Thursday, November 12, 2015

Deal or no deal?

Some of you may think the amusement park Cedar Point offers nothing but roller coasters. I learned several years ago that Cedar Point has arcade games. One of these games is a take off on the game show, Deal or No Deal. I watched as middle schoolers Jared and Gabe played this game. Prizes of different amounts were placed in cases, then jumbled about. Jared and Gabe opened and thus eliminated cases, hoping they had chosen the case with less in it, and the more valuable case still remained. From time to time the bank would call with a deal.
The deal changed based on the likelihood of the contestant being left with a larger prize. So Jared had it down to I think a 2 ticket case and a 75 ticket case, and the bank called up with a deal of 38 tickets, and asked him, Deal or No Deal? And two buttons are lighting up in front of him with those words in upper case.
Time to make a choice. Time to gamble wisely. Time to invest yourself. And Gabe and I are advising him, oh you should take it man, after all you could be left with 2 tickets. And Jared thinks a moment, and then he just grins.
And he slams his hand down on the button NO DEAL!
And he makes his choice of the final case, and we hold our breath….
And 75 tickets shoot out of the machine.
If you’ve ever had any amount of money you have made a choice. You have looked at your options, thought about your investments--you have said to yourself, Deal or no deal?
We are saturated in a culture all about gain, all about getting what you can whatever the cost. You’ve been offered a chance to win a million bucks. You’ve been offered another credit card with introductory low financing. You’ve been offered another free vacation to the Bahamas.
The world is about gain, about making a deal, about preying on the weak, about preying on your desires. But…When we consider all the choices we make, all the investments we have made, all the deals we have made--are we looking out for the best interests of our master, our Lord, in every deal? Is God's interest in the forefront of our minds? Or are our deals a little more about me?
Could it be that even in the investments we hold, in the things we have purchased, in the deals we make every day, someone is being hurt?
The Reformed (Presbyterian) tradition has held that God’s commandments are about the spirit, not the letter. The Westminster Larger Catechism of our faith says that to break the eighth commandment, to steal, is not only to commit theft, but also to receive anything that is stolen, to remove landmarks, to charge interest, to spend money wastefully, to make vexatious lawsuits, or to overly desire material goods.
If it’s a deal that benefits us more than them, whether it’s offering that patient the experimental treatment, Which also happens to mean more money for us, whether it’s investing in the really profitable company that’s doing all it can to minimize the cost of labor, whether it’s purchasing the gorgeous pair of shoes with money that could have fed a child for a year, we have all been at one point or another unrighteous stewards. We have all gotten a call from the bank of this world and have heard the words Deal or no deal.
We have all taken the deal.
Did you know that before I was going to be a minister I was going to be a businesswoman? In high school I was in the pre business club. I was in the top ten in the nation in the national DECA marketing competition. And I had visions of myself opening a closet in a gorgeous Manhattan apartment filled with designer suits.
Ah yes.
I took all the courses for entrance into the University of Michigan Business School, and I was taking the great weed out class Accounting 271. About three hundred people taking that class, learning how to balance assets and liabilities and other stuff that I’ve forgotten. When we received our scores from the first exam, I was at the very top of that whole class.
That’s when God chose to step in.
I left for a mission trip to the Philippines where I experienced more intense and disturbing poverty than I have ever seen. And I was thrown into a tailspin. After several very difficult months of reevaluation of my life, the admissions director of business school called me over. Told me that although I had by that time dropped accounting they still wanted to accept me for the fall semester.
And I looked at her, and I took it all in, and I said, no deal.
I believe we need great Christian people of business. There aren’t enough.
But I was not called to be one of them.
I was listening to the false god of the Manhattan apartment with its suits, not the God of Jesus.
Who are you listening to? How are you using the dishonest wealth of this world? What are your investments? I will tell you right now people will laugh if you tell them I'm investing in a small church of 75 members.
So just explain to them that God has invested everything in you.
When God sent God’s only son, when Jesus died on that cross and took away the sin of all our dirty deals, when he rose from the grave and gave us the great gift of life--God invested in you and me. He expects us to use that investment to his glory.
Jesus said, if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?
Do you know what is yours already?
The kingdom of God.
Among all those cases out there filled with the treasures of this world is one with your name on it.
And it is filled with the heavenly riches.
Much more than a chance to win a million dollars, you’ve been pre approved for credit without any interest at all, and a trip to someplace way better than the Bahamas.
So what will it be?
Deal or no deal?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why I will not be seeing Magic Mike...and other thoughts

So today is the day we've all been waiting for. Today we get to the Seventh Commandment, adultery. We're bringing sexy back.

I was wondering if attendance might be a little down today.

Since it's hard to talk about sex, especially in church, I thought I'd start off with some humor.

