A Wet Rainbow

December 21, 2018 at 7:31 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It rained most of the day yesterday, so when I saw the sun shining, I thought I’d better get Monk’s walk in before it rained again. I was picking up his duty when I looked toward the sky. I saw a full rainbow to the west. It wasn’t raining, so it was a neat sight to behold. While I was admiring the beauty, I felt it. First it was a sprinkle, but it soon grew to a steady rain. It was bizarre, since the sun was still shining. I looked above my head, and saw a dark cloud above me. I could only assume it was the culprit.

As the sunlight faded behind increasing clouds, I realized how similar this experience was to the glad tidings many of us don’t feel at Christmastime. While we can see the glitter of Christmas decorations, our grief hangs over our head like our own personal storm cloud. We listen to the bright laughter, but inside, our soul is being drenched with memories of those who have left this world. As people rejoice in the salvation of the Scrooges in their lives, some of us see the empty chair where our Tiny Tims once sat.

This Christmas is a new experience for me. I’m still walking around in T-shirts late in December. The weather feels like the springtime of Easter in the Midwest reminding me of the promises of new life, all the while I’m adjusting to being 1,000 miles away from my children and other friends and family. It definitely feels like a wet rainbow: knowing the promise of a protective covenant while still feeling exposed to the elements.

I pray for those like me, for whom this holiday season is more maddening than mirth. In my short life, the worst thing is for someone to tell me I should be happy when I am feeling sad. My hope is for us to begin transforming the season of Christmas from a time of merriment to a time of love. Merry people avoid us sad people, but love bears all things. May we be loving people during this season of joy, offering umbrellas of time and concern for our family, friends, and neighbors who find themselves soaked with grief.

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Permanent Ink?

October 16, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

IMG_5072When I was a kid, PaperMate came out with an ink pen that was erasable. I always hated the permanence of ink. It might have contributed to my desire to study mathematics. We used pencil in math because of the increased chance of making mistakes. I never liked essay exams in grade school. We had to use pen, so us perfectionists had to think through our essay before putting it to paper lest we draw the dreaded line through the offending sentence or paragraph.

Tattoos can be offending to some as well. I’m not much of a fan myself for two reasons. First, I hate needles. Second, tattoos are even more painful to erase. Our lives change as do our preferences. Why would we want to make a preference permanent?

There is a tattoo I’ve been considering. I would like to get a tattoo of a semi-colon. In this age of texting, most think of the character as part of the winking emoji. In my case, I’d be joining the throng of people who have gotten the tattoo to symbolize courage during times of mental illness. For those of you who don’t know, the thinking goes like this: Don’t put a period in the sentence that is your life. In other words, do not choose suicide. Do not prematurely end the sentence. Rather, use a semi-colon to pause and then continue writing your story. As one who has struggled with dysthymia (a low level form of depression) since the age of three, I have had many “dark nights of the soul.” I believe having a tangible reminder regarding the changing nature of our lives would help when I find myself in one of those dark episodes.

Perhaps it is my fear of needles. Perhaps it is my fear of making something permanent, but for some reason, I continue to try to find a reason to not get this tattoo of a semi-colon. I’ve recently discovered the source of my hesitation.

The assumption behind the sentiment of the semi-colon tattoo is one of power and agency. By saying that we are the writers of the sentence of our lives, we are assuming we have a level of control which doesn’t exist. I wasn’t the writer when my brother and sister died of congenital heart disease. I wasn’t the editor-in-chief when my mother died of pancreatic cancer nor when my father died of lung cancer. Yes, I wrote stories of compassion and caring when my loved ones were suffering, but I wasn’t the only one writing. It reminds me of the Bugs Bunny cartoon when it is revealed that Bugs is the cartoonist who is drawing perpetual difficulties for Daffy Duck. Some call it fate while some call it “god’s will,” but the poetry of my life is not written by me alone.

So, yes, in times of abandonment and loneliness, this author conjures possible concluding paragraphs. I have heard enough platitudes and pithy sayings to fill an ocean, but a kind word? Times of comfort and compassion are as frequent as oases in the desert.

I’m afraid this tattoo of the semi-colon could backfire in the same way other so-called wise sayings fail. Platitudes fail when they aren’t used with wisdom. Yes, those of us who are depressed need to be reminded we are more powerful than we realize. However, our pessimistic view of our reality might be more real than the pithy Pollyanna prose that spews from our mouths without a moment’s thought.

I wrote down a quote in July. Andrew Solomon states, “The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.”

