MARTIN LUTHER’S EDGY SIDE

            And I heard them murmur…

                                                   “… he didn’t really say that did he?

It’s no big secret Martin Luther had an edgy side to his words.  Beer drinking monks who become college professors find the task easy.  In fact, when the Duke Elector hands over the local monastery to you for your family to live in, it’s quite easy to see how a person can take privilege to speak one’s own mind amongst friends.  It is said that when Luther had people at his table for dinner, students would write down his responses to questions about life and death, God and the Pope and the work of priests, etc.  Quite often some of Luther’s colleagues attempted to confiscate the notebooks of those students to keep what positive image Luther had intact.   However, because we have his edgy words, obviously Luther’s colleagues were not totally successful!

As we get ready to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Christian Reformation, it might be fun as well as in good order to reflect on some of Luther’s edgy remarks.  So, let the celebration begin for this unique man… perhaps you want to add some quotes in the comments below…

ON PRAYER

In our culture most people pray when they need something.  It’s usually not a good scenario.  There are far more people who get on with their day with no thought of God whatsoever.  Luther could not think of beginning any task without spending time in prayer…

 “I have so much to do today, I’ll need to                                                                          spend  another hour on my knees.”

When I first heard this I gasped.  What a joke I thought. I was young.  It fits better in my life  now.  But, I also think that Luther started his day out way different than our own.  For in my life, I get up then walk slowly to the commode.  Luther’s  morning relief was outside or in a chamber pot.  I make the coffee.  He never had a cup of coffee.  The water I use to brush my teeth and shower comes from indoor spigots.  Luther needed to draw water in a bucket!  He would walk the house and light the candles from the taper lit from the embers of  last nights fire.  I have AC and light switches.  Different routines but we all get a morning to pray.  So, I have this idea that Luther began his day in prayer as he went around the house and opened up windows, lighting candles, drawing water from the well out back, etc.  He said it himself by saying he began his day saying the 10 commandments, praying the Lord’s Prayer and reciting the Creed.  It’s a clue and I’ve been wrong before…

ON THE PRIMACY OF THE GOSPEL

We live in a world of ‘know-it-alls”.  Got a Facebook page?  A Twitter account?  A blog?  Good.   There’s a new rule in town.  It’s your blog.  It’s your tweet. It’s your fb post.  You are the expert and you get to tell people off.  Respond  if you want.  Delete as needed. I groan to ponder still what Luther would have written or posted had he access to a laptop and a twitter account. Yet, he was such a realist.  As smart as he was and despite his good intentions, he knew is own shortcomings.  He knew his need for grace and perhaps this is one really good reason why the Roman church continues to hold daily mass…

                   “We need to hear the Gospel every day,                                                                                      because we forget it every day. “

Just once I’d like to look in the mirror and see not my face, but God’s.  A quick glance over the sink.  Was that Jesus?  Nah.  It’s me.  Again. Just like always. I’m so important and without a time to pray and without making a short list of who I need to help today I remain the center of the world.  It’s bad news.  I’m bad news.  Until the Gospel creeps in.  You probably have a mirror just like mine.  It doesn’t talk. I wish it did.  To remind me of the gospel.

ON GOOD WORKS

Luther’s understanding of God changed the more he read his Bible and the more open he was to his father confessor at the Augustinian monetary, Johann von Staupitz.  Luther desired a God who loved him yet thought the love God had for him was determined by the good works Luther did. What a freeing moment when he discovered this…

                    “God does not need your good works,                                                                                         but your neighbor does.”

And just for the record, I’m one of those guys who thinks that von Staupitz was really the heart and soul of the Reformation.  Sure, God called Luther to be a monk.  Lighting bolt in the arse stuff.  But, it was Luther’s confessor who pushed him to seek Christ.  It was Fr. von Staupitz who sent Luther to Rome and got him the job at Wittenberg.  In fact, I think that if it weren’t for him, there would be no Luther at all and he very well may have died a frustrated monk in Erfurt never to discover the grace of Christ. Old ones see where the holes are better than most think.  Fr. von Staupitz did a good work. He loved Luther.

ON IDOLATRY AND WEALTH

The world Luther lived in was vastly different from the daily life we encounter.  Luther had no cell phone or wi-fi nor a laptop or running water or instant light at the flip of a switch.  While the printing press made him a European rock star in the church, he most like never heard of Christopher Columbus who was pretty much a contemporary.  Yet, a person’s heart in Luther’s Wittenberg is no different 500 years later from the hearts of those like me who live in SE Texas or anywhere else in North America.  We all have a God and we all believe in something. What Brother Martin felt important was where a person places their life’s priority… and was caught saying…

“Show me where a person spends their time and                                                           money and I’ll show you that person’s God.”

Ask any 13-year-old in the US of A what they want to be when they grow up … you will hear the #1 answer from most of them.  “Rich and famous.”  The trouble though is that those who become rich and famous seem to enjoy the wealth but dislike the fame.  Gee. Who would have thunk that selfishness and idolatry were related?

ON SIN AND BEER DRINKING.

Looking back on Luther’s life, it is easy to see that he was one who “worked hard” and “played hard”.  Well, in those days, everybody did.  People only played when the work was done.  That is a different concept than our American way of life.  For too many, play and leisure is life’s goal… rather than seeing it as a reward for the hard yet necessary work we tackle day-to-day.  Luther was trained in logic.  Take heed. I’m not sure this is a recipe we all want to hold on to at all cost…

    “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”

I’m not sure whether Martin actually said this… if not, I’d like to give credit to my fraternity advisor in college! 

ON FLATULENCE AND THE DEVIL

Luther’s culture had  such a mysterious and superstitious bend.  Lightning, thunder and gargoyles just for starters.  Science has taught us much about the world and God and in many instances tempered those superstitions… like God is angry when lightning strikes your house… we all know better… even though scientists cannot tell any of us when and exactly where lightning will strike!  Good and evil ruled the day and when it came to Luther having any power over the devil he was heard saying this..

