Friday, September 04, 2009

September 4, 2009

Daily Devotion

“For three sins of Ammon,

even for four, I will not turn back my wrath”

One of the great things about the Old Testament prophets is that they generate the image of God who is universal.  The pagan gods were very local, but the God of Israel had a vision of the whole world.  The pagan gods battled one another, so the Sumerian gods battled the Philistine gods.  How do we know who won?  The country who won, so the proof was that our country wins, so our gods are stronger.

Israel has a God who is concerned about Israel, but that favor is not exclusive.  In this passage, God lays out judgment against Damascus, Tyre, Gaza, Edom, etc.  He uses the same refrain, “For the three sins of ____ even for four, I will not turn my back”  Then, Amos lays the charges and allegations against each country; the brutality of war, enslaving other peoples, etc.  War may be justified, but slaughter is not justified.  Then there is a judgment of Judah, but the longest judgment is against Israel.  Israel has denied justice, abused the poor, they worship at pagan altars, and God will bring judgment against them Amos says.

God demands justice for the whole world not just one locale.  The notion of having a battle between Allah and God betrays the notion of Amos.  It is not a battle between faiths, because God is universal.  There is not a cosmic struggle in Amos, because Amos knows that the pagan gods are not real.  They are just stones or pieces of wood, they are not living.  The God of Israel is a living God, and to be reminded of that Israel does not have images of God.  Win may take this for granted that God is universal, but in the world of the Old Testament such a witness expressed a wild and radical vision of God.

I encourage you pray for a place in the world where God’s justice and mercy needs to be realized?  Darfur, Rwanda, the US-Mexican border with drug wars, the people who are enslaved right now.

Where are places in the United States   God’s justice and mercy needs to be shared?  New Orleans, our Valley, people who are unemployed and underemployed.

Will you pray for those people and places today?



Thursday, September 03, 2009

September 3, 2009

Daily Reflection

Amos 1:1  The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa—what he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash was king of Israel.



Amos was a shepherd from Tekoa.  Tekoa is south of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  As a Shepherd, he was not a priest but a layperson.  Isaiah who is contemporary to Amos was a priest.  Amos’ ministry was not a long ministry, but what he said was so significant that people recorded it.  Amos did the work and then returned to Tekoa probably to shepherd.

Amos seems to be preaching to Israel which is the northern kingdom which has Bethel as its holy place.  Amos was from Tekoa in Judah, the southern kingdom. I wonder what it must have been like to be Amos to preach as an outsider?  He said things significant enough that people listened and he spoke so forcefully that the priests of Israel ask him to go away.

He identifies his time of ministry as two years before the earthquake.  That is similar to us in places where there have been natural disasters, we mark time by before and after the crisis.  Before 9/11 and after 9/11.   When I use that term, you know life before 9/11 and after.  In New Orleans there is pre Katrina and post Katrina.  San Francisco and Northridge have quakes that jog memory.  I wonder how this earthquake influenced this message?  Was that the reason somebody collected Amos’ words?

Amos was jogged out of his life as a shepherd to speak to people?

Has God called you out of your normal routine to do a task?

I am trying to think of those moments, but perhaps I don’t have one.   It would demand putting down the schedule to allow God room to work.  It would mean that I would have to be open to that?  Are you?

I think being a parent might be one of those, but unlike Amos…I had to take the adventure home.  So, that is not exactly like Amos.  I am thinking…what about you?



Wednesday, September 02, 2009

September 2, 2009

Daily Reflection

Joel 3:10 Beat your plowshares into swords
and your pruning hooks into spears.
Let the weakling say,
"I am strong!"

The Bible can be unsettling and Joel 3:10 creates a bit of disequilibrium. I know that we are to beat our swords in plowshares that is written in Isaiah 2:4. However, Joel goes the opposite way. Did you catch that? Read it again. I never realized that until today.
This is not a prophetic call for peace, but a call to arms.
It makes my stomach turn, my image is of machetes being gathered in Rwanda. A thing of harvest being used to shed blood.

Caedmon’s Call has this song, “The Lord is a warrior. The Lord is mighty in battle. The Lord is a warrior. The Lord of hosts is he.” Hosts is an old way of saying army. The 'heavenly hos't is a heavenly army. When Amy and I are driving, she automatically by passes the song. I flip it back, so it is a CD disagreement. I like to sing along to the song. Amy stumbles upon the image while I just listen to the tune.

The Caedmon’s song brought us to a conversation. There are images of war in the Bible and we have to come to terms with that. "Plowshares are beaten into swords," I am not overly excited with that image. What do you do when you encounter something in the Bible that upsets your apple cart? Do you discount it? Do you wrestle with it?

