that God has my life in his hands, and that God has called me to minister in the Sudan, then I am perfectly safe unless God decides otherwise. But if God want me in the Sudan, and I disobey and go somewhere else then because of my disobedience I would be in a very dangerous place indeed."

"He guides me along the right paths
   for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
   through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
   for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies."

From Psalm 23,(NIV)

Friday, April 15, 2011

The shepherd of souls

One day in 1988, as I turned around with my tray, a group of women at McDonald's invited me over to join them. We knew each other. They were all semi-homeless, working girls, who sold themselves to pay for an occasional room, and more often another drink or another hit of their drug of choice.

We knew each other because I worked at at St. Francis Center, in Denver, a homeless center, and we had met many times.

But now we were out of our roles. I wasn't the "shelter worker" and they weren't the "clients". We were simply people who knew one another, and actually cared about one another.

For the next 30 minutes they told stories, and laughed, and they occasionally tried to embarrass me, and enjoyed watching me blush when they got really risque. And then, as we were finishing our meals one of them touched my arm and said,  "Don't go. We didn't pray before we all ate, and I want you to pray now."

And so we sat in McDonald's on East Colfax, holding hands in a circle around the table and prayed, ending with the Lord's prayer together. Then we got up hugged each other, and went our separate ways.

God loves those who are desperately lost and caught in desperation. May he move us to love them too.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Airport Idolatry

Reggie McNeal has a wonderful line. He says there are no coffee table books, "Great Airports of Europe" or "Beautiful Airports of the World".  And then he compares churches to airports. And he challenges us to see ourselves not as the destination, but as a transit hub. The goal of what we do is not to get people to church, but to help them connect with God in this life, in ways that will make them love God passionately in the next.

Even the great Cathedrals of the world were only made beautiful to teach lessons about God. In many cases they were the work of centuries of labor, and those building them knew that they were simply a place to help the passengers arrive safely at an even more majestic destination.

I’m getting all kinds of email about how to get people to come back to church after Easter. But I am not getting lots of emails about how to get the church to go out into the world after people after Easter.

We must decide, are we primarily a destination or a hub?

But there is another question that cannot be addressed by the answer to that question. Churches are built of bodies, not bricks. We are believers, not buildings. We are a community of people traveling together, trusting that we are on an inter-dimensional journey with a foot in two worlds.

“Thy kingdom come, on earth as in heaven” we pray, and then are surprised when it sometimes happens.

Because sometimes God visits the airport, to assure the passengers they’re flying to the right destination.  May God pay you a visit today.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Man of la Mancha

I spent most my teenage years in Guatemala City, Guatemala. It is a beautiful city and a beautiful country. Nevertheless, it was in the midst of serious political problems and regular acts of terrorism, car bombings, random machine gunning of people in public places, and the like were common and sometimes daily occurrences. So perhaps I am more attune to violent, dangerous situations than some people. 

Shortly after we were married, Anne and I went to see the musical,  “Man of la Mancha”. If you know the play, you know that it takes place in a jail, where the main character has been imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition.

The lights dimmed in the theater, suddenly, there was a blast of submachine gun fire, and a group of about 10 men burst into center aisle near where we were seated. One grabbed a man out of his seat and putting a weapon to his head twisted his arm roughly behind his back and the rest then menacingly covered the audience with their weapons.

Even before the gun had been fired, I had seen the movement and the weapon out of the corner of my eye and pulled Anne’s head down.

Of course she understood what I didn’t. This was part of the play. Memories from life in Guatemala had kicked in, and it took me about 30 seconds longer to grasp the concept while Anne wondered if she had married a crazy man. (Now she no longer wonders!)

At that point, my adrenaline was pumping very effectively and I remained alert through the entire performance.

The next day was Passion Sunday, and I couldn’t help but compare the theater experience to Jesus arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.

From that day forward every time we go through the Palm Sunday service, I have a mental image of armed men bursting into church and grabbing Jesus, and roughly hitting him and yanking him to his feet, hauling him away while the disciples suddenly awakened fight and flee.

My prayer is that we never separate ourselves from the passion of the passion. Let us never lose sight of the love demonstrated even to enemies. 


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


It is so dry here in Laredo and most of the rest of Texas this year. Last year we had rain almost every month until September. And then it was as if the faucet turned off.

Tumbleweeds, dry arroyos, dust, barren rock formations, yucca, prickly pear, and scrub vegetation.  I am from Colorado. And spend early childhood in New Mexico. Much of Colorado and New Mexico looks pretty dry much of the year.

Perhaps that is why I am not shocked by the same terrain and vegetation in South Texas. It is familiar looking. The only thing missing is the mountains. And the only thing added is intense heat!

This year, the Jewish Passover and Holy Week for both Western and Eastern Christians are all very close together. Passover starts on the 18th, and Easter for both sets of Christians is on the 24th.

Perhaps because this year is so dry, I have been thinking a lot about water and how it fits into Holy Week. On Thursday the 21st many Christians wash feet to remember that Jesus did the same.

And Friday, we read from St. John's Gospel where he deliberately mentions the following: Jesus thirst and the response to it.

Why would Jesus humble himself and act like a slave? Is there someone or somewhere I am called to serve?

What was Jesus thirsting for? Just water or something even greater? What do I thirst for?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dry Bones

This past Thursday, I arrived early to Waco, Texas for a continuing education event. I called Suzanna, my daughter and suggested we visit the Waco Mammoth Site which is an active archeological dig where the largest collection of Columbian Mammoths have been found. The bones date from two primary eras: 68,000 years ago, and about 15,000 years ago. Baylor University faculty and students have been directing the dig since 1978. And the bones are actually bones, not fossilized, but preserved because of the high clay content of the soil.