                        “But I resist the devil, and often it is                                                                                         with a fart that I chase him away.”

The older I get, the easier it is to chase away the devil this way.  Plus, I think this saying rhymes in German!  Regardless, every language has this sound!  Our grandson is six.  He thinks only boys do that.  And he chases the devil away sometimes more than I!

ON LIFE AS GIFT

When Martin Luther died, on the stand next to his bed was found a small piece of paper.  It was the last of many writings attributed to him.  It was also one of if not the shortest thing Luther wrote.  He knew life was a gift and as he lay dying he wrote…

WE ARE BEGGARS; THIS IS TRUE

Luther wasn’t the scientist that our 6th graders are.  I suppose his efforts within the church, however, added a push of energy to what we all have access to now.  He did know the sanctity of life, however, as a pastor’s work pulls the high and low watermarks of life and death closer more often than those who experience births and deaths from time to time.  Face it, I don’t have to be here.  You don’t have to be here.  But, I am here.  You are, too!   We are here.  We belong to Christ and Christ gives new life.  That’s the deal.  Someone said back at the end of the 2oth century… (my paraphrase) “when the world gets done fighting, it will be the Lutherans who bring people together. They know Jesus well and they know how to stretch out their arms in both directions to bring the world to the table of Christ.  That will be a good day!”  Life is a gift indeed.  Sacred for each generation.  I look forward to that day and hope it lasts a week or more!

ON CALLING THE CHURCH ‘LUTHERAN’

Lastly, there is this to consider…  near the end when those opposed to the ‘reforming’ efforts of the Church Catholic the followers of Brother Martin got tagged by his last name.

        “The first thing I ask is that people should not make use of my name,                        and should not call themselves Lutherans but Christians. What is                             Luther?  The teaching is not mine. Nor was I crucified for anyone…                           How did I,  poor stinking bag of maggots that I am, come to the point where people call the children of Christ by my evil name?”

I graduated from Texas Lutheran College in 1976, the year of America’s Bicentennial.  It was a grand day and a grand year.  I do not recall any of us saying… “Gee, I wonder if we’ll be around  celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation… but here we are… 2017 and we can say… we were there… how good for the world that Martin Luther’s name is still recalled… because he pointed the church to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, October 29 will be the official celebration day for the ‘reformation’ for Lutheran Christians around the globe.  I hope you will find your way to a church that day to hear the gospel’s good news in a fresh way!  Let your Lutheran Christian leaning bring you to the Word and the Table as we make our way into another season of faithful living!  And if I were a mathematician, I might advertise it this way…

 1 monk + 95 theses + 500 years = 80 million Lutherans around the globe!

May you carry on some edginess of your own for the sake of the world…

And I heard them murmur…
 “… he didn’t really say that did he?

murmuring as best I can in times like this…

    Brian

 

 

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HURRICANE HARVEY. HAVOC and HOPE

And I heard them murmur…

… what are we gonna do now?

 

<Some sound bytes and thoughts along the way to & thru a hurricane named Harvey.>

Until recently I didn’t think much about the name Harvey.  I have no uncle Harvey, even though my drunk grandfather called our house once asking for “Harv McGee.”  My dad’s name is Howard.  But,  I do remember Harvey the Rabbit and the actor Harvey Keitel.   When I was a boy, there was  baseball player named Harvey Kuenn and for the NASA folks… everyone knows about Harvey Hubbell.  But, even when you google ‘famous Harveys,’ the list is not that long. This will not be the case anymore in our corner of the kingdom when someone mentions the name, Harvey.  As when that happens, all of us will turn our hearts and minds to a hurricane so named that has brought more devastation to our neighborhoods than any of us can recall.  And stuck somewhere in the middle of that … consider… a recent report indicates just about 1 million people have moved to the Houston metroplex since hurricane Ike hit in 2008.  One million with most having no experience with what a storm like that can do.

It will be a long and arduous recovery for people like us and people that we know and the people they know.  52 inches of rain and the subsequent flooding is a hemorrhoid for each and every one of us!  But, remember.. I’m a church guy.  I get that life is hard.  I get that God is good.  Hurricanes remind us of that.  And at the church I serve … we say this… at New Life people focus their lives using seven helpful verbs…  Prayer and worship are two of them.  This is primary behavior for those who follow Jesus.  We study the Bible as the guide and norm for life.  At New Life, people invite others to come along to join the journey and encourage them each day.  We give of our time and money as a sign of God’s generosity and  we tend to each day as we serve God by serving others.  And for now, we will enter the battle of havoc and hope as this is what appears and rises when a storm like Harvey makes itself know.  It is time to ENCOURAGE and SERVE.  We will still tend to the seven faith behaviors of our Christian lives but for the time being we will keep this reality in front of us.  Remember what Martin Luther wrote… “God doesn’t need your good works; your neighbor does.” And we know what Jesus said when answering the question… ‘who is my neighbor?’

WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT

When my own house took on 22″ of water in 1995, I was encouraged by the Lutheran Disaster Relief staff to go back and take a look at the Noah flood story in Genesis.  When 22″ of water drop out of the sky in 24 hours, there’s no place to go and you have some extra time to read.  See Genesis 6:1 – 9:28 for details.  And this is what is worth noting…

As children we are taught the story of Noah and the flood.  God wanted to wash aways the sins of the corrupt world and decided that one righteous man and his family would be enough to start over.  The flood waters came.  Noah and his family survived.  And God gave us a rainbow to remind us the world would never be flooded again.  That’s what children learn.

As adults, we keep reading and find out that Noah wasn’t so righteous after all.  He becomes a man of the dirt, plants a vineyard, makes wine, gets drunk and naked and embarrasses his sons.  So much for the one righteous man.  Noah is just like the rest of us and I conclude we are all in the same boat!

