Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Thirty Pieces of Silver

                                      Thirty Pieces of Silver

Coming out of the gigantic grocery store we were loading the haul into the back of the SUV when he approached. Normal looking fellow, about 25 yrs of age I'd guess. My mind jumped ahead...he needs some cash to buy some gas because he was passing through on his way to Florida to bury his dad when he lost his wallet.... he will mail it to me as soon as he gets there... or some such story. The stories are remarkably the same. And I was wrong.

He didn't want anything from me, he wanted to give me something. It was a card. It had a picture of a well endowed young lady named "Monique." At least that was the card said, that's all I could see from the distance between us. It was from a strip club. I never extended my hand as he reached out to me to say that the cover charge at the club was waived with this card. ("Can't he tell I'm a preacher? Can't he see my wife standing there? How desperate is this guy?")When I saw what it was I went back to shoveling groceries into the car and said something  pretty loudly about not needing his card but I'd give him my church card.

He perked up. "Church?" he said brightly and quickly. " I go to Big Door church up in North River. It's great." I knew the church. Ginormous. Grammy and Dove award winning music. The senior pastor has sold hundreds of thousands of books and videos. It has some very good ministries.

"Do they know you're doing this?"

"Well, no, its just for a little quick cash."

"You should talk it over with your pastors there. I don't think they would approve."

(You big dummy, I said to myself. Why did you bring up church? He probably thinks you're a judgemental jerk. I really feel sorry for him. I'm not mad. You may want better for him but you sound like a jackass.)

"It's just for a little quick cash."

"Listen, son (I'm old enough to call people "son" now) Jesus doesn't want you doing that. He's got a better plan for you than that..."

"It's just a little quick cash....''

"Jesus loves you. Trust Him, He's got something better for you."

The young man is moving away from me now. I watch him. I'm sad, I'm upset with myself. As many times as I've read the woman at the well story from John 4, you would think you'd could do a better job with my own encounters. You just proved it again, Cosby, you ain't Jesus. Man, why didn't you think quicker? You should have asked him how much was a 'little quick cash' and offered to pay him that much if he would quit the job and go talk to one of his pastors at Big Door. I've got, what, maybe twenty-five or thirty dollars on me. I wonder if that was enough?

There's the spiritual condition of many in our nation wrapped up and presented in a parking lot:  "I love Jesus. I enjoy this church. But I need a little quick cash." There's no connection between belief and ethics, money or morals, God's will and our needs--and the church people don't know what to say.

Pray for that young man. Pray for this old, slow thinking preacher. Pray for our nation. And please, write better endings to your encounters.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Turning Out

Things don't always turn out like you had hoped they would. Little things. Big things. Little things,which may not seem small at the moment but they are, turn out wrong. "Darn (or something similar), the meringue didn't turn out! The egg whites must have been too cold."  "Shoot, the divinity didn't turn out! Too humid I guess." Little things....

There are bigger things, much bigger that don't turn out.
    -The marriage. "But they seemed so in love. I wonder what went wrong?" Love is not the best base for marriage. It's a better outcome or by-product. Marriages are better grown in the deep soil of trust planted liberally with the seeds of commitment. But no one told them that and the marriage didn't turn out.
    -The job. "I thought I'd finish my career there but they laid off nearly everyone with twenty or more years. They said age and seniority didn't have any thing to do with it, just the economy. I'm fifty one, what do I do?"            
    -The body "I was going to hike all the major trails in the mountains. Now, I've got to replace both knees. I can do some, but not much. The expenses are worse than I thought too. I guess I'll have to find something else to do." The list goes on, and gets worse... the chemo...the stroke...the grand kids in Timbuktu and you're in Peoria...the bankruptcy... the funeral. Life  rarely turns out like we thought it would.  Who knew?

Maybe we all should have. I was stuck in traffic in Joshua, TX after an accident and looked to the side of the road. There was a home doubling as a business. It was for psychic readings. Madame Somebody. Out into the psychic's yard wanders a man with long, stringy hair wearing a Speedo bathing suit, but most of it was covered by the belly hanging over it. He proceeds to mow the yard in his flip-flops with a beer in one hand and pushing the mower with the other. It was an odd sight at 9 AM. If he were Madame Somebody's husband or boy friend, she should have seen that coming. But she didn't or couldn't. Things don't always turn out like you thought, even if you're a psychic.

