The Big Squeeze

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“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  –Luke 13:24

I’m not what you would call a small man.

I’ve lost 30+ pounds and “found them” again, twice.  In the 14 months that I’ve been a vegetarian, I’ve actually gained 5 pounds.  When I shop in the Big & Tall section, no one would mistake me for being there because of my height.

So yeah, I’m a heavy guy.  Which has me wondering about this door Jesus talks about. Just how narrow is it?

You know, I can squeeze into a restaurant booth.  I can squeeze into an airplane seat. I can squeeze into my dress pants without popping a button. But what I really need to know is how tight a squeeze this door really is.  Do I stand a chance? Jesus tells us many will try to enter and not be able.

That makes me nervous.  Because that’s not all I’m carrying.

It’s very hard to enter into the Kingdom if you’re carrying anything sinful: a spare tire around the middle, or an overinflated ego, or bags stuffed with greed, or the giant plank stuck in your eye.

What are you carrying that will make it hard for you to squeeze through the narrow door?

The door is there before us, a challenge for your life and mine, but Jesus didn’t put it there to daunt us or to taunt us.  The truth is, alone, none of us could make it through.  We’re carrying too much!

No, the door serves a purpose for our lives.  Jesus invites us to measure up against that narrow door, to make a wholehearted attempt to mold ourselves into the shape of the Kingdom.  This is the work of discipleship, as we learn to shed what weighs us down and pick up what helps us resemble Christ.

Ultimately, it is God’s Grace that leads us through the door and into the Kingdom.  Every pound we shed is our “Thank You” for bringing us through.

It’s a New Year and a New Start.

So…

What have you got to lose?

Have a great week,

Mitch

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A Good Mystery

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No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  –1 Corinthians 2:7

My favorite detective show?  Scooby Doo. A gang of squirrely teens riding around in the Mystery Machine fighting crime.  Still love that show.  (Except, of course, for Scrappy).

Collecting clues.  Acting on hunches.  Dramatically unveiling the bad guys.  This is not just Hanna-Barbera material, there are dozens — maybe hundreds of different tv detective shows that have been on our TV screens over the last half-century.

What’s your favorite?  Dragnet?  Cagney & Lacey?  Twin Peaks?  CHIPS?  Murder, She Wrote?  Cop Rock?

I could fill this page with examples.  From Blue’s Clues to Sherlock, it’s a persuasive genre and people watch hundreds of hours of it.

People love a good mystery.

Which does not include, for many of us, the faith kind.  When it comes to faith, it seems we want certainty, instead of mystery.  Here, I think, is why:

Many detective shows follow a mystery – to- certainty formula like this:

  1. A mystery presents itself.
  2. Clues are discovered.
  3. False leads are followed.
  4. The main character has a hunch.
  5. A chase of some sort ensues.
  6. The bad guy is captured.
  7. All is explained
  8. Life is good.

Nothing better than that, right?  A satisfying sense of certainty, wrapped up in an hour.  It makes us feel that all is well with the world.  That problems are solvable.  That a good mystery is nothing that a couple Scooby snacks can’t conquer.

The problem is, faith doesn’t always feel like a good mystery because we tend to not get past #5.

  1.  We encounter a mystery (i.e. Is Heaven a real place?
  2.  We gather clues (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience)
  3. We follow false leads (bad teaching, cultural influences, our own unhealthy desires)
  4.  We get back on track, and have a hunch (Maybe Heaven is both a place and a way of life?)
  5. We chase down our hunch until…we get lost, or confused, or doubtful.  When no perfect answer appears, we give up, or take an easy way out.   We reject mystery.

And so, we turn to easy answers that only a literal, law-based Christianity can provide.  Or we convince ourselves we have too much to do on a Sunday morning and stop doing the work of faith-learning.  Or we substitute the satisfaction of the 1 hour cop drama for the ongoing reward that comes from a lifetime of investigating.