But, there is another piece of that story worth noting.  It’s the part at the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8 where the water took 150 days to recede.  Whether you believe literally in 40 days and 40 nights of rain or that it rained for a long, long time… I think paying attention to the 150 day notation is worthwhile.  That’s what the LDR staff was helping us understand.  The water comes and the water subsides leaving much havoc in its wake, but it is in the 150 days that hope rises up and it rises up, not alone, but in community.  Remember… we’re all in the same boat together and it takes more than a weekend to recover and for many even more than 150 days.

 

 

HAVOC is 1000’s of streets in SE Texas looking like this!

COLLATERAL DAMAGE

The havoc from the hurricane is one thing.  What comes after is another.  People try to help and they try to be kind and say things like, “well, it’s just stuff.’  And then comes the reply… “yeah, but it’s MY stuff.”  Point taken.

One man is displaced from his home.  He goes to live with other family and finds himself on an unfamiliar sidewalk, trips and falls injuring his hip and a trip to the ER. Havoc 2.0.

Estimates are over 500,000 cars went underwater.  Two of them to a daughter and a daughter-in-law.  It’s just stuff.  It’s just a car people say.  “Yeah, but it’s MY car“!  Point taken and with the average car costing $33,500 these days that equals over $16 billion dollars of replacement vehicles.  Expect insurance rates to climb.  All. Over. The country.  Expect car dealers to smile.

One person said, “Pastor, had this happened a year and half ago, I’m not sure what would have happened to me.”  That person joined this congregation at the invitation of a friend.  Life was changed.  Forever.  Havoc is struck down by hope as others came to muck out the house and take to the streets stuff not worthy of keeping.

Another person has been heard saying over and over… “I never thought my house could take on so much water.  I am so blessed to have a church that cares so much for others.”  Let that sink in.  For some, there was no where to turn.  So, the house mucking continues.  Day 150, day 149, day 148, etc.  Havoc is being taken out and hope is seeping in.

It could have been worse. I wasn’t sure if I would make it.  I held on to my car for three hours as the waters rose and became swifter. Two boats came by filled with others in a fix just like me.  The third boat rescued me.  It happened so fast.  It could have been much worse.”  I have no picture of this.  But, we can all picture THAT!

While Texas has been showing the rest of the world how to handle a storm like Harvey, and the TV reporters have provided some wonderful images of kindness, care  with neighbor helping neighbor no matter what color or language or how much money they have in the bank, I’ve also witnessed others rummaging through bags outside the Salvation Army pilfering clothes and it’s always suspect when some folks arrive at your house in a pick-up truck or two offering to “haul off your stuff” to a house that was not damaged but with a few good pictures of piles at the street, a good insurance pay-out is nearby. So, yes… we are all in the same boat… we aren’t all as righteous as folks would like us to be.

Then there is this… the predictable response to those in the cross hairs of the storm.

  1.  GUILT.  There is a likelihood that many who experienced little to no damage will begin to feel guilty in the coming weeks as others take a much longer time to recover including those who have witnessed everything they’ve owned underwater… and…
  2. RESENTMENT for those who lost so much and now see their friends and family  going about their merry way as if Harvey had been gulped up by the Gulf of Mexico and never even showed up.

It’s important to remember that feelings are just that… feelings… and what we do with them… how we respond and acknowledge them … makes all the difference.

A CONFESSION OF SINS

I did hear this on the TV.  There were those who were stranded in their homes while the storm took its toll and there were those (like me) who were outside the storm when it hit and could not return for days by car or plane.  I’ve never thought about owning a boat… ’til  now.  Just sayin’.

This is going to be a long recovery for so many.  We never went back to re-visit the people impacted by Hurricane Katrina 2 and 3 years later.  We just went on to the next story… the next thing and didn’t show care. I hope we can do a different thing for those who are impacted now.”  <network and reporter not singled out.>  We’re all in the same boat.

WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO NOW?

This is the question now worth asking and so is this one…

     … from where will we find our strength to rise up rebuild?

I think Psalm 22:10-11 can help…

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.  The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.

 

HOPE isn’t a thing.  Hope has a face.  It is the face of Jesus and the face of Jesus shows up on people like this!

 

This is not a time to point fingers of blame.  Houston had a worse flood in 1935.  Hurricanes bring both havoc and hope.  So, this is a time to point out the places where we lift up our neighbors.  This is the time where we make piles of rubble and create a new life beyond the ruin.   This is a time to be smart and trust the God who never sleeps nor slumbers… a time to trust in God’s strength and God’s peace.  There’s enough hope for all of us and we do not keep it to ourselves.

And I heard them murmur… “Whatta we gonna do now?”  Keep counting the days and watch havoc be overcome by hope.  And if it happens again. We’ll do this again.  We’re all in the same boat!

Murmuring as best I can,

      Brian

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THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!

And I heard my friend murmur…

       “…this has got to stop!

I was in Denver with my 27-year-old son last week when I saw the news of what was unfolding in Charlottesville.  Live and in color and enough to weary my soul.  We were staying in a hotel downtown just 1/2 block away from the U.S Federal Courthouse where the Taylor Swift ‘groping’ trial was in its 4th day.  TV cameras in Denver.  TV cameras in Charlottesville.  Both events important.  Both events worthy of reporting.  Both events have subsided.  For now.  And trust these events are far more than just distracting life interruptions.  “When is all this crap gonna stop?” a friend asked.  “Why is it that people with good intentions, who do good productive work, have to stop and respond to stupid stuff like this?”  Pay $1 for an ass grab, an obvious selfish act vs. pay with your life for a young woman with love of neighbor and a passion for justice seeking to help one crowd quiet another’s acts of selfishness.  My friend is misinformed. It is important.  And my friend is right.  This has got to stop, but it won’t if we stop talking about it.