A joke: a town has only two churches, one Presbyterian, one Methodist. And the two pastors are good friends. They're walking one day, and the Presbyterian pastor says to the Methodist pastor, "Pastor Smith, I'm very upset. Someone in town has stolen my bike." The Methodist pastor instantly has an idea. He says, "Well, Pastor Jones, everyone in town goes to your church or mine (this is a very religious town) and so here's what we'll do. Let's you and I preach a sermon series on the Ten Commandments. We'll watch everyone in town squirm in their seats as we go through the Ten Commandments. Then, when we get to the Eighth Commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Steal," well, whoever it is will be so ashamed, they'll be sure to return the bike."

So the two pastors agree, and they begin their sermon series. Ten weeks later, they are walking again, and Pastor Smith says to Pastor Jones, "well, we're done with all Ten Commandments. Did you ever get your bike back?" And Pastor Smith says, "Oh yes, I did." Pastor Jones says excitedly, "Was it the Eighth Commandment? There was no one squirming in my church on that one." Pastor Smith says, "Oh no, I got to the Seventh Commandment, and I remembered where I had left my bike!"

The joke underscores a truism: sex outside marriage has become commonplace. Breaking the seventh commandment happens all the time, even among pastors. God's prohibition on adultery seems outdated, passé—it seems prudish and Puritanical to preach about sexual sin. Actually in nine years of ministry this is the first time I've preached on this topic.

Yet God devoted a whole commandment to adultery, and Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, expanded that commandment to include even looking at someone or thinking about someone lustily as adultery.

I would argue that by that definition, all of us here above the age of puberty have broken the seventh commandment with our thoughts if not with our bodies. None of us can hold ourselves blameless. There's a lot of self-righteousness around the Seventh Commandment that has no place in the church. The way Jesus talks about adultery, those of us who are married ought not hold our heads high while divorced or single or gay people hang their heads in shame. Jesus convicts all of us when we have thoughts, words, or deeds, sexual or otherwise, that cheapen another person's humanity. So, if we've all done it, what's the big deal? What's so bad about sexual sin?

The big deal is that it cheapens another person's humanity.

In his novel, A Widow for One Year, John Irving depicts a man who lures women into his studio supposedly to model for true art. He begins by taking Polaroid pictures of these women in the nude. His first photos are of the whole person and show the woman smiling and looking lovely. But as time progresses he begins to snap pictures of only body parts, and suddenly the part of the woman’s face you can still see becomes twisted into something profoundly despairing. This supposed artist, like all pornographers, had taken their humanity away from them.
When you look at someone lustily, when you consider someone as a collection of body parts, you're turning that person into an object in your mind.

A means to an end.

Jesus said that if your eye causes you to lust, cut it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.

Because that's what we are doing when we lust. We are cutting off someone's body part and just considering that part and what we could do with it, what we could do to it.

Objectification isn't just something men do to women's bodies—although this is a huge problem in the way we teach men, and society at large, to view women. Women also objectify. When the movie Magic Mike came out, it was amazing to me how the media and culture at large seemed to find the presentation of men as sex objects to be empowering for women. If a movie about women stripping came out, men wouldn't be encouraged for going to see it. Why should objectification be good in when it's done at the expense of men?

Objectification is always a cheapening of another's humanity. And this is true whether it's sexual objectification, commercial objectification, when women view men as "sugar daddies" or men call their spouse a "trophy wife"—when we use someone as a means to an end in any way. Objectification happens whenever we take someone as less than a fully human person whose thoughts, feelings, and experiences are just as important as our own. Objectification happens when we use a body and disregard a spirit.

Our bodies are not divorced from our spirits. What we do with our bodies affects our spirits, just as what we do with our spirits affects our bodies.

Sexual fantasies are lies because they involve physically using a person as an object without the complex, emotional entanglements of a subjective relationship. This is impossible, and when we try to use people in this way, disasters result. Not only the obvious, such as sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies, but also emotional wounds, the pain of betrayal, families torn apart, people left broken and hurting, and the distortion of the soul that happens when a person is used and cast aside.

What is the opposite of objectification? When are we most likely to view another person with the complexity of a subject? It's marriage. Marriage is the opposite of lust. In a marriage, you're forced to consider someone as a subject. You're forced to consider what he wants. You're forced to take her needs into consideration. Because you are committed to this person for life, you're committed legally, spiritually, financially, emotionally, physically to loving all his parts—even the parts you don't like. You're committed to taking all of her into consideration.

And this is how sex is meant to be.

Sex is meant to involve the whole person. Communication, consideration, and cooperation all in the context of a lifelong committed relationship make for one of life's most personal and joyful experiences. God wants us to have this. God believes we are worth this—worth everything.

