Hey Dustball!

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. –Genesis 2:7

Hey Dustball!

Yeah, I’m talking to you.  According to Genesis, you and I are living, breathing balls of dust.  How does that make you feel?

Maybe you would have preferred God add a little sugar and spice?   Some moonbeams and stars?  Nope.   God just reached down, piled together some dust, and here we are.   That’s what we’re made of.

Funny thing, though.  Have you noticed how hard we work to stay clean?  We wash our hands so we don’t spread germs.  We wash our hair so it won’t get greasy.   We wash our clothes so they don’t smell.  We sweep and mop and Swiffer so there’s not a speck of dust on our floors.

Some of us even own dust busters.

Heck, there’s a robotic vacuum cleaner called the “Dust Ball”!   Isn’t that a little bit ironic?  Supposedly we’re made from dust, and yet we seem to be down right terrified of it.   It makes me wonder — do we live our lives running from our very nature?   Is it possible  God created us to be a little grungy to begin with?

I’m reminded of Pigpen from the Peanut’s comic strips.   Remember him? Now there’s a guy who is comfortable in his own dust.   Even on the rare occasions when he’d clean himself up, it’s like the dust would find him.   It was his natural state.

And it’s ours, too, after all.   Even if you don’t read the creation story literally, our modern-day fascination with cleanliness is only a few hundred years old.   Certainly, we’ve learned about germs and sanitation, and that’s propelled our need to bleach out any stains, but maybe it’s more than that.

Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that the very earth we come from is somehow separate from ourselves.   With every lather, rinse, and repeat we may be trying to distance ourselves from the very dust we’ve sprung up from.  And if indeed that’s what we’re doing, might that create distance between ourselves and the God who created us?

Gardeners know it.  Farmers know it.  There’s something Holy about being connected with the Earth.  A little dust might do you and I some good.

So let’s go barefoot — just like Adam and Eve!  Skip an occasional shower, even.  Let’s plant some flowers.  Get some soil under our fingernails and be happy about it.

After all, Dustball, being connected to the Earth God created…

Is nothing to sneeze at.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

Whirlwind

Terrors overtake them like a flood;
in the night a whirlwind carries them off.  –Job 27.20

See that scripture above?

Here’s a piece of advice.   Don’t show that scripture to somebody from Joplin, Missouri.  Or Reading, KS.  Or anywhere in Alabama.    That scripture, from Job, is part of a whole section where he describes all the terrible, horrible things that can happen to somebody who is an enemy of God.

Terrors in the night?  A whirlwind carrying people off?   That sounds a little bit too much like an EF4 tornado bearing down on someone’s house.    Frankly, Job, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

This Spring has been a whirlwind, weather-wise.  I’ll give you that.

Interesting word.   In the Bible, the prophet Elijah never died on earth.  Instead, he was taken up by a whirlwind to heaven.  As a kid, I always thought that sounded kind of fun, like a ride in an amusement park.  “Take a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl!”

Later, though, I discovered this passage, from Job.   This passage sounds more like the fear I encountered while hiding in my basement as a kid, waiting for the storm to pass.  This sounds like what I felt this weekend as funnel clouds passed over my house and baseball-sized hail crashed into my roof.  Luckily those of us in Topeka were spared from much of any destruction.  But other places?  Not so lucky.   Hmm.  Does that mean others were God’s enemies, but not us?

No.  I’m gonna have to disagree with Job.   I mean, do you think the people of Joplin are enemies to God?  No, me neither.   So let’s not give it much more of a thought.  I’m not sure where Job got his information, but you and I have seen enough natural disasters to know that God is not busy smiting anyone.   Tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and even big-old chunks of ice–they are all calamities that come from living on an active planet.   Nothing more, nothing less.

God is not in the business of punishing innocent people and whole cities.   That’s so…so Old Testament.  That’s what I believe, anyway.   I believe that Christ points us to  a God who comforts those who are suffering.   God’s arms around the people of Joplin even now.

And I believe Christ calls us to love our neighbors.  So, give if you can.  UMCOR is one of the best relief agencies in the world.

Advance # 3021326Supporting UMCOR’s response to emergency victims of tornado, flood, etc. caused by the Spring Storms of 2011 in the USMake your check payable to ADVANCE GCFA. Write the name of the ministry and the Advance code number on the check. Send your check with the advance number in the memo line to:Advance GCFA
P.O. Box 9068, GPO
New York, NY 10087-9068

It’s been a whirlwind Spring for weather, that’s true.   Humans haven’t figured out a way to control the weather, but that doesn’t leave us helpless.    When nature rear’s its ugly head,  we’re called to remind people that God — a loving God–is present.   Even amidst suffering.

I wish I could go back in time and remind him…

“That’s our job, Job!”

Have a great week,

Mitch

Neat Freaking Out

’Slovenliness is no part of religion.’Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.’”  –John Wesley

I’m a neat freak.

Every morning I get up and make the bed.   I pick up the dirty clothes.  Then I spruce up the bathroom and empty the trash.    Occasionally I wipe down the mirrors so there aren’t any streaks.  Every few mornings I vacuum.   It’s a kind of ritual I have…

And it’s killing me.

You see, I am NOT, by nature, a neat freak–this trait has recently been imposed upon me.   In fact, I’m something quite a bit on the other side of the spectrum.  My mother couldn’t teach me to be this neat.  My father couldn’t.  Even my patient wife has all but given up on me being neat.

But my realtor?  She was somewhat more successful.  I believe her words to us were, “Now, are you going to be the kind of a family that needs a whole day’s notice before we show your house, or one hour’s notice?”   I eagerly said, “Have them call us any time.  We can be ready for a showing in 15 minutes!”

Yep, we’re trying to sell our house.  And even my wife, who likes things generally more clean than I do, is feeling the strain.  (Being a Lert can get old after a while!)