Should I care that a Denver DJ had to pay $1 for copping a feel of a famous country singer of whom I know little of either?  Frankly, yes.  My 27-year-old son is depending on me to.  As are my grandsons.  Should I care that an organized crowd of neo-nazi haters gather in a quiet college town to intentionally bring disruption to the daily life there and point attention to themselves?  I better.  My son, 2 two brothers and 2 sisters and my grandchildren are counting on it.  And just for the record… their mother and I are counting on them.  Yes, this has got to stop.  But, this an old story that has turned a page with a new chapter with new players and new faces and will happen again in spite of all our collective efforts.  It’s the diminishing factor that I’m looking for.  That ass grabbing and hate mongering will become less and less. And, in time, finally disappear.  Yes, this has got to stop.  So, please, do not stop talking about it.

I work with men.  Men of all ages.  Men as old as my late father, men my own age and men the same ages as my sons.  But, when I see  the young men gathered together, like I did in Charlottesville, spewing hate and coaxing a scuffle, I come to one conclusion… “there’s lots of work left to be done!  Lots!”  America is still not the  ‘kinder, gentler nation,’ the country with “a thousand points of light” former president George H.W. Bush hoped for.  Some seem to think their difference of opinions make them better than others and others are not equal to them.  My Bible and the U.S. Constitution say otherwise.

Why is this important?  Working with men?  Simple.  It’s an inclusive thing.  Men just don’t hang out with men.  They have parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, both male and female, a spouse, children and grandchildren.  Men’s ministry is not exclusive.  Men are everywhere.  They relate to everyone.  They were on both sides of the street in Charlottesville and in both ends of the jury box in Denver. The things that men do impact everyone.  For the good and the evil. Impact is impact.  And what I know now that I wasn’t fully tuned into when I was as young as my sons is that the impact lingers.  For the good and for evil.  So, I’m all for advancing the good and helping diminish the evil.  And I also know I can’t do this alone.

As a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and as an advocate for Lutheran Men in Mission, I must state clearly…  I’m not THE voice of the ELCA.  I am A voice.  I’m not THE voice of LMM, but I am A voice and where I come from your voice… my voice counts.  So, let me point you to a few of my favorite quotes from another voice… Martin Luther… as this is stuff that falls into the category of ‘working out our salvation with fear and trembling‘ (Philippians 2:12)…

First,

“God does not need your good works; but your neighbor does.”

What good work is done when one man grabs the buttocks of another woman?  None.  Selfish pleasure reigns.  Superiority seeks its place.  In Denver, humility cost a dollar plus a reputation.  And what good work comes about when young men take over city streets bringing disruption and fear to local residents?  How would anyone refer to this as ‘supremacy?’  Inferiority? Yes.  Oppression turned inside out?  Absolutely, as these actions were leveled in full disregard of neighbors.  As a Lutheran pastor, a husband and father, as a friend and brother I abhor such behavior.  So, maybe my friend was right.  It is an unnecessary distraction from the good and productive things I could be doing.  But, writing this is a good and productive thing, too, I hope, even though I’d rather be doing something else.

To take that further… Luther went on…

“Each one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another.”

Wow.  Doesn’t sound like the Denver and Charlottesville stories. In fact, let me say it like my old mentor, Art Haimerl, said in Sunday messages often… “You discover who you are as you give your life away in love.”  Pretty cool, huh?  Pretty biblical, too!  Or like what is written in the Didache’, the earliest handbook for Christians…

“There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.”

A great difference.

In Luther’s day he would say (my paraphrase) “be the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker…” all worthy occupations which give back to the community and bolsters the lives of those around you… doing work that is necessary and helpful… so, I take that to mean in this day and time… “don’t be the bank robber, the pimp or the drug dealer…” for it is in this kind of work that life is sucked out of those closest to you… actions that lead to death.  So, in like manner… don’t be an uninvited ass grabber  and don’t go taking over people’s streets because you think it’s a good thing.  Yes, this has got to stop.  Will it? Perhaps.   One man at a time, I like to say… and no man left behind.

And another way Luther pointed to…

“A Christian is the most free lord of all, subject to none; and a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone.”

As my friend, Steve Kelly says… “Get it?  Got it?  Good.”

So, Saturday night I boarded a plane to head back to Houston.  “Dad, you ready to preach in the morning?” my son asked.  “I was,” I said.  “Until all this stuff happened and I’ll need to change some things.”  And maybe that’s the point.  This stuff won’t stop until some change occurs.  But, I can only attend to the change in me and I’ll have to pray for the change in you.  But change will be necessary for any kind of diminishing of hate and violence to come about.  I believe we can do it.  I believe it can happen.  And when we all say, “this has to stop,” then it will.  And, still, I will keep working with men… because I can… and because I want to… knowing, eventually, some other selfish guy will grab the back side of an unsuspecting woman or some young men with nothing better to do will march into another town with tiki torches and swastikas to evoke hate and promote disruption.  Face it… we all have better things to do, but at the same time we all better tend to THIS… so, please don’t stop talking about it… our grandchildren’s grandchildren are counting on us…

And I heard my friend murmur… “THIS has got to stop.”

murmuring for the good the best I can…

     Brian

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Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego Get Fired Up for God

…and I heard them murmur… “How hot could it get?”

Every once in a while, it can feel like you are in the middle of the furnace with fire all around you. It’s more than living in Texas in August.  It’s a thing that consumes you and if you are going to come out of the fire, the goal is to not smell like smoke!

I’ve stood near a fiery furnace.  A summer job in college.  Toss in the scrap aluminum.  Don’t lean in too far.  Watch it melt.  Pull off the dross. Repeat. Be sure to wear protective helmet, vest and gloves.  That’s one image.  There’s more.  A lot more!

