Living God’s Creative Story

Today is the first day of spring. For someone who is not a fan of winter weather, snow, or cold temperatures the announcement of spring weather has come brings with it the sounds of rejoicing and celebration.

I’ve always have enjoyed spring. Perhaps it is because it reminds me of Spring Break trips with my grandparents to Florida or some other destination. Maybe it is because it means baseball season will soon begin. Or maybe, too, it is because I can get rid of the piles of jackets that you need in the winter.

Spring brings with it a sense of new life and hopefulness that we all need. Think about what takes place around this time each year. Flowers begin to bloom. Trees begin to bud. The grass begins to grow. Life seems to be restored.

I think about those images and I am reminded of the creative work of God. Throughout Scripture, we are reminded that God brings new life out of what seems to be destroyed, broken, or at the point of death. Where we see what cannot be possible, God looks at does something that impossible in bringing life to what seemed to be dead.

We see this in the very first sentences of Scripture. In Genesis 1:1, we are told of how God is the One who took what was nothing and made something. We don’t have to get into the why’s and how’s of that miraculous truth to simply stand in awe of the fact that where there seemed to be an impossibility – nothing – God made something happen.

Further along in the story of Scripture, in Ezekiel 37:1-14, we receive the story of God breathing life into dead bones. God’s creative life brings new hope to what seems to be beyond the capability of doing anything. Once again, God took an impossibility – dead bones – and made something happen.

We see it, again, with the promise of the resurrection. Jesus died on the cross. He was dead on Friday. He was dead on Saturday. On Sunday, the grave was empty. I’ve been to the grave … there was no body in there. Jesus’ resurrection is the victory over the world’s crippling powers of death and destruction. It is the assurance of hope that we claim at Easter that God can take what seems to be impossible – victory over death – and doing the impossible. God always makes something happen!

Our faith promises us that we worship the God who never gives up and is always striving to make something new out of the ashes of the world. This is the story that we claim and participate in through our faith. Yet, I wonder if it is a story that we truly believe.

I suggest that, because is tempting to always see things at face value. That is what the world teaches us to do by taking things as they seem. If something seems like an impossibility, we are taught to give up on it and to be realistic about the situation before us.

This is a mindset that can be found within the church. When we reflect on where we are as a church or community, it is easy to say things like “we might as well close” or “things are not like they used to be.” In doing so, we are focusing only upon what is in front of us and looking at things through worldly measures. Do we have enough people? Are we doing enough to justify the work? Is it worth it to keep going on?

Our discussions about the possibilities of the church’s mission are often guided by the same metrics we use to make decisions about future investment opportunities within a business. Yet, we are a community that is not a business. We are part of the narrative of God’s creative act in the world, which claims that God can do what seems to be impossible.

To believe that, however, we have to be willing to see the possible in the midst of the impossibility that is before us. That requires a change in our attitude of responding to things not out of negatives, but out of the positives. Being part of God’s creative effort invites us to ask ourselves what can God do, and what is God calling us to be a part of, in the midst of what seems bleak and hopeless.

We also have to change our approach from blaming others when things do not go well. In its place, we have to move into a direction of reflecting on what is God inviting us to learn and how might we do things differently from those lessons.

When we change our attitudes and our approach to difficult moments, it takes away the pressure and stresses that can fill our hearts about the church. It also invites us to be part of the grand narrative of God in a deeper way.

I truly believe that no matter the negative situation that faces us in the church, today, that God is capable and able to do more than we could ever imagine through them. We worship the God who takes nothing and makes something happen, and we are invited to be part of that great work.

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Let Us End Racism

It’s been more than 20 years since that moment. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in my dorm room in Brooke Towers at West Virginia University when a group of my friends came back to the floor. They lived just a couple rooms from me and, occasionally, we would go to dinner together in the cafeteria.

On this particular day, however, one of them noticed a shopping cart that was in the hallway. It was a long-standing game for those of us who lived in the Towers community to “borrow” shopping carts from the Kroger down the hill. I admit to borrowing one or two during my two-year residence at Towers.

For some reason, the presence of the shopping cart agitated this student. He became irate. He slammed the cart across the hall. He screamed out words I can still hear today.