God wanted to teach us that true love unites the physical and spiritual. He wanted to show us that the body and spirit were not opposed; that the body was not evil; that the spirit, mind, and body were meant to be united. For every act of demeaning, cheapening, and objectifying our humanity, for every act that sought to objectify the body and trash the spirit God has one answer: Jesus. In Jesus, the body and Spirit were united in one person finally and forever. In Jesus, God experienced what it was like to be used, abused, and cast aside so that God could take that abuse and redeem it. In Jesus, God experienced what it was to be betrayed, mistreated, and cheated on, so that He could forgive us. By his sacrifice, our sin is sanctified. All is forgiven. We have a second chance, so that our bodies of dust can now become temples for His Spirit.

God doesn't expect perfection. But God does expect us to try. Try to use our bodies as temples of the Spirit. Try to use our minds as tabernacles of holy thoughts. Try to see others not as objects, but as God sees them.

And as we see others, more and more, as God sees them, we will see ourselves differently as well. We will to realize that we, too, are worthy of more than the empty pleasures this world promises. Much, much more.

You are actually worthy of nothing less than endless and unconditional love.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


She's a time bomb.
She wakes up and the countdown begins. He left pop cans on the counter.
Tick, tick, tick.
Left dirty dishes in the sink.
Tick, tick, tick.
And she goes to put them in the dishwasher, opens it up, and it was never unloaded.
Tick, tick, tick.
And he comes down and he says, "Why isn't breakfast ready?"
And she explodes. And a marriage is smashed to pieces.
Across town, he's a time bomb. He wakes up, and the countdown begins. He gets his coffee, gets dressed, drives to work, the whole time thinking, thinking of that horrible shrew, his boss.
Tick, tick, tick.
His boss. That witch never has a kind word.
Tick, tick, tick.
And today comes the meeting from hell, when that witch will pretend like she actually knows how to run this office.
Tick, tick, tick.
You could cut the tension with a knife. The boss says condescendingly, "Jack, your performance just isn't up to snuff." She wants to rip off her fake little face.
Tick, tick, tick.
"I don't see any other way. We're going to have to let you go." He gets in the car, drives home.
Tick, tick, tick.
He sees his kids playing in the yard, making a mess. He explodes. Yells a few cruel words, storms inside. His children will never understand what they did wrong.
Across the street, another time bomb quietly ticks. He wakes up and the countdown begins. Looks out his window. Sees that new Mexican family next door. Probably illegal, he thinks.
Tick, tick, tick.
He turns on the TV. He watches a story about the Black Lives Matter protests and he fumes to himself.
Tick, tick, tick.
He watches a story about that liberal black President and he mutters words of anger.
Tick, tick, tick.
He goes outside and the neighbor says hello. He explodes with hate. "Go back to where you came from!" He screams. Words he can never take back.
What makes you start to tick? What anger are you nursing? Who makes you want to scream? When will you explode? And what will be the casualties? A community? A marriage? A life?
Do you know that when you explode, you yourself will be among the casualties?
Frederick Buechner said, "Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you."
Jesus described anger as something that builds. He said, anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment, anyone who says, "Raca!" which is the equivalent of "idiot," will be answerable to the court, that is the Jewish court called the Sanhedrin, and anyone who says, "you fool!" will be liable to the fires of hell. The increasing degree of punishment is not, I think, a reflection of the severity of the crime. Why should saying "you fool" be worse than saying "idiot?" Instead, Jesus is demonstrating how anger builds up, tick, tick, tick,
From a tiny spark to a burning wick to an explosion. And if you don't put it out when it's small, it will consume you, like the fires of hell.
If you nurse that anger, let the flame grow, it will burn you up from the inside out.
The Sixth Commandment is one that seems easy to follow. Don't murder anyone. It's not something most of us do on a daily basis. But Jesus, as he tends to do, complicates things. It's not enough not to physically kill someone.
If you're looking at him with murderous thoughts, if you're stabbing her in the back with your words, if your shouts hit him like a bullet you are guilty. I am guilty.
That's why the Sixth Commandment is properly translated not, "You shall not kill," but "You shall not murder." It's not the act of killing that is sinful, it's the angry intent.
Think about this: if every person is made in the image of God, when you become angry at another human being, when you nurse that grudge, when you allow that fire to burn, you are stabbing God in the back. You are crucifying Christ.
The good news is that God can take it.
In Jesus God absorbed the hate, God absorbed the shouts, God absorbed the angry mob; God took their screams, "Crucify him!" and he turned it to love.
He purified it within himself on the cross, and said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
He quenched the flames of anger with his blood.
And he taught us another way.
To take the perceived insult, to take the evident injustice, to take the frustrations and pains and insults others throw at us and give back love.
It doesn't mean you can't address a wrong, or have an opinion, or lovingly confront someone who has hurt you.
It does mean you won't nurse a grudge, or harbor angry thoughts, or speak angry words behind someone's back or to their face.
It means dealing with conflict with grace, trying to see another person's point of view, recognizing that we share common goals and ideas, and it means forgiveness, and letting go of slights.
This doesn't make us weak.
It makes us strong, because it brings our own hearts nearer to the heart of God.
So, snuff out that flame. Diffuse that ticking bomb. Cool off and give yourself a time out. Before time runs out on you.
She opens the dishwasher and there are the clean dishes. The pop cans sit on the counter.
She takes a deep breath. She prays. She chuckles. She unloads the dishwasher.
He comes down.
He says, "Why isn't breakfast ready?"
She says, "Keep your shirt on, it's on the way."
The ticking stops.
He gets into his car. He takes a deep breath. He calls his wife.
"I've been fired."
They talk for a minute, and she says, "You weren't right in that job anyway. God has a plan. We will get through this. Forget about them. She's got her own problems. We should pray for her. But I know we will get through this."
He takes a deep breath. "I know you're right. Thank you. I love you."
The ticking stops.
He turns off the TV. Calls his son. Starts going into how the Mexicans are taking over everything.
And his son says, "Dad, you know, I've listened to you talk this way for years. And I need to tell you something. I'm dating a woman from Columbia, and I don't want to hear this from you. I know you have your opinions, but you need to treat people with respect."
The father hangs up the phone. He thinks long and hard about his opinions, his prejudices. He thinks of his son. He thinks, my son has met someone who makes him happy. He thinks, I wonder what she's like.
And the ticking stops.
And the healing begins.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Aretha Franklin would like the fifth commandment. It's all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