I’ve stood in the fiery furnace.  Sometimes you don’t even go looking for it.  The door is right there at the beginning of your day and someone tosses you in.  It’s that moment when you realize, “I just got burned.”  It’s not the temperature you worry over; it’s realizing your heart is scorched and your brain is simmering and you can’t think of anything else except asking, ‘How did this happen?’  ‘How long will this tempest last?’  ‘Could it get worse?’  You pray someone shows up with a hose or glass of Irish whiskey.  Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don’t.  Being alone in the fire is worse.

Then I’ve seen others jump into the fiery furnace.  I knew they knew better, but as the saying goes… ‘she just couldn’t help herself!’  Despite all the will power anyone can muster and even after all the loving warnings from friends and family, there are still those occasions when the encroaching fire beckons.  In that moment of intentional blind and personal abandonment of all that is holy, just and right you fall into it to welcome the pain and pay a price that can linger a long, long time and even create a path from which there is no return.  That’s when you smell like smoke!

Stop for a moment and feel the heat.  Do a quick scan or your torso top to bottom.  Start low.  Look up.  See any scars? Some leftover burn marks from that time or those times you found yourself in the fire?  Now close your eyes.  Take a look inside.  The scars are there, too.  Most likely even deeper than the ones on the outside.  Lost love.  Lost job. A debilitating accident.  Death of a parent.  Death of a spouse. Death of a marriage. The child you thought you deserved.  A doctor’s diagnosis.  Fill in the blank.  The older you get the chances are the more scars you’ve acquired.  “Trials and tribulations, you shall have,” Jesus said.  That was spoken as promise and not be to confused with fake news.   So, don’t be too surprised if you find yourself in the fiery furnace from time to time.  It’s called life.

So, here’s a story.  One I remember as a child, but in all my 36 years of ministry never once preached on. Until August 2017.  In Texas. With a temperature in the 90’s closing in on 100 degrees.  The story of King Nebuchadnezzar and him having Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego tied and tossed into the fiery furnace of unfaithfulness.  Or at least it seemed so at first.  You can read about it yourself in the Old Testament book of Daniel… chapter 3… https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel+3&version=MSG.

King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t kill the people he took captive.  He didn’t burn down the town, either.  He was a subtle mind-manipulator and culture shifter.  He found the local leaders.  He gave them good Babylonian food, good Babylonian names and good Babylonian jobs.  The Israelites noticed their leaders thriving and soon made similar adjustments. When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians, right?  Well, except if you are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego… formerly known by their Hebrew names Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah… all pointing out the power and glory of God… the one true God to be worshiped rather than the 90 foot high and nine feet thick golden statue not so good King Neb erected for all of his kingdom to worship.  Narcissism goes way back, huh?  Well, at least moon god worship.

When was the last time you took a bold stand? When was the last time the music got cranked up and you chose not to dance with the rest of the crowd?  You know… “do a little dance, make a little love… get down tonight…” or “you’ve got to fight for the right to par-tay” or ‘if you can’t be with the one you love… love the one you’re with” kind of resistance?  Or did you join in? Many did.  Some of us have the scars to prove it!  What Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did was about the mission of God.  An ‘amen’ moment to stand fast and hold their ground of faith.  No matter what the King and culture dictated, their response was a bold, we can’t be pushed around devotion to God…  a love for the one true God… Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim of Israel… the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!  And that’s when the big stout monks showed up, stoked up the King’s fiery furnace seven times higher, bound the three friends and tossed them into the fire!

And here’s where the alarm bells go off…

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not go quietly into the fire.  Despite King Nebuchadnezzar’s promise of a very painful death for not worshiping his idol, the three men responded in kind… “Can your God save you from me and this inferno?” was the question and the answer was short and sweet. “Yes, our God can save us from the fire!” (and here’s the real important part…) “but even if God, doesn’t… we will never bow down and worship you and your idol.”  What?  “But, even if God doesn’t… ”  Whoah.  When was the last time you heard a Christian in the USofA talk like that?  “Even if God doesn’t” is the key to the mission of God for the three men in the fire and for us…

Can we do that?  What happens when God doesn’t answer our prayers?  Can we still live faithfully tending to the things of God?  What if our neighbor doesn’t love us the way we think God wants them to?  Will we still love them as God desires?  For all the times we offer up our shopping list one-sided conversations with God when we deem the moment critical only to get silence from heaven, do we still dare to bear witness to the God who stands with us in the fiery moments of life?  What King Nebuchadnezzar saw in the fiery furnace was not three men bound and in flames, but a fourth face… and all four men walking freely in the furnace.  Unharmed. Unsinged. Unafraid.  Unwilling to worship anything short of their faithful God.  The king spouted these words… “It looks like a son of the gods…” as he noticed the protection Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had acquired.   It seems that Jesus doesn’t just show up when life is good but is present even in the most treacherous moments as well.  The cross and empty tomb testify to this as well!

We are living in a time when up to 2 and 1/2 generations of Americans know little of God and even less of ‘church.’ A time where the mission of God takes a back seat the to 90 foot high 9 feet thick idols we run after in a selfish culture to secure a sense of self-worth and purpose.  And that’s not fake news either.  It’s like what one of my colleagues reminded me this past week… “a mom and dad drive down the street passing the church.  Their children pipe up from the back seat…’what’s that?” as they point to an empty parking lot with 3 crosses in the front yard.  “That’s a church,” said dad.  “What do they do?” the younger brother quipped.  “I don’t know,” said the mother.   “I’ve never been.”  That’s why we can hear on the news of young girl who died following a dare to drink boiling water through a straw and where 5 boys in Florida record a video on their cell phone of a man drowning, taunting him throughout his struggle, not rendering any kind of aid to the man or think to call for help… but after watching him die were heard on the videotape (that went viral) “He dead.  Let’s go upload this and get some lol’s and some ha-has…”  A culture with few values will fall on its knees to just about anything that comes along.