No, it’s not easy.  One question can lead to three more.  There is little room for “Just the facts, ma’am”.  Investigating faith stuff can feel unsettling and never-ending and elusive.

But I’m here to tell you, it’s the best.  The best kind of mystery of all.  For one thing, it’s not always so uncertain.  There are insights and A-HA moments and the kind of knowing that only comes from years of seeking.  There is measurable growth and maturity.  There are an infinite number of clues to find along the way.

But for all that, the Christian Life is still a life of mystery.  A life of wonder, and questions, and seeking, never fully completed.  Always more to know.  Always a deeper relationship with a never-fully knowable God, who knows us insight and out.

So keep searching! The very best of mystery awaits.  Remember, faith means being a detective on the longest, most rewarding case of your life…

even when things get Scrappy.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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In My Undies

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All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.  –Psalm 22:17

It’s a recurring dream — you may have had a similar one.  I’m walking through a school or a church, rushing to get somewhere, and I realize I’m wearing only my underwear!

The rest of the dream is spent desperately trying to find something else to wear, and failing spectacularly.  Sometimes people notice, point, and laugh.  Always I feel extremely vulnerable.

I think that’s the point of that particular dream.  It’s a subconscious reflection of me feeling vulnerable about something.  My near nakedness in the dream symbolizes an inability to hide myself from others.

Dreams of being naked or near naked frequently make Top 10 lists of common dreams.  We have these dreams because many of us share that same fear:  Forced to reveal ourselves more than is comfortable.

This is not just physical, having our “bones on display”.  It’s more mental or even spiritual.  Having our inner most thoughts, fantasies and fears displayed for others.  Near panic at the notion of people knowing the real us.

What would have to change to make all those scary dreams go away?  Could the world decide it’s time to shed any unneeded clothes and walk around just as God made us?  Or if we all took a couple years of therapy could we develop a healthier self esteem, with no need to hold back who we are?

It just seems such a shame that you and I, created in God’s Image, have to spend so much energy trying to obscure ourselves from others.  It must be some consequence of our sinful nature that our very thoughts and traits can seem unsuitable for public viewing.

This is something we can work on.  We can seek to be more transparent, less terrified of being vulnerable.  We can admit our faults, be faithful with our gifts, and trust to be covered by Grace when our undies are showing.

Come to think of it, many of the people I most admire are those whose soul shines so brilliantly, I don’t even notice how much they’re covered up.  These are the people whose faith helps them clothe those around them in Christ.

I want to be one of those people.  The more aggressively I practice this kind of faith, the less I’ll have that dream.  That’s the premise I’m adopting, anyway…

If that takes stripping down to my spiritual skivvies, so be it.

As for my physical body?

That’s, for now,

a subject I’ve thoroughly covered.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

Tired of being slowed down at airport security, Vince began to travel in only a pair of Speedos.

 

 

 

6 scary Bible costume ideas

There’s scary, and then there’s SCARY.  These costume ideas are based on scripture, and while they may or may not frighten children, they ought to put fear in every adult Christian’s heart.

Here we go:  (YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!)

 

THE BOAT MISSER

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This one’s easy.  Just dress like you normally do, but thoroughly douse yourself with water.  When people ask, tell them you’re one of the folks who laughed at Noah.  Then, tonight, when you can’t sleep, shiver to realize the times you heard a prophet’s warning, thought they were all wet, but it turned out that YOU were.

 

THE ALIEN, THE WIDOW, AND THE ORPHAN

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In the Old Testament, it’s like a refrain.  16 times we are called to care for the alien, the widow, and the orphan.  These were the most vulnerable people in society, and that remains quite true today.  To dress up like one of these folks, dress like normal, pack a small bag, and shudder to think about life with just about everything you like/love ripped away.

 

THE RICH YOUNG RULER

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All you need for this costume is a robe and a fake bag of money.  Who hasn’t heard the story of Jesus telling the bright young man all he needs to do is sell all his possessions and follow him?  If you’re like me, you’ve spent countless hours trying to decide just how literal Jesus was being.  After all, just like the man in this story, I’ve got a frightening amount of stuff I just can’t seem to let go of.

