Three guys walk into a fire

Three guys walk into a fire.

No, it’s not the beginning of some bad joke. It’s the beginning of one of my favorite Bible stories.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Three good, faithful boys who refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar.

And because of that? They burned.

Well, wait. They were supposed to burn, but they didn’t. Wow!

Now cut to this week.

This week, Colorado is on fire. Hundreds of homes destroyed. Thousands of people evacuated. The pain and destruction has been devastating, and the fires aren’t out yet.

I cringe to watch the news or check the internet. I can feel the heat from here. And I wonder, where is God during all of this?

Where is the angel?

In the Shadrach story there is a fourth figure there in the flames, protecting the three boys. It is an angel from God, sent to protect them.

Just as importantly, that angel was sent to be with them. To go through the fire with them.

The moral of that Bible story? God is in the fire, taking the heat with you. Loving you through anything.

I believe the same moral can be said today.

Please keep the firefighters in your prayers. They come from surrounding states and different backgrounds. They face the fire head on because of their strength, their training, and for many, their faith.

These men and women may be too busy to recognize it, but I believe there are angels with them, there in the blaze, fighting right along side them.

As we watch, from a distance, let’s remember.

God is with us always, and

it’s no joke when…

Three guys walk into a fire.

Keep praying,

Mitch

images from Forbes.com and AP

4 lies I’ve told from the pulpit

When it comes to lying from the pulpit, I’ve heard some doozies.

I’m happy to say I’ve avoided most of the big ones, but I must confess I’ve told a few of my own.

Here are the four I could think of (or am willing to own up to):

Lie #1: “THIS is what it’s all about!”

This has to be my most common lie from the pulpit. Whatever I’m preaching on that Sunday, that becomes the most important aspect of Christianity.

“Stewardship is what it’s all about!”

“Small groups are what it’s all about!”

“Worship is what it’s all about!”

The Truth: I don’t know what’s most important. Love? Jesus? The Kingdom of God? Discipleship? It all seems really important to me.

The Verdict: It’s all connected, all related, and all… important. So I’ll probably keep telling this weekly white lie.

Lie #2. “So-and-so from the Bible was just like us.”

An easy way to make a sermon come alive is to point out how much we have in common with the characters in the Bible story.

”Moses was on a journey to the promised land, just like us.”

”Paul saw the light, just like us.”

”Martha learned to not be so busy all the time, just like us.”

The Truth: Moses had a difficult life filled with more conflict than we’ll ever see. Paul wrestled with his faith far more vigorously than most of us ever will. And Martha? She’s gotten 2000 years of grief because she lost her cool at a dinner party!

The Verdict: Yes, there’s a bunch we have in common with Bible folks. We can learn a lot from that. But their world was not just like ours. It was very different. We can learn a lot from acknowledging that, too.

Lie #3. “I’m really happy to be here today.”

I just have to come clean on this one.

On Sundays I’ll stand up front, flash a great big smile and welcome everyone to worship. And say “I’m glad to be here with you today.”

The Truth: Sometimes, I’m not. I know! Sacrilege! The truth is, some Sundays I have a headache, or 3 baptisms, or a sermon that doesn’t ha

ve an ending yet. Remember, I’m not just worshipping, I’m working.

The Verdict: I’m almost always happy to be at church. But on those rare days when I’d rather be at home in my pajamas, my hope is that you’ll never know. I’m gonna lie. It’s my job.

Lie #4. “Together, we can change the world.”

This one’s tough, because when I say it, I’m not just lying to the congregation. I’m lying to myself.

”If you invite your neighbors and co-workers, together we’ll change the world”

”We are the Church. You and me. Let’s go out there and change the world.”

You get the idea.

The Truth: We probably won’t. Didn’t Jesus say, “The poor you will have with you always”? It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight poverty and injustice. It means real, lasting change in this world is a rare thing.

The Verdict: The world has already changed because of Jesus Christ. Sometimes we make big changes, sometimes we just get by. Always we’re asked to be faitfhul. It doesn’t sound as glamorous, perhaps, but it’s more truthful.

Whew. It feels good to get those off my chest.

I’ll keep them in mind the next time I preach from the pulpit.

Okay, The Truth?


I haven’t preached from a pulpit in years.

Have a great week,

Mitch

10 reasons to go to church

This is right on!

First Presbyterian in Argenta

I’ve just seen one too many articles on why people aren’t coming to church. Admittedly, there are some good reasons. But I’d like to share my top 10 reasons why you should be coming to church. Others will have different reasons and some may disagree with the ones I have listed, but here they are.