But, I want to point out how the story of the three men in the fiery furnace ends.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego do not die.  They live to give God glory.  They live to serve God another day.  Their witness causes King Nebuchadnezzar to shift his cultural perspectives once more and the 3rd chapter of Daniel ends with these words…

Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued his servants who trusted in him! They ignored the king’s orders and laid their bodies on the line rather than serve or worship any god but their own.

29 “Therefore I issue this decree: Anyone anywhere, of any race, color, or creed, who says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be ripped to pieces, limb from limb, and their houses torn down. There has never been a god who can pull off a rescue like this.”

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Daniel also reports that when the three men came out of the fiery furnace they did not smell like smoke.

…and I heard them murmur… “How hot could it get?”

May you find comfort in knowing that life’s fiery furnaces are real.  Sometimes they come on their own; sometimes we jump in head first.  So, tend to the mission of God as we are never alone in the fires of life even if God doesn’t show up in the way you desire…And may you come to God’s house for worship this next Sunday with all your limbs intact and your house standing strong on its foundation.

… murmuring mostly for the good,

     Brian

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REMEMBERING MEMORIAL DAY

REMEMBERING MEMORIAL DAY

… and I heard her murmur…

… ‘now don’t you forget what I told you…’

I was 12 years old.  It was 1966.  My grandmother’s older sister and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  Aunt Min and Uncle Bob were great people.  She was a kind and gentle woman with a Methodist faith. We loved to hear her play an old pump organ and I never saw her not smile.  He was a ‘tinkerer’ with an engineer’s mind.  He built birdhouses and manger scenes (the Christmas crèche kind) and was known to say “Judas Priest” when he heard things that were upsetting.  He taught my father how to pitch horse shoes and that passion lingers still in me.  Lots of folks showed up for their big day.  Fifty years is a long time to grow a family.  The years will fill a family with lot of love and make room for a lot of remembering.  They’d scene much.  Some worth repeating.  Some not.  Their home was where my father’s mother’s side of the family gathered to celebrate Memorial Day and that’s why this story is worth repeating.

When it comes to hawks and doves and war and peace I’ve always leaned to the peace side and have flown with the doves more than those who readied the fight. I punched a friend in 5th grade ( he deserved it after 3 warnings!) and spanked my children (once each!); but other than that I’ve not raised a fist at anyone and will always look for the peaceful way to bring any conflict to a close.  But, when you are 12 years old, you are just chalking up your own memories, lacking the needed skills for adult behavior, and whether you like it or not you have to listen to the ‘elders’ in your life.  They always want the best for the generations that follow them and take license to offer an opinion even when those words are unsolicited.  Aunt Min did that to me on that day.  Years later, now, one learns the stories and experience of our own lives provide the filter for how we engage the future and how we want to include others along the way.

Obviously, at a 50th wedding anniversary there is lots of noise and laughter and all the eating and drinking that is attached with a day like that. Most people were sharing good words and encouragement to Uncle Bob and Aunt Min and thanking them for their faithfulness and the wonderful things they had accomplished.   But, anyone who has been married 50 years and adds about 20 more to it will also acknowledge the dark images that are impossible to forget.  So, imagine this— the children were playing in the yard and having all kinds of fun.  Water balloons, croquet,  and tag were on the agenda and in the midst of all that noise Aunt Min took a moment to call me off to the corner.  And this is how that conversation went… one-sided as it was…

“I’m so glad you got come to this party.  Your grandma Irene is so special to me.  You know Uncle Bob and I watched over her and your dad when your grandparents divorced,” she said.

I never knew my paternal grandfather. I saw him once but no words were spoken.  He loved Seagram’s 7 more than the Savior and in 1944 when my father was 14 his mother, tired of getting beat, up filed for divorce.  A bold thing in a war-time nation.  Uncle Bob and Aunt Min offered the family safety net that most families do.  Love requires nothing less.  But, she went on…

“I know you are a pretty smart boy. I hope you read the paper and listen to the news,” she continued.

I nodded my head up and down to say, ‘yes.’  She had an agenda.

So, you know that this war in Viet Nam is not going to end soon,” her voice getting soft and serious.  “You can count on this war continuing when you are 18 and if you get drafted I want you to promise me you won’t fight and you’ll go to Canada.”

At age 12, six years was already half of my life and 6 more seemed pretty far off even though she was gonna be pretty right. My draft number was 123, but in 1972 then President Nixon began pulling our troops out of Viet Nam, suspended the draft and no one from my graduation class was called up.  So, Aunt Min was pretty right, the war lasting longer and yet, I didn’t go Canada.  I never asked her ‘why’ and it took some time for me to discover why she said… “… ‘now don’t you forget what I told you…’.  Memorial Day had a new kind of remembering.

Memorial Day began at the conclusion of the American Civil War.  “Decoration Day” was instituted by Union soldier survivors and their families bringing a flowery honor to the graves of those who died in battle.  Confederate families did a similar thing but it wasn’t until after WW 2 Memorial Day was set for the last Monday in May.  It’s not to be confused with Veteran’s Day, where we honor all who have served in branches of the military.  Memorial Day’s focus is on those who have died in battle, those who gave their life via the ‘last full measure’ as President Lincoln wrote.  Although, mothers and fathers have honored the battle dead for 1000’s of years because that’s what families do, it is a unique kind of remembering we do officially this weekend.  So, please take a moment… first in church… and then on Monday to recall the names of those you know who sacrificed their lives to assure the freedom we have access to day after day in the US of A.

It seems, though, there are some who have died while serving in the military during non-combat time.  Richard, Uncle Bob and Aunt Min’s son was one of those.  My father’s cousin, “Dickie,” served in the US Army and while standing with others on the tarmac was killed by debris from a plane crash during a practice run.

