Are you a HULK?

“Mr. Mcgee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” – David Banner AKA The Incredible Hulk

And the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’  – Jonah 4:4

I knew a guy, back in the day.

He was a nice enough guy, popular for a 4th grader, good looking, well behaved. We were almost friends.

But when we would play football on the playground, he became a different person. He would begin to scream in rage.  He would stand up tall and flex his muscles, seeming to double in size. Veins would throb in his head. His shirt would rip at the seams. He would tackle unsuspecting opponents with a vicious satisfaction. You could see the adrenaline transforming him into a monster.

After every game it would take him a good fifteen minutes to calm down and return to his mild-mannered self. It got to the point where the other guys didn’t want to play with him anymore.

I talked to him about it once. I said, “you get so angry when you’re playing games. It’s like you’re out of control”.

He nodded reluctantly. “I know. I think there’s something wrong with me.”

No, he didn’t turn green, but in just about every other measurable way, he was our playground’s Incredible Hulk.

I know, I know, the Incredible Hulk is a superhero. A good guy. But not for this devotion. See, there are lots of Hulks out there, and more often than not, Hulks Smash through life in an unhealthy way.

Do you know any Hulks? Contrary to what comic books and TV has taught us, Hulks come in all shapes and sizes (and colors). The one thing all Hulks have in common is that, no matter how they appear on the outside, there’s a ticking time-bomb of anger inside, just waiting to go off.

You may have one at your office. You may have one in your family. You may be married to one.

You may be one, yourself.

Anger is one of the hardest emotions for us to control. I liken it to rocket fuel. Powerful, explosive, dangerous when it’s unfocussed. While it is possible to channel your anger into something productive, there are millions of people in our society who never learned how to do that.

A surprising example from the Bible is the prophet Jonah. God sent him to Nineveh on a mission of mercy, but Jonah exploded back in a barely concealed rage. He was angry at the people of this foreign city, whom he believed should be destroyed. He was angry at God, whom he believed was being too easy on these people.

If Jonah had his way, he would have turned into the Jolly Green Giant and stomped the city to the ground. His uncontrolled anger kept him from listening to reason, and listening to God.

Some of you know all too well the danger that comes from living in close proximity to a Hulk. Some days may be good days, and other days may be nightmares. Domestic violence, dating violence, and bullying are all examples of out-of-control Hulk behavior. If you feel trapped in a situation involving a Hulk, please know that God wants more than that for you  (and them). Make sure you are safe, and talk to a pastor or a counselor.

Others of us come across Hulks in traffic, in lines at the DMV, and quite often at the ball game (especially if there’s beer involved). My advice? Walk away. Hulks tend to deflate if there’s no one around to get their blood pumping.

And if YOU are the Hulk, ready to explode with rage, even when you do your best to avoid it, know this: There is nothing about your great anger that makes you incredible. In reality, it’s a detriment to the grace-filled life God has called you to live.

It’s probably time to get some help,

And a new shirt.

Have a Banner Week,

Mitch

Traveler’s Prayer

This happened to me an hour ago.

I was just leaving my house in Kansas City, KS, headed towards Lawrence, when a police car raced in front of me, heading towards some unknown incident.

In my rearview mirror I could see an ambulance far behind me headed in the same direction. They were too far away for me to pull over, so I kept going. As I neared the underpass for I-435, I could see some commotion blocking the right lane.

I was one of a few cars that slowly passed by on the left, just as three other emergency vehicles converged on the scene. I can imagine that the road was closed shortly after I drove by.

A car was flipped upside down, sitting on its hood.

As best as I could tell, this car had driven off the overpass above and flipped its way down below. It looked bad. I only had a few seconds to look as I drove by, but there was shattered glass, and debris on the road. And did I see a person still inside there, trapped? I think so.

My first thought was, “I’m a pastor. Maybe I could help.” I thought about pulling off and seeing if there was anything I could do, but I had to get my car out of the way of the emergency vehicles, and before I knew it I was up the ramp and headed for the office.