My friends who are of peacemakers, Joel turns Isaiah’s image of peace on its head. That great image, “let the weakling say I am strong” is not an interior mending of what is broken, but a battle cry. The Prophet calls Israel to arms. Won’t sing that hymn on the Sunday of peace during Advent!!!!
What do you do with that image being turned upside down?
Are you willing to go down to the Jabbok River and wrestle with God or angels? (Genesis32:22-32)

The maturing of faith is when we encounter something that challenges our assumptions and we change. I tell folks, argue with God but allow God always to win. It is in the striving and losing where we are blessed. Today, I know that swords can become plowshares and plowshares can become swords. Now, I need to go to Exeter, CA to meet the guys at “the foundry” and ask what it takes to beat a plowshare into a sword and sword into a plowshare. I do not embrace this revelation, but I accept it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

September 1, 2009

Daily Reflection

Joel 2:28  “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
       Your sons and daughters will prophesy,…

 30 I will show wonders in the heavens
       and on the earth,
       blood and fire and billows of smoke

This is the text that Peter uses on Pentecost.  That is 50 days after Easter (pente=5 in Greek)  Joel calls the people to repent and this is God’s response.

On the side of Rocky Hill at 5:15 AM last Saturday a meteor, a shooting start illuminated the night.  It looked so close that we could touch it that it would have landed at the foot of Yokohl Valley on the other side of the hill.  The group I was running with all, “Oohed” and “Ahhed.”  When we regrouped up on the top of the hill, we talked about the experience of the meteor with childlike astonishment and wonder.

Monday, I learned that a group 30 miles away saw the same thing and they felt that they ‘oohed” and “ahhed” the same experience.  I told folks, I guess that meteor if it would have landed on the earth would have landed in Utah.  A friend then said, “What was God trying to say with it.”  I said, “It was 5:15 AM, probably just good morning.  Only off balance people are up at that time.”

When we see things in the sky, eclipses, meteors, comets…it catches our attention.  It reminds me that the universe is larger than me, a change in my myopic perspective.    The Hebrews without the knowledge of planets, leftover comet debris, and the wider expanse of heavens saw these as signs of God.  They were abnormal.

In Joel, it is not the heavens that represent the harbinger of the Day of the Lord, it is the people.  “I will pour out my Spirit on all my people.”  In the midst of outpouring of the Spirit and the day of the Lord is the notion that God does this for people.  Redemption begins with people, you and me.

As we partner with God, it begins with people.  We may look to the heavens hoping for a sign.  People in LA, I am sure are seeing God’s coming in the smoke.  As people waited. some saw it in Katrina.  It was the wrong view, the view is here and now.  Where is God at work in the person in front of us?  Then we know where God is at and that is why I believe this is the ‘Day of the Lord.’


What is God doing in your life?

What is God doing in the lives around you?

Will you partner with God in what He is doing?

Are you afraid to do so?  Are you unaware?  Or, hopeful?

Monday, August 31, 2009

August 31, 2009


Daily Reflection

Disciples of Christ-Visalia

August 31, 2009

Joel 1: 11 Despair, you farmers,
       wail, you vine growers;
       grieve for the wheat and the barley,
       because the harvest of the field is destroyed.

    12 The vine is dried up
       and the fig tree is withered;
       the pomegranate, the palm and the apple tree—
       all the trees of the field—are dried up.
       Surely the people's joy
       is withered away.


Joel tells the story of a locust plague.  Some folks think that the locust plague is an allegory, a symbol of a great army.  I do not think so.  I think initially that the story was about locusts and as time went people who edited Joel’s writings starting seeing the menacing armies of the north like locusts.   As they edited the texts, the texts had this view point.  We can differ on this interpretation and that is alright, but living in the Valley the notion of hardship for agriculture makes sense.  Living in a large city might give us a different perspective.


I have lived in the Valley for two years now and one of the most shocking scenes for me is the uprooting of an orchard.  From my car it catches me by surprise but on those morning when I run down a road through an orchard the lack of trees shocks my senses.  The greenness of the trees is gone and all that remains is the dirt.  My understanding is that the orchard is intentionally uprooted for many good reasons.  The trees matured and are no longer producing in quality or quantity.  The trees may have become diseased.  They maybe uprooted to put in another crop.  The shock to the system is all that remains.  Across the Valley on the west side there are whole fields and orchards barren due to the lack of water, towns with 40% unemployment and a drought of Biblical proportions, bees dying, bugs destroying the citrus, and on and on..  The loss of an orchard opens the landscape and the sandy light brown dirt shows no life or is filled with choking weeds.  What once bore life now lies fallow.

There is this line out of Joel and I thought about the crops of the Valley.  Apples, palms, vines, pomegranates, they are all within a view miles of the house.  (Maybe not the palms, but there are palm trees in the neighborhood.)