Walking through the small site, looking at the enormous bones, I couldn't help but think about the passage from Ezekiel 37, where he sees a vision of a valley full of dry bones. 

God speaks to him and says “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

Ultimately the bones in stages receive flesh and sinews, then skin, and finally the breath of life. As Suzanna and walked around we saw the artists representation of a live Columbian Mammoth and it would have been an impressive animal.

This Lent has been "dry" feeling to me. There are things that feel lifeless and dead. And yet, underlying the dry feeling is a sense of anticipation.

When I asked myself where that sense of anticipation comes from I realized it is from a long experience in my life of God's provision, and abundant life. There are times when it comes as a flood, and it seems that that sense of God's power and presence will last forever.  But it is not meant to last in this life. The wisdom of the scriptures and of the Church through the ages is dryness and wilderness,   rains and fertile fields are gifts of God in their due season.
So while things are dry right now, I know life is coming.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


In John 11 and Luke 10 we run into Martha and Mary.

Mary seems to be the spiritual one. In Luke's gospel we know she sits with the disciples and scandalizes her sister.

And in John 11, we discover that she is the one who poured perfume on Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. (This may be the story that shows up in Mark 14, Matthew 26, and Luke 7) Since none of them mention the woman's name we cannot be sure that what John is talking about is the same story, but it does seem likely.

Mary seems to see something in Jesus that calls out to her deeply. She seems to feel deeply. She perfumes him and washes his feet with her hair.

But here in her grief she speaks one line, her only line in the gospel and it is the same thing her sister had said moments before:  "Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Now Mary who thought she "got" Jesus has to learn a very difficult lesson in faith, just like her sister Martha.

Both these women who seem to both love Jesus, but be very different in their approach to him, are about to learn about faith in a new and powerful way. 

When evil and death come to us and those we love, we can be tempted to believe that somehow Jesus was not with us, was not "on the job." 

Even the mourners whisper, "This is the guy who healed that blind man. Why couldn't he have healed Lazarus?"

Why is the impossible question. But who Jesus is, he will make very clear.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


In John 11 and Luke 10 we run into Martha and Mary.

Martha takes the verbal lead in both stories. And in both stories, she takes on Jesus both times. 

In the Luke passage she is scandalized that Jesus lets her sister sit as a disciple and learn from the master. Women as disciples! Scandalous!  She tries to be tactful and suggests that Jesus send her sister away to help her do the cooking and cleaning. He is tactful back and says no, that Mary, and by implication Martha can become a disciple.

In the next encounter, the sisters have sent for Jesus to come and heal their brother. Jesus comes too late to do any good. And this time Martha is more direct.  "Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

What I love about Martha is that she doesn't have any trouble giving Jesus a piece of her mind.  She has a real relationship with him. Not very pious, not very respectful, but very real.

Jesus chooses one of the most difficult times in her life to push her to a new level of understanding and faith in him.

She has to choose: trust or not trust. She trusts, but keeps her voice and personality. A few moments later she tells Jesus to not have the grave opened.

Jesus told her she should trust, she claims she will, and few moments later she begins to waver.

I love Martha. She believes, but struggles with her beliefs. She trusts, but struggles to trust. And she sees the power and glory of God.

Friday, April 8, 2011


"Lord, he whom you love is ill."

We know just a few facts about Lazarus. He lives in Bethany near Jerusalem, has two sisters, Martha and Mary, he is seriously sick, and Jesus speaks of him as "our friend" when talking with the disciples.

There are no recorded words of Lazarus.

I find it very interesting that in the three accounts in the Bible where Jesus raises people from the dead we never hear from them. The widow's son, the synagogue ruler's daughter, and Lazarus. Perhaps the writers didn't think it important.

I also find it tremendously encouraging that despite their being dead they can all hear Jesus.

"Young man I say to you get up." Luke 7:14
"He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" Mark 5:41
"When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" John 11:43

There are times when I think some person is beyond help, beyond any hope of change or healing.
If I look at these impossible situations I remember to pray without losing hope.
And when I think of those who I love who have died I simply speak to them during my prayers. Not because they can hear me, but because they can hear Him. And if there is anything of mine that would be a blessing for them to hear I trust the message will be relayed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


This coming Sunday one lesson is about Jesus friend Lazarus who was sick and died. Four days after his burial Jesus raised him back to life.

In many ways this one story sums up all of Jesus work. Giving life back to the dead.

Many years ago, when I was still in my teens, I sat in a grimy cabin, trying to negotiate a deal to buy a large quantity of marijuana from a dude and his girlfriend. We had reached the point where I and my friend were to sample the product. We lit up. At about the same time their two year old daughter came into the room. I began to put the joint out when the man took it from me and handed it to his daughter. As she inhaled I began to feel sick inside. Something in me died or perhaps I realized it was already dead.

I knew I was in the thrall of whatever evil power has been unleashed on the earth.

It was about a year later that I discovered the person who can raise the dead. Thank you Jesus.

I never saw those folks again. But I have prayed for many years for all of them that they would all discover and know the Lord of life in this world and the next.

More tomorrow about Lazarus and his sisters.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

System overhaul

"If the universe is so on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?"  C.S. Lewis,  from "The Problem of Pain"

Isn't it interesting that when Jesus heals someone it seems extraordinary, not "normal." When Jesus raises someone from the dead, it's not "normal." It's not natural. In fact we call it "Supernatural."