So I did the one thing I knew I could do. I prayed. I prayed for the person(s) trapped in their car. I prayed for all the police and rescue workers who had responded so quickly. And, because of the week we’re in, I prayed that every last one of them, including any injured parties, would find themselves with reason to Give Thanks this weekend.

Millions of Americans are going to take to the roads over the next weeks, because they long to be with each other. Families reunite, friends gather. All this travelling is a good thing. But incidents like the one I saw today remind me that prayer is always a good idea.

I came across a traditional Jewish prayer, called the Tefilat HaDerech, or Traveler’s Prayer, that is recited before each journey.

“May it be Your will, Eternal our God and God of our ancestors, to bring us to our destination in life, in joy, and in peace, and then to bring us back home again in peace. Guard us from all enemies who may lurk along the way, and protect us from all dangers that may be coming our way. Bless the work of our hands, and may we find favor and grace in Your sight and in the sight of all those whom we meet on this trip. Please hear this prayer of ours, for You are the God who listens to our prayers.”

I love that prayer. It’s a reminder that God travels with us! Why not print off this prayer and keep it with you in your billfold or purse? That way, whether you’re the one traveling or you’re the one waiting at the destination, you’ll remember that God is with us every leg of the journey.

And when, God forbid, there’s an accident, you can still give thanks for “all those whom we meet on this trip…”

Especially those who come to your rescue.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

images by molinarius, http://www.biblicalgallery.com/a-prayer-for-travel-priestly-3371-prd1.htm

I turn my back on the homeless


“For now we see in a glass, dimly, but then we shall see face to face” – 1 Corinthians 13:12

I have a parking permit for the lot across from my church.

It’s a busy lot, and occasionally full by the time I get to work. Typically, though, there are a few spots available in the back row.

Those spots fill up last for two reasons:  They’re the farthest from the street, and they’re also the spots adjacent to the homeless shelter.

The shelter is over-crowded, and many of the people spend their time outside. Usually there are 5-10 people huddled in small groups, just talking and passing the time a few feet from where I park. I pull in and glance a little nervously at them through my dirty windshield. I make sure to lock my doors.

There is a moment, very brief, when I step out of my car and am facing their direction. Sometimes I make eye contact, but usually not. Then, I heave a small sigh of helplessness, turn my back on them, and head the opposite direction into the church.

I’m not suggesting my church has turned its back on the homeless. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this week we received a beautiful plaque from the shelter naming members of our church “Volunteers of the year”.

Our church provides space for “Jubilee Cafe”, a breakfast kitchen that operates twice a week. Members serve along with other churches at LINK, the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen. Our church is one of many who participate in Family Promise, where families with young children stay at the church for a week and are cared for by members of the church. Our pastor’s fund provides help on a case by case level for those needing deposit money for moving into an apartment.

I’m so proud of the people in my church who help our community’s homeless people. But I don’t always feel like I’m one of them. I realize that although I encourage our members to help out in so many ways, I need to be involved, too.

And so, I’ve signed up to  help with the next Family Promise week. I’m one of the people on the prep team. We’ll be re-configuring furniture and setting up cots in several classrooms, so that the families who come to stay will feel comfortable and welcome. I may not actually meet any of our visitors this time, but it’s a step in the right direction. Next time, I may even stay overnight. We’ll see.

God has called us to do more than see these precious people through a windshield, dimly.

God calls us to love them…

Face to Face.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

image by ehow.com, amysgarage.com

Your Very Last Sin

“No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” – 1 John 3:6 NRSV

In 2073, when I’m 113 years old, I will commit my very last sin.

I’m going to walk out to the food replicator and order up a nice big plate of nachos. From the other room, my wife will call out, “What are you eating, dear? That had better be a health drink.”

“Of course dear,” I’ll say, as I sit down at the kitchen table and place one enormous chip filled with cheesy goopy stuff into my mouth.

And then I’ll just die. From old age.

Now on the one hand, that seems like a pretty good way to go. Eating some nachos, my wife nearby. It was a good life. But did you catch it? There, just before I kicked off this mortal coil, I broke a commandment. I lied.

I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened. Too bad I had to ruin that special moment by sinning.

Here’s the question: Did I die a Christian, or a sinner?

