Monthly Archives: November 2014

Thankful Cheese

Beware lest you say in your heart,

‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’

– Deut 8:17 (ESV)

Okay, I know it’s cheesy. I do. But I can’t help myself. It’s the week before T-day, that pagan holiday devoted to gluttony and football, and the good Rev. Michael Koehler (@johnthreethirty) preached a pretty good sermon yesterday at TMI – The Episcopal School of Texas. Any sermon that references both The Simpsons and Veruca Salt (the character, not the band) automatically reaches Level 9 status (though it would have hit Level 10 with “Seether” playing in the background).

His topic was giving thanks. More specifically, his topic question was, “why is this so hard?” Which is a great question. Why is it so hard to live thankfully? We could talk about sin and brokenness and pride and selfishness and find a pretty reasonable theological explanation. Or we could visit any kindergarten playground in the country and see for ourselves. Remember the seagulls from “Finding Nemo“?

Living thankfully comes neither easily nor naturally to us. We may want it to, we may put on a good show, we may even mind our manners in public. But our private selves stroll mindlessly toward the ungrateful. We take soooo much for granted because deep down we foolishly believe we deserve it. Home. Family. Job. Food. Water. Safety. Health. Easy to skip living thankfully when this is our normal, even though it may be anything but for others around the world, or even around the corner.

Inevitably, the people who are the most thankful are not the ones with the most to lose, but the ones who have already lost. Want to meet someone who is thankful to have a job? Find the folks who were unemployed for a year. Want to know who is thankful for their health? Nobody is thankful like someone fresh out of the hospital. Maybe this is what Paul was talking about when he said he had learned to give thanks in all situations. Maybe loss becomes a gift when it drives our thankfulness.

And maybe it is just not possible to be thankful on the macro level. Not really. I heard somewhere that for a compliment to be appreciated it has to be specific. Maybe thanksgiving is like that. Not being thankful for jobs and family, but being thankful in the particulars for each. So here are some things for which I am thankful. Specifically. On purpose. Shared with you merely as signposts on your own journey toward thankful living.

I’m thankful for the gifts God has given me. I’m thankful I get to use them in my work. I’m thankful God creates room for me to read and write and speak and teach as the main part of my ministry.

I’m thankful God has called me to the mission of connection in and with and through my church family.

I’m thankful for the faithfulness of Mark Johnson and his heart for the poor.

I’m thankful for laughter, honest, shared laughter, especially at bad jokes.

I’m thankful my nine-year-old still wants her daddy to watch her go to sleep, a nighttime ritual that has been going on in our family in some form or fashion for fifteen years now, and will soon go the way of sippy-cups and night lights.

I’m thankful my son still wants to hang out with his old man; not all the time, or even as much as he used to, but some times, some really good times, which is more than enough for me.

I’m thankful my soon-to-be-driving daughter will still hold my hand in public.

I’m thankful my wife still laughs with me, and at me. I’m thankful she still wants to date me after all these years.

I’m thankful my parents are still married, my sister lives in town and I get to watch my niece play soccer.

I’m thankful I live in a place where I don’t have to wear socks most of the year.

I’m thankful for high school football.

I’m thankful for books – new books, old books, great books, even not-so-great books.

I’m thankful Mrs. Sharmen taught me to read these books way back in first grade.

I’m thankful for Propaganda and the truth of his spoken-word poetry.

I’m thankful for my wife’s mashed potatoes. Seriously. You should come over for dinner some time when she makes them.

I’m thankful for Grace Church and the chance to live out God’s mission.

I’m thankful that God loved me first and still loves me, no matter what.

I’m thankful for a great many people, none of whom will be upset for not being named here.


You Know That Feeling?

You know that feeling? The one you get when you take two steps forward and one step back? That tension in your neck, twisting in your gut, pounding in your head kind of feeling? You know you’re on the right track. You can see progress. It’s right there in front of you, like tracks in the sand. You can even turn around and see your starting point as a marker for how far you’ve come.
But then you turn back around to face your goal and it practically disappears over the horizon. You know that feeling? Well, God hates that feeling, and so do I.

I hate that feeling because it’s so paralyzing. I don’t know about you, but that feeling ties me up in knots. I can’t think straight. I lose my sense of humor. I start to worry (even more than usual).
That feeling ruins my favorite question. My favorite question is “what if?” That feeling inserts one tiny ruinous word. But. “But, what if?” And not in a good way. “What if” opens up all sorts of possibilities and new ideas and creativity and interesting dreams. “But, what if” darkens the door with negative outcomes — trips to the ER and spiraling economies and phone calls from the kids’ school.

