Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tone Deaf

A lot of people tell me that they are tone deaf and can’t sing.

Now wait… don’t tell me you’re one of those people. Just keep reading. 

Virtually no one is tone deaf. Argue if you want, but it’s true. When you discern when to shift the gear in your car, it’s because you can hear a difference in sound. If you’re a mother and can tell whether you’re baby’s cry is from fatigue or pain, you can discern pitch. 

If you were tone deaf, you wouldn’t have music preferences. One station on the radio would be the same as the other, and you wouldn’t sing along with the radio in your car, but you do because you enjoy what you’re hearing. And that proves you’re not tone deaf. It also proves that you can sing.  Most of us just need some training so we can identify what we are hearing. 

About my supposedly nonmusical friends, I’ve observed that at some point in their early lives, someone criticized their singing, usually a parent or a teacher. So they just quit.  I often challenge them: Do you mean to tell me that when you were a child, you made a decision for life based on what one person said? 

They did indeed. And it bothers me because singing is not so much about performance—sure there are those who perform and perhaps they have some special ability and training. But for most of us, singing is about expression. How much of one’s soul is diminished because they’re too scared to sing? And how much have we missed because we didn’t hear the song of another’s heart?

I like to hear the children sing before they’ve been told they can’t. I like hearing the babies sing before they can even form words. I like to hear the toddlers who make up their songs on the spot.  I think of the children who sang about Jesus in the temple before the adults could make them be quiet.

What wonders would we hear if people were just a little less afraid to express themselves?

The thought makes me remember to be very careful about criticizing another’s expression. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Thoughts on Matthew 4:1-11, When Jesus Was Tempted

"Command these stones to turn to bread.”

It seems like a pretty good idea, plus it would be a good marketing strategy. Jesus could tell the crowds, “I’m hungry, you’re hungry… let’s have dinner and have a nice chat about your souls.”

In fact, Jesus did feed crowds of people miraculously with loaves and fishes, and it made him popular, as did his power to heal the sick.  And it was all good—it just wasn’t good enough, and the crowds faded when food was gone, which Jesus knew would happen.

Jesus reply to Satan was actually a statement to us:  “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Filling the stomach does not necessarily feed the soul. Oh, it’s pretty crucial when you don’t have any, but many of us have more than enough; to the point where we have to struggle to keep the weight down. Yet even when there’s plenty of food, we can feel lonely, empty, and unhappy.

For that matter, wealth doesn’t spare us from misery, and neither does excitement and entertainment (although I would like to have seen Jesus jump off a cliff and fly around). 

Jesus wanted to put us in touch with God, so we could find true satisfaction.

When I think of the word of God, I don’t think of a written page. Instead, I imagine the Father sitting close beside me, speaking into my ear, the words pouring directly into my heart, filling me up in a way that makes me calm and whole.

Perhaps the purpose of fasting is to remove distraction so we can focus fully on that word from God. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The True Nativity Scene

The following was one of the readings I wrote for the Christmas Eve Service

The Prince of Peace was not born in a palace. He had no soft blankets against his skin. There were no relatives cooing and demanding that they be the next one to hold him. 

We understand that he was born to a poor family, but perhaps we don’t realize how poor. Most of us imagine the nativity scene like this:  

Look again at Luke’s account of Christ’s birth and you’ll see there is no mention of a barn or a stable. There were no cute animals lying sedately in sweet smelling straw.  There’s not even mention of the donkey for Mary to ride.

Mary and Joseph were far from home, away from any family or friends. When it says there was no room in the inn, it means they were outside in the cold night. There was no emergency shelter, no public housing, no hospital constrained by law to accept her, even if she had no money. 

They simply found a vacant place on the ground for her to deliver her baby. And because she would have been too weak to hold him, they put him in the nearest container—one of those feed troughs to which we have assigned the quaint name, manger.  And they found some old rags to wrap around the child to protect him from exposure.  


It’s a miracle anyone survives such conditions, but some do. On this night, they did. 

This was the scene that made the angels sing. This was what the shepherds found when they searched for him.  This is the baby who grew up to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and speak powerful words that still move our hearts.    

This is the birth we celebrate. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Way of the Disciple

When we think of being disciples for Christ, we think of going to church more often and making a sincere effort to act nicer.  Additionally, we are to make other disciples who will come to our church. 

That’s all good, but it’s missing the point of discipleship. 

When Jesus sent his people out to do his work, he didn’t talk about church attendance or looking respectable.  Instead he told them to focus on helping people get better. Take another look at the first few verses of Matthew 10 and consider the ambition behind his instruction:

*Heal the sick.