And I heard her murmur… again… today…

… ‘now don’t you forget what I told you…’

Love is a never-ending season.  It shows up with a vengeance on a weekend like this. Trust God’s grace.  It’s all we can really count on.

Brian

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JESUS LOVED HIS MOMMA

JESUS LOVED HIS MOMMA!

… and I heard him murmur…

“Mother, behold your son; son behold your mother!”

“When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said to his mother, Woman, behold your son! Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”                                                                                                                              John 19:26-27

“Jesus loved his momma.”  That’s what the sign in front of the church says.  That’s what the Bible says, too.  We’re supposed to love our mothers.  Most do.  Yet, some don’t.  Some cant’ and some won’t.  It takes time in life to learn that we don’t always get the relationship with our mother that we desire.  Some mothers don’t want to have the relationship their children desire and still that goes both ways as some mothers get less than they want or worse… they get the love they deserve.  The reason the Bible tells us to ‘honor’ mothers and fathers is because we don’t get to pick them.  It takes more effort but parent / child relationships can and will grow as many of us find out over time our parents can be more than father and mother… they’ve, actually, become a friend, a confidant and a guide!  And still, the worse thing for a mother is to watch her child die. Jesus’ loved his momma and she watched him die.

There are always four parts to a story.  The beginning… the end and all that goes on in the middle make up the three and still the most important part is what any of us makes of that story when all is said and read. Jesus’ story with his mother was a brief 33 years and ended very abruptly.  How it started is all on God and plays out big in how Jesus treated his mother.

How could Jesus not love his momma?  Out of all the woman in all of creation, God the Father chooses a young woman who is unknown yet full of faith and hope.  She received a visiting angel with grace and accepted this call to be the “mother of God!”  The Greek Orthodox Church refers to Mary as “Theotokos”… “THE GOD BEARER,” a name Jesus’s mother has worn well over the centuries.  I have her icon neatly displayed in my office and the image above is from the back of one of my calling cards.  And despite God’s intervention of her marriage and family plans with Joseph, and sensing that great and ominous things would happen (“… and she pondered these things in her heart”) Mary proved to be a typical Jewish mother living out her Hebrew faith with all the love and foibles a mother can engage.  From the very beginning she knew she would outlive her son.  Why?  Right after Jesus’ presentation in the Temple where old man Simeon holds Jesus and blesses him… St. Luke says this about what Mary would endure…

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”                                    -Luke 2:34

Sticks and stones could break his bones but words would never hurt him.  Yet, when the time came, Mary stayed close to Jesus and was within ear shot on the day of his crucifixion.  Point?  Sons will leave their mothers but mothers never leave their sons.

Mary was a typical mother?  Sure.  When owning up to being with child, she scampers off to her cousin, Elizabeth to share the great news!   What mother-to-be keeps that kind of news to herself.  Life is best lived close to family.  Life is to be shared and lived out in community as well.  She was faithful and brought him to the temple to be given a name and be circumcised.  She and Joseph gave him not the name they would have desired… to bear Joseph’s name … but rather gave Jesus the name the angel requested… Joshua… “Ya-Shoo-Ahh” in Hebrew… unlike how we would say “Joshua” … but then…“Jesus” … in English… the name that means… “God is generous!”  Did you know that?  God is generous?  God is… and Mary trusted God’s generosity!  But, that’s not all.

We find Mary and Joseph teaching their faith by practicing their faith and there is a story of them taking Jesus down from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover.  It wasn’t a weekend trip.  It lasted a week to 10 days to and from.  Travelling in a caravan, they provided safety.  They were family and neighbors.  And what parent has ever been in a crowd and lost sight of a child?  My hand’s up!  Mary’s too!  And where did she find him?  In the place most parents in 2017 would look last… in the church… and just for the record… Jesus got an earful and at the same time teaches a lesson about ‘honoring’ one’s mother and father.  For, it was in that moment that Jesus respectfully disagreed with his mother’s tone and reprimand… reminding her and Joseph that God has a bigger picture to paint here than one lad momentarily lost in a crowd.

But, my favorite image is the wedding at Cana. Joseph is now seemingly out of the picture.  Jesus accompanies his mother to the wedding… just like a lot of men in their late 20’s today… living at home and going where the parents go.  There’s no mention that Mary or Jesus knew the bride and groom but with a close proximity of Cana and Nazareth, it is likely that Joseph may have done some stone work for a Cana family and were therefore, out of respect, invited to the celebration.  And in those days, weddings were few and far between and when a wedding did occur it would last 2-3 days or longer and thus the running out of wine makes sense.  Mary knew that Jesus could help and must have given him “the mother look” when he resisted the invitation to assist.  But, he did… as ‘honor your mother’ was obviously playing in the back of his heart and mind… and when he did… he provided the best wine of the party!  Even today, at weddings, the opening prayer includes these words… “Lord God, as you gladdened the wedding at Cana by the presence of your son, so by his presence now bring your joy to this wedding…”  You can thank Mary for that!

So, St. John was correct in writing… “there are many more things that could be written about Jesus and his ministry (including more stories of Jesus and his mother…) that can’t fit in this book… but these things are written so that you will know…”

And one thing we know.  Jesus loved his momma … to his dying day and even in his dying showed us that there is still living to do and provided for her care in the days to come…

And what a surprise for Mary to have received the news that Jesus was now alive. All that she knew and all that she experienced brought to full circle.  God IS generous! People still speak of her today!  Jesus loved his momma.  And on weekend’s like this… I miss mine!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the momma’s out there and for all who provide ‘motherly’ love!

Murmuring for the good…

    Brian

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IF IT WASN’T FOR EASTER…

… and I heard them murmur…

             …“whadda ya mean he’s not here…”

(a post-Easter edit to Sunday’s message of April 16, 2017)

If it wasn’t for Easter, we would know nothing about Jesus… his story would have ended with the crucifixion!  That’s it. That’s all.  Just another insurrectionist zealot trying to topple Rome and take out a few Pharisees along the way… and for the Roman government… just another day at the office.  But, there’s more.  When it comes to Jesus, there’s always more.

