5:23am

 

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I look at my watch.  5:23am.

The dog has to pee.  So I climb out of bed and stumble to the back door.  Instead of trying to coax him out like I usually do, I decide to go out with him.

I look up at the sky, still dark.  It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust.  I realize I’m looking up at the moon, and a star, overhead.  Probably a planet, I think.

And then I hear it.

Nothing.  Or just about. There’s the distant chirps of crickets.  The slight hum of wind in my ears.  But mostly, it’s the sound of silence.

No beeps or ringtones.  No traffic or dogs howling.  No distant laughter.

No arguments or small talk.  No spam.  No memes.  No Netflix.

No politics, no announcers, no commentary.  No soundbites.

It is unexpectedly wondrous, there at the beginning of a new day, to pause and reflect on a quiet world.  God’s creation, mostly muted.  I wonder if this is what it was like at 5:23am on the 6th day, before God made the noisy land animals.  Before God made us.

Most days, especially lately, the world is too loud for me.  Humanity makes too much noise.  Puts too many opinions out into the ether.  Falls into camps and dukes it out on the nightly news.  Most days, especially lately, I’m just weary of it all.

I look down at my dog, Tom Petty.  He’s ready to go back inside for another hour of sleep.  He seems unaffected by the vast quiet around him. He’ll be back to barking when the sun has risen.

As for me, I rediscover something I thought was gone from the world forever.  Silence.  It is the most precious moment of my week, so far.

In this Nothing, is Something.  Beneath it all, God is here, a divine finger pressed against God’s lips.  Shhhh.

I am reborn.  Recreated.

I look at my watch.

5:25.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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Integrity In Your Bones

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Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out. –proverbs 10:9

Want to freak yourself out?  Next time you’re in a crowd, remind yourself that you are in a room full of skeletons.

It’s not something we tend to think of when we look at each other, but just a couple inches beneath each person’s surface lies a collection of bones.  Boo!  Here lies the object of infinite Halloween frights, and the symbol of all things unmentionably hidden.

One does not put one’s bones on display.  Not the ones inside our bodies, or the ones we’ve stuffed into our closets.  They’re private. These bones represent our collection of indiscretions, our taboo secrets, our hidden sins.

With all these skeletons in our closets (and inches beneath our skin), how could a single one of us walk with integrity?  Politicians throw that word around, but managing integrity is a rare feat.   It doesn’t seem like our elected officials have much integrity these days, although they are masters at appearing like it.

They’re not the only ones.  Many people today avoid the church because Christians seem so proficient at integrity — until greed, or abuse, or all manners of non Christ-like behaviors reveal us to be as “boney” as everybody else.

The #MeToo movement is a perfect example of the state of integrity — pulling back the curtain on decades of hidden harassment and demeaning behavior.  I’ve surely hated to see the pitiful contents of some of my favorite public figure’s closets. I’m cautious at pointing a finger, however, because I’d just as soon no one ever peek in my closet.

How about you? Anything to hide?

So, shy of, say, the Dalai Lama, is there anyone with integrity left in this cursed world? Are we all doomed, as proverbs mentions, to walk crooked paths until the day God and humanity discovers what lies beneath each of our feeble attempts to appear good?

No.  We’re not doomed.  Jesus came to save us from the evil that has settled into our very bones.  When Jesus died on that cross, the earthquake that filled the land cleaned out every closet and gave us the ability to walk with our heads held high.  Not with some mock piety, but with the assurance of grace.  We’re not perfect.  Just forgiven.

I wonder if integrity can grow even through our attempt to find it.  Maybe so.  Instead of hiding away the frail remnants of our past, our bones can be made strong in Christ. Stronger than a tanker truck of milk ever could.

The next time you’re in a crowd, don’t freak out about all the skeletons surrounding you.  It’s part of human nature to carry a few sins with us as we go through life.

But strive (with God’s help) for integrity.  It comes when we make room for grace, in our bodies, minds, spirits..

and closets.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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SPOILERS

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It may be the darkest scripture in the whole Bible:  “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” My goal last Sunday was to preach it as is — without spoilers about what comes next.