But what if we are sub-normal, sub-natural, and what we call "Supernatural" is really the natural order of things?

I am not a systems engineer, but I wonder what report a systems engineer would write if they were charged with recommending changes in our planetary systems for resource distribution, energy consumption, water use, waste management, and more.

Where would they start? What would the opening sentence be?  Would they predict some of the chaos we often find ourselves in.  Would they notice that many parts of the current system seem to be patched together or even non-existent? Would they say that as the 21st Century starts, much of the system seems stretched to the breaking point?

And then what kind of recommendations would they have to make? 

Fortunately they don't have to write the report. Jesus has already written the report and made recommendations. 

His recommendation is not to junk the project, even though it has some major problems. Despite massive liabilities he has decided the project is worth every effort to rescue. And so instead of cancellation, the report recommends a comprehensive overhaul.  It is expensive, but he is so sure it's worth the effort that he's paid the costs.

From Revelation 21:1ff
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 

 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Monday, April 4, 2011

Starfish and ripples of kindness

Pessimism is counterfeit realism. Yes there is evil, in the world. Yes there are great intractable problems that face us on planet earth.  But pessimism would have me believe that nothing I do will matter.  I see the problems of the world, the problems of my life, the problems of the lives of the people I know and love.  And I am tempted to simply become passive and disconnect.

Pessimism leaves no room for God, and no room for individual love and courage. And it is never the final word.

In the old parable, an early morning wave washed thousands of starfish up onto the beach.  As the sun was coming up there were the first few beachcombers looking at the miles of beach littered with starfish. One older man saw a young man walking down the beach briskly picking up starfish and throwing them back into the water.  As the young man got closer, he said, “Son there are thousands of starfish, and miles of beach. What you’re doing won’t make a bit of difference.” Without missing a beat, the young man picked up the next few starfish several feet away flinging them into the water and saying, “It will for this one, and this one, and this one.”

We have a choice when we see war, poverty, injustice, disaster, hunger,  and so many other needs. We can retreat into passivity and impotence or we can make a difference for the ones we can reach.

Hunter, our great Pyrenees dog who, who died a few years ago, was rescued from the pound. Pancho, our current dog, was a mangy puppy living in the gutter who Anne rescued and brought home.

Every month,  about $30 is debited from our bank account.  That money helps care for a young woman in a Central African Country. Over the years we have gotten to know RK from correspondence which has changed from very childlike scribbles to the words of a young woman, now studying at an adult level. An AIDs orphan she and her older sister have formed a family of siblings and cousins.

From our dogs we have been given great affection and joy. Our lives are enriched by every animal we’ve ever known.

And those few dollars that go to our dear RK. Those few dollars have not just changed her, but she has become a caring young woman, seeking to help others in her family, her village, her country.

“Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”  Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert”

“Let us not lose heart in doing good.” Galatians 6:9a

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Catch a glimpse

A church had invited a famous preacher, who led healing prayers. During the service many people came up for prayers for various ailments. A young man in his 20’s came up and asked for prayer. The preacher said, “What do you want prayer for son?” “Pastor, I need prayer for my hearing.”  So the preacher laid hands on both the young man’s ears and prayed up a storm.  After a few minutes he stopped, and looked at the young man and said softly, “Son, how’s your hearing now?”  “I don’t know preacher, my hearing isn’t till Tuesday.”

Communication is not an exact science!  And in this Sunday’s Gospel reading there is lots of miscommunication.  What happened? How did it happen? Did it really happen? What about healing on the Sabbath?

The Episcopal Church, (and many others), read the story in the 9th Chapter of John’s Gospel where Jesus heals a man born blind.

And it is a funny healing story. A man is dramatically healed, but since he was blind, he can’t identify the man that healed him. He acts more like a stand up comic than anyone else in the Gospels.

But in today’s story, the religious good people get mad at Jesus for doing something good. And the man born blind stands up for Jesus and becomes his follower.

And that is the real punch line. We are all blind. But if we admit we are blind, and stop pretending we can see, we just might catch a glimpse of God.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Other benefits...again

There is no Facebook, no email, no cell phone service, in the life to come. But somehow we are still in communion with those who have gone before us.

Jack Lemmon, the actor, once said “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

The older I get, the more I realize how true that is. I have relationships with many people whose life on planet earth has ended. They are different, and often seem distant, but not gone.

The irony of course is that we are ones who are most distant, most disconnected. We think of the dead as ephemeral, when actually the opposite is true. We are the ones who are just watching the previews, waiting for the coming attraction.

Those who have gone on before are the ones who have begun a life in perfect communion with Christ.

“All other benefits of his passion.” 1979 Book of Common Prayer, pg. 335

Could one of those other benefits be the communion of saints?

Easter is coming! Hallelujah!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Healed and whole relationships...

“What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex” by Sheridan Simove is a new book that is selling quite well. When you open the book, every page is blank apart from the front and back covers!

Personally, I think the author should have put at least a page about sports, a page about fishing, a page about hunting, and about a dozen half page about a few other subjects, like cars, music, movies, video games, dogs, and money.

Of course that would increase the size of the book by at least 15 or 20 pages, so perhaps it is best to leave it alone.

We joke about the differences between men and women because they're real.

The truth is that differences are what make all our marriages, families, friendships, and workplaces exciting and frustrating. Usually at the same time.

We are made for relationship. We crave healed and whole relationships. But Genesis tells us the trinity of relationships is damaged: human with God, human with human, and human with the planet.

