A New Coffee Maker

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I’m going to have to get a new coffee maker.

When we got married, the only thing that I said I wanted from any of the wedding showers was a coffee maker that I could program so my coffee was ready when I got up in the morning.  34 years ago that was a novel idea!

Over the years I have worn out several.  When the last one died Anita said that she heard that those that grind the coffee are better, and so that is what we got.  Little did we know that when the grinder started up at 6:10 it sounded like a 747 taking flight!  But the coffee was good!  And I liked it!

But then the grinder quit working.  Missing the sound of the jet engines in the kitchen was dealt with by going back to having ground coffee.  I liked my coffee pot!

But recently a new problem has begun.  The coffee will brew as it is programed to do, but then, it cuts off.  Not a problem if you are downstairs at 6:15 because you can just go over and turn it “On.”  But if you sleep late, say to 6:45 you come downstairs to a tepid cup of coffee.

It isn’t cold, not like those nights when the power has gone out and the coffee was brewed at 12:00 and sat there all night long, but not hot.  In fact, it is just past warm.  It is like the coffee that has sat for 30 minutes and is no longer drinkable, but not really throw-outable!

I wonder if that is what has happened to the faith of the dones.  It isn’t that they don’t have any faith.  It isn’t that they have rejected faith.  It isn’t that they don’t really appreciate it.  It is just that it has become so tepid as to become undrinkable. 

Maybe they are feeling the way Jesus felt when he looked at the church at Laodicea.  “Because you are neither hot nor cold, just tepid, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Maybe we just need a new coffee maker!

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Happy Reformation Day

My guess is that today is not that big a deal in your world.  It is the day after Halloween, the day when we all swear that next year we won’t buy the 20-lb bag of candy because we only have 20 Trick or Treaters and we are left with all that candy to eat. (We can’t let it go to waste!  Just think of all those children who don’t have candy to eat!)

Or maybe you are just counting down the days, hoping to survive the last seven days of this election season that will not end!  (Bad news, I predict that it won’t end on November 9.  Sorry!  But that is for another post.)

Or maybe you are one of those people who know that when the witches and goblins disappear it is time for Santa and his elves to show up; to start listening to Christmas music, to get the tree up and decorated!  (Wal Mart has you beat!) But don’t forget about that Thanksgiving season (too late!)

But today is a BIG DEAL.  At least to us in the church.  At least to those of us in the Protestant church.  At least to those of us who wake up way too early on November 1! 

luther-nailing-theses-560x538It is Reformation Day.  OK, actually it was yesterday, but who can compete with characters from Star Wars?    For you who aren’t Church History Nerds, that is the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church.  Just a warning, it was 499 years ago, so get ready to hearing a lot about it this time next year!

It was the act that led to the Protestant Reformation.  It fed into a growing nationalism in Europe with which they are still dealing; it led to a rift in the church that continues to grow.  All this because Martin Luther wanted to start a discussion.  A discussion about indulgences, grace, God and faith.

Confession—until this morning I don’t know if I had ever read Luther’s 95 Theses.  (I am sorry Bill Leonard and Glenn Hinson.  I am sure you assigned it, and I may have read it, but it didn’t find a place in the mental rolodex!)  You too can catch up on that unfinished assignment here!  

Now a few random thoughts:

  • Many of these theses are about indulgences—the medieval church’s stewardship campaign.  I have to wonder if this was Luther’s response to receiving another pledge card, or whether he was just paving the way for those who came after.  Could it be that this is why we never read these in church?
  • Luther’s intention was to start a conversation.  How seldom do we do that in church anymore.  We play it so safe.  We will talk about football, but when was the last time you had a conversation/discussion about Hell, purgatory, or heaven.  Do they even exist in our thought anymore?
  • What would happen in our churches if there was a new “Wittenberg Door” a place where people could post ideas around which they would like to have conversation.  Might that be better then our traditional Sunday School?

What would you post?