For some people who fight depression, the semi-colon is a vital reminder of their self-worth. For others, we need to be reminded how we are vital to others. This must be delivered honestly, and must be coupled with joy and NOT shame. Too often, people think they are helping when actually they are piling more pain onto the shame pile. When shame becomes too overwhelming, the PaperMate pen seems to be the only solution.

I write this today to encourage, not condemn. More people are contemplating suicide, and we can no longer afford to think we can go on with business as usual. Too many people are reaching for the erasable ink. While it is normal for all of us to rewrite parts of our story when the need arises, no one’s story ought to be erased in total. Everyone is unique, and everyone’s story is worthy of writing. Yes, even yours.

The 12 Days of Christmas – repurposed

October 8, 2017 at 11:49 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Today, I was preaching on the 10 commandments, and I wanted a way to share them with the children during their time in the service.  So last night, I created these lyrics to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas, since that hymn was also created to teach doctrines to children.

It’s not perfect, but the whole congregation had fun this morning as I sung this song.  I share it for your amusement.  The “Honor your mom and pop” is for the drawn out “five golden rings” stanza.

The song:

The first word that God spoke, He said it unto me: No other gods besides me.

The second word that God spoke, He said it unto me: no graven image, and no other gods besides me.

The third word that God spoke, He said it unto me: regard my name as holy, no graven image, and no other gods besides me.

The fourth word that God spoke, He said it unto me: work only six days, regard my name as holy, no graven image, and no other gods besides me.

The fifth word that God spoke, He said it unto me: Honor your mom and pop! work only six days, regard my name as holy, no graven image, and no other gods besides me.

The sixth word that God spoke, He said it unto me: don’t kill other humans, honor your mom and pop! work only six days, regard my name as holy, no graven image, and no other gods besides me.

The seventh word that God spoke, He said it unto me: love only your spouse, don’t kill other humans, honor your mom and pop! work only six days, regard my name as holy, no graven image, and no other gods besides me.

The eighth word that God spoke, He said it unto me: don’t take what’s not yours, love only your spouse, don’t kill other humans, honor your mom and pop! work no more than six days, regard my name as holy, no graven image, and no other gods besides me.

The ninth word that God spoke, He said it unto me:  don’t be spreading fake news, don’t take what’s not yours, love only your spouse, don’t kill other humans, honor your mom and pop! work no more than six days, regard my name as holy, no graven image, and no other gods besides me.

The tenth word that God spoke, He said it unto me:  be happy with your own stuff, don’t be spreading fake news, don’t take what’s not yours, love only your spouse, don’t kill other humans, honor your mom and pop! work no more than six days, regard my name as holy, no graven image, and no other gods besides me.

A side note: Different denominations/faiths number the 10 commandments differently.  These words are based on the Orthodox/Protestant numbering.

October newsletter article

September 26, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

James’ letter to the church is often a stumbling block for Protestants.  Indeed, Martin Luther is said to have wanted to remove it from the Bible.  He didn’t follow through with this desire, which is a good thing.  Living a life in Christ means changing our behaviors when they don’t line up with Christ’s example.

I find it painfully sad how this verse from the Letter of James is not heeded in our land today: “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” James 1.19 NRSV.  My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of people who are quick to anger, quick to speak, and slow to listen.  During the height of the presidential campaign, I had to unfollow some folks due to their constant barrage of negative comments and sharing of false news.

7iaMxknxTAs I sit here and reflect, it is becoming painfully clear how much of a threat it is to listen.  What do I mean?  Simply this: listening isn’t the same as hearing.  For those of us whose ears still work, it is simple to hear things.  Listening is more than just hearing sounds.  Listening requires an openness and a vulnerability towards the one speaking.  When we actively listen, we must be ready to have our hearts and minds changed.  If we are not willing to change, then we aren’t listening.

The Shema, the command of God to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6.4, begins “Listen, O Israel!”  Listen to the LORD.  Listen to God’s commands.  It isn’t enough to hear the laws.  We have to follow them.

Listening, true listening, offers us opportunities for healthy change.  Yes, we don’t need to accept hook, line, and sinker, what someone is telling us.  However, as Christians who believe that all are made in the image of Almighty God, we have a responsibility to truly listen to those who speak.

One of the most Christian things we can do is to listen to those who are hurting or suffering.  Being a companion and having compassion reflects the path the Lord Jesus took with us.  Let us recommit ourselves to James’ admonition.  In this polarized culture, one of the most radical things we can do is to be slow to anger, slow to speak, and quick to listen.  Let us not remove these words from our living bible.  Let us show the world what it means to be truly Christian by truly listening.