There is also this impending threat about farming in California.  There is a drought.  Milk Prices plummet and herds are sold off to make hamburger.  There is a threat of a foreigner, an outside force that cannot be controlled.  The joy of farming, a way of life, becomes chore not joy.  Of course, when there is prosperity things are easy to enjoy, and when the cycle goes down it is difficult.  People leave the farm were foolish or unlucky.  In the midst of such difficulty, life becomes apocalyptic.  So, a drought, locusts, or an army to the north can shake the confidence of folks who live by the land.  But, one can live in a city and feel the same thing.  It can be Apples and PC’s, homes, oil fields drying up, or a sea once teeming with shrimp now has boat riding high in the water, because they do not bear a load.  For those who are facing their own plague of locusts, a drought in their own life, a time when the sweetness of joy has become ashes Joel has a word.


Are you in a drought now?

Do you have an impending Army overlooking you?

Will you trust God’s hesed (steadfast love) to water you and to see you throw the swarm?


Friday, August 28, 2009

August 28, 2009

Daily Reflection

Guido Climer

14:1Return, Israel, to the LORD your God.
       Your sins have been your downfall!

    2 Take words with you
       and return to the LORD.
       Say to him:
       "Forgive all our sins
       and receive us graciously,
       that we may offer the fruit of our lips

This begins Hosea’s last chapter.

In recovery there are moments when folks who are part of a group leave.  They leave many times because they either feel they have it together and don’t need a group.  Or, they leave, because they see no other way than to give into the addiction.  There are times when folks leave and then they return.  Within recovery they are welcomed back.  There are many times huge amounts of shame, because the path lead to pain.  Everybody said, “we suggest you keep stepping this way.”  But they could not or would not listen to the suggestions.


They are welcomed back with grace that is true, authentic and beautiful, because that person who has left has now said, “I cannot do this alone.”  They are seeking to be whole and be healed.  So a return is a painful and beautiful thing.  Painful because the time away was painful.  Beautiful because the reuniting is filled with grace.  Everybody knows that it could have been them, but by luck, work, and God.

The story of faith is about staying the path, but for many of us it is about coming back to the path of faith.  Our journeys sometimes lead to dark places where we hurt ourselves and others.  Sometimes, we try to hurt God by our actions.  God does not recoil from the pain, but comes to the lowest point to meet us to bring us back.  Hosea is about that.  God calls Israel a whore.  That is strong language.

I love the last line in this verse.

"May we offer the fruit of our lips."

Last night, I heard a story of person who talked about his move to faith.  He had gone far away from God and he met God in the lowest place he could find.  There he was saved.  I understand that.  I came to experience Jesus at that lowest moment.  I savored the fruit of his lips, the good words he shared.

Bill Mallonee sings, 'fruit from his lips,' ( good words)

“That Holy Life should count for something                                Those blessed words be recalled                                          Remember Bill who it is who really loves you.                          To be loved is the best of all”

I am not into creeds, but the Apostles’ creed says,
“Jesus descended into hell.”  That is how far Jesus will go for you.

May you know today this fierce and courageous God who is willing to wade through deep ickiness of your life to say, “You are my people and you are loved”   May you offer to Jesus and the world, 'the fruit of your lips.'

Thursday, August 27, 2009

August 27, 2009

Daily Reflection

Disciples of Christ-Visalia

Hoesa 11: 8 "How can I give you up, Ephraim?
       How can I hand you over, Israel? …..
       …..My heart is changed within me;
       all my compassion is aroused.

    9 I will not carry out my fierce anger,
       nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
       For I am God, and not a human being—
       the Holy One among you.
       I will not come against their cities.

Theologians talk about whether or not God demands payment for sin.  This is conversation is called atonement theory.  Traditionally, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Why? There had to be a sacrifice.  In the cosmic balance for God to still be God, he had to ask for payment for our sins.  Here is this scripture where God has laid out his accusations against Israel.  Israel is found guilty and should be punished.  Then God says, “How can I?  I am not human, but I am God.”  God breaks that balance.

When we think about justice, do we view justice from the point of view of God or from our own sense of justice?  I will be talking about this, this weekend.  But with the atonement, that divine algebra never really made sense to me.  I sang the songs and the songs were good.  However, as I thought about it…I don’t want Jesus to die for me.  Those sins are mine and nobody should die for what I have done.  I feel a little better about going against the grain of Christian tradition, because of this scripture.  “I am God, not a human being.”  It may make sense that somebody needs to pay the debt, but God owns, creates, and sets the rules if he does not need a sacrifice why does he need Jesus to stand in for me.  I do not want God to die.  I would gladly take the place of Jesus to let Jesus live.  These were thoughts I had as a kid.  They still linger, no theology class really worked through them.  .

