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April 28, 2016, 8:14 AM

Life it Too Short For...

My friend, John, says that life is too short for bad cheese.  The highway billboard said that life is too short for bad TV.  Sometimes when counseling I’ve asked folks to consider that life is short: too short to put up with the difficulty any more or too short not to forgive?

This is a light month: Holy Week and Easter in March and summer activities not kicking in until later this month - so maybe it’s a good time to consider the nature of faith as it is lived in this short timeframe of life.

Go ahead and fill the blanks:

Life is too short for ________________________________________.

Life is too short for ________________________________________.

Life is too short for ________________________________________.

Life is too short for ________________________________________.

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February 29, 2016, 10:08 AM

Lent isn’t for Lent’s sake, Lent is for Easter’s sake.

Whatever we think about Lent, whatever we give up or do differently in that short season of preparation, it is not giving things up or doing something differently for their own sakes, but for a much larger purpose.  Lent isn’t for Lent’s sake, Lent is for Easter’s sake, the sake of putting ourselves in the best possible position to enter into and participate in the single most pivotal event in human history - Jesus’ resurrection.

Reflecting in the introduction to her Bible study on resurrection, Kristie Berglund notes that “the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything.  When dawn broke on that first Easter morning, the sun rose on an entirely new world.  The very fabric of creation had been transformed.  The direction of history had been altered.  The power of death had been broken.  Life was victorious.  How are we to live in the light of that glorious day?  How does Christ’s great victory play out in our everyday lives?  As people of the risen Lord, our identity and calling are rooted in the resurrection.”

We will transition from Lent to Easter this month, from the incomprehensible emptiness of the crucifixion to the unfathomable lavishness of God’s love.  If we are, as Berglund suggests, a people of the risen Lord rooted in the resurrection, that sure has an impact on how we are to live.  There is plenty of emptiness “out there,” all kinds of brokenness and death.  But the resurrection emptied death of its power, rendered it impotent in the face of divine love.  How are we to live in the light of that glorious day?  By remembering that Lent isn’t about Lent.  Whatever we end up giving up is not for its own sake, but for a much larger purpose - reveling in the unfathomable lavishness of God’s Easter love as a people rooted in the resurrection.

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February 1, 2016, 8:17 AM

Focus on Joy

As the editor of our local newspaper for more than forty years, my dad used to write an editorial each spring imploring people of the community to refrain from using mowers and other noisy power equipment on Sundays.  It never made a difference as far as I could tell, but that never deterred him from writing it.  (I guess it did make a difference in one way, though: I don’t ever mow my grass on Sundays!  Although I have been known to use a power tool or two.)

Likewise, with some apparent futility I go to some lengths each year to try to point out that Lent often gets a bad wrap for being imposing with its heavy dose of penitence.  But as I point out in the explanation of the February forum series, the word “lent” actually comes from a word meaning “springtime,” as in new life.  Like Advent is a holy time of preparation for Christmas, Lent is a time of holy preparation for Easter - coming through the shameful and agonizing death of the cross to the irrepressible hope for new and eternal life that the cross makes possible.  As such, Lent is not a time for wallowing in self-mortification, but a springtime of good news as we become as ready as we can be for the greatest celebration the Church has in the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

So if you can accept that Lent is actually good news, now is actually a good time to focus on the joy of ministry.  It is awfully easy to get worn out with trying to juggle everything that life demands - all our family obligations and personal struggles, the barrage of bad news in the media, the people who just seem to sap all your energy just by their presence.  But if we take, say, Philippians 4:8 to heart (maybe as a good Lenten meditation), we can refocus our time and energy on all there is to celebrate and be joyful about in the service to our Lord.

Lent is not about Lent in its own right, but is about preparing ourselves, heart, mind, strength and soul, for the resurrection life we share in by the great gift of love God gave us in Jesus the Christ.  So take this Lenten time, not as a distasteful period of deprivation to be avoided at all costs, but as time for being better prepared to share in the celebration and joy of ministry for our Lord’s sake and in his risen name.

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January 4, 2016, 1:04 PM

The Church Needs to Regain Its Prophetic Voice

Back in December, I railed on a bit in a couple of sermons about the Church regaining its prophetic voice.  Now that it is the new year, maybe it is time to take a fresh look at exactly what that means.  Prophecy has very little to do with telling the future, like some turbined fortune teller gazing into a crystal ball.  During the time of the prophets as Israel was becoming a nation, the prophets basically functioned as God’s mouthpiece.  They were the ones who were inspired by the Spirit to convey the will or direction that God wanted God’s people to go.  It was often risky business.  The time of the prophets was relatively short in duration, a few decades.  No one functions in exactly that same capacity today, but the Church does have a prophetic role to play.  That is, trusting that the Spirit is present and will guide, the Church can be the voice crying out in the wilderness to offer this world a different vision from our headlines, maybe the only entitiy that can do that.

When every other voice out there says, “Heck with the homeless.  Let ‘em get a job and quit sponging off the rest of us,” we can be the prophetic voice that says, “Heck with such a lack of compassion.  Take an example from our Lord and serve the poor as you would serve Christ himself rather than disdainfully dismissing them.”  When every other voice out there says, “They don’t look like me or sound like me or think like me or vote like me.  There must be something wrong with them,” we can be the prophetic voice that says, “All people are made in the image and likeness of God and we respect the dignity of every human being.”  Especially when the voices of those who would stake a claim to the Christian faith promote an ever-deeper culture of violence as a way of addressing the very culture of violence that such an attitude fosters (like the president of Liberty University who gloats at a university convocation about carrying a concealed handgun and strongly encourages the 10,000-strong student body to do the same), the Church needs to regain its prophetic voice and say, “Enough violence in Jesus’ name!  Put away your weapons and receive the peace that passes all understanding.”

It seems a daunting task, this being a prophetic voice - risky even.  Maybe you are not even sure what that means, but the prophets give us the example.  When every other voice out there screams us further and further away from the gifts of compassion and healing and peace that God has so wanted to offer this world since the dawn of creation, trusting that the Spirit is present and will guide, the Church can be the voice crying out in the wilderness to offer this world a different vision from our headlines, maybe the only entity that can do that.

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December 1, 2015, 12:00 AM

Maybe there is nothing new to say about the birth of Christ and maybe there doesn’t need to be.

Most of the time, our Sunday readings only come around every three years (given the lectionary cycle), but there are times when the readings are always the same from one year to the next, such as Ash Wednesday, Easter, and Christmas.  Well, actually we have a couple of options for the readings each Christmas, but it is, of course, always the same story.  For eighteen years, I’ve tried to come up with something different to say about the birth of our Savior each year.  I’ve used Charlie Brown and the Grinch, I’ve used Ebineezer Scrooge, I’ve told the story of Timothy the Hunchback.  I’ve talked about family.  How many different things can you say about the birth of our Christ?  God entered into our world in a miraculous way (the incarnation), came in vulnerability (the same way Jesus went out), revealed not to the powerful, but to the lowly; let Christ be reborn in your heart anew each year, each day.  All of that is true and good theology, can be dealt with very personally in the midst of daily life, but what can be said about the birth of Christ that hasn’t already been said a million times over?

Maybe there is nothing new to say about the birth of Christ and maybe there doesn’t need to be.  That is the value of hearing the stories of our faith over and over and over again, some more often than others.  No matter what is said by some preacher somewhere, we all are different people than we were the last time we heard the story and so often we hear something new in the story, something resonates in a way that it had not before.  So I am not going to try to say anything new about the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, this year.  I am simply going to encourage to you read it and hear it anew, and let the story tell you what you need to hear.

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