Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Happens When You Catch the Cat

You all remember this little girl, right?  A quick refresher for any new readers:  I found this little girl in the tree in my back yard, and rescued her from the gaggle of mean ol' doggies that live back there.  I initially named her Miss Kitty, but since that time, Evan has renamed her Meow Meow.

Well, its seems that Meow Meow isn't quite as sweet and innocent as she may appear!  (isn't that always the case?)  I have noticed over the course of the last several weeks that Meow Meow would patrol around the fence, and even get right up to the gate where the dogs could smell her.  A couple times, she has managed to sneak through the front door of the house, and she seems to always make her way straight to the glass doors that lead to the back yard - right where all the dogs have gathered!  I guess you could say she's a bit of a daredevil.

For those of you who don't know, we have three dogs:  Maggie, and 85 pound Lab/Shepherd mix who is quite possibly the greatest dog ever born in the history of ever,  Oscar, the overweight miniature Schnauzer with a bad attitude, and Chase - 110 pounds of big dumb dumbness.

Now, fast forward to Sunday.  Meow Meow was at the gate, taunting away, and Chase was on the inside of the gate, ready to pounce.  I had just fed the dogs, and with Evan in one arm and the pitcher that holds the dog food in the other, I was making my way back out of the gate.  I made sure to move Chase out of the way, and slipped through the gate, closing it behind me.  The gate sags a little, as most will do since it is an 8 foot opening, and so I had to re-open it to get it closed all the way.  When I cracked it open to secure it shut, Chase flew through the crack and, like so many heroes and villains of the Old Testament, lived up to his name!

Now, picture me, running inside to put Evan down, and then running down the street of our neighborhood trying to keep 100 pound Chase from killing 10 pound Meow Meow.  At first, I couldn't find them, and I was sure that it was too late.  Not only did I expect Meow Meow was dead, but I thought I'd probably never find Chase again.  Then I heard barking, so I headed towards the sound, sure that I was going to have to spend another afternoon getting this cat out of a tree.  Not fun, for sure, but an upgrade over dead cat and missing dog.

What I found was much different!  I saw Meow Meow, on the ground, fur sticking straight up, ready to rumble.  I saw Chase, barking and easing towards her.  Then, I saw the Animal Kingdom remake of "Crouching Tiger, Hurting Dog Face."  That little 10 pound Cat leaped into the air, and, defying all of Mr. Newton's laws of gravity, proceeded to thrash Chase about the face and nose.  Suddenly, Chase couldn't get away fast enough.  He looked over at me with his big dumb confused look, like "what do I do now daddy?  Help!"  So I went and rescued him from his tormentor and took him back to the fence, safe and sound from the mean ol' kitty.

How many of us spend our lives playing the role of Chase?  How many of us are pursuing something, praying for something, longing for something that we think we want.  How much time do we spend seeking the things we think we want, never bothering to ask the most basic question:  What happens if I catch the Cat? 

Pastors, what happens if your little church suddenly becomes a mega-church?  Is that really what God wants for every church on every street corner?  Is that what you want?  Are you and you members prepared for it?

Singles, what happens if you finally get a date with that girl or boy you've been after?  Are they somebody you will truly be happy with?  Will you have a healthy, fulfilling relationship, or will you just add to each others brokenness?

Adults, what happens if you finally get that promotion?  Will it really be a good thing, or will you sacrifice time with family, happiness, and possibly even your health in exchange for money and power?

      I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of   being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.- Philippians 4:12-13

Its telling that we ignore the first part of this passage, and focus on the part of about doing "all things."  We need to learn that the secret to unlocking "all things" is being content in all times.  Secure in our person hood as God's beloved, and grounded in a reality that is beyond the tangible world.  Only when we have anchored ourselves in the here and now, and learned to live fully in it, should we begin to pursue what is "out there," and then we should pursue those things that we genuinely believe are worthy of our pursuit - not for our sake but for His.

So, before you chase that cat, ask yourself two questions:  "Why am I after this thing," and "What happens if I catch it?"

Monday, September 19, 2011


Ahoy!  Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day!  So all you land lubbers need to learn your pirate vocabulary smartly, lest ye be made to live with the bilge rats!

Yes, this is a real thing.  Every September 19 people celebrate "Talk Like a Pirate Day."  I discovered it when I was living in Eastern North Carolina, listening to local radio.  That part of our state is as drenched in Pirate culture and history as any part of the world, and it doesn't hurt that East Carolina University's mascot is, you guessed it, the Pirates.  Every year, the founders of this movement came on the radio to extol the virtues of talking, dressing, and acting like a pirate for one day a year.  You have to admit, it is a fun idea!

I decided that what we really need is International Talk Like Jesus Day.  No, I don't want you to all learn to speak Aramaic (you did know that was Jesus' spoken language, right?) - I want us to learn to say the things that Jesus said.