"Honor your mother and your father." R-E-S-P-E-C-T means listening to your elders, honoring them, obeying their command. I would argue that we live in a world that does not do this. Our culture does not honor parents, respect elders, or encourage submission to those in authority.

Billy Graham, in a sermon on the fifth commandment, wrote "marriage is being ostracized, […] children are being victimized, [t]he family is being trivialized, fathers are being demonized, mothers are being marginalized, roles are being disenfranchised, and God’s order is being vandalized." I would add, youth is being idolized, old age is being demonized, our seniors are institutionalized, and the wisdom of experience is trivialized. Our culture worships youth. Think about who we watch on TV. There are plenty of studies documenting the prevalence of whites over blacks on TV, and men over women, but I'd venture a guess that seniors are grossly underrepresented on television. And no one blinks an eye. And yet, as people are living longer, there are more seniors than ever before, meaning more and more people in our culture are invisible and disrespected.

Our culture worships youth. People spend thousands on cold creams, hair treatments, and plastic surgery to look younger. Senior citizens are targeted by legions of scammers, seeking to rob them of their hard-earned retirement. Elder abuse is prevalent in so many retirement homes, especially in those for impoverished seniors.

Some might say, what's the problem? Why should we respect fathers and mothers? Many fathers batter women and children. Many mothers are cruel or neglectful. Many elders really didn't do anything to earn our respect. Many people in authority don't deserve that authority. What's so great about R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

Respect is important because order is a good thing. Order ensures stability for all. Respecting elders keeps order and stability while ensuring that the wisdom of age is not forgotten.

God is not a God of disorder but of peace. The part of us that wants to rebel against any and all authority, the part of us that wants to dishonor the mother and father and break all the rules, that's the part of us that is in open rebellion against God. R-E-S-P-E-C-T is about order, peace, and letting God be God.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T is about saluting the uniform.

In the armed services, sometimes—often—you will disagree with your commanding officer. But just imagine what it would do to a military to have open contention between superiors and inferiors. So even if you disagree, you salute the uniform. You give respect and you do what you're ordered, even if you disagree.

Some of us had fathers and mothers who didn't treat us right. However, we are called to "salute the uniform" of parenthood, and honor the role, even if we have disagreements with the person. Treat them with honor and dignity. Otherwise, we contribute to the culture of disrespect, which will ultimately undercut our own treatment as elders ourselves.

After all, the fifth commandment, as Ephesians 5 points out, is the first commandment with a promise: Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. God gives a concrete promise: if you respect your elders, you'll live longer.

As someone who is constantly yelling "No!" "Don't do that!" "JP put the knife down!" at my kids, who seem bent on self-destruction--my daughter jumped down a staircase last year, my son crawls right for the electric socket--I can tell you that listening to your parents will keep you alive.

When we learn from the wisdom of our elders, we learn to avoid certain dangers, we learn to how to take advantage of life, we learn how to live in this land, we are able to stand on our parents' shoulders and get farther along in life than we would have otherwise.

In a larger sense, respect for authority, order and peace, stability in society leads to longer and fuller lives for all.

Does the fifth commandment mean that you cannot disobey a parent who asks you to sin? No, the first commandment calls us to place God before other human beings, even our parents. But if a parent, or someone in authority over you, tells you to do something that is not sin, you are called to do it, and your life will probably be better if you do.

When you disrespect others, you contribute to the culture of disrespect. But when you respect others, when you follow the fifth commandment, you send a counter-cultural message of respect for human life, and ultimately, respect for God, the author of life.

And that includes your own life too. You have God-given beauty and worth. Respect yourself.