*Make them clean (touch the lepers and heal them).

*Give them peace

*Raise people from the dead--make them alive again.

*Give generously—throw yourself into the task.

*Don’t worry about where you’ll get the money—just do it. 

“Tell them the kingdom of heaven is near,” he said.  In other words, there is a new way to live and a new world to live in, where people can have enough to eat, and to be healed, and feel alive again. Tell them that we can have a world where love has transcended laws, and we can reach out to touch God. 

I believe Jesus meant for those things to happen right now, not sometime later in the next life. He has not given up on this world. He intends for things to be made better now, and he means for us to help him make it that way.

Discipleship is not about living a quiet decent life. It’s not about being a good example by showing how often you go to church. It’s about looking squarely in the face of the suffering of this world and throwing ourselves in the task of making it better. 

Then one day, we will stand before Jesus and he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  

Team Jesus

Jesus enlisted the aid of his disciples in his work. When he performed the miracle of feeding the crowds, he had the disciples go out and find what food there was, and then he had them pass it out. I marvel that they got to be part of the miracle of where a few loaves and fish became more than enough to feed five thousand.

There were other things.  Jesus wanted them to pray with him. He also had them preach, heal, and cast out demons with him. 

You could say that discipleship is being part of “Team Jesus” where he is the captain, but everyone participates.  Everyone gives valuable effort to bring positive results.

Disciples don’t just work for Jesus, they work with him.  In effect, Jesus, the Son of God, was saying, “I couldn’t do it without you,” which is a huge honor, but it carries with it responsibility for which we should have a sense of duty.   

When a church focuses on keeping itself alive, it is for the purpose of continuing to participate in Christ’s work. It is not to preserve our memories. It is not so we can continue to keep our friendships. It is not to have a place where we can go to feel good.  It is to reach out with our hands and our hearts and help those who are suffering, unhappy, scared, sick, and lost.

Any church that does not keep the mission of Christ firmly in mind will end up closing its doors. But if we exist to serve Christ’s purpose, we will continue to be vital.

How about it? Want to be a part of Team Jesus?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Unity and Disagreement

One of our Sunday school classes recently studied parts of the United Methodist Book of Resolutions, which articulates the UMC’s position on various political and social issues pertaining to our faith.  In class, there was often disagreement expressed about some of the UMC’s positions.  And that’s okay.  Many decisions are made in the general conference with a thin margin on the majority’s side. Afterward, people are welcome to continue to voice their dissent and hopefully the discussion continues with civility. Some decisions are revisited every four years.

When there is a heated disagreement where sizable portion of the membership differ with the majority, it is tempting for the “winning side” to say, “This is what we voted on. Now be a good Methodist and go along with it.” 

This is a mistake. We don’t tell people what to think. We don’t tell them to be quiet. We can’t force them to cooperate. And we won’t say, “If you don’t like it, there’s the road.”

Making resolutions gives us direction and enables us to act. But the discussion is ongoing, especially in the areas of controversy, such as ecology, poverty, human sexuality, involvement in government, etc. 

When I first considered joining the UMC, one of the things that made me want to join is how they are willing to grapple with the hard topics, often before anyone else will. Methodists were some of the first ones to call for slavery to be abolished. Methodists recognized how alcoholism was causing so much havoc in families, and they called for action.

So of course there is going to be sharp disagreement at times.

I like it. In many churches, people are required to have only one set of thoughts where no diversity is allowed. But in Methodism, there’s true unity, where you get to have your thoughts and you get to express them and be heard, even if you’re in the minority.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Come to the Party

In the parable of the prodigal son, the story ends with the older brother standing outside the house seething as the people have their party.  He’s mad at the people, his little brother, and his father.
This is the end of a series of parables that Jesus used to address Pharisees and teachers who resented his going to parties with the tax collectors and prostitutes. Usually, when I read about that older brother, I find myself contemptuous of him. But Jesus was not trying to lead us to contempt. Look at the story again, and you see the father begging his son to come in, to be a part of the celebration.
Likewise, Jesus was not condemning the onlookers. He was asking them to join the party.  This is an interesting concept. He’s not angry with the self righteous. He’s not telling them to shut up and go away. He wants them come be a part of the joy.
It was hard for them. They wanted to shut the party down which was not going to happen. However, they could join if they wanted.
Question: Do I want to make my world a highly controlled (and joyless) place or can I lay aside my selfish desires and join the party that’s already in progress?