  • On International talk like Jesus day, when we hear people gossiping about another person, and what a horrible sinner they are, instead of showing off our religious bona fides, we will simply say- "let he who is without sin cast the first stone."  (John 8:7)
  • When we hear about a church that has different theology or worship practices, instead of piling up reasons why we are right and they are wrong, we will simply say - "do not stop them...for whoever is not against us is for us."  (Mark 9:40)
  • When asked to set up a structure of authority, instead of arguing over committee structures, or who gets to decide what within the church, we will respond with the only kind of authority that can truly be world changing:  "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant."  (Mark 10:44)
  • On International Talk like Jesus Day, instead of seeking revenge, we will love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  (Matthew 5:44)
  • Finally, when we have been wronged in the most horrible way possible, instead of creating coalitions and divisions, instead of gearing up for a scorched earth fight, we will not just offer our own forgiveness, but we will seek The Father's forgiveness on behalf of our persecutors - "Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
So that is my proposal.  Wonder how much change we could have in this world if we could convince just us Christians to spend just one day actually talking and living like Jesus?  Shiver Me Timbers!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remember What?

note:  this is a fuller development of what I used yesterday at Grace Crossing during our time of Remembrance.  We celebrated communion together, and watched as the names of all 3,497 victims of the September 11 attacks scrolled on the screen.

Back when I was at First Baptist Smithton, one of the joys of living in a small town on a very large river was all of the fish, and all of the fishermen willing to share that fish, with their preacher.  One day, my phone rang and it was Tom Pope.  His burly bass voice boomed through the phone like always, "Preacherman, I've got you some fish, you want me to bring 'em up to the church?"  My answer was, of course, "yes!," so he did, and I put them in the church refrigerator.  Now, it was early in the day, and knowing myself quite well, I knew there was a chance that I would forget those fish, so I put my truck keys in the refrigerator with them.  That way, there was absolutely 0% chance that I could forget there was tasty flounder just waiting for my belly.

Yeah, about that.

When I got ready to leave that afternoon, I thought, "that's odd, I can't find my keys."  So I looked in my office.  And in the front lock of the church.  And in the sanctuary.  And then in my truck.  And then I started frantically searching everywhere trying to find my keys.  After about 2 hours of breathless searching, I finally called Jennifer to come bring me my extra key so I could get home.

Just then the phone rang, and Barb, one of my church members who just happened to be there when Tom came by with my fish, was on the other end.  I don't even remember now why she was calling, but I asked her if by any chance she remembered me doing something with my keys.  "Jason, you silly boy, you put them in the refiger...."  DING DING DING!  The bell sounded, and of course I remembered what it was I was supposed to remember.  Of course, I also felt like the stupidest human alive, but at least I got home, and had a tasty supper!

This past week has been a week of remembering.  There have been television shows, moving images and stories of the people affected by the tragic attacks that happened 10 long/short years ago.  As a pastor, I struggled with how to best bring together the worship of our eternal Father in hope with an event that seemed to remind us of just how hopeless this world can be.  We celebrated communion, and I tried my best to reflect on the event in a way that gave it the appropriate amount of gravity - not crushing, because we don't weep as those who have no hope, but also not flippant, because September 11 changed the world for most of us reading this blog.

I was struck with an idea that had never hit my admittedly small mind before:  When Jesus sat around the table with friends and established what we call "communion," he asked for a specific kind of remembrance.  He didn't say, "this is my body, this is my blood, remember the event of the cross."  He didn't ask us to remember the violence of the event, or the betrayal, or the emotion they all must have felt in that place.  Jesus asked us to remember HIM, the person.  The flesh and blood man who came as one of us and lived as none of us has ever been able.

So as we continue this week to remember, my question is, "what are we remembering?"  As believers, we aren't allowed to stew in anger, or wrap ourselves in lust for revenge.  We aren't supposed to let grief and fear overwhelm us, because we have a hope beyond this tangible, broken world.  So I believe that we honor the day by honoring the people. 

I made comment yesterday about how, as a preacher, the only thing I really have to offer this world are words.  Events like September 11, 2001 have so much gravity, they crush most words into powder, so that only the strongest kinds of words can withstand the sheer volume of emotions - the most powerful words in any language - a name.

We are told that it is at the "name" of Jesus that all knees will ultimately bow in worship.  We are reminded throughout the Old Testament in the names of people and places of the power of the proper noun.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a name must be worth thousands of pictures - everything the person that name represents has ever seen, or been seen doing.

When Jesus asks us to remember Him, He is asking us to remember Jesus the son, the brother, the friend, the teacher, and of course, our Savior.  In short, we are asked to remember Him as a person with a name.

