Monday, April 30, 2012

Good Shepherd

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. John 10:11-13

My mom called them "fair weather friends." People who show up when times are good, when you have money, or are throwing a party. But when there's work to be done, or times are tough or you are in need, they are nowhere to be found. These are "friends" of convenience. I'll bet lotto winners meet a lot of these. Whether at church or school or on the playing field, their cry is, "What's in it for me" or "How can you make me feel good?"

Jesus takes a different route. His questions are, "What's in it for you?" or "How may I serve you?" Christ has a "no matter what the cost" investment in you. And he tells us that only that kind of investment leads to the life we crave. A fair weather lifestyle looks like it will pay off but it is a dead end. It leaves us unsatisfied and constantly seeking a new high. Contentment is nowhere to be found.

What kind of friend, spouse, sibling, church member or business associate will you be today? Don't just click the "like" button, be a Good Shepherd.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3

One of the "groaner" moments I share with my children and grandchildren and wife is when the old pictures come out. How did that cute baby become this old man? Where is "buff" Jim go? Who in the world convinced me that that hairstyle was hip? Thirteen really was an awkward age. Gravity is gaining on me!

The Laws of Thermodynamics tell me that physical stuff yearns to become more basic, simple, small scale; too deteriorate. Who had a car or house or body for that matter that got better with age? Everything physical is leaning towards death.

John (above) tells us about Christodynamics. If we want, while our physical body is falling apart, we can develop our spiritual body. God has given us all the tools to become like Jesus in every way. If we want to. God supplies the power for the impossible but we must supply the will.

Are you investing as much in building your (eternal, by the way) body as you are in staving off the deterioration of your physical body? Hope so. You get to keep that. And it can improve with age.

Monday, April 23, 2012


My dad was the son of an Italian immigrant. I am named after my grandfather. When my dad and I shopped for food and cooked (you learned this before baseball,) we would go to markets where produce, cheese, fish, you-name-it were stacked high and falling over. Abundance was everywhere and was part of the ethos of the markets.

My dad was an engineering consultant, short-hand for "long term unemployed." We either had tons of money or none. We lived as if we had abundance, not because we overspent (there were no credit cards at the time) but because we knew there was more. We had what we needed and then some.

My dad often said, "When you have it (money,) enjoy it and spread it around. When you don't have it, live off what you have.  You have what you need."

People I know who see scarcity all around and are prone to be conservative (not talking politics here) as a whole seem less happy than those who are content with what they have, wealth or not.

Where is your abundance? Or do you see only scarcity? What can you share?


I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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 4:11-13 (NIV)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Not Seeing in Believing

John, in his Gospel, casts Thomas as the "hard evidence" guy, the one who needs to have a concrete proof before he accepts what people tell him.

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"    But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."  John 20:24-25 (NIV)

Later, Jesus tips his hand, telling us that belief will need to come without proof, without seeing.

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29 (NIV)
  • Can I take action for Christ without everything being nailed down (no pun intended?)
  • Can I take a risk that will deepen relationships or alleviate pain and suffering without complete certainty that I will succeed?
  • Am I risk averse and, maybe, belief averse?
  • What (who) do I trust in? Money? Fame? Family? Success? Intelligence? Does it (she/he/them) deserve my total trust?
  • What is the fruit of my trust? Am I blessed (verse 20:29 above?) Is what I trust in worthy of Christ?
  • Has Christ appeared in my life and I overlooked him?

Monday, April 16, 2012


I want to ban "I believe" (as in the Creeds) from Christianity. I do want us to believe in something. It is just that a belief, a credo, used to mean an investment, even with one's life. Today, belief means that I have the right or fashionable collection of thoughts about Jesus. This collection puts me in the "in" crowd, at least religiously. No need to live them out. Just having them is enough. At times, a pair of designer jeans or a new Facebook app gets more real investment than Jesus.

So, I had to think, what do I believe in that makes a difference in the way I act? What do I believe in that makes me look different (if not odd or offensive) to others? What do I believe in that makes other ask, "Why do you behave that way?"

Here goes. A start. I believe…
  •  In a God who, loves everything that he made. I can write off no one and the environment is part of the Christian vocation.
  • There is more than meets the eye. Be slow to come to judgment.
  • God feels our pain and laughter. God is never unmoved by the human condition.
  • God refuses to be bound by our narrow-mindedness. Never confuse culture for The Almighty.
  • God has more issues with inert Christians than God does with non Christians. We need to get our act together and stop meddling with the acts of others so much.
  • You cannot save yourself. We are in this together. Lone Rangers are dumb. Self-sufficiency is a lie.
  • People are inherently selfish and self-serving. I am not a good person but am capable of good.
  • The Bible is an invitation to a relationship and not a textbook. Do you know God or just know about God?
  • The Bible is not self interpreting. Interpretations are all opinions made by sinners and may be subject to revision or abandonment. 
  •  God made a 24 hour day. We expect it to expand to 30 or more hours at our own peril. Not every request of us is an imperative.
  • You can let God have it, don't pull your punches. God can take it. Prayer is honesty if it is anything.
  • God makes something out of nothing and we can as well. We cry "Can't!" when, in fact, we should cry "Won't!"
How about you? What will you invest in long after it becomes fashionable or when it causes people to leave you or when it makes life uncomfortable?