A few days ago I quoted from the Book of Common Prayer Rite one communion service.

"...grant that.....we....may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion." 1979 Book of Common Prayer, pg. 335

I submit that the remission of sins is the starting point in healing our relationship with God.

But another benefit of Jesus passion is the healing of relationship between us and others. He puts us in communities where we get to practice charity and forgiveness over and over. We call this the Church.

If we stick with it we discover that there are some times we even want to forgive “those who trespass against us.”

May we obtain all other benefits of his passion. Amen.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Goodness and mercy follow

About 7 years ago, Anne and I were part of a church mission team to several Anglican Churches in and around Salta in Northern Argentina. After flying about 18 hours, first to Buenos Aires, and then back up to Salta, we settled in that evening, met a few people who were hosting us, and then geared up for what looked like a busy schedule.

After two busy days, we discovered the third morning that there was a last minute change of schedule. We were shuttled off to a church that wanted us to participate in a regional gathering of leaders.We quickly revamped what we had prepared for a very different mission, and launched in at the leaders gathering. 

We had couple of intense morning sessions and then a break before the afternoon meal. During the break, a car pulled up and an older couple got out. Several older people glanced at them, and then recognized them and hurried up to greet them with hugs and kisses. They were an English couple who had been missionaries in the area, but had been called back to the UK almost 30 years ago. This was their first visit since they had left.

When the meal arrived, the conference coordinator decided to put all the English speaking guests at the same table. The older gentleman and I traded names, and as we were both clergy, a bit of clerical chit chat. Then of course we sorted through places and names to see if we had any in common.

Surprisingly to both of us, we had several connections to places and people in common. And one church in particular had been a very painful one for this couple. Anne and I looked at each other, because we too had been injured in an almost identical church setting and knew that this meeting was not a coincidence. In fact we knew of the church, the situation, and actually knew some of the people involved. We sensed that this meeting was not accidental.

At that moment, our host came up and said due to a slight change in plans we were not going to start the next part of the sessions for about 2 hours. He hoped we understood. We looked at this older couple and said, "Do you have some time to talk and would you like to?"  Their eyes teared up and they both said "Yes" in unison.

Over the next two hours we talked and prayed and sensed that many of the deep wounds in this couple's life were being healed. Then, almost as quickly as they had arrived, they had to head back so they would not miss their flight and we had to resume the conference.

Many months later, we received a letter from wife.

A twenty year old wound in both our souls was healed that afternoon. Who would believe that two people from England, and two Americans from Texas, would be brought together in Argentina, and that such healing and grace could occur? Why God waited until this moment to do this work, we will never know. Over the years we knew that those hurts made us more caring, sensitive ministers. But they also left deep scars that often hurt. We were willing to accept those wounds, in fact resigned to taking them to the grave with us. What a great gift to have them healed so suddenly and unexpectedly. God is so good."

Goodness and mercy do follow us all the days of our life. They do not always precede us.

May God grant us the serenity to accept those things we cannot change, until such a time as he changes them, in this life or the next. Amen

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Goodness and mercy

"Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life..."

I can still remember the smell of the opthomologist’s office in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica. I can remember the strange sensation of the drops used to dilate my eyes, and the amazing things the doctor did with the phoropter, that funny machine with all the lenses. Going back to the office a few weeks later and walking out with my first pair of glasses, I was shocked!

With my horned rim “coke bottle” glasses I could see things all the way down to the end of the street and read the signs a block away! I could see the ant’s crawling across the sidewalk and the small wasps buzzing the flowers high in the trees.

My glasses could change my vision, but they couldn’t change my perspective. If there is a gene for pessimism and cynicism, I got it. I still saw all that was wrong with the world, and rarely noticed when things were going well. This has been a lifetime struggle for me.

This Lent I began by pondering the "Problem of Good." Why is there so much good in the world? Why do so many wonderful things happen every day, even to bad people? Why is there so much joy and laughter and fun in the world? Why are there so many caring, compassionate people?

It is a serious theological problem. Why does God allow so much good? Why does God allow any good?

I am blessed with the ability to notice all that is wrong with the world. I can see real problems, potential problems, and very unlikely future problems.I notice the bad and I can deal with the "Problem of Evil." But I am working hard this Lent to deal with the "Problem of Good."

We used to have an old Chevy. There could be 6 or 7 things wrong with the car, and yet it would start and run, morning after morning. The transmission needed work, the power steering needed work, the fuel injection system needed work, the oil needed changing, the air filter looked like a dirtball, the master cylinder had a small leak. Yet the car never seemed to notice! I swear that car had a cheerful, helpful disposition!

At 56, I have a few mechanical defects too. A stiff joint here, an ache there, too much of this, not enough of that, and more. If I’m not careful and intentional I can focus and complain about what is wrong and not notice that most important equipment, like heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, and more is still working!

So, God grant me grace to be like that old Chevy, cheerfully starting, and being ready to face each day with grace and thankfulness.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blessed be He

"May His great Name be blessed forever and ever. Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One Blessed is He. beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now say: Amen."   (part of the Mourner's Kadish)

We trust you with the life of those we love. "The Lord giveth and the Lord hath taken away."

A wonderful man passed away Sunday. And many people came to mourn his passing. He is not famous or well known, but was faithful, kind, caring, generous and loving. Bright and curious, and a natural salesman, Ken Zoltan befriended many, many people. He will be greatly missed.

