Monday, June 28, 2010

Where Are My Shoes?

"How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation..." (Isaiah 53:7.)

Turns out that there are interesting references to feet in scripture.

In battle, the warrior put his foot on the neck of his opponent as a sign of victory. Other times, a person would voluntarily bow at the feet of another to show submission. Sometimes people put gifts at the feet of someone of authority.

When Moses approached the burning bush, he was commanded to take off his sandals because he was approaching holy ground. I assume this gesture was similar to people removing their dirty shoes before they enter anyone’s clean abode.

I often wonder if Mary had her shoes off when she sat at Jesus’ feet while he was at her house.

Then for the sake of God, there are times when we put our sandals on and get ready for action. Paul said part of our Christian armor are the sandals that we put on so we can carry the gospel of peace to the world.

Living well is knowing when to have our shoes off to worship God and when to put them on in serving God.

Isn’t it all the same? Isn’t worship part of service and isn’t service part of worship? Maybe, but we’re quibbling over word usage.

My point is that there are times to take off our shoes, get still, and contemplate godly things. It’s a time of mutual expression between God and us. Then there are times when we put on our shoes, and launch out to do works of service in His name.

I look forward to the time when every boot that has marched into battle will finally be set aflame and we will spend eternity with bare feet on holy ground.

Monday, June 21, 2010

At Bat

In baseball, batting puts us in a unique position. Although baseball is a team sport where members function interdependently, when I am up at bat, it is only me facing the next pitch. The moment I hit the ball, I’m back with the team, coordinating my efforts with any other member who is already on base. And if I score, it’s not for myself, but for the team.

Batting can be a metaphor for matters of the spirit. Some choices are mine alone to make. In the face of testing or temptation, I choose how I will respond. My friends can coach me or cheer me, but they can’t choose for me. God won’t choose for me and he won’t make me do what he wants, either.

Jesus had those occasions. When he was tempted in the desert, the moment of decision came when Satan offered him the world if only Jesus would bow down to him rather than God. Jesus told Satan to leave him because he would worship only God. Only after that bold statement did the angels come and minister to him.

In another moment, when his friends had fallen asleep, he prayed in the garden, “Father, let this cup pass from me… yet not my will but yours be done.” Afterwards, the angels came to him.

The worst moment must have been on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you left me all alone?”

That’s a good question. Why does God leave us alone at the most significant (and painful) moments? Please don’t quote to me the poem about footprints in the sand where God is carrying me. I think for that moment of testing, I really am alone. God waits on the other side of my decision.

I might do well, or I might fail and have to try again. Whatever direction I take, God will be with me. But I must make my choice first.

Which job will I take? Will I lie or tell the truth? Will I steal or do without? Will I respond angrily or gently? Will I be selfish or generous? These are the moments I am up to bat.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pulling It Together

I like the word "integrity."

We use it to denote the quality of honesty in a person--someone who holds to his values especially during trials and tribulations. The word also means the quality of being put together in harmony where the object or person is whole and complete.

I like to put the two definitions together to explain that we can be whole persons who keep ourselves together when we hold o virtues when times are difficult.

Our fears tear at us. The world attacks us. Our selfishness can betray us. It can be easy to compromise our morals when we're under those pressures. But temptations--or trials, take your pick--can be defining moments in our character, where we become the persons we were meant to be.

Sometimes we can feel like we're losing ourselves. Perhaps we're afraid we're gong to lose the things we have. And sometimes we're just plain confused.

We can pull ourselves together and straighten out our thinking when we remember to stay committed to our values.

The thing that held Job together during his trials was his righteousness. He was completely frustrated and alone, thinking that even God had abandoned him. But he held on through his ordeal because he held onto his values. We can too.

"As long as I have life within me..., my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit.... till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live." (Job 27:3-6).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Getting Past the Imagery

The formula for preaching used to be: three points, then wrap it up with a poem. We younger, smarter(?) preachers made fun of this old fashioned style. Preaching then evolved into telling three stories and wrapping it up with a single point. But lately I've come to see that sermons have evolved to having several stories with no point at all!

Which reminds me to stay sharp and clear in the pulpit.

Part of the problem lies in that our theology relies heavily on imagery, metaphor, and analogy. These are literary tools that I love and use liberally. But I'm aiming for reality.

Ultimately, I don't want to know what God is like. I want to know who God is. I want to sweep away the imagery to see him as clearly as possible.

Moses demanded to see God face to face, but God refused, saying, "You can only see my back. No man may look at me in the face and live." (See Exodus 33:18-23).

I interpret this to mean that we can see where God has been, but maybe not where he is now.

However, the New Testament scripture teaches that we not only get to see God, but we get to know him intimately: "that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (John 17:3).

That's what I want. I want relationship with the real God. Not a dissertation on what he is like.

So tell me stories. I like them. But give me the real God. I need him.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


After nine years, I finally made it to recognition of orders in order to become an Elder in Full Connection of the the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference.

Here's one of me and the fam at the reception following the ceremony

This is during the ceremony

I'm very grateful.

And now, after all this time and work, I'm asking the question: "What do I do now?"

The Offended Little Kid

He was about seven years old, attending the Church’s Vacation Bible School. I barked at him to get down from the banister. I didn’t want him to get hurt. I also didn’t want him to hurt the furniture. While both he and the furniture remained intact, I might have hurt his feelings, although I really think he was rather sturdy internally too.

He climbed down and then looked at me with outrage.

“You have no right to make me feel this way.” He declared.

I didn’t know what to say.

“I’m going to tell my father what YOU DID!”

“Why don’t we call him right now and you can tell him.” I offered.

He considered it, and then said, “No, that’s alright. I forgive you.”

He went to class with his dignity repaired.

It’s interesting to me how people will often act offended when they’ve been called to account for their own act of offensiveness. A melodramatic little kid makes us smile, but grown people who act this way cause heartache (and headache). I’ve known plenty of adults act the same way when confronted with their mistakes. And I’d have to include myself in this group.

We do this because we’re defensive, of course. We try hard to do good things and we don’t like being blamed. And when it looks like we’re going to be blamed, we attack. It’s not me; it’s you and everyone else.

But growth is found in the humility to examine ourselves. Real grownups respond gently in the face of criticism.

I guess I’m still more like that little kid. I have a little more growing up to do. How about you?