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Haunted by a Paper

It continues to surprise me how a comment in a class, an assignment long ago turned in, can continue to influence—even haunt your thinking. 

img_9930I really should have known better.  I was a second semester senior at Wake Forest.   I was working a horrible job loading freezer trucks just to make ends meet.  I just needed a class—any class—to graduate.  I could have even taken it pass/fail.

But did I do that?  NOO!

Instead I signed up to take Charles Talbert in his specialty class—Luke!  There were only about 8 of us who were that foolish!  We sat around one of those conference tables where you couldn’t hide, even when you were so exhausted that you fell asleep during the lecture.  (Again, I apologize, Dr. Talbert!)

Early in the semester we were given our choice of topics on which to do our major paper.  For a reason that still escapes me, I chose to do “The Kingdom of God in the Writings of Joachim Jeremias.” 

Let’s be honest.  It was a horrible paper!  Horrible!  I apologized when I turned it in—and do so again today!  It was a horrible paper……but it still affects me.  Jeremias basically said that the Kingdom of God is the dominant theme in the preaching of Jesus. 

But what does that mean?

What do we mean when we talk about the Kingdom of God?

I grew up knowing that the Kingdom of God was that realm beyond the Jordan, where we stroll down streets of gold strumming hymns on our harps as we got ready for Celestial Choir Rehearsal.  Entrée into the kingdom came if and when and only if you walked down the aisle at church and prayed the sinners prayer and asked Jesus into your heart.  What happened after that didn’t matter.  Your ticket was stamped and you were in!  the purpose, the calling of the church was to sell as many tickets as possible. 

But Jeremias seemed to be suggesting that perhaps Jesus meant something a bit different from that Celestial Kingdom.  Maybe, he suggested, Jesus was calling us not only to convert individuals but to convert the world.  that is a different way of reading the gospel!  It means that maybe the kingdom isn’t way “off there” but a reality right here among us. 

The old way of thinking about the kingdom is a lot easier.  The responsibility, the burden lies on the preacher, the church, the individual.  They are supposed to preach the gospel of salvation, to hold services that will move a sinner to tears and confession.  It is an individual response whether or not they want to go to heaven or burn for eternity.  The rest of us can rest—after our ticket is punched.

But if the kingdom is something more, if it has as much to do with what is happening now in our world—then that causes a lot more questions. 

Do I believe that I am living in the Kingdom of God?  There are many of us who would say no. (Duh, that is in heaven!) But this life is pretty sweet!  I’m not rich, but I have it pretty good.  Why rock the boat?

Do I really want the Kingdom to come?  Sure, I pray, “thy kingdom come, they will be done..” but do I really want that?  Do I really want, do I really believe that God wants everyone to have enough nourishing food?  Adequate housing?  Healthcare?  Safety?  Or do I really believe that life really is up to individuals and if they don’t have those things it is because they have made bad decisions.  That really isn’t far from Job’s friends—“these things have happened to you because you have sinned.”

Am I willing to be converted to a different way of seeing, of believing?  Am I willing to risk what is for this dream that Jesus seems to be talking about?  It is one thing to trust

The more I listen to the news, the more I see the divisions in our country, in churches, in us, the more I think that horrible paper may just be the issue we are facing.  How do we see the Kingdom of God, and how does it shape who we are, how we live, what we do?  It’s one thing to sing, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” but another thing to really seek it!

I am still haunted by that paper!  Nearly 40 years later I am still struggling with it!

I really should have taken Introduction to Film!

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“Once Upon a Time”… or “It Shall Come to Pass”


IMG_2588This used to be a church.  
This time last year people gathered here on Sundays and Wednesdays to study the Bible, sing hymns, hear a sermon, be church.  But today it is being transformed into a parking lot.  In a couple of years it will be filled with student cars as they make their way into the new East Cooper High School. 

There is so much that could be said about this!  We could sing along with Joni Mitchell about paving paradise and putting up parking lots!  IMG_2592

It would be appropriate!  There was a time when paradise happened in this church—or should we say in these churches.  It has been the site of several.  One moved to a larger facility, but the others…  Well they just morphed from one to another until mismanagement, a congregation hanging on to the past, finances finally caught up.  Now paradise will become a parking lot!