And if you're older, accept your age. Be thankful for it. It's a gift; every line, every wrinkle, every gray hair is a reason you deserve honor. You earned it!

Respect yourself. Respect your elders, too.

Contribute to a culture of respect--even if it's just a little bit.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Wayne Muller, in his book Sabbath, tells this story: Rabbi Levi saw a man running in the street, and asked him, "Why do you run?" He replied, "I am running after my good fortune!" Rabbi Levi tells him, "Silly man, your good fortune has been trying to chase you, but you are running too fast."

Do you feel like you are constantly running, running, from one task to the next? Recently someone told me, just wait till you're retired, you have so much more to do! But if you feel like you're running, I ask you, what might you be running away from? What are you afraid of? Are you afraid that if you stop doing, you won't get everything done?

How would it even be possible to "not get everything done"? Whatever we do with our lives, will be what we do.

What's the danger in doing nothing? Are you afraid that if you stop running, stop working, stop doing, you won't matter?

What truths could you be running away from?

Could you be running away from God?

Rest is the fourth commandment. Resting is right up there with not murdering and not stealing.

Rest is a commandment.

But it seems to me that it is one of the most counter-cultural commandments.

We live in a capitalist society, for better or for worse. And we treat people like human doings, not human beings. Our worth is measured by our net worth. Our worth is measured by our work. We train our children to answer the question, what will you do when you grow up? Not, who will you be when you grow up? What kind of character do you aspire to have?

We meet someone new and immediately ask him, what do you do? And we don't expect to hear, "I watch TV. I read the paper. I make jam. I breathe." No! What we expect to hear is the money-making activities that person engages in.

Rest is counter-cultural in our society. We have laws against the sixth and eighth commandments, stealing and murder, but our laws seem to favor breaking the fourth commandment. Our stores are open on Sundays, our restaurants are open on Sundays, we force our children to play competitive sports on Sundays, even bars opened on Sunday mornings when the Lions were playing across the pond.

Part of the problem is Christianity itself. Here I mean the institution of religion called Christianity and not the faith of being a follower of Jesus.

Jesus kept the Sabbath well. He healed, he prayed, he rested. The Gospels tell us that Jesus often took a break from teaching and healing to pray by himself. But the Christian religion went away from Sabbath.

We took Jesus's healing on the Sabbath, and Paul's message that it's the spirit, and not the letter, of the law that counts, And we went away from the Jewish emphasis on Shabbot, the setting aside of one day a week when the dishes don't get washed and the bills don't get paid and you don't return any texts from your boss.

We said, ah, that's part of the Old Covenant, we can just disregard that the way we throw out circumcision and keeping kosher. In doing so, we drain:
•    Our bodies which suffer from too much work
•    Our minds which do not get a break from a constant barrage of information
•    Our poor who must work seven days a week
•    Our earth by using more resources and not giving the land a break as God commanded
•    Our spirits by losing communion with God
Of these, I believe the last is the most important.

Rest is a commandment. Why would we disobey God? Are we afraid that if we don't run, we'll have to spend time with Him? Are we afraid of being with Him?

Hebrews 4 describes Sabbath rest, or katapausis in Greek, not as an action but as a place. The Pauline preacher writes, "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God." And, "We who have believed enter that rest." The preacher of Hebrews 4 is interpreting Psalm 95, which says, "Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness…for forty years I loathed that generation…therefore I swore in anger that they should never enter my rest." In Psalm 95, God is describing the Promised Land as a land of rest.

Sabbath is not an action, it's a place. It's a place of union with God, of being in the mind of God.

Revelation 4:6 and 15:2 describe a sea of glass before the throne of God. I've always thought that this sea of glass is a metaphor for the mind of God: perfectly clear, perfectly at rest.

We are invited to bathe in that sea of rest.

We are invited to leave the wilderness of the busy-ness of life behind, and enter into the Promised Land of the mind of God, the land of the Sabbath, the land of rest. The land, in a way, of heaven on earth.

Even the world of sports recognizes the need for rest. As football season is in full throttle, the time-out strikes me as an interesting feature of sports. The time-out is necessary for the team to communicate, to breathe, to give the officials time to catch penalties, and to manage time, to manage the game clock.

In the same way, we use the Sabbath to communicate with God, to rest, to breathe, to address our sins, to help us use our time well. But the most important way in which the time-out is like the Sabbath is we have it to use. It's an available gift.

We have these time-outs we are commanded use. We have this Promised Land we are invited to enter.

The author of Hebrews is saying, you're down five points on the ten yard line and the clock is running. You're in position to win. You're ready to enter the end zone, the Promised Land. So why are you hanging out in the wilderness? Why are you letting time run out as you stare at the end zone?

Why, when life is before you, when Sabbath of rest and peace and communion and prayer is offered to you, do you stay in the wilderness of busy-ness?

Enter into the Promised Land. Enter into Sabbath rest. Experience heaven on earth.