Here is this line, God cannot punish.  Why? He loves Israel.  Can God punish me ultimately?  How strong is God’s love for me?  I am not saying that there is not a serious consequence to our sin, but ultimately where is that.  In this story, God would let us off the hook on earth to judge us on the last day.  I don’t think that is what is happening here.   I might be a heretic, but OK.

The whole of Hosea is a love song of a jilted lover.  God moves between rage to compassion.  As I know the stories of Jesus, that heart of God beats to the rhythms of love. What I know of God from Genesis, Hosea, and Jesus is this.  God created me.  God loves me.  God wants the best for me.  He went so far to reach me as to leave the throne of heaven and come to earth as Jesus.  When the world needed to be punished for killing God, Jesus said, “Forgive them they don’t know what they are doing?”  What does God want? He wants those centurions nailing him to the tree. He desperately wants you and me.  He will do anything for that, even if that means breaking the cosmic scales.  For that kind of God who loves that much, I need to give my life to Him.

This idea of steadfast love, Hesed.  Means that God’s love endures forever.  God’s love endures all things.  Does ‘all things’ mean my sin?

Do you believe that God really loves you?

If you do, how will you live that out in your life?

If you don’t, what will prove it to you?  Can I help you experience that steadfast love?

How can you give you life to God who forgives all my sins, even the ones you will not speak out loud to anyone?

Will you give your life to that God who so loves you that He comes to you?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August 26, 2009

Daily Reflection

August 26, 2009

Disciples of Christ-Visalia

Hosea 8:14

Israel has forgotten his Maker
       and built palaces;
       Judah has fortified many towns.
       But I will send fire on their cities
       that will consume their fortresses."

In our age of homeland security, talk of border fences, and defense there is this ancient reading.

Israel had built cities that were strongly defended.  Jerusalem was upon a high plateau protected behind strong walls.  God says, “Those fortified cities will not be defensible.”

As I was growing up we kept the front door unlocked.  My dad said, “Why lock the door, if they want they will get in.  If we lock the door, they will bust the door and we will have to buy a new one.”  We invest in a great deal of security in our lives at home, in cars, on-line with our identity, etc.  How many times have you had a virus on your computer?  Have you ever had something stolen from you?  These things happen and there is no way that we can defend ourselves totally and completely; whether it is border protection, TSA at the airport, home, or the computer.  I am not advocating no defense, but what I am sharing is the Biblical principal if you put your faith in a wall…then that wall that is dead is your God.  You can add software, security systems, guns or any other machine.

In Hosea’s time, the folks were putting their faith in the security of their defenses and that belief God would save his people all the time.   They were special.  They were safe and saved by their status and their walls.  They forgot that ‘specialness’ demands obligation of doing the right thing.

It is not walls that protect us or provide salvation.

We who are special in the eyes of God have an obligation to act with justice and have mercy on all.  When we act the Gospel out, Imans in Kenyan help hand out Bibles, witch doctors put up their totems, and enemies become friends.  When we act out the Gospel, we gain trust.  When we act out the Gospel, we have as secure protection as any big wall or mighty fortress.

We are not guaranteed protection anywhere in this world, but we have a choice to live in fear behind walls or to live in fierce love and courageous mercy of Jesus Christ.

How will you live courageously this week?

What the things you protect behind walls of fear?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

August 25, 2009

Daily Meditation

August 25, 2009

Disciples of Christ-Visalia

Hosea 7:1

whenever I would heal Israel,
       the sins of Ephraim are exposed
       and the crimes of Samaria revealed.
       They practice deceit,
       thieves break into houses,
       bandits rob in the streets;


Are you like me, when you think about social issues you say “they.”  So, it is on the Northside of town where the gangs reign.  Gangbangers are THEM.  The liars on Wall Street are THEM.  The people who cheat migrant workers are THEM.  The insane environmentalists are THEM. The prostitutes are THEM.  The addicts are THEM.

Hosea and the role of the prophet send their message, “You Israel.”

So, if I read that right, Hosea says, “You, America” or “You, Visalia”

Gang Bangers rob, steal, run drugs, and have a hand in prostitution.  They ruin our city.  They create violence.  They kill.  They rob.  They do drive by’s.

Hosea says, “You, Israel have thieves.”

The problems on the street are not THEM but US.  Meaning in reality, we own the problem as well.  We are part of the problem.  The THEM is US.   Those problems are ours and we are stained by the sin of them.   We did not hold guns.  We did not sell drugs.  We did not buy them.  How do we own the problem?  I try to push it off on other areas of the world, but Hosea says, “Niel, it is you.”

The only way for me to get out of ownership is to renounce my citizenship.  I am no longer American or Visalian, American, or Human…I cannot do that.  I will not do that.  So, Hosea says,  “You own it.”  To be honest, I don’t want to own it.  I don’t want the responsibility.  It is much easier for it to be their problem.  It is THEM.