God hates that feeling because it has nothing to do with Him. Our God is a big God, a huge God, a God of “what if”. Our God is a generous God. Remember the loaves and fishes? He multiplies goodness on our behalf. Our God is a powerful God. “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus cries. And Lazarus does. A dead guy heard the word of the Lord. Tell me that’s not powerful and I’ll tell you you’re nuts. Our God is loving. This is a God who won’t even wait on the porch for the returning sinner to come home. No way, our God runs out to meet us when we’re halfway there.

And that feeling is not generous or powerful or loving.

When I get that feeling I find three simple things help me find my way out of it. Nothing new or earth-shattering. Just some stuff that’s sometimes hard to remember.

I pray. When I present myself to God in prayer, not fancy “can I impress the neighbors” kind of prayer, but honest, realistic, accept me as I am kind of prayer, when I pray like that I find that God’s Spirit changes my point-of-view. It’s not magic, it’s perspective.

I read Scripture. When I open myself to God’s story in God’s stories, I remember things like the prodigal son and the good samaritan and Jesus’ strong words to his disciples, “with God, all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

I talk to a Believer. If I can’t get it on my own, one of my partners in the gospel can often show it to me. It’s funny, isn’t it, how other people so easily see things we keep missing. Other Christians remind me of God’s grace by sharing their stories with me. They show me God’s love for me by telling me of God’s love for them. They point me toward God’s Words which I may have forgotten or overlooked.

Huh. That’s kind of like that verse from 1 Corinthians. You know. The wedding verse. Faith, Hope and Love; these three remain. But the greatest of these is love.

And all of a sudden I don’t have that feeling anymore.


Why Christians Don’t Matter (much) Anymore

This post appeared as a column in the religion section of the San Antonio Express-News on Nov. 2. You can find the paper online by clicking the image below.

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 10.20.36 AM

Christians don’t matter much anymore, because we do so little that matters.

Let’s face it. We have always been our own biggest problem. We talk the talk but so often fail to walk the walk.

Do what I say, not what I do, right? Ha! If what we say doesn’t even matter to us, why should it matter to anyone else?

Let me share a secret with you. You ready? I’m gonna whisper, so lean in close. The world doesn’t care what we say.

We have talked so much for so long that our words have lost their meaning. We say, “Jesus loves you!” And the world hears that teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons, “Whanh-wah-whanh-whanh-whanh-waaaah.”

Maybe we should stop talking so much. You know, disciples aren’t followers who say what the master says. Disciples are followers who do what the master does.

So what did Jesus do?

He gave his life as a ransom for many. He sacrificed himself for our sake. As his church, we should do no less. Now before you send that e-mail telling me about all the things your church does, let me ask you a question.

Are we, as the church, willing to lose money for the sake of the gospel? Lose membership? Lose market share?

Here’s an idea. Spend less money on our buildings so we can build more Habitat houses.

In place of vacation Bible school, run a summer day care for the children of working, single moms.

Dismantle Sunday school so our Sunday school teachers can spend their time volunteering at public schools.

Next time you want to fill a church staff position, use volunteers and pay the salary for a staff position in a local non-profit instead.

Imagine our city if every congregation chose to partner with the public school nearest its property. This is not a separation-of-church-and-state issue. This is simple.

Call the school office. Make an appointment to see the principal. Bring a check. Ask the principal, “What can our people do to serve your school and help you carry out your mission?” Then do it. And no matter what the answer is, leave the check.

No preaching. No praying. No proselytizing. Just serving. Don’t evangelize, or leave Bibles, or wear Christian T-shirts. Shut your mouth and help out. Not for our sake, not for the church, not even for the Gospel. For the people. Jesus said something about loving our neighbors, didn’t he?

What if we opened our property to neighborhood kids? Gave them space to play soccer or basketball or tag? I know, I know – the mess, the noise, the liability, the lawyers, the insurance. So what?

Those aren’t even obstacles. They’re just problems. Solve them. Clean up the mess. Get parents to sign a waiver. Pay for the insurance rider.

Your church has land but no money? Partner with a congregation that has money and no land.

When we begin to sacrifice for the good of others, when we give without expecting return, when we can show the world we love people for their own sake, and not for our own, then — and only then — will we earn back the right to be heard.

First we love, then they will listen. So don’t tell me you love Jesus.

Show me.


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