 

THE WEIGHT LIFTER

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Grab a burlap sack.  Stencil the word “SIN” on it in big letters.  Add some fake sweat and you’re ready to go!  Dressing as someone who hasn’t asked Christ to carry their sins will remind you (and others) just how hard life can be without the miracle of faith.  (Here’s a chilling thought:  How much are you still carrying around?”)

 

THE WRONG GUY

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Two men went up to the temple to pray.  And you’re gonna be dressed as the wrong one.  Pick out your nicest, most pretentious outfit, lift your eyes to the good Lord in heaven, and add a little swagger to your prayer.  Perfect, you’re a pretentious Christian!  As you lord your good standing in heaven over all the other trick-or-treaters, be sure to take a good look in the mirror.  BOO!  God help you if you recognize yourself!

 

PONTIUS PILATE

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Yep.  This last costume actually has a name.  Grab a robe, maybe a cape, and a bowl of water and you’re good to go.  At every doorbell you can wash your hands of all responsibility for any tricks that might get played.  And while you’re at it, take a moment to think of all the times you might have washed your hands instead of standing up for what’s right, stepping out in faith, and doing the hard thing.

There you have it!  You’re all set to go door to door, filling your plastic bucket with goodies, but with a purpose! No matter which of these costume ideas you pick, you’re guaranteed a chance to do some soul-searching into the murkiest depths of your faith.  It’s true, you might be frightened by some of what you experience, but it’s nothing  the Holy Trinity can’t redeem.

Hmm.  Kind of like a Three Musketeer’s for the soul.

Have a scary week,

Mitch

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Breaking Disciples

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We’re supposed to be Making Disciples.

God help us if we’re Breaking them.

  • I serve a church of 500 members.  Our worship attendance is about 200.  Where are those other 300?  Did we not reach them with the Good News of Jesus Christ?  Is our message Broken?
  • It’s a good, active church.  Visitors come, but few join.  Why not?  Is my preaching lousy?  Is our discipleship process flawed?  Is the church Broken?
  • My denomination, the United Methodist Church, is struggling.  Our future is up in the air, with questions and votes and conflicts that seem impossible to solve.  What about the active, faithful folks who have committed their time, talents, and treasures to the Church?  What will happen to those who try to ride out the storm?  Will their will be Broken?

Wow, that’s a lot of brokenness. Active disciples becoming disillusioned.  Unchurched folks seeing no reason to commit.  Inactive members who may experience God, but not in our sanctuaries.

Is it possible that we are breaking disciples at a faster rate than we’re making them?

Sort of a Great Decommission.

I’ll admit, there are times I despair and throw up my hands at the seeming futility of it all.  Do you?  Remember, this is not a pastor issue, it’s a disciple issue.  We who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ must find a way to keep going.  To keep trying.  To keep faithful, even when it’s hard.

Hear these words from Hebrews.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  –Hebrews 12:11.

Ah yes, how could I forget?  We who are disciples are supposed to practice discipline.  We’re supposed to persevere.  To strive.   Making disciples is not an easy thing to do, especially when our culture and our own institutions seem at times to be working against the very thing we’re called to do. Especially when WE are just as broken as anyone else.  We must steadfastly believe that the harvest is coming.

  • Truthfully, I believe in what my church is doing.  Good, faithful stuff!  We may not be gaining the dividend of new or renewed believers that we would like, but these things don’t happen overnight. It’s a challenge, but we are trying to make more than we break.
  • And truthfully, I believe in what my denomination is doing.  Yes, there is so much uncertainty to wade through, but we continue to serve the homeless and helpless.  We continue to a be a voice for justice around the globe. We’re trying to make more than we break.

Rather than despair, I’ve decided I am going to double down on my own discipleship.  Inviting, connecting, loving, and sharing Good News.  Will you join me?