Back to blogging tomorrow.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Other Benefits

"And we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant that, by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we, and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion."  1979 Book of Common Prayer, pg. 335

In the older Episcopal communion service we pray for God to forgive our sins based on Jesus love and death for us and that we receive that forgiveness by putting faith in that act.

"...grant that.....we....may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion."

Benefits. What kind of benefit package do you hope to get from work? If you are your own employer, what kind of benefits to you try to purchase for you and your loved ones?

Forgiveness for me is a great benefit. I have done more than my fair share of foolish, hurtful things. So that is for me a great comfort.

But what else is in this "all other benefits" package from God?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A river runs though

From yesterday's post: 
Fly  fishing last summer in the Rio Grande near South Fork, the south fork of the Rio Grande, I reflected that I was standing in the same water, that a week or two later I might be drinking. 

 Standing in the middle of the Rio Grande in Colorado, pine trees swaying up the slope from the banks, mountain sides sweeping upwards on both banks, the smell of cool water, sage, and pine in the breeze, with patches of snow on the upper reaches, I thought to myself how different the same river appears over its long journey.

Months later I thought about how the Church is like the River. Starting fresh 2000 years ago in Jerusalem, small and vulnerable, much like the small rivulets that make their way down the slopes of Wolf Creek Pass joining together to form part of the Rio Grande.

But as she flows through time and space the river changes, and her surroundings change. Minerals and other waters flow in, vegetation and terrain change.  And by the time she reaches my home in Laredo, she has carried tons of sediment, some contaminants, and massive amounts of water, giving drink to many towns and cities, farms, to domestic and wild animals. And she has picked up and filtered waste and debris.

Yet even with the debris, waste, and changes, she remains a thing of beauty. She still brings liquid life to those along her banks. She washes away the waste.

So like the Church, who picks up debris and contaminants, yet still continues to bring life, and to take away the waste of the world.

And neither the River nor the Church do this without help from above. The river must be filled with rain from the heavens. So too the church without God is just a dry and empty wash. But when she allows God to flow through her, however imperfectly she is a thing of great beauty, no matter the setting she finds herself in.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Father Water

For the last 12 years I've lived near the banks of the Rio Grande, (the Rio Bravo in Mexico). It always amazes me that the water that melts in Southern Colorado runs all the way through New Mexico, and down much of the Texas border, until it runs into the Gulf at Brownsville and Matamoros.

Fly  fishing last summer in the Rio Grande near South Fork, the south fork of the Rio Grande, I reflected that I was standing in the same water, that a week or two later I might be drinking. It made me think about what I was putting into the river, thinking about the fact that I might see it later.

Water is such simple stuff, and yet such miraculous stuff. Until you don't have it, you don't appreciate it.

Watching the horrible tragedy of the Tsunami in Japan, followed by the reactor disasters. People lining up to buy water bottles because the local water supply is already too radioactive for small children.

Perhaps that is some of what Jesus is trying to get at with the Samaritan woman is that the basics of this life, all have some contaminants. Some more and some less. Even our religious systems, as good as they may be have become damaged.

As they argue about who is right about religion, the Jews or the Samaritans. Jesus tells her the Jews are closer to the the truth. But in the end he says, something more than religion must prevail.  

Worshipping the Father in Spirit and in Truth. Somehow Jesus means for us to give up religion and take up relationship with the Father. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Water cravings

“If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here
If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary,
then of course I'll feel nude when to where I'm destined I'm compared.”

(From the C.S. Lewis song by Brooke Fraser)

On occasion I still take a drink from small rivulets high in the Colorado mountains where I know it's all snowmelt and the chance of contamination is low. It is a taste like no other, and it transports me to childhood. Yet even after slaking your thirst with that wonderful water you still need more a few hour later.

When Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman, he captures her imagination. Water is such a basic essential. And for most of the human race, for most of time, finding, carrying, and using water has involved vast amounts of work.

So when he talks about a constant flow of water, she is intrigued. Engaged enough that he manages to steer her into a conversation that gets to the root of pain in her life. She’s had a difficult time in relationships. Either she’s been divorced or widowed numerous times and she’s living with yet another man.

Perhaps she thought that there was a perfect man out there, or a relationship that might be able to fix the emptiness inside.

Yet somewhere in the talking and sharing she discovers that Jesus believes she is meant to have more in her life.

But his insight into her life makes her uncomfortable so she tries to switch the conversation to religion. (Which seems a safer subject when talking with a preacher!) But again Jesus switches gears. He manages to open her up to the idea that the God of the Universe has made her for an eternal purpose; that only that God will satisfy the craving inside.

God craves an ever deepening relationship with us. When we begin to drink that in, our craving may actually increase. For the first time we are drinking the water from the home country; the land of eternity. In this life we will never get enough. Because we are made for something even more glorious.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Metaphorical Water

The last really good rain was in September. That month we got almost five inches of rain. Then the totals for October, November, and December were all zero. In January we got a bit over an inch. February and March so far are both at zero again. 

Even in this part of South Texas which is dry, we are dryer than usual.

When you listen to ranchers you hear all kinds of one liners about the need for water.

"It’s so dry here the all the fish have ticks.
It’s so dry the Red Cross has launched a wet blanket appeal.

It’s so dry that the trees are whistlin’ for the dogs.
It’s so dry the Red Cross has launched a wet blanket appeal."

Partly because it is so dry, I've been thinking about the Gospel for this coming Sunday, which starts with a conversation about water, while Jesus is sitting by himself at the side of a well. The story takes up most of the fourth chapter in the Gospel of John.

It is a wonderful, funny story about Jesus and a woman from Samaria.