10. Coming to church doesn’t mean you have no doubts about God or faith or religion. It means you have a place you can share with people who have their own doubts.

9.  Bad stuff is going to happen in your life. It just is. A church community cannot be everything to everyone in times of crisis, but when the bottom falls out of your world, it’s great to have a community to lift you back up.

8. Bad stuff is going to happen in your life, part two. The time to build a relationship…

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DO NOT mistake caffeine for the Holy Spirit

I’m somewhat of a walking and talking billboard for 5 hour energy drinks.

You know them? Those little red and yellow bottles that claim to pack a punch? They really work for me.

They give me a boost of energy (the equivalent of a cup of coffee), and just like they advertise, I don’t crash afterwards. It’s rare for a Sunday to go by without me draining one.

Lest I be judged for my dependence on these drinks, I’ll point out that I’m not the only caffeine junkie. Just look at the vats of coffee we put out on a Sunday morning, or the “free refills” of Diet Coke people pay $2.50 for in local restaurants.

Some like it hot, some like it cold, and some like it in a little magic bottle, but caffeine is, apparently, the drug of choice for lots of us.

Do you know what caffeine is? I had to look it up on Wikipedia. Apparently, caffeine is a “bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid”, whatever that means. It’s found in certain leaves and plants, most notably coffee beans and tea leaves.

It is, “the world’s most consumed psychoactive drug”, and 90% of Americans ingest caffeine on a daily basis.

Wow.

Honestly, I’m not here to debate caffeine’s health merits or deficits. I’m here to ask a simple question:

If we have caffeine, do we still need the Holy Spirit?

I mean, caffeine wakes us up in the morning. It helps us focus. It opens us to inspiration. It gives us the little push some of us need to get moving.

Didn’t that use to be God’s job? Inspiring us, energizing us, focusing us and getting us moving?

Didn’t that used to be the work of the Spirit?

Well the answer is obviously ‘yes’, that’s always been the work of the Spirit. No “xanthine alkaloid” could ever take the place of God in our lives.

But, just in case we forget, here are 3 ways that caffeine could never replace the Holy Spirit:

1. The Holy Spirit is Holy Energy. This is more than some stimulant. It is the creative impulse, the loving urge, the power of Grace. The Spirit won’t just change your morning. It will change your life.

2. The Holy Spirit Gives Direction. The Holy Spirit fills us and then leads us. To new ministry fields, to new realizations, to each other. Coffee usually just leads you to…more coffee.

3. The Holy Spirit Does Not Fade. How long does a coffee buzz last? An hour? Maybe two? Not so with the Holy Spirit. This is the eternal God we’re talking about. Love without end.

Is it really possible for someone to mistake the work of their latte for the work of the Holy Spirit?

Maybe so. We’re so used to taking shortcuts (i.e. caffeine) for making things happen in our lives, we just might mistake a short-term boost for the real thing.

But when the Spirit touches your life, when you’re turned to receive it, there’s nothing like it. A life in the Spirit is a life of real joy, and adventure, and challenge.

A little caffeine might be a way of waking up…

but the Holy Spirit is a way of life.

Have a great week,

Mitch

(This devotion originally appeared as a blog on churchcentral.com)

Going Solo

I’m thinking about changing my religion. I’m gonna become a Jedi.

Okay, not really.

But there really is a Jedi religion. Did you know that? Here’s what it says at JediChurch.org:

“The Jedi Church believes that there is one all powerful force that binds all things in the universe together. The Jedi religion is something innate inside everyone of us, the Jedi Church believes that our sense of morality is innate. So quiet your mind and listen to the force within you!”

People have taken George Lucas’s ideas about The Force, and turned it into something to really believe in.

That’s kind of tempting. Even as a child, I was fascinated by the Force, and I knew that the Dark Side could never win against the Light.

At the climax of The Return of the Jedi, when Darth Vader takes off his scary mask and becomes, for just a moment, human again, I felt triumphant. Good has conquered Evil once again!

So, it’s been fun, Christianity, but I’m jumping over to the Force.

It’s just nice to have things so…black and white. Just like Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi.

Of course, when I look at my life, I can’t say I’ve always fit neatly into one category or the other. Most of the times, I haven’t been all Light side, or all Dark.

Most of the time, I’ve kind of gone Solo.

I mean, Han Solo, of course. Free spirit, maverick, answers to no one but himself. Friends with a Sasquatch.

Morally…ambiguous, but seems to drift all over the place. Shows up on the Light side when it really counts.

Yeah, that more describes the journey I’ve been on. I’ve swerved back and forth from the Light to the Dark to the Light so many times that my world is more of a…dingy gray.

