Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Recently, there seems to be a re-exposure of the ways our culture still has a lot of growing up to do around gender, sexuality, and basic lines of personal responsibility in relationships. Not that it every really went away, but these things tend to wax and wane.
It’s becoming apparent to me that reading random blogs and scrolling through posts on Facebook can be dangerous to one’s mental health. Increasingly, silence seems less of an option. So in my own random way, across a number of topics, I offer this:
“No,” means “NO.” Always. There’s no wiggle room here. There’s no way you can have any expectations. No way can you justify yourself. Just “No.”
Your bad behavior is your fault. Always. It’s not someone else’s fault. Your choices, your decisions – are yours. They are your responsibility. Don’t point the finger at her as a way to get off the hook. If you buy dinner or spend an evening with someone – do you know what you are entitled to? Nothing! That’s all. Every time. No exceptions.
Gentlemen, If the way a woman dresses causes you to lust, you have to deal with your problem. Not her. She’s not the problem. Every discussion I’ve read [Every. One.] about “modesty” and “appropriateness” in the church talks about what women wear and how they dress and says nothing about men and their “modesty” and “appropriateness.” The message is clear: women are temptresses and lead men to sin. That’s just wrong-headed. Gentlemen, check your heart and guard your thoughts. You have a problem. And she is not the problem.
Gay, fag, and other slurs aimed at LGBT people are wrong. Always. Whether you agree with "the lifestyle" or not. They are wrong. Always. Your disagreement doesn’t give you the right to be abusive and act like a jerk. Especially (and in my circles that’s a lot of you) if you call yourself a follower of Jesus; you don’t get to be a jerk. You have a higher calling than that.
These same words often get used by straight people as derogatory terms for each other – sometimes even between friends in a “we’re just kidding” kind of way. This has to stop. It’s wrong. Always. It’s just another backhanded way of being demeaning and degrading to people. Jesus never treated anyone as less than fully human and worthy of his deepest love and care. We need to do the same.
Enough is enough. Our words have too much power to speak them so carelessly & viciously. Now is the time to aspire to something better.
Sunday, May 18, 2014
The other night I watched a movie called August: Osage County. It is based on a play of the same name written by Tracy Letts. It’s described as a “black comedy,” but truth be told I found little comedic about it. I enjoyed it, but not in the usual way I enjoy a movie. [Does that make any sense?] So what got to me? It wasn’t the plot. It wasn’t the action. It wasn’t even the characters.
It was the actors. The cast is full of names you would recognize and some that seem familiar. It’s quite an ensemble. So for better or worse here’s my take on some of the actors in the movie …
Sam Shepard – There’s something about Shepard’s presence that sets the tone of every scene he is in. His affect is often flat, but to hold your own on screen opposite Meryl Streep (more on her later) is no small feat. And he does far more than fade into the woodwork.
Ewan McGregor – He is a chameleon. I was halfway through the movie before I realized it was him. If your only familiarity with McGregor is Star Wars, you are missing so much. He is an incredibly versatile actor. In another time, we would be talking about him as a great ‘character actor’ – a phrase I don’t hear much anymore. But it fits.
Chris Cooper – One of those faces you recognize, but you can’t place the name. Think: Bourne Identity, Seabiscuit, The Muppets, and Amazing Spider-Man 2, among a bunch of others. He’s an Academy Award winner and a Golden Globe winner and nobody knows who he is. And I don’t think he cares! He just seems to work, do it well, and find immense satisfaction in it. He was exceptional here; very impressive.
Margo Martindale – Like McGregor: Versatility. A strong dramatic presence in this film. She is currently starring opposite Will Arnett in the comedy The Millers on CBS. She’s also done Iron Jawed Angels and Dead Man Walking. In an age when big name stars make movie after movie playing essentially the same role over and over again, the value of versatility is lost.
Can’t stop without mentioning two more:
Meryl Streep – In my opinion, quite simply the finest living American actor. She’s exhausting to watch because she’s just so good! And consistently so for over thirty years. There is none finer.