How can we own and repair the problems of our society?  Homelessness, drug addiction, gangs, unemployment, cheaters on Wall Street, etc.  THEM is US.  Sorry, but that is the Bible says about it.


One of the things, I am praying about and have asked a couple of other folks to pray about is a congregation in prison.  What if we started a prison in one of the prisons in the Valley?  What if there was a congregation that worked on breaking down the racial barriers that produce gangs, we are an anti-racist church, pro-reconciliation?  Could we as Christians in Visalia make a dent in the drug problem, the gangs, and transform the Valley?  Would you be willing to pray for such a thing?  If you would, start now.  Then give me a call 559-308-4668.

Do you have something that God has put on your heart?  Will you tell someone about it and ask them to pray with you?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Daily Reflection Aug 24, 2009

Disciples of Christ-Visalia

August 24, 2009

Guido Climer

 Hosea 2:8

Israel, she has not acknowledged that I was the one
       who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
       who lavished on her the silver and gold—
       which they used for Baal.


Hosea is the first of twelve minor prophets.  They are minor not due to their importance, but due to the length of their books.  These 12 prophets starting with Hosea and ending with Malachi are the last twelve books of the Old Testament.  Hosea is called by God to marry a prostitute, because God says Israel is a whore.  God wants to have a holy theatre of sorts to prove his point, so Hosea obliges.    His life will mirror God’s life.  Hosea and Gomer, his wife have a son Hosea calls Jezreel.  This is more holy theatre to remind the people of Israel God will punish them for an action done in the valley of Jezreel.  They have a daughter and she is named ‘Not Loved,’ because God does not love Israel anymore.  Today, we punish awful parenting like that, but this is ancient history.


Then this line, I find the most painful story, Hosea 2:8.  Have you ever given a gift and then somebody use it a way that you find repulsive?  Give a child an heirloom of an old leather bomber jacket from the Korean War and he leaves it a high school dance.  Frustration courses through the body.  A college student graduates and takes his graduation gifts the envelopes stuffed with money and spends it in Vegas.  Is that why the money was given?  Bring a nice cheese as a gift and you find it two weeks later molded on your friend’s counter?  Have you ever received a gift without respect or charity?

It was the last day of classes my senior year.   We had two options that night to go out to the University Pub and drink bad beer as we had all year or we could go to the Texas Rangers’ and watch Nolan Ryan pitch.  We had seen Nolan pitch before and it was awesome.  But this was the last day of classes and it was a time to party!!!  We arrived at a friend’s room and heard the final two outs of Nolan Ryan’s complete game no hitter.  Given the gift of free time, guilt free, we chose to offer to seductive Baal our treasure.  When people talk of Nolan Ryan’s no hitters, I am reminded of my foolishness.

There are moments when I do this all the time.  I choose not to make a phone call, because it might be difficult.  I choose to avoid people out of fear.  I choose what is tangible over the wildness of the unexpected.  I choose to miss opportunities to enjoy life because of the fear of something different, the anxiety of inconvenience, or the security of familiarity.  Do you miss opportunities to enjoy God’s blessings because you take comfort?


How have you wasted the gifts God gave you?

How will you live this week fully embracing opportunities to delight in God’s creation, nature, people, and your life?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Church Camp

Just got back from church camp on Saturday and I realized that church camp is so countercultural and phony in a way. In a few weeks, I will go to the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and we will gather a few thousand of us in Indianapolis. Interesting aspect of that is this, we will have groups gathering together that have affinity. There will be a peace group, GLAD Gays and Lesbians, missions oriented folk, folks who are passionate about evangelism, etc. We will divide ourselves out.

At camp, we tell the kids that they are to like and be in relationship with folks they don't like. So, we put the boys with the girls. We put the cool kids and the awkward kids together. We try to destroy cliques in the name of community building.

I thought about it, these kids don't experience this in their lives. How many of their parents break down barriers to include all people in their lives? I am sure the kids don't do it at school, but I am sure they are more tolerant than their parents. I see it at PTA and Baseball leagues where parents gather. I have been on the inside and I have been on the outside. So, the counselers at camp say love everybody and do it. Then they go home and don't see it at home or in the church.

I am not sure if it is sad condemnation of church and home, or is camp just nuts?
What do you think?

fearless joy,

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Deaths of the week

There were three deaths that happened in the last 24 hours for me. Two are the famous ones. When I heard that Farrah had died, I googled the poster. I am trying to figure out why that poster was so popular, but my two cousins Hap, Casey, and I went to the 7-11 to get the poster. We all had it in our rooms. Maybe it was the smile or maybe that was extremely sexy in 1977 or so that reached young boys. I am not going to spend much time trying to find that out.

