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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Doubt and Christian faith

A young man rushed up to me the other night during my dinner and asked to see me outside. Putting down my fork, I looked at my friends who all nodded assent. (I would love to say this is uncommon in my life, but it happens quite a bit...and my friends are very accommodating.) So as I gathered with him under the portico of the diner's door, he looked at me and said "I am going to die."

Now, such a statement is true for all of us (sorry to break the bad news!)He seemed to think, however, that his was a lot more imminent than mine. (I have a deal with God--until the Minnesota Vikings win a Super Bowl I cannot die. It is my deal for immortality.)I asked how he knew his death was coming on so soon? "I don't think I believe Jesus rose from the dead!" When you don't "think" that you "believe" you are in some serious linguistic trouble. So you doubt your relationship with God, I asked?

Oh no, he said, I am just not sure Jesus rose...hey, does this mean I don't believe in God now too? (I love this stuff.)

How are the two beliefs related? I mean, do you only believe in God because Jesus rose from the dead?

I...I...I...don't know, he replied back. I guess not, when I think about it. (Which goes to show we should always think about the things we think about. It makes us sound smarter at least.)

Exactly. Most people's belief in God--I guess- doesn't really hinge upon Jesus' resurrection, even if there are a whole bunch of preachers and folks who want us to believe that. So it seems to me that the resurrection of Jesus has to be about something other than your belief in God. Do you believe in the resurrection because you don't want to die?

By now the young man was sitting on the bench with the evening's drizzle falling on his sweater. Yeah...that's why I thought I believed it.

But, now you realize you're going to die anyway? I paused a bit. Good thing you still believe in God.

He looked up at me, and those creases of doubt were morphing into a smile of comprehension. (This is a teacher's greatest moment--hands down.)Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, he said to no one in particular. So the resurrection keeps my life going with God?

Yeah, I sighed. Pretty nice of God, huh?

He stared out into the parking lot for a few seconds. Why would God do that, he mused, as he contemplated the Easter rain?

Careful, I said, keep asking questions like that, and pretty soon you'll be a Christian. How about we go back to dinner?

As he led me into the restaurant I went back to my friends. Who was that, Bruce asked? I don't know, I said, I can't remember his name.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When I Survey that wondrous cross

My college roommate once remarked that he couldn't think of Jesus on the cross without coming to tears at such incredible suffering. The fate of Jesus, suffocating on the cross as he did, is indeed a gruesome way to die. And if you add to that death its importance in the relationship drama between God and humanity...well, you have a passion that is almost too much to bear.

A few years ago when Mel Gibson came out with his movie "The Passion of Christ" we saw in graphic detail what Jesus may have experienced. From the earliest recorders of Jesus story we have some words (traditionally seven phrases) that Jesus uttered from the cross. All of them were some version of prayer or hope that the world would be a better place. 2000 years after his death I wonder how much better it is?

Do we love God more now than then?
Are we respectful and nicer to our neighbors and strangers than they were then?
Do we care about our parents and friends more than they did then?
Is now a more tolerant and loving time than it was then?
Are we more patient with people now than they were then?
Would we still put Jesus up on the cross if we got the chance?

The cross, like our baptism, is a daily reminder of the struggle life is. It has never been easy to live, never been a carefree happy time like the TV commercials seem to make life out to be...We have needed a cross eternally, and at least since Jesus' death, we have one...and here is the interesting thing about that cross. It is now empty...just like the tomb where his dead body lay. Maybe, just maybe, we too have an empty cross and tomb in our future?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Holiest of Weeks

When you're a mission developer, as opposed to a residential pastor in an established congregation, religious holidays are often weeks of less work, not more. This makes sense in one way, because as a mission developer I spend most of my time with people who are not Christian, or at least people not encumbered with Christian religious traditions, so any religious "holy-day" is for them--at best--a secular holiday.

As a mission developer no one asks me what kind of palms we have on Palm Sunday, what the worship "plan" is for Good Friday, or even who is going to be the volunteer to get their feet washed this year on Maundy Thursday. Rather, people are just going about their week, and they know they have some kind of family obligation on Sunday, but they hope it won't take too long because "I have so much to do before Monday." So for many of the people I deal with, Easter is a time to be with family for awhile before the regular pace of life creeps back in. The kids, of course, will find this a time of chocolate at grandma's house...but other than...not much to this holy week stuff.

Now, back when I was a residential pastor in an established congregation, this holy week stuff was crazy fun. Worship on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Big celebrations on Easter Sunday were being rehearsed and fine-tuned. We had special Bible studies, fasts from food, and times of prayer and spiritual direction. It seems like we saved up all our religiosity for the entire year to be spent on this one week. (One Monday after Easter, I actually admitted myself into a ministry mental health clinic...after I spent 24 hours immobilized from stress.)

The stress of Holy Week is way less as a mission developer, but I wonder...
if there is something to the idea that love is our mandate
if there is something to washing the feet of another in a world of shoes
if there is something in the purple that stands for the royalty of Christ
if there is something in the barrenness of an altar that is now a tomb
if there is something in the old, rugged cross
if we miss out on hearing "Father, forgive them, they don't have a clue."
if bury ourselves if we forget the darkness of Friday is God's promise to live
if we never hear of a God whose love is so deep, so wide, so free...
What might we have lost?

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Day of Beauty

Today was the first nice day of 2011 up here on the prairie. We had lots of sunshine and the temp almost reached 70 degrees. It is the kind of day that begs to have you come out and play. And the people of Bismarck responded. Even the prairie dogs my daughter and I kicked up at Double Ditch seemed grateful that the long December was over.

But a day this beautiful has one drawback: like pro athletes and pretty girls-it never hears the truth. Days like today bask in their warmth and sunshine, the soft breeze whispered sweet nothings all day, and everybody just sort of let it ride. Why not? There aren't that many days like this-why remind us it's still early April? Why be a downer on a beautiful day? Enjoy it and let the good days roll.

So we do. We ignore the forecast for snow on Friday. The inevitable hail that is just around the corner. Even the really hot and humid days of August can be brushed aside by such a beautiful day like today. Beauty can do that-distract you from the ordinariness of everything.

I know that is why I like beautiful things and beautiful people. I remember Dostoyevsky had the Father of the Karamozov brothers remark that he tried to find the beautiful in every woman he meets. I have always taken that to try and find the beautiful- a metaphor for God's creative power- in everything and everyone I encounter. There is no such thing as an ugly flower, an ugly tree, or an ugly woman in my world. It's all beautiful...which makes a day like today seem like a little bit of heaven.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.