Things not turning out is a product of a fallen world where there is evil, wrong, selfishness, and other people who don't always want what we want. We know that, halfway expect it, but we think with hard work, good education, and useful experience our world will turn out. Mostly it does, but not everything and sometimes its the big things that get us. Some people lower their expectations and let luck or laziness, or lousy timing grind them like grist. But I have noticed that a lot of people, when things don't turn out, keep at it. They keep going in some direction hoping the next thing, even if it's a smaller thing will work out better. The guys who loses his job keeps looking for another one. He finds one not in his field, but he works it, learns it, makes a living. The woman whose body betrayed her can't climb the alps, she works hard at climbing the five steps at the rehab center. She makes progress and redefines her life. Plan A didn't turn out, she works on Plan B. It happens with marriages, hobbies, jobs, retirements, churches, bodies, and even meringue. Who knew humans could be so resilient? Who knew they could keep on hoping? Why do they keep trying to bounce back in the dull light of dashed dreams and faded glory? Who knew broken humans could dream again, hope again, live again?

The One Who made them.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:11. "Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

The owner of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  movie would tell his customers "everything will be all right in the end, if it is not all right, it is not the end." That is not always true in life. Things don't always turn out. But it  is true in the Kingdom of God. His word promises it, His character guarantees it. That is hope.

Still turning,

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Cemetery Plots

The White Bluff community in which I live is home to two cemeteries. It's a good and healthy thing to visit a cemetery occasionally, well that is if you are able to leave on your own power anyway. Now I personally don't think a visit to a cemetery is morbid, especially when no funeral is actually taking place. It is more a place of perspective, reflection, honor, gratitude and even enlightenment.

When we first moved to White Bluff and were deciding on whether to buy or build, which we ended up doing, there was offered to us, with a little negotiating, a parcel of land on which to build backing up to the Fort Graham cemetery. I called it the lot by the plot. I thought it was a great lot. It was a great deal financially. It had some good trees on it and next to it.  It was a nice size.The neighbors to the back of the lot seemed very peaceful. There were no neighbors on either side. We wouldn't have to build a fence for the dogs--the cemetery had one around it. (I figured I'd just put them in the garage when an interment took place.) It would be a great place to build. Every day one could be reminded of one's mortality and keeping the scripture, Psalm 90: 12: "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Well, that should be easier. Every day you would thank God for life and everlasting life. You could even respectfully walk among the headstones, reading the epitaphs and learning a bit more about life-- oh yeah,  and death. And when "the time" came, it would be a short walk out the back door for that last trip. But, alas, the wife had other, more practical ideas.

So I don't live next to the cemetery but I'm reminded to visit there occasionally. You can learn a lot with the plots. Some people avoid the thoughts of death and dying as much as possible and would never visit a cemetery no matter how peaceful, grounding or enlightening it could be. Other folks have been acting as though they were already there on so many levels. I would advise against either extreme. When you read the markers in  the cemetery you read some good advice, touching sentiments, and too often see dates that indicate someone got there too quickly. You wonder: cancer? accident? war? Did they do something that hastened their arrival like smoking or drunk driving? On the other end you see numbers of extreme length and hope their joy and purpose in life was as deep as their life was long.

There are a couple of burials I'd love to conduct at a cemetery. There are a couple of extremest I'd love to bury. I seem to recall a John Wayne movie when he told someone he buried some bad guys he had shot..."Well, I wouldn't have buury-eed 'em if they didn't need buury-en."  One thing that needs buury-en in our churches is legalism. It was around in Jesus' day and in the Apostle Paul's day. It hangs around like crabgrass in the yard. It has a crushing, crippling, and condemning effect and promotes a particularly insidious kind of arrogant pride. It has no regard for human suffering, needs or history. It often supersedes forgiveness and precludes reconciliation and reclamation. I'd love to conduct that funeral.

The other extreme is antinomianism (against or without the law). Here anything goes and pretty much all our morals have in this country. No objective standards. Truth is what works for you but may not be my truth. Tolerance is the antinomianist dogma. Emotions and pleasure make the decisions. Judgement is anathema. The word equality is thrown around a lot but has no meaning because justice loses its foundation and teeth. Popular opinion is the gold standard for discerning the way to live and any thought of a Holy God whose holiness is displayed through laws and precepts as a teaching tool to see His majesty and glory is declared dead or worse, irrelevant. I'd sing at the this funeral in full, off-key voice. (Honesty requires me to admit that an awfully lot of Christians through the centuries were accused of being antinomian. Once grace gets hold of a man his freedom may look a lot freer than some are comfortable with.)

Our tendency in church is to react to the antinomian, no law, no limits world by tightening the screws, getting more rules to show our moral superiority. Don't fall in that cemetery plot. This strategy never changed a heart. Either road of legalism or antinomianist leads to the cemetery. It doesn't matter which gate you come in, you're still dead.

So what do you do to avoid these plots? Grace...forgiveness...reconciliation...justice...holiness. Oh, I know what you're thinking..."you dumb preacher, you say that to everything. How do I come to know and live all those huge concepts?" Ok you got me. Just try this: Fall in love with Jesus, the real, living One of the Bible and of today.  Learn everything you can about Him and copy, follow, imitate, react and love like He does. That will keep you out of the cemetery for a long, long time--except to visit.

Still Plotting along,