But after Charlie's Angels, I lost contact with Farrah. I remember her and Burt in Cannonball Run, but that is about it. The Burning Bed did not really resonate with me. Then I heard she had cancer and anal was too painful to think about. I just figured they would find treatment and that TV and tabloids were over blowing her health. Today she died. Godspeed.

Then Michael died this afternoon. I never bought Thriller and did not buy any of his tapes. Maybe he was just too cool and too hot and I was too unwilling to like the most popular thing. I am from that generation that takes sledge hammers to the popular. Somewhere in 1991, Michael and MC Hammer feuded and he went freaky with that extended video on Fox where he zipped and unzipped his pants. Then he molested children, allegedly, and it was too weird.

These two deaths shake me, because they mark my youth. However, the one that has more significance is the death of my friend's mom. I have had friends who have lost parents, but they have been older parents or it has been a freak bout of cancer or I just said, "this is abnormal part of life." But this time, I realize this is life. I hurt with my friend who has lost his mom and I am sad for his dad who now lives life alone. They had done life together and done it well. So out of three deaths in the last 24 is the one who died with friends and family. Her fans are not worldwide and her memorial service will not have TV crews or Access Hollywood outside. The mourning will be done with family and friends. It is a death that all of us will experience and none of us want to do so.

Friday, June 19, 2009

In Wake Of Killings, A New Look At Hate Speech : NPR

In Wake Of Killings, A New Look At Hate Speech : NPR

As I think about the issue of hate is that those folks who see themselves as agents or instruments of God is that our work is to shine light into those dark places. Our ministry of justice and mercy is to listen to the ones who are marginalized. Those who are marginalized are sometimes racist and sometimes leftist. But, if Jesus was able to do ministry with lepers and not be made we have the courage to take up such ministry? Can we sit with the one's on the margins and not be made unclean. Can we maintain our identity as people of the Kingdom not of the world?

Sometimes, my vision of the world and God's kingdom I try to defend and do not take it on the offensive. I must remember that Kingdom of God is not to be defended but is to be expanded. The Kingdom of God is offensive not defensive.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mel Hall, when sports heroes fail us

In 1981 the Midland Cubs had Mel Hall, Joe Carter, and Craig Lefferts on the roster. The flashiest and best player on that team was not Joe Carter but Mel Hall. Mel was something special. Since I was a young kid, I followed Mel and chuckled at his excess. Two cougars, his hot dogging around the field, and his nice jheri curl.
Then I heard the news about Mel and his molesting a 12 year old girl on a basketball team. I knew it was most likely true and it saddened me. Yesterday, Mel went to jail for 45 years and I was reminded that sports athletes are fallible folk. They are more fallible than most of us. Their lives are so excessive that many don't have the ability to live it.
Mel was the product of his own addictions. He could have been great, but wound up average. He did not apply himself to the game, but applied himself to a false image. The pressures finally got Mel and he made choices that were abusive and less than human. I am saddened, because I want my heroes to be as good as I imagine them be. However, I must remember that the spectacle of sports and celebrity make them even more susceptible of failure. Charles Barkley was right in declaring, "I am not your role model." He knew the deep dark secrets that lie underneath the false veneer of athletes and he was honest enough to tell the truth.

The Message of the church for today

What is the message of salvation for the church today. I am not sure the issue of eternity really motivates me all that much, because if I am looking to gain heaven as the ultimate then what is this life? Am I in some cosmic waiting room waiting to get to heaven and what is heaven all about...worship? Please no. Been in great worship but if all we do is sing in heaven...I hear hell has a nice charcoal fire for a brisket and a good bar, Robert Earl Keen wrote.

So, what are we saved from? A larger part of the gospel for Americans is Americans and maybe the whole world who looks to us as the center of the world...materialism. Everyday where ever we go on TV, in the paper, and web we are inudated with advertisements telling us that our lives are less than complete. We have not arrived, but could arrive if we buy this product. This constant inudation tells us that we are less than whole and offers a false solution.

Think about all media is about advertising. Truth is not being sold, but ad space. Likewise we build products for consumption. It is an endless cycle. Are we just consumers and producers?

I realized that much of message and the message of Brennan Manning is that we are enough. God loves us as we are. I ponder why that message resonated with me and I think it is that less than quality. I don't need another experience, a great vacation, another child or the Sham Wow to make my life complete. My life is complete in God and the truest experience of all is the experience of grace I find in Jesus Christ. It is pure.

The next part of that situation is that we realize that we are blessed and that our blessings some of our blessings are material. We live in the richest country ever, with more opportunities. People around the world come clamoring to be in America. We are blessed. I often thank God for getting the opportunity to live now. What are we going to do with our blessings? Are we going to build walls of protection? Are we going to build larger barns to take in all we have? Are we going to get a bigger house, a nicer car, or go on a grander vacation to celebrate our blessings? Not that any of those are bad, but that is not the final destination. Are we going to help others and build a better world? Are we going to do good things and let our light shine?