Sabbath is a place. Sabbath is a commandment. But most of all, Sabbath is a gift.

Jesus said, "You were not made for the Sabbath. Sabbath was made for you." God didn't invent the Sabbath as a way to keep us bored. He made the Sabbath to give us joy.

Sabbath is a bit of heaven here on earth.

Sometimes I think about heaven and it's a bit scary.

Won't I get bored?

Isn't forever a long time?

If heaven is simply an extension of this life, I don't really want it, to tell you the truth. I don't need my ego, my mind, to go on forever.

But heaven is actually, in my thinking, a union with that sea of glass in Revelations, a union with that restful joy that lies in the heart of
God. It won't be like this life. I will cease to be except as I am in Christ. We will be in full communion with God. We will be at perfect rest.

As Paul says, now we see in a glass darkly. Then, we shall see face to face.

Sabbath is practice for living in the mind of God.

It's a commandment from God and it's what your body's begging you to do. You've got a full set of time-outs left, and boy, do you need them. No more excuses.

Take a time out.

Today, rest.

Today, breathe.

Today, pray.

Enter into the Promised Land.

Experience the peace God wants for you.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Taming the Tongue

This message is just very, very simple, and can be expressed in a song I learned as a young child.
Feel free to sing along.
Oh, be careful, little lips, what you say, Be careful, little lips, what you say,
For the Lord up above is looking down in love,
Oh, be careful, little lips, what you say.
The First Commandment and the Second Commandment were about honoring God,
And the Third Commandment compels us to honor God with our words.
"You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,"
Or put another way, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God."
Scripture emphasizes, over and over, the holiness of God's name.
When Moses encounters the Lord in a burning bush, he asks to learn God's name.
When Jesus came into Jerusalem, the crowds cried, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
Acts 2:21 says, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
The name Moses learned for God is Yahweh, or "I Am Who I Am."
The name of God is considered so holy that in the Jewish tradition, Yahweh or God are never spelled out.
God is written G-hyphen-d.
Why is God so hung up on his own name?
Isn't "God" just a word?
Why is the name itself important?
Names and the things they represent have a very special relationship.
The name represents the thing it refers to.
Your own name, whether you love it or hate it,
It's important to you.
Everyone can tell a story of how he received his name.
For my part, I was going to be named Marianne, after the mother and grandmother of Jesus, if I were a girl,
Or if I were a boy, I was to be named Glenn, after Glenn E. Schembachler, the coach of Michigan football.
So there you have it, the story of me: Jesus and the Michigan Wolverines.
A person's name is a part of him or her.
When you hear your name, wherever you are, you perk your ears up.
Have you ever been in a group with another person who had your name?
And whenever he or she is called, you respond.
Then there's that awkward moment, um, oh yeah, you meant that Ebeneezer.
Well I suppose it wouldn't happen often if your name were Ebeneezer.
Names are powerful, and beyond names, words are powerful.
James 3 gives vivid examples of the power of words.
The tongue, says James, is a restless evil, a consuming poison, set on fire by hell itself.
He uses two images:
Consider a horse, he says, with a bit in its mouth
That bit is so small, but it directs the horse where to go.
In the same way, a rudder of a ship is a small thing, but able to steer the whole ship.
James suggests that our tongues steer us, not the other way around.
That is, when we say something, we begin to think it.
If you say, "I'm overwhelmed," you will feel more overwhelmed.
If you say, "I can't do this," you won't be able to.
And if you continually speak the Lord's name without thinking, you will easily stop thinking about the Lord.
Our tongue directs our mind and eventually our body into a course of action.
Not only does the tongue direct our own minds, but the tongue can direct the minds of others.
Words can quickly turn a conversation into a gossip session,
A discussion into an argument,
A friendly exchange into a verbal clash of swords.
As Proverbs 15:1 puts it, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
Think of the power of words in human relationship!
If you speak the right words, you are married.
If you sign your name on a sheet of paper, you are divorced.
Or in our relationship with God.
We can use words to blaspheme God,
Or to confess Jesus Christ.
Jesus puts it simply in Matthew 12:37: "for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