Blessings,

Pastor Andy

A prayer for 11 September

September 11, 2017 at 8:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kristi and I wrote this prayer together last night.  She used this prayer this morning at an event at Scott Air Force Base.

2017 Patriot Day Invocation

O God our fortress and our strength,

today, we honor those innocent lives

which were taken 16 years ago,

and all those who nobly aided their fellow Americans in their time of need

and all those who have died defending our freedom

in the years since that tragic day.

 

Bear us up on eagles’ wings, that we may continue our noble task

to defend our freedoms here and abroad,

always remembering the sacrifices others have made on our behalf.

 

May we continue to be committed to the ideals of our nation

—a nation dedicated to liberty and freedom,

a nation characterized by justice and courage

which defines our country and unites us as one.

 

As new threats appear on the horizon, may we not grow faint or weary.

Rather, change our fear into courage and our uncertainty into resolve,

so that our children, and our children’s children

may enjoy all the blessings we have received

as citizens of this great nation.

 

We pray this in your Holy and Precious Name.  Amen.

 

 

Newsletter reflection for August

August 2, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

IMG_3936My daughter is now driving my dad’s truck.  The title is in my name, so it makes me wonder: “Who’s truck is it?”  In a culture which prizes yes/no answers, the answer is difficult to state, because the truck belongs to all three of us.  This answer is sufficient, until the time comes when Abby wants to change something about the truck.  I was ok with her getting a back cushion and a new radio, but what would happen if she wanted new hubcaps or to paint it a different color?  Painting the truck a different color would definitely remove the visual association I have of my dad driving his truck.  It made me wonder if the truck will ever be mine or Abby’s?  Will it forever be my dad’s truck?

The same goes for the church.  Generations have lived and worshipped here at RiversEdge.  Over a decade ago, the church built a new sanctuary.  I imagine it was difficult to worship in the new part of the building when the old sanctuary had so many memories.

This difficulty of making changes is not unique to our church.  Throughout much of the Christian world, we have been taught to conserve, meaning, we have been taught to keep things the same because Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  However, this year we are celebrating 500 years of the official Protestant Reformation.  We remember October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his document detailing 95 challenges to the Christian (Catholic) practice at the time.  Who knows what kind of Christianity we would be practicing today if he hadn’t stepped up and demanded change.  Perhaps we wouldn’t have been Christian at all, since our forefathers would not have found a faithful place in which to live and worship.

It really is odd how we follow One who proclaimed changes to the status quo by trying to keep everything the same.  Reformation should be in our DNA, because it was in Christ’s DNA.  The pastoral press for doctrines and practices which are life giving should be the goal for all of us who call Christ “Lord.”

How are we doing in this regard at RiversEdge?  How easy is it for us to change in order for others to come to know Christ?  Change is rarely easy, especially when we like things just the way they are.  But change we must for the sake of the gospel.  The hard truth is this is Christ’s church, not just our church.  At the end of the day, He holds the title, and he wants more people to ride with us.  How do we get ready for them?

Blessings,

Pastor Andy

Newsletter reflection for July

July 14, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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“Do you accept the freedom and the power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”

This quote should sound familiar, as we have been fortunate this year to have had seven baptisms at our church.  It is an important part of our liturgy, because it is an integral piece in our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  While some may think baptism is our ticket to heaven, we understand it to mean so much more.  Baptism is our initiation, our beginning, to follow Jesus as His disciple.  Disciples of Jesus know that the world isn’t as God would wish it to be.  When we take on the mantle of Christ, we accept the challenge to work in the world for the betterment of all.

I know this is the month when we in the United States celebrate our independence from the rule of Britain.  We celebrate with many traditions: cookouts, fireworks, family gatherings, et cetera.  We join our fellow citizens in celebrating freedom.  While this is a good thing, we must remember that freedom for the Christian does not necessarily mean the same in the secular world.  While the temptation is always there to believe we are completely free to do whatever we want, Christians know this isn’t true.  Not only have we given our lives to follow the commandments of the Lord, we also hear the words of Paul echoing in our minds and hearts reminding us that even if we are strong, we are not allowed to put a stumbling block in the way of others (Romans 14.1-13).  In other words, our individual liberty is not more important than the welfare of the community (Romans 15.2).

This is why we have the pledge above in our baptismal affirmation.  As followers of Christ, we have chosen to make this world a better place for all, not just for ourselves.  Galatians 5.13a states, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence”  (NRSV)

So when your faces glow from the explosion of fireworks or when the sweet scent of buttered corn on the cob enters your nostrils, please say two prayers.  First, say “Thank you” to God and to those whose sacrifices allow us to enjoy these freedoms, and second, say “Help us, Lord, to come to the aid of those who don’t have the freedoms we enjoy.”