Or we could see this as another sign of what Robert P. Jones talks about in his new book, The End of White Christian America.  We are living in a age of transition.  The old majorities, the old ways of relating, of doing things, of doing church are changing.  The result is a great deal of confusion, anger, grief.  One result is the demise of many once thriving religious communities.  It is estimated that 4,000 churches will close this year.  And where will these people go?  Well, some will migrate to one of the other churches within 2 miles of this site, but other will just become a part of the ever growing “unaffiliated.”  Faith will be seen as something we “used to do.”

Or we could see this as the Spirit of God moving in strange ways.  I am reminded of the old Fred Craddock story of serving as pastor of a church that refused to allow anyone who didn’t own property in that country from becoming a member.  There were many new families moving into apartments nearby, tons of children.  But the church refused to reach out.  Years later he wanted to show that church to his wife, and as he drove up was surprised to see the parking lot full, lots of people milling around.  Then he saw the sign.  It said, “BBQ: All You Can Eat.” It was a restaurant! Fred and his wife went inside and the place was packed with all kinds of people—white and black and Hispanic. Rich and poor. Southerners and northerners. Craddock said to his wife, “It’s a good thing this isn’t a church anymore. If it were, these people would not be allowed in.”

It is hard to see it now, as you walk among the bricks and gravel, as you see the signs of what used to be.  But maybe, maybe God is making room for people that the church won’t let in.  Maybe God is going to do church in a different way. 

Even in us.  If we are willing.  IMG_2590

Or not.

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Confessions of a Busy Pastor

There are times when the life comes at you so fast that you just want to run away…but I can’t run that fast.  It overtakes me in ways that just….well there really aren’t any words.

As I was coming back to work on Thursday from lunch I noticed again the light flashing on my dashboard.  “Check Brake Light.”  Truth—it has been on for over a week.  I am going to get around to checking my break light, but it takes so much work!  I have to get someone else to see which light it is, go to the auto parts shop and get the light, unload all he ‘stuff’ in my trunk, figure out how to get the old one out and get the other one in.  I will get around to it.  Sometime.

PhilandoCastileI can do that, because to be honest, I am a middle aged, middle class, white haired, white man.  A break light out is not a life threatening situation.

But as I drove out of the neighborhood there were two young African American teenage boys walking down the street carrying their skateboards.  And my heart broke.

We live in the same neighborhood but not in the same world.

I wanted to stop.  I wanted to get out of my car and just say, “Excuse me, can we talk?  I need your help.  I really want to know how you are.  The news is full of stories about black men being shot for things that don’t even appear on my radar.  I mean, who buys CD’s anymore?  A taillight out?  How are you?  Would you just talk to me, tell me your story, help me understand what it is like to live in your world?”

I wanted to stop, but I had to pick something up so I drove on.  I vowed that if they were there when I came back I would stop…..but …..

And that is how we are.  I live in my world, and they live in theirs, and we never stop to talk, to listen.  I live with my prejudices and they live with their fears and we don’t understand.  So we stay in our cars, in our houses, in our cocoons, in our worlds—while the world falls apart around us.

Somehow I continue to miss that little recurring line in the gospels, “As he went….”  Jesus was always being interrupted by life, only he stopped to listen, to be, to heal.  Maybe my prayer needs to be to stop.

I will.  After I get this finished!

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A Response to Robert Parham

I shared this story in a sermon several weeks ago.

One of my former youth had the opportunity to spend a week after Christmas in Calcutta working with the Sisters of Charity, Mother Teresa’s convent.  All week they had worked with the poorest of the poor of that city, learning so much.  On the last night they had the privilege of having a conversation with Mother Teresa.

This was at the height of the Cold War when relations between the US and the former Soviet Union were at their height.  Fear was the mood of the world.  So as they were about to conclude, one student asked this great saint, “Mother Teresa, what are you doing to eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation?” 