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Rachel Held Evans writes books and blogs and I love her work. I recently read a blog on why Rachel could not quite embrace mainline Protestant churches (The Episcopal Church would be one of these) even though she loved the zeal of helping others and serving justice that  mainlines embody. Surely, I see this servant's heart in the mainline church that I serve.

Here are 4 things she finds lacking in mainline churches.
  • I miss that evangelical fire-in-the-belly that makes people talk about their faith with passion and conviction. 
  • I miss the familiarity with scripture and the intensive Bible studies. 
  • I miss the emphasis on cultivating a personal spirituality. 
  • I miss sermons that step on a few toes.

We as churches and as people need to be more than "nice" or "do-gooders" or "good people." We need to be "God's people." That is, formed by God and God's story and not simply formed by our feelings or the opinions of others.

Are you committed to your own spiritual formation and that of your church by
  • Talking about your faith with passion and conviction, even if it takes practice?
  • Marinating yourself in Holy Scripture?
  • Cultivating a personal spirituality? 
  • Step on a few toes embracing the ways of Jesus?
Hope so.


I combed my hair (what's left of it) the other day, while looking in the mirror. It dawned on me as it had done so before that what I see in the mirror is not what others see. In fact, when I see a picture of me, I never think it looks much like me. Come to think of it, others don't see the "real" me either. I am more than my looks and actions.

We base much of our life and judgments on peoples' externals. God sees me and you from a whole different vantage point. God has no false expectations, no puffed up images and no self-serving needs of us. God's plan for us is to be the genuine article, the real me. And only God can inform us who that might be.

What God sees is not my looks or adventures or accomplishments but my essence; the real me.

After all, God formed me. I was God's idea.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; Jeremiah 1:5a (NIV)

I'm pretty darn neat, too.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:14 (NIV)

And, I am a chip off the old block, made in God's image.
 Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, Who seek the LORD:
Look to the rock from which you were hewn And to the quarry from which you were dug.
Isaiah 51:1 (NASB)

I look to God in order to understand myself.
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

My destiny is to reflect God in my own unique way.
No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." Jeremiah 31:34 (NIV)

Look beyond externals today. Invest in yourself and in others. See the real person and help call it out.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


The Resurrection always leaves me wanting more. I never can quite make up the gap between what I know and can grasp and what God is up to. It's the faith gap. No matter what I think I have nailed, there's more. Openness is required as is the suspense of judgment.

That gap was put there for my own good. A person who says, "I got it all figured out" populates the living dead. Those who admit to being a "work in progress" become resurrected (the dead living.) Study of relativity and quantum physics even have come up with, "Well, there's more than we thought."

God's best work in done in the gap places of life and so is our best work. We all have some knowledge and experience. Each is different. We tend to focus on these and too often this turns into a fight over who is right or best. In the gap, we all are equal and share a commonality that birth or hard-knocks or locale or party affiliation or education cannot give.

Strive to live in the gap today. Embrace questions. Suspend judgment. Recognize commonality. Be resurrected.


I have found that feedback usually comes in two basic forms: cloyingly "sweet" or (too) brutally honest or negative. The former is most often employed by the self-esteem folks who worry that every person is like over-ripe fruit: easily bruised. The latter is often voiced by the "religious" who view any person who do not hold up their norms as instant Hell material. Now, esteem and honesty are both important but really make ugly gods.  I meet people every day who have been injured by these false gods.

Worshiping the "esteem" god yields people who are afraid a lot. They have not tested themselves in the real fires of life. Worship of the "honesty" god too often yields either liars or angry folks. Judgment crushes.

Jesus melded the two together. Mercy and the Law co-existed. It is true that this is harder to do than traveling to one pole or the other. But he did it. Those who follow him learn (you have to learn this) it too.

I think Mercy and the Law somehow faced off at the Resurrection (Easter) and became Love. It is a mystery that demands practice.

When you open your mouth (or speak to yourself) today, shun the poles. Live in the Resurrection. That is, embody Love and the tension between Mercy and Law.


I don't really claim to understand the mechanics of The Resurrection. I have never seen anyone raised from the dead. At least, not bodily.

That does not keep the Resurrection from being core to every thought and action of the day. God takes the deadest things I hand out. Things I made dead and I knew I was doing it. Not mistakes but blatant, "Up yours." Defiant, Jim.  Things where I thumbed my nose a God. God takes my mess and, with me (that's the key,) forges a new reality that looks more like what God intended. God does this individually, communally, familially, nationally and globally. God does this through the humble and loving who know their own foibles. God takes crap and grows roses. People do rise from deadness.

Have you turned your deadness over to Christ? He can handle it. The best act it yet to come.