Blessings,

Pastor Andy

Newsletter reflection for June

July 14, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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Our food pantry is one of the more important ministries of this church.  The Lord became human, and as such, He had a body along with a soul.  Our calling as Christians is to care for the body along with the soul.  We all play a role in our food pantry, but I have found my service to be more meaningful when I actually serve the people who come.  Most often, I am the one handing out the numbers to control the crowd in our small space.  It gives me a chance to see them, hear them, and speak to them.

Some of you are wondering why I’m headed back to Israel so soon after my previous trip.  On my first trip, we focused primarily on the sites of interest for tourists.  We stayed in nice hotels, and traveled in nice buses, and stayed together on nice roads.  Our time with regular folks was limited and curtailed to some extent.  The majority of our interactions with local people came from having to fend off vendors trying to ply their wares on the weakest among us.

This trip I am taking now is different.  I am going with my seminary, and the main purpose of the trip is to encounter the real people of Israel and Palestine.  While we will still be concerned about safety, we will spend a lot less time at the tourist traps and more time with regular folks.  We will hear their stories, and see from their perspectives.  It won’t be a 30,000 feet overview.  We will walk the stone-cobbled paths with them.

My trip will be halfway completed by the time you are reading this.  I thank you all for allowing me to go on this trip and for your prayers for my safe travels.  I will be keeping you in prayer as I journey as well.

Blessings,

Pastor Andy

Newsletter reflection for May

May 8, 2017 at 4:02 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’m fully aware of the irony of writing an article on keeping the Sabbath while I am on vacation.  For me, the rest has allowed my brain to think more creatively.

We find the command to rest on the Sabbath day in at least two places in scripture.  I would like to focus on the passages in Exodus and in Deuteronomy.

Some of the commandments are given as if they were the inverse of the Nike slogan – “Just Don’t Do It.”  Others have reasons attached.  This is true for the Sabbath in both locations, but the reasons given are different.  In Exodus, chapter 20, verses 8 through 11, the reason we are to observe the Sabbath is because God observed a Sabbath.  In a way, we become like God by resting one day a week.  When my children take up my good habits, others can see they are my children.  (The converse is true, too, with my bad habits, but let’s not go there.)  Likewise, when we rest on the seventh day, whenever that day of the week may be, we let people know that the God we serve is a God who doesn’t expect people to work 24 X 7.

In Deuteronomy, chapter 5, verses 12 to 15, we find a different rationale.  The commandment to rest is not because we will be acting like God.  Instead, we are to rest because our ancestors were once slaves and were not allowed to rest.  Indeed, many of us remember the stories of how Pharaoh continued to demand the same daily number of bricks while continuing to add more work to the Hebrew people.  In Deuteronomy, God reminds the Israelites and us, that we aren’t to pile work on others thereby preventing their chance to rest.

Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love one’s neighbor.  The reasons given for observing the Sabbath encompass those two great commandments.  It is my hope and prayer for Christians to learn to cherish the Sabbath again, not by bringing back “blue laws” but by caring about whether human beings are even being given a chance to rest in this culture which prizes productivity over personhood.

Blessings,

Pastor Andy

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Newsletter reflection for April

March 29, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

There are times when I sit down to write this reflection and I think to myself, “I’ve got nothing.”

I believe all of us, at some point, have felt like we were running on empty.  It can be a scary time, especially if the GPS is telling us the next gas station is twenty miles away, and we only have ten miles left in the tank.  We wonder how we will make it, and we curse our physical limitations.

As such, we fear being empty.  We want to keep the tank topped off, or at least half full.  We often use the image of the half empty glass to determine whether a person is an optimist or a pessimist.  We place a high value on not being empty.

Yet, we Christians are a peculiar people.  On Easter, we celebrate the most wonderfully empty thing of all time – the empty tomb.  We really need to be clear, here.  Without the empty tomb, there is really no reason for Christianity to exist.  Sure, Jesus was a marvelous teacher who healed the sick and included the outcast.  But without the empty tomb, he would have been just another martyr in a long list of Imperial Rome’s victims.

Paradoxically, it is the empty tomb which gives us Christians our passion.  It is the emptiness of the threats Death speaks to us which gives us power.

So, as Easter approaches, are we ready to be empty people once again?  Are we ready to let go of the junk in our lives that keeps us from receiving the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to Christ’s resurrection and power over the grave?

Let us, once again, say “No” to death and “Yes” to life!

Happy Easter!

Pastor Andyemptytomb

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