And while I’d like my life to be pristine, I’m not exactly a Jedi. I can’t seem to respond to the Force the way I’d always like to. Not on my own.

I need some help.

Who’s gonna help me and guide me along the way? Who’s gonna offer me grace when I’m ready to stop Going Solo?

George Lucas? No, he’s let me down big time. (You’ve seen the prequels, right?)

I’m thinking Jesus is the guy for the job. More powerful than the Millenium Falcon. More wisdom than a thousand Yodas.

Absolutely oozing with something the Jedi Church doesn’t mention: Love.

Yeah, Love is what I need for the times when my world is gray. Love is what connects me to others, so I don’t have to go it alone.

Love is after all, the most powerful Force in the universe.

May it be with you.

Have a great week,

Mitch

(Honestly, I’m more of a Star Trek guy myself.)

Nothing I Can’t Handle

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. Ecclesiastes 2:11

Lord, could you make nothing happen today?

I’m just not in the mood.

No drama. No stress. No surprises, not even the good kind.

Just keep things even keel.

Nothing new to ponder. Nothing requiring thought. Nothing revealing. Nothing to learn.

No new people. No new ideas. Do you hear me? NOTHING!

Except I don’t want to be bored.

I don’t want to be bored and I don’t want to be stagnant.

This is the only life I have to live, and I can’t let it go by with my head in the sand.

Hmm. Do you have some kind of a menu I could look at?

I wish I could pick the people I will interact with, and the situations I will face.

Could I order up a morning that is just mildly engaging? An afternoon that is interesting but relatively unimportant?

Somehow I expect there will be more than that on my plate today.

Well then,

Thank you, God, for going through it all with me.

Thank you for giving me nothing I can’t handle today.

Even when it ends up being a lot, I have faith that you’ll be near.

And you know what, God?

That counts for SOMETHING, after all.

Have a great week,

Mitch

Sexual Misconduct

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you…” — 1 Corinthians 5.1a

I’ll bet that title got your attention. Me too.

Last week, a prominent United Methodist Pastor in Texas, Tyrone Gordon, resigned and surrendered his credentials amidst multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. He was one of the stars of our denomination, and though nothing has been proven or disproven, the allegations against him are daunting.

NOT AGAIN!

Every time a pastor engages in sexual misconduct (or sexual harassment), God weeps. That’s what I think. This is not Kingdom Behavior.

In our conference we have mandatory sexual ethics training for all pastors, and safe and sacred certification for all who work with children and youth. We work very hard to make sure our churches are sanctuaries from all kinds of abuse.

It pains me to say it, but despite our denomination’s best efforts, some pastors are repressed, and some never learn appropriate boundaries. There are even some who are predators. Some just make stupid mistakes. What I’m trying to say is, sexual misconduct is a rare yet nevertheless present aspect of The Church.

It’s scary, and it sickens me. But sexual impropriety is by no means restricted to clergy.

I would suppose God weeps whenever any doctor, or foreman, or supervisor, or teacher, or co-worker misuses their sexuality in the workplace. It’s a widespread problem.

Here are some stats on work related sexual harassment (from hr.blr.com)

  • About 70% of women and 20% of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • There are about 15,000 cases of sexual harassment filed each year in the United States.
  • These charges cost U.S. companies almost $40 million each year.
  • The number of complaints filed by men has more than tripled in recent years, indicating this is not just a woman’s problem.

There’s a good chance that you or someone you love has been a victim of some level of sexual harassment. Unwanted advances, aggressive behavior, inappropriate humor, power plays, physical assault, etc. This happens more than it should.

When it happens via the clergy, the moral outrage is often stronger because of the perceived higher ethical standards clergy must meet. But the truth is, Christians in all sorts of workplace environments find themselves making poor decisions, inappropriately crossing boundaries, and hurting themselves and others as a result.

Again, this is not Kingdom behavior. So how can we respond?

The two words that come to my mind are: Responsible love.

Responsible love for the victims means listening, believing, showing patience, helping to rebuild trust, and being an advocate.

Responsible love for the one who has engaged in misconduct means counseling, accountability, justice, and hopefully, forgiveness.

Perhaps, most of all, responsible love teaches and promotes healthy sexuality throughout the system.

Painful events like these bring forward so many emotions, and every one of them is acceptable to God. The path to responsible love is a rocky one, not always attained. Still, as Kingdom people, I believe it must be our goal.

I am truly humbled by the recent events in our denomination. It is a reminder that we must all (not just clergy) be mindful and vigilant in our interactions with each other. As painful as times like these can be, we must seize the opportunity to learn and grow.

Because, if we don’t learn and grow…

God weeps.

Have a great week,

Mitch