But I couldn’t do it.

I wanted to let this part of the story stand on its own.  I didn’t want to soften the words, or cheapen Jesus’ suffering.  But I couldn’t let this darkest of moments remain pitch black.  I couldn’t just leave him hanging there.

There, at the end of my sermon, I had to throw in a little bit of Easter.  Without even a “spoiler alert” I revealed the big surprise:  Hope, Triumph, Resurrection.

I’m not alone in this. In my reading about this tough verse, not a single writer was willing to just sit with Jesus’ pain.  Nobody could resist spilling the beans about the happy ending that was to come.

Another example — My choir sings a cantata on Palm Sunday every year.  No matter how deep into Holy Week the music takes us, the last song — a long standing tradition — is “The King is Coming!” It’s a great song, but I have mixed feelings about it, because of all the spoilers!  Maundy Thursday and Good Friday have yet to come, and already we’re promising Easter.

I wonder if a new Christian would find themselves annoyed to have the big Easter Surprise revealed just at this agonizing climax?  I know I’d have been mad if someone spoiled the ending of the 6th Sense, or the Usual Suspects, Or The Empire Strikes Back.

Should we treat the story of the cross (and beyond) as a sacred mystery, only to be unveiled on Easter morning?  If we did, how would we handle passages such as this?

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”  Matthew 20:17-19

Umm….SPOILER ALERT, Jesus!

Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer about how this story ends.  In fact, Jesus’ whole life is a spoiler alert.  If we pay careful attention to how Jesus lives, we’ll have all the clues we need to find out how he dies.  And lives again.

I’ve decided it’s not necessary to just sink into “Why have you forsaken me,” and stay there.  The whole point is that Jesus DIDN’T stay there.

He had more to reveal than Keyser Soze, Bruce Willis, and Darth Vader combined.

Have a good week,

Mitch

20 of the Best Movie And TV Spoilers

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Top 10 Reasons You’d Never Make It As An Angel. (And one good reason to try)

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An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.   –Luke 2:9-10

TOP 10 Reasons Why You’d Never Make It As An Angel.

Ready?

No. 10  No halos, and no harps.

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That’s right.  If your incentive for being an angel is to acquire some celestial fashion accessories, you can stop right there.  The Bible makes no mention or halos, and of the 49 references to harps, none of them are played by angels.  It’s not a thing!

No. 9  Wings are…kinda weird.

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Wings are rarely mentioned in connection to angels, but Seraphim and Cherubim are described as mystical creatures with LOTS of wings.  Not exactly the lounging on a cloud image we’re used to.

No. 8  Sorry, ladies…

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The angels we read about in the Bible all appear to be men.  Of course, a couple thousand years could have changed the requirements.  The men are often portrayed wearing simple clothing, unlike Mr. Studly, above.

No. 7  You probably won’t get famous.

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Unless your name is Michael, Gabriel, or Lucifer, you’ll likely go anonymous.  Those are the only Angels named in the Bible.

6.  One word:  Drones.

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I’m just saying…the friendly skies are a bit less friendly these days!

5.  The Heavenly Host may not be what you think it is.

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The phrase “Heavenly Host” refers to an army!  The angels were God’s special troops, out on patrol.  So think twice, before you enlist!

4.  You have to work nights.

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So did the shepherds, come to think of it.

3.  THE ANGELS DIDN’T SING.

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That’s right.  No singing. But what about all our Christmas songs?  Have we been lied to? Well, in the Bible the scripture goes like this:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,   “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  –Luke 2:13-14

Catch that?  Saying, not singing?  That one really bothers me.  When you get the whole Heavenly Host together for an announcement like this, I think there should be singing!.  (Sorry, I’m not giving up “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.)

2.  Let’s face it:  You’re no angel.

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We tend to ascribe a certain level of holiness to the Angels, don’t we?  Well, would we be good enough to be one?  I don’t know.  I’ve done a few devilish things in my life.

And the number one answer why you’d never make it as an angel.  (Drumroll…)

No. 1.  Their primary job is telling the Good News to absolute strangers.