Her response surprised them all.  “Nothing.  I have been called to care for the sick and dying of Calcutta.  You go and save the world from nuclear destruction.  Perhaps that is your calling.”

I remembered it as I read Robert Parham’s column in the aftermath of the recent General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  For a decade and a half CBF has operated under a discriminatory hiring policy that was created in an atmosphere of fear.  (Bob Setzer tells the story well. ) It was a policy that was created to protect rather than progress; created in fear rather than faith; created for exclusion rather than inclusion.  For 15 years it has hung around our neck, and it is strangling us. 

But this year steps were taken to at least talk about moving forward.  “The Illumination Project” was announced to give us an opportunity to at least recognize that the world has changed, and if we are going to move forward our policies have to as well.

Yet it seems that Robert Parham, the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, does not believe we are capable of having this conversation.  He asked, “Why prioritize the LBGTQ issue given the multitude of issues that need addressing and around which consensus exists?  Why is there the need for such a project now?”

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that he believes that this conversation will detract us from some of the other wonderful ministries that we witnessed at the General Assembly—the work of the Baptist Joint Committee, students training for ministry in a network of seminaries and divinity schools, missions in places that we would be hard pressed to find on a map with people and languages that we could not identify.  We heard about work that is being done to eliminate predatory lending that feeds on the weakest among us.  We heard about ministries in hospitals, and with our military.  We heard a call to reach past the color of our skin to do the work of the kingdom.  All of these are important!  All of these are needed!

But so is this conversation!

It may not be one that Robert feels calls to participate in.  But that doesn’t mean that there are not others who have heard that specific call, and to say that their calling is unnecessary, to insinuate that it is less important, that it can wait….

Such a stance is the height of arrogance that say he alone knows what is needed.  It demeans the ability of free and faithful Baptist to do more than one thing well.  It fails the “Mother Teresa Test.”

The Illumination Project may not be your calling, Robert.  But for God’s sake, for the future’s sake, for the sake of all those for whom this is their life’s calling, do not demean it!  This project asks for everyone’s compassion, wisdom, and voice.

Even yours!

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Don’t Rock the Boat

That is the title for my sermon this week.  And amazingly it is already finished!  You really don’t know HOW rare that is, to be done this early in the week.

It was one of those weeks where reading the text really did change everything!  We know the text as Peter Walking on the Water.  You probably know the story–the disciples are out in the boat when a storm comes up and they are afraid they are going to die, but then Jesus comes walking up.  At least that is how I remembered the story, and that was where the sermon was heading, and that was the “stuff” I was looking for.

BUT….

That isn’t what the story says.  So the sermon went a different direction.  Don’t you hate it when you have a good sermon and then you read the text!  And what am I to do with this wonderful story?

You put it on your Didn’t Make the Sermon Blog!

There is a wonderful Texas story about two little boys whose mother asked them to chase a chicken snake out of the henhouse. They looked everywhere for that snake, but couldn’t find it. The more they looked, the more afraid they got. Finally, they stood up on their tiptoes to look on the top nesting shelf and came nose to nose with the snake.

They fell all over themselves and one another running out of the chicken house. “Don’t you know a chicken snake won’t hurt you?” their mamma asked. “Yes, ma’am,” one of the boys answered, “but there are some things that will scare you so bad you’ll hurt yourself.”

Think about American society. The more fearful we become, the more likely we are to hurt ourselves in the process of protecting ourselves. Trust, civility, freedom are usually among the first casualties of fear. And what about our whole souls?  Fear marks so many human hearts.

Fear does mark so many hearts, doesn’t it?  Even though the most frequent phrase in the Bible is “Fear not!”  we are afraid.  We are afraid…and it limits us.

I know.  I woke up early early early this morning, before the sun had even thought about coming up.  Part of it was physical, but once awake the fear struck.  So I got up and went downstairs to discover this.safe_image

So my prayer today is that I will live my hopes, and not let my fears cause me to hurt myself or others!

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