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.