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Most of us tend to be weak in that area.  We have trouble talking about it with our friends and family!  Until we can learn to share our faith more fully, we’ll probably fall a little short in the Angel department.

BUT…

Here’s one angelic thing we CAN do this season.  We can keep four special words on our lips.  And they are…

do not be afraid

Those 4 words, “Do not be afraid”, show up again and again in the scriptures, and in the Christmas story, it’s the angels who deliver that message.

Do Not Be Afraid.  How powerful are those words to hear?  We live in a world that is paralyzed with fear this year.  It threatens to block our experience of Emmanuel, God With Us.

Let me ask you this:  If you can hear those four words and believe them, then could you take on the role of a Christmas Angel, and pass them on to someone else?

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If we can make that our task these next days, I think there may be hope for us yet.  Not to become perfect Angels, but to become true agents of Christmas.  Messengers of Good News.

That’s it! May the season bless you richly for who you are,

and who you aspire to be.

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Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

Christians and Karma

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One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
    another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

A generous person will prosper;
    whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. –Proverbs 11:24-25

Ever say things like, “Well, you get what you deserve”, or “These are my past deeds coming back to haunt me”, or “I must have been really bad in a past life?”  I say this stuff, too, sometimes.

Maybe we would make good Hindus, or Buddhists.  Words like these reflect an ancient concept present in both of those religions, called Karma.

Karma is the idea that your good and bad deeds will reward or punish you in the life to come.    There’s something about the notion of Karma, with its multiple lifetimes and black-or-white morality that can be very alluring to us as Christians.

I’ll find myself playing the Karma game when things go wrong.  I’ll think, “I deserve to be punished like this.  I wasn’t faithful enough before.”   As if Karma somehow evens things out.  I’ve heard other people say, “There’s equal amounts of Good and Evil in the world, and this is just the Devil getting his due.”

This is all kind of a Westernized view of Karma.  The Hindu and Buddhist concepts are much more nuanced, I’m sure.  But when Christians think in terms of Karma, they run the risk of ignoring Christ, which is a shame, because Christ plays by far better rules:

  • Christ offers GraceEven when we don’t deserve it!
  • Christ offers Eternal Life present with God.
  • Christ offers Goodness that forever tips the scales against evil.
  • Christ offers Companionship when the road is hard,
    Second Chances when we mess up, and a
    Reason for Living that is so much more than simple spiritual accounting.

Even though there are passages, like the one from Proverbs, that can make it sound like the Bible is talking about Karma, ultimately they refer to a God who is an ever-present blessing to us, in good times and bad.  We believe that, because of God, the universe is fundamentally skewed towards Grace.

Instead of trying to win at life, as if it’s some cosmic game of Chutes and Ladders,  Christians are called to boldly take every step–even the hard ones, because their path is illuminated by the Light of Christ.

Personally, I think Karma is a pretty interesting idea.  I’ve even wondered about past lives and reincarnation from time to time.  Hinduism and Buddhism both have a great many things to offer and teach us.

But I’ve got no plans to change my colors and abandon Christianity.

Which means, I’m definitely not a…

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Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since my last confession.

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Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. –James 5:16

It happened again today.  I watched three more church members crossing the street and walking into the Catholic church down the way.  That was 8 people now, over the past few days.  What was going on?

I decided to find out.  I pulled on a hat and trench coat so as not to be easily recognizable.  I walked the short distance to the Catholic church and stepped inside.  It was a nice enough building.  I’d never been inside before.

Just then I caught a glimpse of my church members darting into the sanctuary, so I followed them.  I slouched down into a pew in the back, and watched them sitting over to the side.  Then, one at a time, they stepped into the small door on the side.

It was the confessional!  My people were sneaking into the Catholic church to take confession!

Confession was developed long ago, in the early years of Christianity, as a way of responding to James 5:16, above.  A regular, private, personal confession of sins, heard by a Priest.