I hate these n#####!

Down the hall was another hall friend of mine. He would soon become famous for his standout performances as a running back on the football team. I cannot recall if he was there, but the words were shouted loud enough that if he was, he would have heard them.

I was embarrassed. I was appalled. I was ashamed.

I didn’t shout the words, and it certainly wasn’t the first time I heard them. Growing up in southern West Virginia, you were exposed to racist attitudes and language that sought to separate people. As a kid, you didn’t always have the words and experiences to understand what it was that people were saying. You did, however, know it made you uncomfortable.

That moment, in my dorm room, changed everything for me. I didn’t want to be associated with racists nor did I want to be one myself. I wasn’t perfect in this area, but I wanted to live out the values of my faith stronger that God created us all the same.

I define racism as simply dismissing others because of the color of their skin and making contributions to society that separates people by race. It is a two-fold existence, and we have to recognize where we’ve contributed in some way to either side of the definition. Perhaps we have said things that have dismissed people because of their skin color or we’ve performed acts that have contributed to the separation of races. Sometimes we’ve done both and many times we are silent when we’ve witnessed it.

I pray for the day when racism ends.

I recognize we must be the answer to these prayers. A few years ago, I proclaimed in a sermon that my son’s generation would be the ones to see that dream come true. Several years after making that statement I’m cautious, because our children are formed by our examples and, often times, the examples we often share is of division and separation.

We share the example of dismissing concerns from people of color. When people of color share about institutional biases that favor whites, we often turn to the old advantage that everyone has an equal playing field in America. I’m a white male from Appalachia who has experienced institutional biases based upon my education and where I went to school. How much more so have people of color experienced? We need to hear their concerns and make the appropriate systematic changes that levels the playing field so all may have a chance to succeed in life.

We share the example of valuing heritage over the concerns of symbolic racism. When people of color express how displaying the Confederate flag and statutes brings up images of slavery and oppression, we often dismiss the concerns by saying we are focusing on our traditions and heritage. Instead of hearing their concerns and working together to find proper solutions and balance, we immediately dismiss the comments as detrimental to society.

We share the example of pointing out the differences instead of focusing on our commonalities. We do this by making specific references to the skin color of people of color we meet. There is an issue when we will use phrases like “that black person” or “my Hispanic helper” that we would not use if that same person is white. We point out our differences to the detriment of finding the places of common life and shared interest.

Perhaps, though, the most heartbreaking is that we will immediately accept someone based on their skin color and we will equally question someone by the same attribute. We see this in our politics, in social media, and in life. Acceptance is, sadly, as much about race as it is about the content of someone’s character today.

I bemoan all of this.

The sad thing is our children watch how we treat people. They see how we treat one another and the words and actions we use when it comes to race. Our actions provide more guidance for our children on how to live out God’s love than our words ever can.

If we truly want racism to end in our nation then it cannot begin by passing the baton to a younger and more accepting generation. It must begin with us saying, “Enough is enough.”

Living With Joy

The Super Bowl is a cultural spectacle. It is the only championship game where you will have more non-fans or marginally interested people tune in to watch the festivities. The game is almost a side attraction to the entire event and day.

You have the six-hour pre-game show. You have the halftime show. You have the commercials. I think more than anything else it is the commercials that non-sports fans will take away from the game. Were they funny? Were they relevant? Did they make you want to buy what they were selling?

This year’s Super Bowl commercials were of the typical variety. You had some that were emotional. You had some that were innovative. You had some that you wished never were aired. And, of course, you had some that were absolutely funny.

For my take, none were funnier than a commercial featuring the iconic Morgan Freeman. The short spot featured Freeman dance and lip sync to a Missy Elliot song while trying to promote “Mountain Dew Ice.” Extra points for anyone who watched the commercial and could remember exactly what Freeman was advertising.hqdefault

Several days after the game and I cannot get the commercial out of my head. I’ve watched it a few times since on YouTube. It is a great commercial. When you watch it you can feel Freeman’s sense of joy. It radiated through Freeman’s performance as he walked from the fireplace to the middle of the floor while trying to keep up with the lyrics. He was enjoying life.

