Friday, November 14, 2014

Freedom Found in Sacrifice?

Is it possible that we are the most free when we select to give up our freedom?  

As a teenager at church camp, one year our theme was “Free to be me!”  In the years since, I have grown from that theme.  Also, I have seen that concept wreck many lives.  “Free to be me” can become “Me first.”  That was not the intent of the church camp curriculum.  “Me first” is the intent of too many of our neighbors and self.  Rather than love our neighbor as our self, do we at times love our neighbor after we love our self?  

Recently, my son invited my Dad to attend the local middle school Veteran’s Day Breakfast.  My Dad served in the Navy in the mid-1960s.  According to my Dad, the speaker noted that once a person has answered the call to serve their country, they give up certain freedoms.  Any veteran of our armed services can attest to this reality.  Either drafted or volunteer, once in the military a person is subject to the chain of command.   This initial sacrifice of personal freedom leads to a service that provides our nation’s freedom.  

Beyond the chain of command, is the reality of fighting for the person next to you in line.   An often reinforced ethic in the military and in sport is our commitment to perform because of the person next to us.  We give up some of our freedom because we do not wish to abandon our teammate.

As a fraternity pledge in college,  I learned this lesson.  As pledging grew more adverse, deeper was our commitment to the men in our pledge class.  Easily, I recall a moment when I stepped out of line in protest only to return to the chaos so as to be with my pledge brothers.  I experienced being free because I made the choice to endure the suffering with my brothers.

The parents among us know very well the power of sacrifice.  These parents willingly give up their own freedom so that their children can know freedom.  From sleepless nights to endless duty as taxi driver, parents give away their own freedom so their children may know joy.  A wise parent once told me, “if we are saving money while parenting, we are denying our children.”  Can you guess her sacrifice?

When Jesus was born, God gave up some measure of freedom that is beyond our imagining so as to be with us.  When Jesus was crucified, God gave up a measure of freedom that is beyond our imagining so as to be with us.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, God demonstrated a power beyond imagining.  

We are blessed to be loved by God who is so powerful and so willing to give to be with us.

What are you willing to give to be with God . . . to be with your neighbor, friend, family?

Friday, October 03, 2014


“Once Upon a Time” or so many of the best stories begin.  Stories are a vehicle for material too heavy for us to carry.  Want to share an experience to “beyond” for formulas or graphs, use story.  In the magnificent moments of life … birth, weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc. … we share stories.  How else do we tell the miracles of God in our life other than story?

In September 2014, I shared a sermon series titled “STORY”.  You can find videos of those sermons at  I shared about Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Paul.  The stories of their lives are inspiring for our faith today.   During those sermons, I encouraged you to ponder what words would flow from your pen as you author your story each day.  Writing our story with God creates a real page turner.

What character are you in the story you and God pen?  Is there a biblical figure that you find most familiar and thus might emulate?  Are you the protagonist, supporting character, leading lady?  Are you the soft spoken scientist who solves the puzzle or the loud mouth action hero who conquers or the hard working midwife who reconciles the family or the ranch hand who saves the family farm?  What role is yours in the story?

What of the souls that roam in your story?  Who are these characters and what place do they inhabit in your story?  These questions quickly spin to ask us what hospitality do we show them?  What shelter does my story afford those who dwell in my story?  In this way, we have an opportunity to discover the purpose of our life, the reasoning for our giftedness, the meaning of our strength.  Why did God write a story that includes you?

God so loved the world that God sent God’s only Son.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love the Lord your God.  Such are the desires of our God.  

Certainly God sent God’s Son to redeem us.  Truly God sent God’s Spirit to sustain us.  Therefore, God sent us to . . .  Why did God send you into this world?   You have life because God desires to write a wonderful story with you.  Will you chose to fill the pages with aimless doodles or soulful sketches?  Write a story whose main characters are God and your neighbor.  Then shall you see the miracle that is you.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Response to Domestic Violence

My Lord, Jesus Christ, was abused to death.  Jesus only showed anger when abuse was done to other children of God or to God’s house.  He was very clear on those accounts and so should we be.

Ray Rice, former running back for the Baltimore Ravens, abused his then fiancé.  He used his fist to make her unconscious.  It was caught on videotape for us all to see.

I look to my reading of the Bible, to the reasoning of my course work in psychology and sociology, to my experience of the family and church that raised me, to the words of my mentors and role models, to the voice of God in my life … domestic violence is wrong.

There is no place for violence in the household.  Regardless the gender of the victim or the perpetrator, violence is wrong.  The type of violence never provides an excuse.  Physical, verbal, emotional violence is wrong.   The age of those involved never provide rationale for violence.  Domestic violence is wrong.

It is possible to use eloquence and euphemism to discuss domestic violence.  Still domestic violence is wrong.  Though none of us are perfect, none of us earn domestic violence.  

How can we respond as Christian brothers and sisters who seek to hold our heads high before our God and our neighbor?
  1.  God calls us to love our neighbor as ourself.  If we witness domestic violence, we cannot both turn a blind eye and love our neighbor.  Both victim and perpetrator need help.

2.  We are not alone.  To confront domestic violence, reach out.  From ministers to police officers, from church Elders to Educators, there is a network of people prepared to deal with domestic violence.  

3.  Numbers count:  If in doubt, call 911.  Local resources include … Oasis Center (618) 465-1978; Glen Ed Pantry (618) 656-7506; Lydia’s House (314) 771-4411; First Christian Church (618) 656-7498

God calls Christians to be known by their love.  Love is never an excuse to ignore domestic violence.  Love is a power to set each one safe.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Seeking Sacred Spaces

Sunrise in Seabrook, TX
Curiously, sacred spaces are geographically specific though anything but bound.