Julia Roberts – What most impresses me is how she continues to develop as an actor; to grow and shape herself as an artist. This is not the Julia Roberts of Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman, as good as those performances were. This isn’t even the Julia Roberts of Erin Brockovich and Ocean’s Eleven. It’s better! If you have any doubts as to whether or not Julia Roberts is one of the finest actors of our time – this movie should put those doubts to rest.
The gist of it all is this …
You don’t have to be the star to have an impact. You, your role and what you bring to it matter and make a difference. Whatever you do, do it well. Do it with integrity and let the rest of it go. Don’t worry about credit, acclaim, money, or influence. None of the things that matter in life [really matter] depend on those things.
As a person of Christian faith, I see this in the teaching of Jesus repeatedly. “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all the rest will be given to you.” It’s a message I was reminded of as I watched this movie: perhaps an unlikely place.
If you stop growing and stop learning, you stop living. Each of these people, in their own way, have worked hard at their craft. They keep pushing themselves to grow and develop as artists. They are not satisfied with where they are and are convinced that they have more to learn - even after decades of acting at a very high level. In August: Osage County, these were full, authentic performances from people who refuse to settle.
In faith as in life, the same is true. The Apostle Paul said, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” That eliminates the possibility of taking the easy road. I pray I will always have the same drive to excel, learn, and grow. Not just as a Christian, but as a person. I am encouraged by people who never stop growing as Disciples, never stop reading and learning more about the Scriptures, never stop asking questions and looking for answers. That’s where I see authentic faith.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
Tomorrow at First Saints Community Church we kick-off our Football Food Drive. Non-perishable food donations are your "vote" for your favorite team. There are boxes in the lobby to vote for the WORLD CHAMPION RAVENS or the Redskins. There is also a box for football fans who vote for other teams and a 4th box for people who want to donate, but aren't football fans at all. We are accepting donations through Sunday, September 23rd. 1 pound of food = 1 vote. Let's see which "team" comes out on top!
We’re starting this because the Food Pantry at First Saints is a little bare. We’ve seen an increase of about 25% in the last two months in the number of people who are guests at the Soup Kitchen and take home food from the food pantry. Even our area schools are seeing a noticeable increase in the number of students living below the poverty line in our area. We’ve been given a great opportunity to help out, but we need the food to do it!
So that’s the idea behind the Football Food Drive.
And just to make it interesting here's a personal challenge from me to all of the REDSKINS fans! This is your home territory; your backyard! You should win easily. And it's no secret I'm .. *ahem* ... less than a Redskins fan. So, here's what I will do... If the Redskins win the Football Food Drive - I will wear a Redskins jersey in worship the following Sunday. I'll make it my Facebook profile picture for the entire NFL season.
But there's more! If the REDSKINS collect more food than all of the other teams COMBINED - I will become a REDSKINS fan for the 2013 NFL season. I will root for your team, say nice things about them on Facebook and Twitter every week (I will even post something nice about Dan Snyder!).
~ Pastor John
Friday, March 15, 2013
The following is from the Great Experiment blog, posted on March 13th. It’s a reflection on John 14:1 – “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.”
Like the Scripture from my last post on Friday, this Scripture was also part of a funeral I officiated last weekend. It’s one of the most frequently used passages at funeral services. Jesus speaking with his disciples offers them comfort and reassurance as the time of his death and departure grows near. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me,” is his calm reassurance.
It makes sense that we would use these words when we are facing the death of our own loved ones and struggling with the significant lose that their departure represents for us. We’re troubled. Our hearts are stirred up. We are unsettled and unsure of the future. Jesus says, “You believe in God; believe also in me.” Jesus says, “Trust me. I have it all under control.”
It may not occur to us to meditate on this Scripture as we contemplate prayer. However, in all circumstances of our lives - large and small - this should be a calming and reassuring message. Whenever we are troubled, unsettled and unsure, we need some rock to hold onto and we find it in Christ. When we call out in prayer because our family is dealing with death or long-term illness – our hearts do not have to be troubled. When we pray and ask God for answers to problems that seem insurmountable – we can have peace. When we seek guidance and discernment for the direction of our lives – we can be sure that God is in control.
Don’t let your heart be troubled. Instead, believe. In believing, we find peace and reassurance. We are reminded that he is faithful. That the Lord is with us. That He is on our side. And our hearts are not troubled.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
The following is from the Great Experiment Blog, posted on March 8th. Reflecting on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1.