What I love about the commercial, as well, is that Freeman is 80-years old and will soon be 81. Age is truly just a number for Freeman. It was not going to prevent him from enjoying life and living it out.

I don’t know about you, but when I am 81 I want to have that kind of zeal for life. I believe that kind of zeal is what God desires for us. I believe God created us to be people of joy and love who do not allow things like the number of years of our life or our own beliefs of what we can and cannot do keep us from living with a sense of joy.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 9:2, “I will be filled with joy because of you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.” I read that and hear God calling us to find joy throughout life, to find ways to be emotionally, physically, and spiritually active, and to inspire others with our sense of joy that comes from the Lord.

You are never too old to live with joy. You are never too old to find a way to inspire others. You are never to old to love God and share that love with others. The question becomes what does that look like when you’re 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, or even 90? It is going to look different throughout the ages, yes, but it doesn’t mean we stop looking for joy or serving God simply because we’ve hit a certain age. God doesn’t call us to give up on finding joy in our lives simply because we are not comfortable with our age.

Life is best when we are living it to the fullest for God with joy no matter what age we are.

What is a Service of Hope?

It started as an ordination project.

Two years ago I had to lead a “fruitfulness project” to fulfill one of my ordination requirements. The project is intended to demonstrate a pastor’s effectiveness in leading a ministry that seeks to make disciples. That is the simplest way of defining the project.

I had a couple of ideas for my project – a study on the Book of Revelation, a youth ministry intern, etc. – but my heart settled on this worship service I had heard about. It was called a Blue Christmas or Longest Night Service.

A Blue Christmas Service or Longest Night Service typically takes place on the first day of winter – the longest night of the year – and recognizes how many of us struggle during the Christmas season. The service is intended to offer hope and expressions of peace in the midst of our struggles. Continue reading

Christmas Eve Message: Ordinary Day and Extraordinary Hope

It was just an ordinary day in the City of Bethlehem.

The population, in those days, was around 1,000 people. That is a little more than double the latest Census estimate for Salvisa. All of those 1,000 people and more were gathered in Bethlehem on that day. The people were under the authority of the Roman Empire, which had no problem throwing its weight around. On that particular day, the people under Rome’s authority were required to return to their hometown in order to be counted. This was an ordinary occurrence for the people in Bethlehem, because Rome made it a habit of doing things to reminded people of their authority and power.

It was also an ordinary day for those outside of Bethlehem. Residing around the hillsides outside of Bethlehem were a group of shepherds. The shepherds were doing their job. They were keeping watch of their sheep to make sure they stayed safe from intruders. Shepherds were not the most beloved group of people. Some tolerated them as those who performed a needed task in society, but the people had little use for them. Others viewed them as thieves, because they would do what was needed in order to survive even if it meant taking from others. On that day they were just trying to live and survive. Continue reading

Some Words about My Grandfather

Today, I had the privilege and honor to officiate my grandfather’s funeral. My grandfather, Papaw, passed away on July 28. We’ve known this day was coming, but it still does not make it easy.

As I have done on several other occasions, I was asked to officiate the service and offer a few words of reflection upon this man we miss so dearly. What follows after the jump is the homily from today’s funeral. I provide it for you so that you may get to know this man who will live on through the legacy that he leaves behind. Continue reading

The 8th Day

The night before was long and dark. It was the Sabbath day, the seventh day, and those who had followed Jesus had gathered together. Just hours before they witnessed Jesus’ gruesome death on the cross and now they waited to finish a job that was rushed that evening. You see, some of Jesus’ followers hurriedly placed him in a garden tomb knowing that the Sabbath was coming and that work to prepare Jesus for burial would have to wait for the next day, which was a Sunday.

That was the mood as the women gathered on that Sabbath night. We can assume they told stories of Jesus’ life. Perhaps they talked about how he fed more than 5,000 people with barely little food or how he healed so many people. Through their tears, they prepared the spices that would be used to give Jesus, their teacher and friend, a proper burial. The only things that kept them from going to the tomb, then, were the dark skies and the Sabbath laws that prevented any work from taking place until the following day. Continue reading