If we’re ever to sell our house, we’ve got to keep things in tip top shape.   We want people to experience this home as a thing of beauty, and so I find myself going against my own human nature for the sake of the Big Picture.

It’s got me wondering…

Does God expect me to be this clean in my spiritual life?  Does God expect me to be super assertive and mindful of my own sins and shortcomings?  If so, then being a Christian is a lot more work than many of us realize.   Every day, saying my prayers, reading my Bible?  Every day, helping those in need, loving my neighbors and even my enemies?  Every day, staying vigilant about discipleship? That’s hard! Especially for those of us whose human nature inclines them to be a little bit lazier.

I guess the Good News is that Christ is a bit like our realtor.   Helping us figure out how to get the most out of life.  Holding us to some standards.  Helping us make our lives worth showing to others.

Truth be told,  we’re about six weeks in now, and I’ve gotten in the groove a bit.   I’ve made my bed for the most consecutive days in my life, I’m sure.  And even though there’s stress as we wonder when somebody will buy our place (3517 SW Westport Drive Topeka, KS, in case you’re looking!), my wife and I are trying hard not to freak out.   After all, certainly there are advantages to living in a spotless house, just as there are advantages to trying to live a spotless life.

And when we fall short, Christ is ready to forgive us and help us clean up and move on.

That’s good to know…

Because you should see my office!

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

More Lerts

More Lerts

A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.–Acts 20.9

“Be A Lert!  The World Needs More Lerts!”

Funny stuff, no?  That was a poster in my bedroom as a kid.   It was from the back of a Mad Magazine.  And it’s amazing how little my sense of humor has developed since that age.  I still think it’s hilarious.

I feel sorry for Eutychus, though.  There was no Alfred E. Newman around back then to teach him these important concepts, and it burned him.  Twice.

The first time Eutychus failed to be alert was when Paul was speaking to those gathered there.   Paul was leaving the next morning, and he had a lot he wanted to share.  It was a lot of material, and long about midnight, Eutychus just drifted off to sleep.

Hey, it happens to the best of us.   As a pastor I’m always aware when someone in the congregation drifts off in the middle of a sermon.   Most of the time, I let them sleep, unless they’re snoring!  I do wonder what it is that’s caused them to be not-so-alert.   Did they not sleep well?  Did they have a big night last night?  Is my sermon painfully boring?  It may be a variety of things–and Lord knows I’ve drifted off at my share of sermons, lectures, and presentations as well.   I wanted to be alert, but I wasn’t up to the challenge.

The second time Eutychus failed to be alert, it almost cost him his life.   It was a crowded room where Paul was speaking, and the young man found an open spot to sit–on the ledge of a window.  He didn’t just fall asleep.   He fell three stories down.   The good news is that he didn’t die after all.   Paul ran down and checked him out and said, “There’s still life in him!”  I can picture his mom scolding him later…”what were you thinking, sitting in an open window?”

Unfortunately, that happens to the best of us, too.   We put ourselves behind the wheel of a car when what we really need is 40 winks.  We find ourselves in tense work situations we can’t navigate because we’re distracted by a thousand other things.   We want to make good choices, but we’re not clear-headed enough to do so.   When you’re not alert to the world around you, life can become a constant worry.

Being A Lert is a challenge in this world.   Too much coming at us, too much to process easily.   The truth is, God needs Lerts, for the world.  That’s not something Alfred E. Newman reminds us, but something Paul and Jesus were very clear about.    God needs people who take care of themselves and focus themselves and are prepared to give God and the world everything they’ve got.

Being A Lert means being up for the task of discipleship.  It means that if you find yourself in a precarious place — even perched on a third story window, you can say, wide awake:

“What, me worry?”

Have a great week,

Mitch

“Heavy Laden”

“Come unto me, all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  –Matthew 11:28 (KJV)  

I’m not sure I even realized just how heavy laden I’ve been because of Bin Laden.

Funny, the words are pronounced differently, “Layden” and “Lahden”, but they’re spelled the same.   And for this point in history, their meanings seem to coincide.   We’ve been Heavy Laden because of Osama Bin Laden.

And now, the big bad guy is no more.   After so many years of searching for him, the mastermind behind the event of 9/11 and other terrorist acts around the globe is dead. Of course, terrorism isn’t dead.   Wars aren’t over.  But still, this seems like a pretty big deal.  As our president and countless TV journalists have made it clear, “Justice Was Done”.

And now…there’s a feeling of release, for all the families who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks.   For all who have felt scared or angry because he had eluded capture.   For all who died…perhaps tonight they’ll be at rest.  Yes.

If that’s all true, if that burden has been lifted, why am I still feeling overloaded?

Strange, but I think the burden I’m carrying today is Jesus Christ. Yep, that’s right.   Today, being a follower of Jesus feels a little harder than normal to carry.  Because this is the guy that said “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”   And he’s the guy who said “Love your enemy”.    He’s the guy who allowed himself to be put to death rather than respond with violence.   He’s the one who said, “forgive seventy times seven”. I’m honestly not sure how to process the radicalness of Jesus Christ in the wake of what’s happened.

What about you? Times like this can put our faith to the test. If you’re feeling conflicted today, you’re not alone.   Christians everywhere are struggling whether or not to celebrate the killing of a man, however wicked he was.   Can we celebrate that he will do no more evil?  Can we celebrate a feeling of closure? What would Jesus do?

My advice:  Take the scripture above to heart.   Even as you wrestle with the burden of your faith in the midst of this amazing moment in history, Jesus quietly reminds us that we can rest our hopes and fears in him, and him alone.  That’s a lesson we should never forget.

I don’t know about you, but when I remember that Good News,

It’s a weight off my shoulder.

Have a good week,

Mitch