What do you think?

Again as part of my tribe, I reserve the right to take this post back in a few minutes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


A couple of years ago, I came to the conclusion that the most significant moment in the latter half the 20th century for the United States was the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. Learning the ins and outs of that moment in history was essential for understanding where the United States was now and where it would be heading. The rise of the Islamic Republic in Iran caused several significant things to happen.
1.) The Iran hostage crisis and Carter's inability to bring resolution to it meant the election of Reagan. It also was a low point in the psyche of the United States and a feeling of helplessness. At least with the Soviet Union, we knew each other's rules, but with Iran this was a third rate country beating us down.
2.) Iran also was for Reagan a low point for his presidency. It began the whole Iran-Contra affair where Reagan bought hostages. This gave Iran a sense of legitimacy. Iran also used Hezbollah to bomb the United States Marine Barracks in Lebanon. That also was a very bad.
3.) Iran is a Islamic Republic while we deal with Islamic Dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and even Iraq. The poor and disenfranchised in the country could look to Iran as a model and the Arabic folks felt less about themselves and fostered resentment.
In the end, Iran is our thorn and has been for 30 years. As these elections go on, I hold my breath because the best way to kill the reformers is to say, "America supports you." So, I hold my breath and see what change happens. If there are changes in Iran after these protests, will they be beneficial for the United States?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Being a Godfather

This past Sunday I was in Kansas City and was able to attend Catholic mass with my god daughter. One of the highest honors in my life is to be a godfather, because it breaks the rules a bit.  Rob and Susanne asked me to be a godfather despite me being a Protestant minister, or maybe because I am.  I did not ask why, but just took the honor.

The godparents promise to raise their god child in the Catholic faith.  We took that seriously, but had a lapse when she had first communion.  Ouch, we moved to CA and it would mean a Sunday's vacation and trekking the whole familia to KC, a costly trek.

So, I told my goddaughter that I had one goal and that was to go to mass with her.  There are things about the Roman Catholic church that have changed since Pope John Paul II died.  The KC diocese that was very progressive and downright liberal is now very conservative.  The whole idea of an altar as opposed to a table really bothers me and that whole transubstantiation thing bothers me as well.  The bread and wine are symbols not miraculously body and blood.  However, I am a godfather and my task is to raise a good Catholic girl.  So, I recite creeds and do not take the Eucharist because I need to honor the tradition.

So we sat in the KC cathedral on Sunday and I talked to her about the service.  I pointed out the baptistery, "I remember, you were covered with water.  That means you were made a part of God's family."  I pointed out the altar that is artistically shows bushels of wheat under the top and I said, "THey have wheat because this is KC where wheat is a very staple of life.  I come from the place where grapes are the staple.  On Sunday when you take communion, when I break the bread I will think of you with the wheat.  When you take the wine, remember me with the grapes. God will unite us when share in the table."  I know it is a table to me, but she got it.

It is hard at times to do things that I don't fully believe, but I do this act of being a god father because it is important for her to be raised rightly with compassion and mercy not with mere rightness.  So, I try to display that and I hope that in my actions of god father teaching her a faith I don't fully believe she will learn how to have tolerance, honor others, and how important love is in the world.   That is a faith that we can all hold upon to.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Beauty of God

Insight of the day.

If for me beauty is best exemplifed in the feminine form, to talk about the beauty of God and to image-ine that as woman changes the ethics of relationship.

To objectify a woman, to lust after beauty, even my wife, places her in the position of the true beauty that I wish to see, God.

So for my misogynist friends who can't see God in the femine form and see it as dangerous.  I think the femine image of God does deepen and clarify my reading of scriptures and demands more ethical rigor of me.

Lust for me, even lust of a spouse, is sinful if replaces the heart's true desire union with God with another less than God.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


We are in the house now.

That is great, but there are moments like today where I get extremely frustrated.  The crux of the issue is that I took about five hours this week to clean up the old house.  I worked a couple of hours on Monday.  Tuesday Amy and I went over about an hour into the work we were interrupted by the electrician to fix a circuit in our new home.  Then today to finish the job, I spent a couple hours doing it.

Today was the day when I wanted my instant gratification.  I wanted the rest of the family to chip in.  It was a day to grow a resentment.  I brought the last junk to our new house and told Amy, "I am just done.  I am done doing house stuff for the rest of the week.  I need to work and Saturday night we are going to Brewbakers." (Brewbakers my favorite restaurant.)