But I've been thinking about one verse for many days now.  Verse 13 reads:  Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Is that my experience as a Christian? Do I find myself overflowing with the metaphorical water of God's life and love?  And is that what most Christians experience?

My suspicion is that it is only an occasional experience for most of us, including people like me. So I am praying for some metaphorical hydrological wisdom as we go forward this Lent.

More reflections tomorrow and the rest of the week...

Monday, March 21, 2011


John 4:34,35 Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, "Four months more, then comes the harvest"? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting."

Jesus has just finished talking with a woman. A stranger, a foreigner, a lady whose life was a complete mess.

And what does he say to the disciples. "Wow! Isn't this exciting. The harvest is's time to bring in the crop."

What's he talking about. Obviously not agriculture. His encounter with the Samaritan woman has given him new energy.

The disciples could only see the Samaritans as half breeds, foreigners, dangerous people. But Jesus could see people valuable to God.

Channel flipping I happened to catch a small part of the 2009  movie "The Blind Side" .  Based on the true story of Michael Oher, the films power is in showing that no person is disposable.

Jesus saw how valuable that messed up Samaritan woman was to God and spent an afternoon talking with her, and brought her to faith.

Who are the people I think are disposable? When I look at homeless people, illegal people, jailed people, etc. do I see a harvest like Jesus sees?  It's only a matter of perspective. I hope I learn to have his.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday, Sunday...

 (This is a re-post of something from two years ago

Psalm 122:1 I was glad when they said to me, * "Let us go to the house of the LORD."

There are Sundays when I feel like not going to church. I have a favorite editorial cartoon. It shows a man in a bathrobe sitting in a Lazy boy recliner, with a newspaper spread on his lap, a remote control at his side, with a football game on the television screen in front of him. He’s holding some papers in one hand and a small microphone in the other. The caption reads “Pastor Smith was able to make Sunday mornings much more relaxed when he realized the wireless mike worked from the pastors residence.”

Sometimes getting up on Sunday, getting out the door, getting to church takes a huge amount of energy. It can feel like there is some invisible force field trying to slow my every move. Reasons to skip church come to mind: “Too much to do, need time for myself, I loose my whole morning”, and others flood my mind. And I’m the pastor!

I think there is an invisible force field that tries to prevent us from worship. It uses tiredness, busyness, sadness, hurt, frustration, and anything else it can to prevent our meeting with other Christians to worship the living God.

The irony is that sometimes the mornings that I find most difficult to arrive for worship turn out to be the most profound. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting Christians who lived in parts of the world, where going to worship put them in danger: An Anglican bishop in Pakistan who lost a son who was shot and killed to send a message to his father, a bishop from Nigeria, whose family has been assaulted twice, and their home robbed twice, a priest from Vietnam who spend 5 years in a “re-education” camp, a woman from a middle eastern country who would be killed by her male relatives if she ever sets foot in her home country again, a priest in the Sudan who was kidnapped and held at gunpoint twice, and survived air raids on several of the church buildings where he served.

All of them could have been free from this persecution if they would stop worshipping. Yet for each of these people, it is worship where they discover the strength to persevere. When you worship with these people, you know that they are glad to be in the house of the Lord. Their lives are full of joy.

I take freedom to go to church for granted. I may experience some mild hostility for being a Christian. I may experience some spiritual warfare trying to prevent me from showing up for worship.

But when I arrive I am glad to be with my brothers and sisters at the house of the Lord. It is in worship that I again hear Jesus voice, know his mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love. It is in worship that I get strength to serve and follow him again.

Psalm 84:10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The problem of Good, Again

I have a friend who is dying of cancer. We sat and prayed the other day. It is terribly unfair, and I find myself reminding God what a wonderful, loving, gifted, caring man this is. A man who loves life, loves God, and many, many people is dying and you God don't seem to be doing anything to stop it!

Yet if he were not such a good man, and if his wife and friends did not love him, his death would not matter. But it is because it does matter, that again we see goodness. Goodness in the support and prayers of a community. Goodness in the deeds of this wonderful person and the years of good life that he did enjoy.

God allows a lot of goodness in the world.  May I never lose sight of it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mini Funerals

I went to seminary at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, a few miles north of Pittsburgh.

One day I, reading the Beaver County Times,  there was an story on a local woman who had attended her own funeral!

She'd gone to see the local funeral director, arranged the service, and invited all her friends to come to her funeral.  She thought it would be a shame to have everybody come once she'd died since she wouldn't get to see them. 

It was a funny story. But as I read, it dawned on me that we hold funeral services for the living all the time in many churches. We baptize people claiming that they have died with Christ. In fact each baptism is a funeral service. In Holy Communion, we claim to celebrate Jesus death until he returns. We are once again seeking to share in his death, and share in his resurrection.

At baptism we offer the old self to God, the self that is spiritually dead, and whose body will someday die. And we ask to be put to death with Jesus, so that we may also accompany him at the Resurrection.  Each baptism is in fact a funeral of that old self.

So, it may be that you've already attended a funeral for yourself and just didn't know it.

Enjoy your mini-funerals each time you get to attend.  Peace.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Slavery and St. Pat

Today is St. Patrick's Day.

Patrick, an Englishman, was captured and sold into slavery at age 16. At age 22, the year 412 he escaped and returned to his home and studied for the priesthood. And then in an amazing turn of events, about 435, he returned to Ireland, as a missionary bishop. Those six years captivity had led Patrick to seriously seek God.  And now he returned to Ireland, this time a slave to Christ.