The greatest evidence of the power of words?
God used them to create.
And God said, "Let there be light!" and there was light. Genesis 1:3.
Words are powerful.
But anything with such power to create has great power to destroy.
The most powerful creative forces are also the most destructive forces.
Words are some of our most powerful tools.
Therefore, the way we use words is a reflection of our character.
James says, "With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh."
In other words, if your words have been cursing God or your brothers and sisters in Christ,
There is something in your heart that needs to be cleansed.
Using the name of the Lord in vain disrespects God,
But more importantly, using the name of the Lord in vain both causes greater disrespect for God in yourself and others,
And is a symptom of disrespect for God in your heart.
I've said "Oh my God." I've broken this commandment.
It's a culturally totally acceptable thing to say.
But we as Christians need to lead others to think about the things that we are saying.
We need to be springs pouring forth fresh water,
Fig trees yielding fresh fruit,
We need to be fountains of blessing,
Cascades of comfort,
We need to pour forth praises of God and others all day long.
To that end, I have five tips for taming the tongue, and they spell out the word "Tongue" so you won't forget.
T is Think before you speak.
So often we just spout off whatever we're thinking,
Without regard to whether it's a helpful thing to say.
Proverbs 10:18 says, "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech."
Simply taking a moment to consider, is this helping my relationships with others?
Is it helping my relationship with God?
A moment to reflect could save you from years of pain.
O is intentionally praise Others.
The other day, I was in line at The Big Salad,
Feeling just kind of blah,
And the woman making my salad complemented my dress.
Normally, when people say things about these new dresses I have brought, I brush it off.
I say, yeah, I had to get fat clothes because I haven't lost the baby weight.
But her comment was totally unsolicited and sincere,
And I have to tell you it made my day.
And I thought, how often do I praise others?
Because you are made in the image of God,
And you are good,
And you deserve praise,
And so does your neighbor.
Ephesians 4:29 says,  "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."
I like Proverbs 16:24 as well, "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body."
People simply don't give each other enough praise.
Who knows?  A kind word might turn someone's day around.
N is Never speak from anger.
Colossians 3:8 says, "you must…rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips."
We will talk more about anger and the Sixth Commandment.
Suffice it to say, we often get righteously angry,
Believing it's our right to express that anger.
But God, not us, gets to decide what's righteous.
There's a lot of "righteous" anger out there doing harm.
We all could do with less righteous anger, and more humble understanding.
When we speak from anger, we rarely improve the situation.
I'll be crude: Speaking from anger is kind of like verbally passing gas.
It may take the pressure off you, but it stinks it up for everybody else.
So listen, if you have constructive criticism you need to let out,
Do it as politely and lovingly as you possibly can.
G is God deserves respect.
If you have a bad habit of misusing the name of God,
Work on it,
And if you catch yourself saying it,
Here's a thought from Scripture, Psalm 34:1: "I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise will be continually in my mouth."
When you disrespect God with your mouth, immediately give God a word of praise.
And if you're not embarrassed to break the third commandment but you are embarrassed to praise God in front of others, well, maybe you should think about that.
U is something to remember: Ugly words breed ugly thoughts.
Remember the tongue is the rudder of your ship.
When you begin to speak ugly about others, about yourself, about situations,
When you begin to complain or whine or worry,
You're turning your ship right into nasty weather.
Ugly words breed ugly thoughts.
Ask God to help you turn the ship around.
E is for Even when.
Even when you curse, do it with care.
We all need something to say.
Pick something that doesn't disrespect God or offend others.
My brother showed me a hilarious video,
"Shoot Christians say."
The basic message is, when you're fripping T'O'd
Because some SOB funked up your day,
Gosh darn it, find some holy way to bless that child of God.
In sum, watch your mouth.
Respect the name of God.
Be careful, little lips, what you say.
Control your tongue, or your tongue will end up controlling you.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Look at that face

"Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?
I mean, she's a woman, and I'm not supposed to say anything…but come on, folks, are we serious?"
Donald Trump's criticism of Carly Fiorina wasn't based on her policies,
Her track record, her ability to lead, her capacity to beat Hilary,
But on her face.
Now these comments come from Donald Trump, who, among other things, has the most obvious comb-over in the GOP presidential field,
And in my view, these comments demonstrate the worst of American politics today.
Schoolyard bullying based on appearance.
That's what we've come down to.
I can't entirely blame Donald Trump.
He's a symptom, not the disease.
We as a nation are obsessed with the image.
We are more image-saturated than any culture in human history.
We turn on our televisions first thing in the morning,
Stare at screens in our hands or on our desks all day long.
Watching the feed from Instagram and Snapchat,
Facebook at Twitter.
Billboards flash at us from the freeway because that's the one time we can't be watching our other screens.
And what do we see?
Beautiful people.
Retouched and airbrushed faces.
Bodies. Skin. Hair. Eyes.
Fancy cars. Slick clothes.
In short, eye candy.
Abraham Lincoln couldn't be elected today because he's not telegenic.
It's all about the image.
We choose our screen savers and background images so we never have to look at something ugly, or, God forbid, boring.
Even my TV now doesn't show a blue screen when you first turn it on,
Instead there are constantly changing images of peaceful nature scenes.
So what, pastor? You say.
So what if we want to see pretty things instead of ugliness?
What's wrong with eye candy?
The Second Commandment, that's what.
"You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them."
The Second Commandment prohibits making an idol, or in the language I grew up with, a graven image, that becomes the object of worship.
Now, I'm not arguing that Donald Trump worships idols in his basement.
I believe that each one of the Ten Commandments is there not only to prohibit something, but to point us to a much larger teaching.
Our tradition is called the Reformed tradition. That's what we believe as Presbyterians.
In our tradition, the law—that is, the Ten Commandments—are not just a list of should nots.
They also point toward larger attitudes that help us to live our lives as God wants them.
For example, John Calvin, the father of Presbyterian thought,
Believed that the eighth commandment, prohibiting stealing, also taught us to act with justice, fairness, and righteousness in all our economic dealings.
John Calvin got this idea straight from the other JC, Jesus Christ,
Who in the Sermon on the Mount expanded the seventh commandment, on adultery, to include lust,
And the sixth commandment, on murder, to include anger.
Each commandment points to a larger principle.
When God says, don't make an idol, he means: don't reduce me.
Don't reduce God to an image you can understand.
Get a grip on the idea that you can't get a grip on God.
That God is bigger than all the mental images we make,
That God bursts forth from all the boxes we try to put him in.
God isn't a cross or a fish.
God isn't an old man in the sky.
God isn't a man at all.
Or a woman.
God isn't light.
God isn't goodness.
God isn't even just love.
God encompasses all light, goodness, and love, but God is bigger than any of those ideas alone.
God is bigger than the word God.
When we say God is great, "great" isn't enough to encompass the awesome, overwhelming power and glory of the One who made heaven and earth.
When Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, Moses asked God to show him God's glory.
But God's glory was so great that Moses couldn't see him face to face and live.
But God gave Moses a glimpse of his glory, the sweep of his train, so to speak,
And from that glimpse, Moses's face was shining so bright that he had to wear a veil when he came down to the people.
God's glory is beyond what we can imagine.
Our language, our imagery, our brains fall short of describing who God is.
When we talk about what God wants or how God acts or who God is,
I believe we need to be very careful that we don't limit God.
We need to have the humility to recognize that God's ways aren't our ways, and we don't know and can't know everything about God and God's will.
We like to reduce things to something pretty,
To an eye-candy image.
We want to reduce God to something easy and portable,
A pretty, Instagram-worthy faith.
Type Amen if you're saved!
As if that's all there was to it.
As if a bumper sticker on your car and a cross around your neck will get you into heaven.
But while we want to put out the image of faith,
God is seeking to remake us in His image.
In Second Corinthians, Paul is dealing with a community that's confused.
They heard Paul's preaching about grace,
But then another group came and told them they had to live by the letter of the law.
Which is it, they ask, the Spirit or the letter?
Paul says it's not about tablets of stone,
It's about tablets of hearts.
It's not about keeping ten rules and putting forth the image of holiness,
It's about knowing Christ,
Having a relationship with Him,
Such that you are transformed,
The way Moses was transformed on Mount Sinai.
So that when people see you,
They see God's glory shining through you,
Shining through your face.
That's not the glory of an image.
It's the glory of the Holy Spirit.
I took these young women to Montreat Conference Center,
And part of my ministry to them was just to help them see themselves as God sees them.
That they don't have to apologize for who they are,
Because God's glory shines through them.
It's a glory more beautiful than beauty.
It's not the empty calories of eye candy,
It's the deep nourishment of the Bread of Life.
An hour in front of the TV might be good eye candy,
But an hour in church will give you the Bread of Life,
Nourishment for the week.
The billboards on the road, advertising something for nothing at Greektown casino?
Eye candy.
A night in a church instead of out in the cold, free of charge?
That's the bread of life.
A woman who's 36-24-36?
She might be nice eye candy,
But a ninety-three year old woman like Peggy Beal with deep, beautiful smile lines at the corner of her eyes?
She'll give you a taste of the Bread of Life.
Peggy, you are beautiful.
When I first came to the church, you invited me to your home, and said, I don't want to tell you how to run the church.
I just want to be your friend.
You are beautiful, because when I look at you, I see God's glory shines through you.
Peggy Hahn, you are beautiful.
You saw that my robe needed mending.
And you know that I have absolutely no time for something like that.
So you walked up to me and humbly asked to borrow it.
One week later, my hem was no longer unraveling, my collar no longer coming undone.
You are beautiful, because when I look at you, I see God's glory shining through you.
Greg Castle, you are beautiful.
You cook our hot dogs.
You flip our pancakes.
You hand out our bulletins.
You give us nourishment for our bodies,
And every week, you gather with the men of the church at 9am to receive the Bread of Life.
You may not be 36-24-36, but you are beautiful,
Because when I look at you, I see God's glory shining through you.
I could go on and on.
But I won't.
Instead I leave you with this challenge:
This week, take an image diet.
Choose one way to stop worshiping image.
Don't look at the scale.
Don't obsess in the mirror.
Take a week off of social media.
Turn off the TV.
Or maybe just, next time you want to comment on someone's appearance, comment on her character instead.
Instead of saying, "Look at that face,"
This week, look for God's face.
This week, instead of trying to fit a worldly image of beauty,
Let your actions show the world the image of God.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.