My expectations were not realistic.  We had spent the last four weeks of our lives there without having a weekend clean up.  So the house was filthy.  The floors dirty.  The backyard needed me to get the boys stuff out.  The garage had not been cleaned in months. Amy and the boys are not useful.  It is my mess, so I feel I am obligated to clean it up.  So, I do it and when it does not happen instantaneously...I get resentful. the right thing.  Focus on work this week and that will stop resentment. Right actions make right thinking they say in 12 step.  So, I am back to work.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Moving homes

Amy and I bought a house through a foreclosure auction this year.  It began in January and has brought us to this moment.  There has been a great amount of anxiety and worry through this process.  Anything to do with money is a worry today it seems.

 While reading the Psalms, I was reminded that perhaps this house is a blessing.  God giving me a great gift.  I don't look at life that way too much, ask my friends, they know my temperment.  I am cautious, because in my personal life has been strewn with failures.  At least those failures are etched into my memory deeper than the acheivements.  Through all this God keeps pushing me and telling me of the good in this world and the good in me.  Too often I won't listen to that.  I pray God never tires of me.

A new house, perhaps I need to trust God in the midst of this horrorific economic storm. 

"God make this house a tool for your doing good in the world and while you are at it, me too."

Monday, March 02, 2009

12 years of capital


About 12 years ago, Amy and I began investing in the stock market.  We are not big players, but we consciously made a decision to max out the 401(k) and take extra money to invest in stock and mutual funds. Today the market is where it was when we started.  Three lessons learned.

1.) The market does not always go up.  There is this talk that the market will always go up, as if America has a God given right to expanding markets.  This flies in the face of free market capitalism and competition.  There are no guarantees and there is always risk.

2.) Buy and Hold is a wrong strategy.  There is a buying strategy and an exit strategy.  When investing need to have both in mind. Mutual funds make it very hard to think that way, where individual stocks are easy to exit out of.

3.) When a sword drops don't try to catch it, run.  We have Citigroup in our personal stock portfolio.  We bought at the high and we bought half way down and now we have nothing.  Losing a little is better than losing a lot.

These are hard truths that I always knew, but the banks and wall street sell these myths.  Be smart with your money, because it is a tool for doing good in the world. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Church Marketing Sucks: Another Lesson from Starbucks

I found this blog entry at Church Marketing sucks great, because I ponder if the notion of Third Place is dead.  If it is, then what does that mean for church strategy. I like Starbucks, because I like the staff that I have met over the last 18 months.


Quoted from

Church Marketing Sucks: Another Lesson from Starbucks

February 18, 2009

Another Lesson from Starbucks

(Filed under: Brand & Identity)

Starbucks is often used as an example within the world of church marketing. They have an experience, they knew how to tell their story.

Yes, I said "knew how to tell their story."

I've had numerous conversations with church leaders about Starbucks' concept of a "third place" and how the church could harness that feeling. We have work, we have home ... Starbucks was that third place, a getaway, a place to relax, etc. etc.

Then they installed a drive-thru. So much for a third place, it was just a stop on the way to either home or work. They've put another nail in the coffin now with instant coffee. Doesn't get any less third place than that.

Starbucks no longer has a story to tell. Their story is now the same as McDonald's and Folgers.

I've seen the same thing in the local church. They start off with a core calling, know who they are and what God has created them to do. Then they either get bored or see the church down the road try something new and they change their story.

Excellence as church marketers is all about being great storytellers. Know your story and stick with it. Don't let things--even seemingly good things--distract you from your unique story. When you start to change your story, often you don't end up with something new, you end up without a story to tell.

Let someone else sell instant coffee or add a drive thru. Put your efforts into creating a more excellent third place, whatever that unique component happens to be for your church.

Posted by Michael Buckingham

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

National Pastor's Convention

Last week, I spent three days with some good friends from seminary at National Pastor's Convention. One of the interesting things about NPC to me was that very few people talked to each other. In a great chance to network, it seemed that people were not that friendly outside of their circle of folk. I did not see it much. As I was sitting on the end, I reached out a couple of times to introduce myself but not much was said by the others.

It could be me, but I felt that the communication came from stage to the seats. Then not much else unless it was within your insulated group. I had an insulated group.

I wonder if Pastor's are that isolated and in an event like that unwilling to break down barriers? There is risk, do I measure up to who I am talking? What lies are we going to swap? etc.

Next year if I go, I will want to spend my timing breaking the silence even if I go with the posse.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why this blog?

Why have been writing this blog?

I think one can tell why I have not been writing the blog.  I don't know why I am supposed to be writing this blog.  What is my focus?  In the beginning, it was to tell my spiritual story and I could not find a method that I wanted to discuss.  Lately it has been about my life.

The goal of this blog....

To bring together folks who are seriously thinking about spirituality, community, and the world?  How do we live missionally?  How do experience the sacred daily?  How do we live relationally?

So, I restart again.  Come and join me.