He had come to love the Irish people despite their ill treatment of him. Over the rest of his life Patrick traveled vigorously about Ireland. It is estimated that he personally baptized over 300,000 people.

He also is the author of a wonderful Christian repudiation of slavery. His letter to Coroticus is an articulate and impassioned plea to abandon the buying and selling of human beings.

This past Fall, Anne and I got to listen to Somaly Mam, a Cambodian women who was sold into sexual slavery as a young girl. Like Patrick she managed to escape.  And she has used her new found freedom to forge a ministry to other young women helping many women to escape slavery and get the help they need.

I keep the picture of Anne and Somaly on my phone.  It reminds me that the battle to end slavery is still going on.

May we celebrate Patrick, give thanks for the work of those seeking to end slavery in our day,  and pray that the work of setting people free continues in our own day. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Take two asprin and call me in the morning"

Psalm 119:67  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.     71  It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

Dr. Paul Brand was an amazing man who led an amazing life. I remember hearing him lecture and talk about the gift of pain.  Just those three words, "gift of pain" jolted me. He went on to say pain can help us realize that something is wrong. It makes us seek medical help.

Then he told that God might use emotional and spiritual pain to move us to seek his help.

The truth is that some of us stubborn, willful types, need pain to come to our senses. I was one of those people. God reached me at a low point in my life. I was sick of the person I had become, and tired being sick. The pain led me to find people who could help me recover balance and wholeness.

In these two verses of Psalm 119 the writer is thankful for pain. Affliction helped him come back to God, and learn about God.

So what about compassion? Certainly we are also called to alleviate pain and suffering. There is great good in that. But there are times when we treat the symptoms of people's pain and forget about dealing with root cause.

I hate pain, and hate to see people in pain. I want those two asprin and I want them now.  Yet, sometimes pain, emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental is the one thing that turns us to God.

At the very least, pain can tell us there is something in our body, or in our life that needs attention. And at the very best it can lead us to find healing for both body and soul.

May whatever pain is in your life become part of grace. Amen

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Not ashamed

Hebrews 2:11b “For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters”

I went flying off the high dive into the pool. And I swam around for a few minutes before I realized that the impact had split the seam on my suit. I was 12 years old and suddenly realized that others had probably seen more that I wished to display. Swimming swiftly to the side of the pool, I dashed for my towel and ran to the dressing room.

As I ran, I just knew that every laugh, every whisper, every voice, was about me. With the horrible self consciousness of an almost teenager,  I turned bright red with shame as I sped away.

Early on in life we learn to be self conscious and eventually we learn shame. Sometimes we have done things which are shameful. And sometimes, we are just so acutely sensitive that we can feel shame simply because of peer pressure.

Shame. We’ve all felt it. Shame for something that was not our fault, like my high dive and shame for things that were certainly our fault.

Sometimes it becomes a vicious circle. When I drugged, I felt bad afterwards, ashamed of how stupid I'd been, and of some of the things I'd done, or things I couldn't remember. Of course eventually getting high again removed the shame, at least for a while. And it started the circle all over again.

Over the course of my life, the desire to be part of the "in" crowd, to not be shamed, caused me to do things I would probably never have done otherwise, make fun of people I actually liked, and do many things I wished I now wish I had not.

Living out the fear of shame and humiliation makes us do and say horrible things to each other. There are very few of us who don't wish we could take back an insult, a put down, or hurtful word that we know left someone else drenched in shame.

Thankfully God begins to heal us. The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus is not ashamed of us. In fact he calls us brothers and sisters. The Lord who knows the awful things I've done is not ashamed to hang around with me and to tell people I'm part of the family.

May God give us grace to know that acceptance to the very depth of our being and grant that same love and acceptance to others. And may he give us opportunities to put right the hurt we have caused. And may we know that his love has put away our shame.

Monday, March 14, 2011


From Sunday's Lessons

Romans 5:12-14 (The Message version)  
"You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we're in— first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn't sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God."

In December of 2004, we were overjoyed to hear from Anne's brother Pat. They had been on a beach in Thailand during the Tsunami. They came close to being numbered among the victims. We could imagine all kinds of horrible outcomes as we watched the scenes on TV. Hearing their voices was a great relief.

Now, just over six years later, we finally just heard last night from a family friend who lives in Tokyo and has family all over the country. We have been praying for her and her family, not knowing what was happening with them.

Haiti, New Zealand, Japan. Our beautiful, amazing planet, is also dangerous. The version of the passage above, said that Adam's sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone. Our relationship with our planet is disturbed, and our earth's relationship with us is disturbed.

But a bit later Paul writes this (Romans 8:18-28)

That's why I don't think there's any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

This time of disturbance is not the permanent state of affairs. God is going to heal this broken and damaged relationship. So what do we do in this time of waiting.

First, we pray.  That impulse to pray is from God, so by all means let us pray. God promises to work through our prayers. So pray for those who are doing rescue work, those who are putting themselves in harms way to prevent nuclear reactor disaster, those who are doing the painful work of finding and caring for the dead, and those who have lost homes, possessions, and especially those who have lost loved ones.

Second, we give when disaster strikes. I know someone who raises money for a local charity clinic. When people tell her they can "only" give $5, or $10, she says "No, "only" is not in my giving vocabulary. Your $5 or your $10 can buy this, help pay for that, and is the percentage of this. So don't tell me only. Because your gift matters."