It’s a tough, fragile world, but remember this, fellow Follower:

Christ broke himself,

to fix us all.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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You Need A Makeover

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Take a good long look at yourself.

If nobody else is going to say it, I will.

You, my friend, need a makeover.

Oh wait.  When I look in the mirror I don’t see you.  I see ME.  Maybe I’m the one that needs a makeover.  Maybe we both do.

Wouldn’t that be fun?  A day on the town?  Makeover Day! We could get new fancy haircuts, maybe some highlights?  We get our nails and toes done.  Then it’s off to the mall.

New outfits!  You get what you want, but I’m thinking about a couple new tailored suits.  This is just a daydream, so money is no object!  Makeover Day, from our head to our feet!

Our feet!  We need shoes.  Really nice ones, with brand names people drool over.  Maybe new jackets for fall.   Some jewelry?  Maybe I’ll get my nose pierced.

And then comes the makeup.  You can’t have a Makeover Day without the makeup!  Now I don’t typically wear makeup, but if you do, I’m more than willing to sit next to you in one of those department stores as somebody dolls you up perfectly. (I might check out some cologne).

And when we’re all done and shiny, we can take a selfie, so we’ll always remember this day when, on a scale from 1 to 10, we jumped from a 6 to an 8.5!

Wow, that was a whirlwind.

Was it worth it?  You and I hopping from store to store, spending hypothetical money on hypothetical self improvements?  Well, I had a good time.  It was kind of nice to pamper ourselves a bit, wasn’t it?

But this scripture kind of makes me wonder:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. –1 Peter 3:3-4

“The unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”  I really like that.  When I look at myself in the mirror, that’s what I want to see.  More than the smoothness of my skin or how trimmed my beard is.  The makeover that matters most is predominantly of the spiritual kind. It’s easy to lose sight of that.

When I look in the mirror I want to see a spark of hope in my eye, and the confidence of a believer in my smile.  I want to be a reflection of the beauty God created in me.  It’s the kind of inner beauty that sees wrinkles as laugh lines, and grants an assurance that every hair on my head has been counted by God, freshly cut or not.

Personally, I don’t think it’s a sin to want to look your best, even though I’m typically a bit of a slob.  I just think the spiritual makeover should take precedent over the physical kind.

So, thank you God for making what I see when I look in the mirror.  Good job.  I’ll try to see what YOU see when you look at me.

Thanks for loving me just as I am.

(But I’m keeping the suits)

Have a great week,

 

Mitch

 

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Unlike-Minded

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There used to be like-minded people in the world, but now there are only unlike-minded people.  I used to pray for harmony, for unity, for getting along.  Now, I pray nobody gets hurt.

This is terrible, the state of things.  It’s a plague.  This is the kind of polarized thinking that tears down nations, and friendships, and churches.  Is there anything we can do to fix this?

A world filled with unlike-minded people will surely rip itself apart at the seams.  Surely this is not what our children want to inherit.  Surely this is not what Jesus taught us.  If you keep standing over there, and I keep standing over here, the chasm between us could swallow us whole.

What is to be done?

One answer is simple but a challenge:  We have to learn to like each other again. We have to try.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. –Philippians 2:1-2

When I relearn how I like your funny stories, your excellent skills as a chef, your passion for Fleetwood Mac, and your dedication to discipleship—then I remember your humanity, and that you are a person of worth.

And if you relearn how you like my doodles, and how I treat my kids, my ability to fix anything, and my willingness to step out in faith—then you remember my humanity, and that I am a person of worth.

We will still have some heated discussions about the issues, and sometimes we’ll be loud and proud about it, but our capacity to listen will be vastly multiplied.  We may never agree with each other on all the issues out there, but we will remember how to value each other as children of God.  Doesn’t that sound nice? Healthy even?

I’m tired of being unlike-minded.  I’m going to start liking again.  People.  Sisters and Brothers in Christ.  People I disagree with.  Would you like to try, too?

Well, look at that.

Something we have in common.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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