If it wasn’t for Easter, we would never have known of Jesus’ descent into hell to announce victory over death and the grave.  You see, Good Friday was humanity’s ultimate “NO” to God and our world’s collective rejection of all that God offers.  But, remember, when it comes to Jesus, there’s always more.  The resurrection, then, is God’s rejection of our selfishness… Easter is God’s rejection of our own neglect of all the things of God… Easter is God’s announcement to the cosmos that the power of God cannot be nailed to a tree or placed in a tomb… The nails could not keep Jesus on the cross and the tomb could not hold him… with the purpose of dying and rising for a world that has always needed and still needs his love, grace and power!

If it wasn’t for Easter, Jesus last supper would have been just that… his last Passover meal with friends and the meal we know and savor as the Lord’s Supper would hold no value to us all.

If it wasn’t for Easter, all of Jesus’ teachings would have faded in a few sunsets… unlikely would any of us have access to a pamphlet titled, “The Sayings of Jesus!”

If it wasn’t for Easter, all the stories of Jesus healings and his conversations with God’s people and parables about life, love, community, prayer, work, integrity, and, hope would have never been recorded…. And we’d never hear the phrase… “Jesus once told this story about…

If it wasn’t for Easter, we would never have known of Jesus’ battle with Satan on the top of a hill to teach us that temptation will come to anyone of us at any time but that the power of God is a power that the Prince of Darkness cannot overcome!

If it wasn’t for Easter, we would never have known of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by his cousin John and his great commission for his followers to go into the world and baptize and preach and teach in his name…

If it wasn’t for Easter, no one would recall that even the Son of God can run away from earthly parents at a religious revival.  And he did, and when his parents found him, he was teaching the religious teachers of the Temple… who were amazed.

If it wasn’t for Easter we would know nothing of Jesus’ birth and the story of God taking on our human flesh and God’s entry into the story of us that makes each and every day of our lives worth living…

If it wasn’t for Easter, we would never have known of Jesus’ sending the Holy Spirit to us… to guide us… to lift up faithful leaders, servants and followers for now two thousand years!

If it wasn’t for Easter… ponder that for a moment… If it wasn’t for Easter…

And remember, when it comes to Jesus, there’s always more…

If it wasn’t for Easter, none of us would be here today!  There would be song or prayer, or a chancel decked with Easter lilies or a stark empty cross draped in a black veil now filled and alive with the color of Spring flowers…

If it wasn’t for Easter, the rhythm of life from Sunday to Sunday for us would not exist.  Jesus was the model of the Godly life for… the one who balanced worship, work and play… the one who went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom and one who went around Galilee and Judea from town to town as an itinerant rabbi teaching people of the Kingdom of God.  He played with children.  He told funny stories and made weddings more joyful.

If it wasn’t for Easter the words we speak each Sunday would be less than a whisper and never a shout… that “This is God’s house … and we are God’s people… called to believe… called to belong… called to be bold and called to be love…”

If it wasn’t for Easter, the staff at New Life would be doing something else.  All of us!  The Sunday’s Cool teachers would never have to prepare a lesson… there would be no LYO or WELCA or Men in Mission… and the Church Council wouldn’t exist and therefore never have to meet…

If it wasn’t for Easter, New Life would be purposeless… the verbs “pray, worship, study, invite, encourage, give and serve” might still be in our vocabulary but they would take on a whole different meaning… and the sense of community and partnership in the gospel we share would be non-existent!

If it wasn’t for Easter, New Life church would not be supporting the efforts of Water to Thrive and building water wells in Ethiopia and Tanzania changing the lives of 1000’s of people whose names and faces we’ll most likely ever know…

If it wasn’t for Easter, there would be no Camp HOPE for our youth and their friends each year, no Camp Lutherhill… no mission trip to OK this Summer for HS students… no ELCA National Youth Gathering in Houston in Summer 2018…

If it wasn’t for Easter, New Life would not have been one of the founding churches of Christian Helping Hands providing food and services to those in this area whose way of life is very different from our own… and there would be no ‘pop-top’ ministry to help a homeless person live better one more day…

Are you hearing all this… what the world would be like… If it wasn’t for Easter…

Early in the 4th century a monk who became the archbishop of Constantinople now known as St. John Chrysostom (some refer to him as “Chrysostomos”—the ‘goldened tongued!’)  shared a brief but oh so powerful message on Easter Sunday… and as New Life in Pearland seeks to be a teaching church using an ancient future model … that is our moving forward will be fueled by our paying attention the faith and practices of the early centuries of Christianity… here are some words that should bring us encouragement and hope… on THIS Easter Sunday… as I know not all that much about what some of you bring into God’s house today… and then I know others much better…so listen to St. John and find your place in his preaching…

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.

If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of the Lord.

If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now be revived.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.

If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.

If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.

If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.

If anyone has arrived even at the 11th hour, let them not fear on account of their tardiness.

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to those who come at the 11th hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first.

Christ has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.

He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!

O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!

You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!

The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!

The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.

Christ who was taken by death has annihilated it!

He descended into doom and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when hell tasted His flesh!

It was embittered, for it was abolished!

It was embittered, for it was mocked!

It was embittered, for it was purged!

It was embittered, for it was despoiled!

It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body and came upon God!

It took earth and encountered Heaven!

It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!

O death, where is your sting?

O Hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.

To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages. Amen.

When it comes to Jesus, there’s always more… and more there is to come…  as the Easter life we live is now and forever!

CHRIST IS RISEN!  CHRIST IS RISEN!  CHRIST IS RISEN!    ALLELUIA!

      Brian

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