So let us pray and give, and may God honor both.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Deuteronomy 7:17 If you say to yourself, ‘These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?’ 18do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, 19the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.
I live in Laredo, Texas on the safe side of the U.S. - Mexico Border.  I am not worried about the violence there spilling across the Rio Grande.
But though I have been protected by God many times, I am afraid to cross into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
When you have met people who have been kidnapped, when you meet families fleeing violence, you think twice. The very real danger, though statistically slight, has kept me on my side of the river for almost two years. I think of my wife Anne, my children, Colin and Suzanna, and others, and I don't want to die in a random incident.
The drug cartels seem to operate with almost unfettered impunity. And it is tempting to believe that they will never be dealt with. It is also tempting to believe that God is not able to protect us, or has somehow abandoned us.
In today's reading God speaks to Moses. “Yes the promised land is full of enemies. But don't fear them. If I can handle the Egyptians, I can take care of those other guys.”
I know that God can and does protect people. Yet I also know that we are not to put ourselves in harms way for no good reason.
At this brief moment in time, evil has an upper hand in the city I live next door to. But just as God promises that Israel's enemies will not last forever, I believe that these enemies will fall too.
Pray for the conversion of the young men who are caught up in narco terrorism. Pray for the people who put their lives on the line to try to stop them.
Pray for the addicts who are the root cause of this evil commerce, that they find God and his healing, saving power.
Pray for those in our country who supply weapons to the narcos to repent and become ashamed of what they do, and to turn back to God.
And pray for the victims of the violence, the innocent, the guilty alike. May God have mercy.

Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11th, "The Problem of Good"

As a pastor you get used to the question. "How could a good God allow so much evil?" But I have never been asked, "How could a good God allow so much good?" or "Why does an evil God allow so much good?"

Sometimes the speaker is wrestling with a real evil in their life which has shaken their faith. Sometimes the speaker is using the problem of evil as a proof against the existence of a Divine Being.

Isn't it interesting that we see the existence of evil as a conundrum. Why does it exist? Why is there so much suffering, hurt, and deliberate malice in our world?

But I have yet to have anyone come up to me disturbed about the presence of so much goodness in the world!

But if we probe at that assumption, it means that we think that goodness should be the status quo. We assume goodness should be the normal state of affairs.

Where in the world did we get that idea? Why should goodness be the status quo any more than badness?

Why when I see evil do I wonder if God is good, or if there is a God? Why when I see good don't I wonder the reverse. Why don't I wonder whether God is evil, or whether there is a God?

This Lent I plan to focus my attention each day on some aspect of goodness in my life. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

March 10th "Push the button"

Symbols are amazing. They communicate powerfully.

Thanksgiving two years ago, climbing Enchanted Rock outside of Fredericksburg, Texas, I reached the summit, when a young boy ran up to me very excited and animated. It took a moment but I realized he was deaf, and signing something to me very emphatically and quickly. Fortunately an older girl with him who was also deaf, simply pointed at my hat. I pointed back at my hat and mouthed Denver Broncos, and held up my finger saying "They're number 1."  He yanked open his jacket and smiling ear to ear revealed his Denver Broncos t-shirt.

Symbols have power to communicate and to connect us.

When we step into an elevator, we are presented with a panel of symbols. Most of them have numbers. Each of them represent a real physical location in the building. They are symbols.

Yet those small button symbols have the power to connect us to the actual reality. If you push the button, that small symbol will connect you to a real place.

Churches are full of symbols that are like those buttons. By themselves they are pretty plain things. But they connect us to a reality beyond themselves.

So why in the world would we want to use ashes?

Ashes are so dirty, so dark, so unfriendly looking. I would prefer gold dust or glitter.

But those ashes connect us to the reality of our mortality, our powerlessness over death.

And when we connect with that utter powerlessness, then an even greater reality can break into our lives. God. God who patiently waits until we admit that we are powerless, and that we utterly, desperately, need him.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday - "To the cloud!"

Hebrews 12   "1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race
that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the
sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has
taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God."

"To the cloud!" proclaim the commercials hawking the new Window's 7 operating system. We are surrounded by the great cloud of the internet. All kinds of information, web-based programs, calendars, emails, blogs, pictures, facebook, twitter, voicemail, texts, and more. A great swirling mass of electronic signals and software stored somewhere and replicated, and distributed globally.

But the writer to the Hebrews was thinking of a different "cloud"; a cloud whose existence did not depend upon access to electricity, computer hardware, and software.

Allow yourself to connect to the cloud, that great cloud of witnesses, though their writings, their stories of faith, their struggles so much like ours, and through the supernatural encouragement that they give us to keep going forward. They crossed the finish line at this marathon, and they now line the track, shouting encouragement, to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

And sometimes, just sometimes, the veil will clear and we can sense that Jesus is also in the crowd, for he not only raced the same marathon, but ran it all the way, not just to the cross, but through death into the resurrection.

Standing at the finish line, he's calling to us, coaching us to keep running, to let go of the things that try to get us to stop, to forget the other voices which criticize our running style, the voices that tell us we shouldn't have even been allowed in the race.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lent is coming....

Two years ago I blogged almost every day as a Lenten Discipline. This year of 2011 I plan to do it again.

It focused my thoughts and my prayer life.

It seems narcissistic, and yet about halfway through the second week I discovered I didn't care if anybody was reading besides me.

Is it immoral to contribute to the flood of information, misinformation, urban legends and spam?

Thomas Aquinas wrote that near the end of his life, that all his great works of writing were "as straw".

It that great man's impressive works are straw, then most of mine is "recycled straw" if you take my drift. Yet occasionally even the manure has something to contribute to growth.

Peace - paul frey