So we remember the people.  The fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers and sons and daughters and friends and co-workers.  We remember their names, because no other words will suffice.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


What follows is the first two pages of a book tentatively titled, Majoring on the Minors:  Lessons from the Minor Propets, which I have been attempting to write, on and off, for about five years.  It was born out of a sermon series at First Baptist Smithton.  I'm polishing and rewriting parts and presenting it as a Wednesday evening study, beginning tonight at Grace Crossing.  I'm looking for feedback, and I will probably continue to post the rest of Chapter 1 on here in the coming days:


“When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, "Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD."’

Nothing gets our attention faster than a good, smutty, sex scandal.  I guess things haven’t changed very much in the last 2800 years or so because clearly Hosea knew how to get the attention of an audience.  If this book somehow lasts into posterity, I hope that the more advanced forms of ourselves will  look back on this time with horror and bemusement over what we consider “entertainment.”  As it stands, in this day, at this time, sex sells.  It sells everything, from cars to food to clothes – if there is a way to make men think they will get sex from a product, some marketer will exploit it.  If there is a way to  make women think that men will think they are sexy if they use a particular product, the same marketer will exploit that as well, along with some young, too-skinny model of “ideal woman” that the average consumer could never hope to either be or date.
Sex sells, but it also does more than that.  Despite how casual we have become in Western society about sex, there really is still no such thing as truly casual sex.  Don’t believe me?  Turn on some of the horrible “reality” television shows and see what happens when a relationship, no matter how “casual,” meets infidelity.  Fists fly.  Hair is pulled.  Many, many four-letter words are yelled.  Sex may sell, but it also makes us vulnerable, even when we don’t want to admit that such a vulnerability could exist.  Even if you buy the lie that humans are just animals with opposing thumbs, you have to admit that sex is not just another physical act.  After all, animals kill over the right to mate, right?
This is the most shocking realization as we begin Hosea’s story.  Hosea hears a call from God to go and, literally, marry a hooker, prostitute, woman of the night, participant in the “world’s oldest profession.”    Whatever, you call her, we know exactly who God has in mind when he tells Hosea, “Go, take for yourself an adulterous wife.” 
Much of Hosea’s story is staggering.  Read through the whole book and see if you think Hosea is a hero or a crazy person by the end.  Perhaps the most shocking part, though, happens in only the 3rd verse.  “So he went and took Gomer, daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.”  Hosea does it!  Knowing fully what he is about to get himself into, Hosea actually obeys God!
One of the many, often hidden, ways the Bible has influenced our culture is the names we give to our children.  There are literally millions of Joshs and Davids and Samuels and Rebekahs and Deborahs.  There are more obscure Biblical names like Jason and Lydia.  There are names of places like Beth, names of ideal characteristics like Temperance and Charity.

Have you ever met a girl named Gomer?  In fact, other than Gomer Pyle, have you ever met anybody  named Gomer?  Shazaam!   
Here’s another question: Do you think that Hosea asked Gomer’s father for her hand in marriage?  How do you think that conversation went?  “Hey, Diblaim, can I call you Dibby?  You don’t know me, but I’m the prophet Hosea, and I’m looking for the most scandalous, vile, dirty woman and I can find.  The very epitome of a whore.  God told me to marry her so that all of Israel will see what its like to have such an unfaithful People as His own.  Why am I here?  Well, it interesting you ask that question… well… you see… I’ve come to ask for Gomer’s hand in marriage.”  And they lived happily ever after… once Hosea found all of his teeth!
All joking aside, Hosea begins his book by doing something that all who would try to speak for God should do first – he earns the right to be heard.  Hosea isn’t a man standing in a pulpit each Sunday in a $2000 dollar suit asking for people’s money so “the Lord can have his new ‘Benz.”  No, Hosea is lower than that.  Hosea isn’t even an average guy with an average wife and average life.   He’s lower than that.   He lowers himself lower than low, down to the position of a man scorned.
Does that sound even a little familiar?  Maybe it would help you to know that “Hosea” means “salvation.”  If a little light bulb just went on in your head, you’re not alone.  The comparisons are many.  Hosea and Jesus went about their mission knowing the price they would pay.  They both dare to speak to power, in a way that to the world and the unthinking mind seems weak.  Of course, they both know that the greatest power is the power of God, and the power of truth and of truly living in His power. 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man,  he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  - Philippians 2:5-8

EVEN death on a cross.  Jesus died the most socially embarrassing, culturally impure, religiously unclean death a 1st century Jew could die.  His body, had he been like any other victim of the Roman execution machine, would have been left to be picked apart by scavengers, not buried and cleansed in the proper customs.  He was laid bare, literally, for all to see.  He was mocked and humiliated.  While its not fair to compare Hosea’s sacrifice to Jesus atoning death for all humanity, you can certainly see in Hosea the Christ-like spirit of self-sacrifice and service to God’s cause above self.

- to be continued...