When the reformation came, Protestants objected to confession, saying “Who says Priests are qualified to forgive sins?”  And some of the penance they prescribed included indulgences — basically a “pay you or your relative’s way out of salvation” scam.  So Protestants did away with the practice, replacing it with…not much.

Today?  According to an article in the Boston Globe, less than 2% of Catholics go to confession regularly.  And 3/4 don’t go at all.  Confession has become, for many Catholics, and unwelcome sacrament.

But what about us Protestants?  After 1,000+ years of very little opportunity for confessing sins, aside from the occasional corporate prayer, the idea of having someone to hand our heavy loads to doesn’t sound half bad.

Based on the actions of my (fictitious) parishioners, I propose a trade.  If Priests are willing to listen to our confessions, we’ll do something nice for the Catholics.  Give up red meat on Friday during Lent, maybe?  Treat our communion elements a little more carefully?  Something like that.  What do you think?

After my parishioners left the sanctuary, I made my way up front and climbed into that little box.  Finally I said, “It’s been…uh…at least 47 years since my last confession.”  Then I just kind of laid it all out there.  The little things that had been bugging me.  The big weights I was tired of carrying.  It felt really good.

But afterwards, I realized that I really could just ask Jesus for forgiveness directly.  Or talk things over with a friend.  Why hadn’t I made this a priority? I’ll admit I did feel a lot better, but not because of that confessional.  I felt free because I’d made space in my busy life to accept Christ’s freedom.

Let this be a reminder to us (Protestants and Catholics alike) that confession IS good for the soul.  Whether it involves talking to a priest or minister, or sharing with a good friend, or praying with a congregation, or holding nothing back from Christ, guilt is something too many of us carry around.

Put forth the effort and let it go.

Throw it away like a Hail Mary.

(I’m supposed to say 7 of those)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Moses and Errin’

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Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”  –Exodus 4:10

When I’m trying to quiet down a group at church, I know exactly what to say:

“Would anybody like to close us with a prayer?”

–Instant Silence–

That scenario plays out time and again, in my current church and every other church I’ve ever served.  It doesn’t really stress me out too much. Many folks don’t feel comfortable sharing their faith out loud, in prayer or testimony. I’m used to it.

I will step in and do my priestly duty, offering up a prayer to close out a meeting, but I wonder:  Who’s fault is it that Christians today struggle so much with this?

Maybe it’s God’s fault.

Remember the call of Moses?  When Moses claims he’s “slow of speech and tongue”,  God lets him off the hook, and allows Aaron to do the public speaking instead.

By this time, I think Moses had just worn God down with all his “No’s” for why he was the wrong man for the job.  God even offered to train Moses in how to share his faith publically, but Moses was resistant.  So God relented.

It probably wasn’t what God intended, but generation after generation has been using this same “slow of speech and tongue” excuse to avoid communicating in faith and prayer. If Moses didn’t have to speak up, then neither should we, right?

Hmm.  That’s our mistake.  That’s less like Moses, and more like Errin’.  Maybe it’s our fault for taking the easy way out.  Or the church’s for seeing this as “the pastor’s job”.

The truth is, many folks really do want to share their faith — it’s just a matter of know-how, comfort, and practice.  Of making it a priority.

This Fall, I’m launching Faithsharing 101 classes at my church.  In 4 short weeks the goal is to help people feel more comfortable praying out loud, articulating why they’re a Christian, and even sharing some about their faith story with others.  This is not a class in evangelism or door-to-door witnessing.  It’s a class in finding the right words, and feeling good about sharing them.

Can this be done in 4 weeks?  I don’t know.  Maybe God was short on time with Moses and didn’t have a month to set him on the right path.  It will at least be a good start.

I think God wants all believers to be able to express themselves.  To offer a prayer in the midst of those who are gathered.  To spread Good News through words and stories.

It took some time, but God helped Moses eventually find his voice.  And Aaron found his role in this new community of Hebrews, too.  God assures us that there’s a place for all of us, and sends the Spirit to help us find our voices.

We just have to practice saying ‘Yes” when God calls us.

Now…

Would anybody be willing to close us in prayer?

Have a great week,

Mitch

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