Where are the sacred spaces on your journey?  The sanctuary where I was baptized and spent many a childhood morning in worship.  The woods of church camp where I spent summers as camper, counselor and director.  The walk from my dorm to the church I attended in college.  The Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne, Australia where I began my seminary studies.  The pulpits I have been honored to fill during my ministry, from White Oak to Edwardsville.  

I have more sacred spaces than I expected.  I’ll not bore you with the comprehensive list.

What are the important features of your sacred spaces?

Experience of faith community in that place at that time?  The spot of a great awakening in your soul, heart, mind?  Geographic context which cradled the creative creature that is you?  A glimpse of God incarnate in your midst?  Holy meets holly bush?

Sacred spaces are those places where we are more likely to experience the holy and profound.  

Fascinating how often in the Bible that God calls us to attend to sacred spaces.  Asking us to build a simple altar of stone or an elaborate temple or a nomadic tent scene - God invites us to participate in creating sacred spaces.  

Equally fascinating how rarely we are able to manufacture sacred space.  Ever try to force the moment?  Attempt to compel God to show up or your own soul to listen?  Maybe it is that not every location fits your journey?  Maybe God wants to meet you in the places where you can be most present with God?  

There are amazing private sacred spaces!  Aren’t most communal?  Even the hermit like places include the large community in prayer and hope.  We chose the communal places for our special sacred moments - weddings, funerals, baptisms, baby dedications, etc.  

The picture is of one of a sacred space found during my sabbatical in July 2014.  Seabrook, a suburb of Houston, TX.  Sipping hot tea in the humidity and watching the sunrise over the gulf before beginning my trek north to Illinois.  Having just spent the week in silent retreat and a day in conversation with my good friend, Michael Dunn, I was blessed to pause.  I thought of those fishermen who dropped their nets to follow Jesus.  I thought of those I knew who made it possible for me to have sabbatical.  Mostly, I felt the warmth of the sun and listened to God.  

May you find many sacred spaces on your journey and share them well with our fellow travelers.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What makes you "dirty"?

What makes you “bad”?  What makes you “unclean”?

Have you read Matthew 15:1-20?  It was part of the reading for this past Sunday but my sermon focused on Matthew 15:21-28 and the Canaanite Woman.  You can find that sermon here …

I want to say something about the beginning of chapter 15 that there was simply not time to say in the sermon.

Maybe it is helpful to ask, what makes other people “bad” or “unclean”?  Our neighbor, stranger, etc.  

My son and I spent some time in New York City this summer.  We stayed in a hotel at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and rode the subway all over Manhattan.  I vividly recall a moment when I was looking at those in the subway car with us.  There were couples fighting, spoiled children, people who looked homeless, individuals I kept an eye on for safety, etc.  Is that guy a pimp for the woman with bruises next to him?  Why is that guy sitting when that woman is standing?  I was beginning to feel unclean just being in the same subway car as these people.  It was disturbing.

Then I smiled.  
I wanted to share my smile with every person in that subway car for one very important reason.

I had just heard a small voice say to me that God loved each person on that subway car.  
Even me, the judgmental, middle-class, educated, divorced Dad lucky enough to be on a trip with his son, was loved by God.

Then I noticed the woman with bruises and how tender the guy was in making certain she was seated first, helping her up when they departed … rather the gentleman.  No clue about the bruises.

And I wondered, if I had time - would not all these folks have redeeming qualities?

Of course - they are creations of God and that makes them intrinsically redeemable.

I felt unclean and bad for being in the same space with these people who were different than me.  What MADE me unclean and bad was my judgement of them, God’s children.  What made me even more unclean was that my judgement of others became an obstacle of accepting my own status as redeemable.  My judgement stood between me and the gift of grace.

Jesus says it so much better … what defiles is what comes from the heart.  What God makes cannot defile you.

Set yourself free …. judge not.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Recommended Reading

I love to laugh!  It just plain feels great to laugh!  When I find a book that both inspires my faith and compels my soul to laugh, I want to recommend it.

Jonathan Acuff was a keynote speaker at the church camp I attended with our youth group this past June.  I found him to be an engaging speaker, so I bought one of his books “Stuff Christians Like”.  This book is an easy read, when you can read through the laughter.

Acuff was raised in a different part of the Christian tradition than I.  Not everything he discusses is exactly in my experience of church.  However, his insightful and critical humor is full of hope and joy.  At the conclusion, I celebrated his love of the church and found my own love of the church to be increased.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

An alternate career path that I did not follow was to be a high school social studies teacher.  I did get the degree for that path while at Purdue University.  History can be amazing reading and research.  I am especially fond of the Civil War in its shaping of who we are as a country.

Jeff Shaara's book, A Blaze of Glory, is a retelling of the Battle of Shiloh.  This battle in Tennessee involved over 100,000 soldiers and amassed over 24,000 casualties over two days of hard fighting.  A devastation wrought that had not been seen by our country previously.

Shaara is a compelling author who does well in portraying a battle with lines that were miles long.  I found the dialogue that he created in this historical fiction to be wanting at times, especially early in the book.  The real strength of the book is how Shaara provides at least three perspectives:  of generals overseeing vast armies on a chaotic battle field, of the man with the musket who could barely see the enemy charging let alone the map of advance or retreat, of the historians who have interpreted the impact of this battle upon the war.

I recommend this book very much.  Thankful to my mother who loaned it to me.