1 John 3:6, above, makes it pretty clear. You’re either in or you’re out. You’re either a sinner or an “abider”. Certainly there are Christians of various denominations that take this literally. I know some who claim that once you are a Christian it’s impossible to sin anymore. You aren’t just “saved”, you receive “Christian Perfection” all at once. My experience doesn’t bear that out. I see perfection as a goal for our lifelong spiritual journeys.

What about you? What do you think your last sin will be? Will it be a lie? Maybe you’ll steal something, or disrespect God or someone else? Is selfishness a sin? If it is, then you and I have some issues to face. Am I right?

Well, the good news (I don’t know that it’s exactly Good News) is that several other translations of the scripture read a little differently. Many translations say if you “keep sinning” you won’t abide with God. In other words, it’s not just a one time deal. If you make sin an ongoing part of your life, it becomes very difficult to remain part of the Body of Christ.

So that would mean you’re not booted out for every single transgression. Instead, it means that if sin is a pattern in your life, it’s very difficult for Christ to be the pattern of your life.

That puts some things into perspective for me. If I’ve got a good 71 years left in my life (one can hope!), what kind of a pattern do I want to follow? I may not live perfectly, but I want to live intentionally.

Interestingly enough, my very last sin may not have changed. After all, lying about nachos is more like a little white lie.  And at 113, I say I deserve them.

It’s the ones between now and then that really matter.

Have a great week,

Mitch

I Got Egged.


If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  Luke 11:13

I got egged last night. (Halloween)

Well, I was the intended target. And I kind of deserved it.

See, I didn’t get home until 9, but I’d left our outside lights on. I wonder how many eager kids rang our doorbell only to be answered by the frustrated “woofs” of our big bear of a dog, Charlie?

Actually, that’s part of the reason I wasn’t home. I just couldn’t picture a whole night of dog eruptions every two minutes. And I hadn’t bought any candy, and we live in a new subdivision, and I didn’t know if there would be many kids anyway. Last year I gained 5 pounds from the leftovers. Either I’d have a Charlie-induced headache from too many kiddies, or I’d have a sugar-induced headache from eating too much candy because there weren’t enough kiddies.

So I went to a movie. God forgive me, I abdicated my role and responsibility as an American homeowner. Instead, I sat by myself in a theater and watched a special screening of Ghostbusters, one of my favorite movies from my late childhood.  It brought back some great Halloween memories.  (Too bad I wasn’t making some for somebody else.)

When I pulled up at 9, I was sure all the trick-or-treaters would be done, but our street was still filled with the sounds of teenagers making their late-night rounds. Sheepishly I pulled into the garage, walked into the house, and turned off the outside lights. I still didn’t have any candy. Time to pretend I wasn’t home.

Then the siege began. If you can call it that.

A handful of neighborhood boys had clearly seen me arrive home and douse the lights.  They wanted revenge. I sat in the dim light of my dining room, my traumatized dog beside me, and I could hear them circling the house, talking.

“He’s in there. I think I can see him.”

“Where’s my egg?”

“No guys, look! That’s him through the window!”

At this point, Charlie could take no more. He bellowed mightily and the boys screamed off into the night. Charlie and I couldn’t help but grin at each other, like the Grinch and his dog Max.

An hour later, Jan was home, and she let our dog out to do his business. He returned inside with something in his mouth.  A whole egg, complete and intact. Those poor boys got neither treat nor trick from me this year.

I did not feel satisfaction at this notion.  Suddenly, I felt terrible! I had missed Halloween.

How many times do you have the opportunity to give gifts to your neighbors? To have them standing at your front door? I blew it, and I knew it.  If I could find those guys I’d tell them I’ve learned my lesson.  Instead, I’ll have to prove it to them.

Next year, I’m gonna be the best house on the street. I may even get full-sized candy bars to pass out! (And toothbrushes?) I’ve been reminded that caring for the children is my responsibility, too. God wants me to give good gifts to these children, just as God has given good gifts to me.

Sorry, kids, you didn’t manage to get any egg on my house, but I assure you…

There’s plenty on my face.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

photos by Jepster, Julep67