This Scripture from Ecclesiastes was one of the passages used in a funeral I officiated last weekend. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven …”
I’ve used it in a number of contexts over the years: funerals mostly, but also sermons, memorial services, welcoming new pastors or saying goodbye to old ones, even weddings. We are mid-way through the Great Experiment and I’m thinking about it now in the context of prayer. There is a time for everything, and all that we bring to the Lord as we pray.
Sometimes we will bring to the Lord our tears, mourning, scattering, tearing, silence, hatred and war. At other times we will bring the Lord our life; planting, healing, laughing, dancing, embracing, mending, love and peace. All of life, good and bad, belongs before the Lord in prayer. There is no sense in holding anything back; he wants to be Lord of it all!
At times, I try very hard to put my best foot forward. I want to give God excellence. I want God to know that what I’m offering is nothing short of the best of me. I think that’s a laudable thing. But there must also be times when I bring God the foot that drags along behind me. There needs to be a time when I give God my failures and my unworthiness. I need to acknowledge before God (God, of course, already knows) that my best is nothing but filthy rags. For each of these extremes there is a time, and a season.
Prayer is a must in all times and in every season of our lives. We must avoid the pitfall that believes a life of prayer is only for some seasons and during certain times. It is always a good time to turn to the Lord. Prayer is never out of season.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
The following is from the Great Experiment Blog, posted on Monday, March 4th:
“Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things.” – Isaiah 59:1-3
We underestimate the impact of sin in our lives and its impact on our prayer life. I underestimate the impact of my sin in my life and its impact on my prayers.
I have a lot of excuses for my sinfulness and a lot of ways to minimize the impact of my sin. “It’s really not as bad as it seems.” “It doesn’t have the impact that you might think.” “It’s just a little thing, compared to some of the really bad things that people do.” I’m not a bad person. I generally get it right. When you weigh the good against the bad it’s pretty clear that the good wins out [at least I like to think that it does].
God has a very different perspective. Sin is sin. The distinction we make between “big sins” and “little sins” is not a distinction that God makes. It’s all just sin. It’s not about the sins that have a big impact or the ones that have a small impact – all sin has the same impact. It separates us from God. Separated is separated. Hidden is hidden. Out of earshot is out of earshot (see verse 2).
When we struggle with our sin, we don’t need to do a little better. We need a complete makeover. We need our hands, and the rest of us, washed clean. We need a Savior. We need Jesus.
The hope we find is revealed in verse 1: “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” The Lord will save, the Lord will hear. He is waiting for us to call.
*The Great Experiment is a 40-Day Journey of Discipleship that the people of First Saints are participating in during Lent. It involves prayer, scripture, small groups, tithing, ministry and acts of service. If you’d like to know more, leave me a message in the comments.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Something ironic about the fact that today, in 1791, the Bill of Rights became law.
So much attention is focused on the 2nd Amendment today after what happened in Connecticut. It’s evident that in the wake of this unspeakable tragedy - all we can do is argue. Gun control THIS! Right to bear arms THAT! Demonize anyone who doesn’t agree with you! YELL LOUDER AND MAKE SURE YOU GET HEARD.
Meanwhile we neglect to mourn with the two dozen families who are going through today with a huge hole in their lives where there shouldn't be one. We're so quick to rally to our causes that we forget their cause. Let me be clear – God does not forget.
God hears the cry of the suffering and the mourning. God enters into pain and suffering in a way that no other can. My God, as a parent, knows what it’s like to lose a Son. My God is well acquainted with grief and sorrow. God’s heart, God’s eye, is focused on Connecticut today. And also on Birmingham. Wherever there is suffering, loss, and pain – my God is there.
This was NOT God’s will. God’s will is life and health and wholeness and peace. This was not God’s will. This was human frailty and free will at its worst.
We can yell and scream about issues another day. Now is not the time for that. Now is the time to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who are afflicted. Now is the time to be with those who are wondering “Where is God” in all of this.
Let’s be clear. God is right here with us. That eternal message of Advent hasn’t changed. Emmanuel. God is with us. Moved into the neighborhood. Taken up residence. With us.